A Basic Guide to Solo Traveling

So you want to solo travel! Traveling by yourself can be quite a daunting excursion, but hopefully with this guide under your belt, it will be a rewarding and super fun adventure!

Plan, plan, plan!

Planning is crucial to making your trip successful. Research is the most important part of the planning process. You’ll need to research the following things (click to jump to specific categories):

Getting there

How do you plan on getting to your destination? Plane? Train? Car?

Flying

If you’re planning on flying to your destination, it’s best to start looking around 3-4 months before you want to go. Planning far ahead of time allows you to watch for price drops and good flight deals. If you know where you want to go and need tips on how to select the best flight for your trip, check out my tips here on Selecting Flights.

Not sure where you want to go, but got the travel bug? Subscribe to some flight tracker newsletters and check the Explore option on Kayak. I have a list of places I want to go, so if I see a great deal to one of the places on my list, I usually start planning around that. Some great flight tracker newsletters are Airfare Watchdog and The Flight Tracker. Airfare Watchdog is a great newsletter for specific deals from your airport, and The Flight Tracker is great newsletters for the big international airports (San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, etc). If you’re a student or a youth under 26, check out SAS Travel! I used this service as a student (and I was under 26) and got some good flight deals out of it. You can still book as an adult, but there isn’t any specific advantages over Kayak or any other regular travel search engines after you no longer qualify for the student price.

The Explore option on Kayak is one of my favorite tools because it gives you so much flexibility. Using this option, you can set the max you’re willing to pay for a round trip flight, what time of year you want to go, and for how long you want to go. I used this function for the first time to go to Spain, and it made for the perfect trip!

Word of warning! I’ve heard that some people have had trouble with Kayak. Personally, I have not run into any issues (knock on wood!) while using Kayak, but I will caution you to make sure you read everything. I know those contracts are not fun and they’re usually incredibly long, but make sure you read through to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Make sure you print out all the things you need to print out so you won’t run into any issues when you’re in a foreign country and possibly don’t speak the language.

Trains (and other forms of public transport)

Depending on where you’re heading and how much time you have, trains and buses can be a really fun method of transportation. As with all the aspects of travel, I highly recommend a lot of research so you can comparison shop. Questions you’d want to ask yourself are:

  • How long is the distance you’re traveling?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What method is more cost effective?
  • What do you want to get out of this, if anything?

Weighing time and distance with cost is super important. While buses and trains will inevitably take longer than plane when looking at journey time, you also have to weigh in the time factor of getting to the airport, going through airport security, boarding a plane, getting off a plane, collecting your luggage, then leaving the airport. Alternatively, if you take a bus/train, you can skip most of those steps, but you will be sitting on your butt for a lengthier bit of time. Depending on the situation, trains/buses may make more sense than a plane, and vice versa.

For example, when I traveled the East Coast, it would cost at least $50 (generally more) to fly between cities I visited. While it would seem convenient because flights would only take an hour or so, Megabus made much more sense for me because bus rides generally cost me under $10/ride and only added an extra hour or so to my commute. Since I like looking at scenery in between places I visit, being on a bus also made more sense since I can only look at clouds on a plane.

In Europe, trains made more sense than planes because the distances were short (like Barcelona to Madrid) and the trains are super fast. In my opinion, the trains were much more comfortable than planes, and I also got to see the countryside during the travel. In the States, trains are slower and just as expensive as plane tickets, so make sure you weigh your options!

Again, it all depends on what you’re looking for and what you value more, so make the best choice for you and your needs.

Car

I can’t say I have too much experience about this since I’ve only rented a car once, and that was for a short distance. I would say, check Kayak.com for the best deals. From what I’ve read, a lot of the rental car companies are owned by the same companies. The budget car companies just use the older car models that have more mileage. I can’t confirm this from personal experience, but a lot of budget travel sites have reported this.

Lodging

In today’s world, hotels aren’t the only option for lodging when you travel! While hotels are nice, they can get pricey and when you just need a place to sleep, it might not be your best option. As someone that travels by herself pretty often, I also find myself wanting to stay with locals because it allows me to make friends and get some insight into the best things to see and eat in the area. Aside from staying with friends, I generally have 2 options I look at when traveling: Airbnb and Couchsurfing. Learn below about how I use these two lodging options and how you should approach them.

