The love for travelling is not something I was born with. As a child, I have never been wondering about faraway places. It happened much later during my early 20s that I developed a huge passion for travelling. Partly it was due to the job that I landed at an international organization that involved business travelling and face-to-face meetings with clients two times a year, and also due to the planning of summer vacations that overtime has become a more comfortable and pleasurable process with a bigger budget to spare.
Last year I celebrated a milestone which was my first true solo travel experience. With a baggage of extensive knowledge on how to prepare for a trip (which I got thanks to my job), I am confident whenever I travel because I know I am safe, I did my homework and I have a well-thought-out plan.
Here’s what I learned and what helped me immensely in the planning of my own solo trip –
Research the location you’re going to
It is not enough knowing what country and city you’re going to. It might sound funny but there are people who know very little about the place they’re going to leaving it all to last-minute research of tourist attractions just the night before the trip. It is important to understand the culture of the place you’re going to (especially if it’s an exotic location), explore the neighbourhoods, find out the best accommodation options, read about the local food, attractions, find out if there are any ‘dress codes’, for example in Iran you cannot walk the streets unless you’re covered with loose clothing and wearing a Hijab if you’re a woman. And yes, I was planning a trip to Iran but had to cancel last minute due to some personal circumstances.
Whenever I plan a trip, either for business or personal purposes, I always spend time reading information on safe neighbourhoods in the city and also the ones to stay away from. In pretty much all cities you will find neighbourhoods where you should be more careful and keep an eye on your belongings or even have to leave them at the hotel (a day before our trip to Fez, we were told that the city has one of the highest crime rates and that we should leave all our belongings in the hotel).
Also, if you’re planning a family or a business trip, you probably don’t want to stay in an area that is buzzing at night, and would rather prefer a more tranquil neighbourhood where you can enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Make sure you get the vibe of the city you’re planning to visit in order to know what to expect and have a pleasurable first-time experience.
Safety comes first
Safety for me always comes first, no matter where I go. As a solo female traveller, there are more risks involved when travelling on your own.
When you travel, you willingly expose yourself to unknown situations and risks. So staying safe while you travel is of utmost importance. Getting travel insurance is one way to do it. Now what I usually do is just get travel insurance from a local provider. But I know there are way more, and possibly, better options out there. I’ve heard a lot about World Nomads travel insurance suitable for adventurers and those who like a bit more fun and action during their travels. Here’s the most honest World Nomads travel insurance review I could find.
Choose your accommodation
Once you’re aware of the safe neighbourhoods to stay in you can go and select your preferred accommodation. Here you have more options. You can either stay in a hostel, a hotel, an apartment or stay with locals for free. All these options have advantages and disadvantages, so you can choose whichever meets your needs and you feel more comfortable with.
Couchsurfing – Staying with locals is the cheapest option available as it is absolutely free. This popular platform connects travellers with local hosts. However, this literally means staying under the same roof with the host and it is not something everybody would feel comfortable about. In my opinion, this could be a very good option for male solo travellers for a one-night stay.
Hostels – a very cheap alternative if you’re on a tight budget, however, don’t expect it to be a very comfortable experience as you might end up spending your night in an 8-dorm room with 7 other strangers. For a bigger price, you can opt for a private room, but don’t expect too much.
Hotels – definitely something more comfortable, however, could be quite expensive depending on the city, the location and how many stars the hotel has. Perfect for business travelling though. One downside to it, quite big to me, is cooking not allowed in the room. As I love a good homemade meal, this is the best option for me. You can find many hotels on websites like Booking, Kayak, Expedia, and others.
Airbnb – personally my favourite option. You can choose among hundreds of quite very nice apartments to rent directly from the host. What I always make sure is that the host has multiple positive reviews in the last 4 months. It is also important that the apartment is in close proximity to public transport and in a safe neighbourhood.
Moving around the city
I always use Google maps to move around the city. It shows perfectly well how to get from point A to point B, and I find it to be very easy to use. Google Maps shows real-time public transportation data for a big variety of countries and cities, but not all of them. So during the planning stage, I always make sure that there is real-time public transport data available on Google Maps for the city I’m going to. If not, there are also very good local public transit tracker apps you could use like Moovit, Rome2Rio, and others.
I never do travelling without mobile data, but if the case, there are plenty of offline city maps you can download into your phone and make use of. Make sure you have them all downloaded into your phone days before the trip.
There are more things on my travel checklist that I always make sure I prepare before the trip –
Mobile data & Portable Charger
I always research the local mobile network operators and make sure that I can buy a sim card with at least 2 GB of mobile data at the airport (if not, I search for shops closest to the apartment). I then use it to let family and friends know that I landed well, and then plan the trip from the airport to the apartment I’m renting. I’ve recently heard about portable wireless WiFi hotspots you can use literally every time. Very handy.
I also always make sure I have a portable charger with me just in case the battery dies on my way to the apartment from too much listening to music during the flight which I do all the time to alleviate my anxiety.
Must-learn local phrases & emergency phone numbers
I always make sure I make a small note in my phone with the key phrases and words I need to know, just in case of any emergency (if I’m travelling to a country with a language I don’t understand). Usually, I just write down whatever I think I might need to know during my trip. This is especially useful when travelling with food allergies.
I also note down all the emergency phone numbers and reliable taxi providers in the country I’m going to (as I said, safety always comes first).
Share your itinerary
I make sure to share my itinerary with any of my close friends or family (again, safety comes first). I recently came upon this feature inside Whatsapp, I think, that allows you to share your live location for 8 hours. It was during my last business trip to Athens that I had a meeting in a pretty dubious neighbourhood and I had to share my live location with my colleague.
Yes, I am one of those people that have a very long checklist for preparing for a trip. But I’ve learned that it helps keep me grounded and bring down my anxiety. Also, it makes me feel safe and in control of the situation because unexpected situations happen all the time (especially when you travel alone), and you want to be well prepared to deal with them.