Before my mid-twenties, I didn’t know solo travel was a whole culture. While I played with the idea of travelling the world, I couldn’t imagine pulling it off with my naivety. Growing up, I used to believe that I learned about the world too late, matured too late, so it always baffled me later when I discovered people solo travelling in their early twenties, sometimes even before they turned twenty.
However, I have since discovered people who first solo-travelled in their thirties and older, and learned that it wasn’t the age that mattered but the courage to start.
My first official solo travel was to the United States in 2016. It was a spontaneous decision, fuelled by a life-changing event that drove me into the decision. As such, I didn’t have an appropriate motive or consider how to prepare for it.
Nevertheless, it kickstarted the beginning of my solo travelling journey. After overcoming the tumultuous mentality on my first trip, I saw the potential of such travels, and continued on them. This blog is now a testament of my experiences since. In a way, I hope this article will help you become the kind of solo traveller you would like to be, instead of a strict to-do guide.
01 - Choosing the destination
In the beginning, I didn’t like the idea of travelling in a country where I didn’t know the language. I felt that I was compromising my safety if I couldn’t understand what everyone was saying. That’s why I started with the United States and the United Kingdom, not only for the language but also for the ease of getting around via efficient public transport and Uber.
Eventually, I learned to worry less about the communication barrier with the help of Google Translate. I also began to appreciate the local hospitality toward a foreigner like myself, especially when I chose to be friendly and respectful of their culture, sometimes even picking up a few words in their language. Of course, this confidence only came about with some practice of navigating foreign lands before understanding their culture.
Otherwise, if your own country is big enough, I found that even traveling domestically will do wonders for your confidence.
02 - Choosing accommodation
When considering accommodation for a stereotypical backpacker, hostels are always the cheapest option. But unless they have single rooms, they entail staying with total strangers and being responsible for the safety of your being and belongings.
Initially, being an introvert with sufficient funds, I went with hotels, big and small, ideally with a single bed. Eventually, I stayed in Airbnbs with their hosts. 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, whose stories I’ll tell another day.
I also ended up trying Couchsurfing, making good friends while staying in their homes for free. But at the end of the day, no matter the experiences, remember that your comfort matters most. However, I also think that connecting with people while travelling makes the experience even better.
03 - planning THE itinerary
Many of my trips, even till this day, consist of meeting up with friends and new acquaintances who take me out to see things. For those that I didn’t have the same luxury, I chose to navigate on my own or book tours.
I wasn’t a fan of big group tours because of the strict schedule and usually being stuck with retired elders. I have since learned that such an impression was unfounded. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying small day tours.
My tour groups in Iceland consisted of a number of travelers my age with whom I became friends. 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.
Although I have since deviated towards getting around by myself, I still occasionally look for opportunities to be guided, whether by a local or a company. Of course, budget often comes into play, but for a more knowledge-filled experience, a tour would always be a top choice.
04 - Packing
I have since learned how to pack light thanks to my solo trips.
As 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 to take it wherever I went, regardless of terrains. I started out with a large check-in luggage, bringing more than I needed for a week-long trip, and it was tough dragging it everywhere!
Then I began to see what I do need, slowly cutting down for every trip I went on. 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 souvenirs. Once I knew I am safe with the minimum essentials, I could truly enjoy my trip without feeling bogged down by the physical weight.
Today, my go-to backpack is TropicFeel, which helps me to always pack just enough and still be mobile.
05 - Budgeting
It’s a given that one would spend more when traveling solo. Hotel rooms are usually for two, and you won’t have anyone to share that tasty-looking appetizer on the restaurant menu. Solo taxi rides are exorbitant, and some destinations tend to be more expensive, especially when considering exchange rates.
While I spent on luxury and convenience in the beginning, I started letting go once my finances began to tighten. Not only do I now choose cheaper destinations, but I also opt for simpler accommodations and local transport. I choose eateries over restaurants, and sometimes even cook my own when allowed. I opt for sights and activities that don’t break the bank, such as visiting free museums and parks.
It comes down to how you want to experience a destination. For me, I find that sharing a home-cooked meal in someone’s home is a delight in getting to know another culture, and that is the opportunity I seek on my travels.
06 - Tell a trusted person
Because there’s nothing more important than safety, especially as a female solo traveller. I remember getting in a pickle and not having anyone know that I was there, and it was very frightening to think what could have happened. So, whether it’s the beginning of my solo travels or years since, I will always keep this as the number one rule in my book.
Social media helps to an extent. While I don’t publicize my location in real-time, I have friends who check in on my activities of the day and make sure I report 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—and they have certainly helped greatly in dire times!
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 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 hosting service. I always had help throughout my travels, so I’m paying it forward. The courage to receive help, to me, is a true solo traveller.