Picture waking up in a fabulous locale without a schedule, a to-do list, or the temperaments of others to consider. Just you, a queen bed, a great book, and a whole new destination to explore. Sounds like a vacation, right? Solo travel can be uniquely rewarding and fulfilling, and there’s no better time than now to do it. Here’s your ultimate guide to traveling solo.
4 PERKS OF SOLO TRAVEL
You focus more on your surroundings. Without anyone else to worry about, solo adventurers are much more aware of their surroundings. You can take in the sights and smells and people-watch as you please. You’re able to let your mind — and feet — wander a little and stay in the present moment of uninterrupted cultural splendor.
You have total financial control. Want to splurge on a Michelin-starred dinner for one? Awesome, you’ll probably get in easier, too! Want to spend next-to-nothing on food but rather build a picnic of fresh bread, meats, and cheeses every day? Also great. You have the final — and only — say when it comes to your money, but give yourself a little wiggle room for those spur-of-the-moment whims.
You’ll meet more people. Solo travelers are much more likely to strike up conversations with locals and other travelers. It’s fun to meet other people and make friends, even tag along for a few stops. Always trust your gut and avoid oversharing personal information, but meeting people is such a joy of solo travel.
You can change plans on a dime. Solo travel can be exceedingly flexible… choose to spend the whole day at the ancient baths, or hop on a train to a different country if your heart desires. When you find your own rhythm and talk to locals, you might want to switch things up from your original itinerary, and that’s more than okay when your only goal is to enrich yourself — and only yourself.
6 TIPS WHILE PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Save on flights. Flexibility in schedule and destination can save you so much on the front end. Create a list of places you want to see, and then start to look for off-season airfare. Set up a Google Flights alert for your flexible dates and keep checking Scott’s Cheap Flights, Secret Flying, Airfare Watchdog, and more. Book your flights between 77 and 99 days before you fly for the best deals. (SB TIP: When you’re searching for flights, use your browser’s “incognito” mode. If not, once you start searching for airfare, the websites you’re looking on track you and start raising the prices.)
Book with points. If you’ve accumulated a bunch of points this past year, why not use them?! This will shift your mindset to make your other trip expenses a little less burdensome. Lots of credit card point systems — and even membership programs like Costco and Sam’s Club — have great deals on flights, hotels, resorts, rental cars, and more.
Find the right hotel. Location is key. Stay close to the action even if costs a little more. Read the reviews and find a hotel with a 24-hour front desk, safes in each room, and 24-hour CCTV across the property. Also look for amenities like free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a gym, and a pool. Ask for a room near the elevator to avoid long walks down hallways. For added savings (especially in Europe) ask if there is a lower rate for “one room one adult” rather than the rate based on double occupancy. We love apps like Hotel Tonight for deals.
Check your docs and shots. This might sound obvious, but check to see that your passport is up-to-date (and won’t expire soon) and if your destination country requires a visa of any kind. If you need proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test, make those plans ahead of time.
Do your transportation homework. Generally knowing how to get from Point A to Point B (especially if you’re going to multiple cities) is key. Check rates and times from the airport to your lodging, and ask the hotel if they can pick you up. What’s the public transportation like and should you get a pass for your whole stay? This might make you more likely to use public transportation and save on Ubers!
Make the important plans, but keep your schedule flexible. If you are really excited to explore a big museum, attend a concert, or do a certain guided tour, book those tickets in advance (many places still require timed tickets due to COVID restrictions and capacity limits). But after you have one or two big “things” each day, keep a fluid list of places to see and eat in the surrounding areas. You can always change things up, but at least you won’t be scrambling when you leave the museum thinking now what?!
4 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Share your itinerary and location with friends and family members at home, and stay in touch regularly via phone, text, video chat, or email. Before you leave for the day, send a few people your general plans, and make sure they can track you on Find My Friends.
Enroll in STEP. U.S. citizens traveling internationally should sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which connects you with the State Department if there’s an emergency. You’ll get important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, and this lets the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency).
Buy the international phone plan if you’re leaving the U.S. These days, it is so easy and relatively cheap ($10 a day in lots of countries) to be able to use your phone. This will keep you close to help if there is an emergency and will help you stay informed and safe. Plus, others can see where you are.
Download a few key apps. Citymapper and Google Maps are amazing for navigating public transportation. MayDay can help keep you safe in a threatening situation by alerting friends and family members of your precise location if you’re in trouble. Charmin’s SitOrSquat app helps you find the nearest clean public restroom based on user feedback and ratings. SoloTraveller, Tourlina (female only!), and EatWith are great for networking with other solo travelers.
SB TIP: Set up these apps in advance, and keep your passwords safe. When you try to log in from abroad, most apps will ask you for your passwords again! Use a password management app like LastPass to help keep them all in one place.
5 TIPS FOR WHILE YOU’RE EXPLORING
Keep your valuables super close to you during transits. Wear an under-your-shirt, anti-theft crossbody bag like this one whenever possible. Use the safe in the hotel for valuables during the day, but leave your expensive jewelry at home.
Try rideshare services first before you hail a taxi. Uber and Lyft are only two of many services worldwide. Google the ones in your destination, and download their apps. Solo travelers should use these services to avoid overcharging scams and intentional detours. Plus, most of them have security features for in-ride emergencies and reporting poor driver behavior. Triple-check that your ride is legit before you hop in.
SB TIP: Lie a little. If something feels off, fake a phone call to your friend or partner who’s “waiting for you” at your destination. This tip can be applied to any situation while you’re traveling alone.
Meet up with other solo travelers. If you want some company — especially while you’re seeing some of the bigger, more touristy things — consider a group tour or meet-up from the apps listed above and others like Damesly, Meetup, and Travello.
Look confident, walk with purpose, and blend in. This might be eye-roll-inducing to some, but it’s important. Act like you know exactly where you’re going and people are less likely to prey on your vulnerabilities. Dress modestly, and try to match local appearances. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t wear shorts, for example. And always have a few scarves on hand for covering shoulders and staying warm.
Trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Trust everyone, but also no one. It’s okay to make friends and then leave when the time is right. Stay vigilantly aware of your surroundings, but allow yourself to wander a little. It’s all about YOU when you travel alone!
There’s truly no better time than now to plan a solo vacation to a spot on your bucket list. Sans schedules, to-do lists, and the temperaments of others to consider, solo travel can be uniquely rewarding and fulfilling. Diving into a place or another culture alone builds confidence, keeps you in the moment, and makes for some valuable introspection.
All photos belong to Zoe Yarborough.
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