My first official solo travel was to the United States in 2016. It was a spontaneous decision, and I had very little to go on about how to prepare for it, so I went the typical tourist direction of overpacking and booking overpriced transports and hotels. It’s not wrong, as it was what made me feel safe since I was still battling a bout of flying phobia. But over the years of traveling, I came to learn what I value most in my travels, whether it’s by my own realization or from conversations with momentary friends I made out there. In a way, I hope this article will help you decide the kind of solo traveller you would like to be, instead of a strict to-do guide.
This is already a big thing as your confidence in navigating the local culture and conveniences comes into play. My first few destinations were all cities in Europe and the United States, where public transport equivalent to Singapore’s efficiency as well as Uber got me around. They were mainly English-speaking as well, so I didn’t have to worry about language barriers. Eventually I learned to worry less about the communication barrier with the help of Google Translate. But until then, I found that even traveling in your own country will do some wonder to your confidence.
When considering accommodation for a stereotypical backpacker, hostels are always the cheapest option. But unless they have single rooms, they will entail staying with total strangers and being responsibility for the safety of your being and belongings. Being an introvert and having sufficient fund, I initially went with hotels, big and small, ideally with a single bed. Eventually I tried AirBnB. Then my first hostel experience was in Iceland, and I was fortunate to be in very good company that helped me venture into them more later. That’s not to say all my hostel experiences are rose-tinted, which stories I’ll tell another day. I ended up trying Couchsurfing as well, making good friends while staying in their home for free. But at the end of the day, no matter the experiences, remember that it is your comfort that matters most.
Many of my trips consisted of meeting up with friends and new friends who would take me out to see things. On those that I didn’t have the same luxury, I chose to book tours. I wasn’t a fan of big group tours because of the strict schedule and usually being stuck with retired elderlies. But I found that it really isn’t that bad if you go for small day tours instead. My tour groups in Iceland consisted of a number of travellers my age whom I became friends with. I also felt safe knowing I was with company and had little chance of getting lost in the wild. The knowledge I gained from the guide was also a huge plus, instead of staring at sights and not knowing what they mean. It’s the main reason nowadays if I choose to take a guided tour.
I’ve really learned how to pack light thanks to my solo trips. Since no one was going to help me with my luggage when I was alone, I had to make sure that I had either the convenience or the strength. Packing light was the way to go, and I picked just the most essential items I needed for the trip. Sometimes it meant wearing the same pair of jeans for a few days in a row, or making plans to do laundry on certain days. Sometimes it meant forgoing most makeup, or choosing not to buy any souvenir. Once I know I am safe with the minimum essentials, I can truly enjoy my trip without feeling bogged down by the physical weight.
Because there’s nothing better than safety, as I have reiterated many times. I remember getting in a pickle and not having anyone know that I was there, and it was very frightening to think what might have happened. If you have similar anxiety like I do, I say always play it safe. I have various friends that knew my activities of the day, and made sure I reported my safety at the end of it. Sure, it may be an adventure to be at a place where nobody knows you. But for me, I know there are people who care about my well-being, and I make sure that they feel at ease. I feel at ease too when I know that they will have my back even from a distance.
At the end of the day, I won’t call this article “how to plan for a solo trip”, but “how I plan for my solo trip”. After all, nobody can tell you what you should or should not do – unless the law is involved – because this is your solo trip, and you decide how you want to steer it. If you’re still worried about where to start, I’ll be happy to assist with my travel guiding service. I always had help throughout my travels, that is not a lie, so never be ashamed to ask. The courage to receive help, to me, is a true soloist.