Traveling solo is one of those things that every young person should experience as a right of passage. There's nothing quite like learning to plan and navigate your own trip. You learn a lot not only about travel, but also about yourself.
I've done a fair amount of solo travel, sometimes in between trips with friends (ie study abroad). And other times completely spur of the moment. My solo travels have taken me everywhere from Switzerland, where I had my first solo couch surfing experience, and Thailand where I lost my passport. All of my experiences have taught me some valuable lessons.
If you're contemplating solo travel for the first time, keep these travel tips in mind.
Solo Travel Tips
1. Create an elevator speech about yourself for quick introductions.
As a solo traveler, you will probably meet a lot more people as you seek social interaction. Every time you meet someone new, you'll need a quick introduction about yourself. This is when an elevator speech can come in handy. Include where you're from and something memorable about yourself. It's the best way to break the ice and strike up conversations.
2. Research the area you will be traveling to.
In most destinations, you will meet many long term travelers. Many of them will be traveling the region as a whole. It helps to be familiar with the city you're arriving in as well as its surrounding villages and regions. When you start conversing with a fellow traveler, you will have more to talk about and will be able to follow and remember the advice they give you in terms of other must see areas. As an example, almost everyone I met in Thailand was heading to Ko Pha ngan for the Full Moon Party, or to Vietnam on the next leg of their trip. It helped knowing a few pieces of info about those areas when meeting new people.
3. Use Trip Advisor for recommendations.
Whenever I travel abroad and need recommendations, I instinctively turn to Yelp. It's then that I remember that Yelp doesn't really work outside of the USA. When traveling abroad, the next best bet for food and activity ideas is Trip Advisor. It won't always help you find the very best, but it can definitely point you in the right direction. If you find a good tip on Trip Advisor, to return the favor by leaving your own honest review. This will help not only the business and service you used, but also fellow travelers in the area.
4. Keep your valuables safe.
This goes without saying. As a solo traveler, you have to be more diligent with your valuables. What's your most important valuable when traveling? It's your passport/identification, closely followed by your wallet. I highly recommend getting a silk neck wallet.
The best way to do keep your valuable in check is to pack light. Don't bring expensive jewelry or important keepsakes with you. Stick to basics and check out our travel packing checklists for specifics.
5. Bring two locks with you.
On the note of security, it's always good to have at least two locks with you. One is thick padlock and the second is a thinner luggage lock. These are good to have just in case, especially if you happen to be staying at a hostel that offers lockers.
6. Bring multiple forms of money.
You always want to have several different forms of payment when traveling. Credit cards with no foreign transactions fees are great to have. Also don't forget a debit card for withdrawing money. Some banks issue debit cards with little to no withdrawal fee, so try to get those. Finally, it's always a good idea to have several hundred dollars in your local currency. Stash these in a hard-to-find compartment in your bag and treat it like emergency funds.
7. Bring a wallet that can hold lots of dollar bills and coins.
When traveling abroad, you will probably accrue lots of foreign currency. Most currencies are very coin-heavy, unlike American paper dollars. As a result, it's good to have a large wallet made for holding lots of coins.
8. Bring a notebook and pen.
This helps for writing down directions in your language and foreign languages to help taxi drivers and folks on the street. When I was traveling in Thailand, a pen and paper were pretty much the only ways I could navigate. Also, pens are essential for marking up any paper maps you might procure.
9. Get a paper map of the city.
Don't rely on Google Maps or apps on your cell phone, even if you get a foreign SIM card. You still run the risk of running out of batteries on your phone, or losing Internet connection, and the last thing you want to do is find yourself lost and stranded in foreign lands alone.
10. Carry an external battery charger.
Even though you shouldn't rely on your phone for navigation, you still need a way to keep it juiced up throughout the day. This is when an external battery charger comes in handy. The Anker
11. Keep your friends and family informed of your travel plans.
The last thing you want to do as a solo traveler is keep your loved ones in the dark about where you are. Always make sure that your family and close friends know where you are. This helps not only psychologically, but for your personal safety as well. On the note of identity, keep your essential documents in a cloud storage service that you can easily access. Essential documents being proof of citizenship and medical and dental records, should something go wrong. Take it from someone who lost her passport in Thailand -- you want easy copies of these documents!
12. Consider purchasing travel insurance.
If you are planning extended travel and don't have health insurance, travel insurance might be a good investment. It's a good protection in case you have a health emergency abroad. Take it from someone who came down with appendicitis while traveling.
13. Humble yourself.
When traveling, always remember that you're a visitor to foreign lands, and sometimes natives will not appreciate your presence. You may also run into other travelers who are prejudiced against you for no particular reason other than your nationality. Learn to choose your battles, and ultimately keep your positive mood.
Last but not least, expect the unexpected.
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