Airbnb

I’m sure you’ve heard about Airbnb at this point, but in case you haven’t, Airbnb is a site that allows you to experience a modern version of a homestay. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find hosts that are super involved in your stay or hosts that are more hands-off so it’s like a cheaper hotel (but please don’t treat it and expect it to be like a hotel). Learn more about Airbnb here and how you can use it to book your perfect stay. Want to try it and get a discount? Use my link here to book your first stay and get $40 off!

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a cool lodge-sharing site that basically lets you sleep on someone’s couch or extra room without extra cost. I used this option generally when I found the other options (hotels and Airbnb) to expensive in the area. It’s a tricky choice since it’s a little scary staying in a stranger’s house, although one can argue that the same thing is happening with Airbnb. Click here to learn more about the Couchsurfing site and community and how you can use it safely.

Hotels

I actually haven’t stayed in a hotel for personal travel in years. That being said, depending on where I’m traveling, I will look at hotel prices just to compare with Airbnb prices to see if it’d be more cost effective to stay in hotel. Sometimes an Airbnb location may be less expensive, but if a hotel room is not that much more expensive but is closer to a central location, I’d rather pay a little more to be in the central location. That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Things to Do

One of my go-tos during this part of travel research is to look up “free things to do in” and “things to do in” for my destination on Google. Sometimes, this plays into when I book a trip because if my schedule is flexible, I consider go during cool holidays or festivals (or maybe you want to avoid these weeks!). Usually, TripAdvisor provides great lists to get you started, and it’s split up into various sub-categories. I’ll compare multiple lists and jot down ideas of things I might want to see, then group them together according to location. At that point, I start planning out my days so I have a general idea of what would be the most efficient way to spend the days on my trip. Aside from those lists and specific attractions, here are some things I check out for most cities:

Free Walking Tours

Free walking tours have become an increasingly popular way of exploring a city. Basically, tour companies offer a free walking tour to visitors in hopes of enticing them into paying for the other tours they offer. For example, in Madrid, SANDEMANs offers daily free walking tours where they’ll give you some basic history about Madrid and Spain. Throughout the tour, you’ll come across some pieces of history that the guide will mention you can get a more detailed version of the history on another tour run later on in the day. Are these tours really free? Yes! You certainly can walk through the tour without spending a dime. However, most people will give their guide a small tip to show their appreciation ($5-10) because most of these guides are really talented and give fantastic tours.

Gyms and Sports Abroad

Okay, so this might be something that only my friends and I do, but if you participate in a sport back home, joining in with the local enthusiasts might be a fun experience for you. I practice judo, so one of my favorite parts about traveling is being able to visit a local dojo and practicing with the local judoka. For me, it allows me to learn how to execute techniques in a different style (and sometimes that meshes better for me than how I learned it back home!), and it allows me to make new friends. Judo and Brazilian jiujitsu communities everywhere tend to be pretty welcoming, so if you practice these sports, it might be worth looking into.

Judo in Madrid with Spanish and Portuguese players!

For hikers and runners, there are local groups that can be found on Facebook or Meetup. I found a great Meetup in London when I was there and went on a fantastic day hike with them to Sussex. Everyone was super welcoming, and I still keep in touch with one of the people I met in that group!

If you’re not into participating in sports or exercising, there’s always checking out the local sports teams! If you’re traveling when your favorite sport is in season, see if you can get tickets to a game. As long as you’re respectful, sports fans will generally be nice to you if you want to have conversation and join in with their cheering. Or you can enjoy just watching the game! When I went to Montreal, I went to a Montreal Canadiens game that was so much fun. The Habs were playing the New York Islanders, and while I wasn’t a hardcore fan of either team (because GO SHARKS!), I had a great experience seeing a game in Bell Centre. If you’re a soccer (aka football to the rest of the world) fan, definitely check out to see if there’s a game going on when you’re visiting since many countries (outside the US) are all about that soccer.

Holidays

Are you going to be vacationing during a holiday? If you are, see if there are some local traditions that you might want to participate in or view. When I went to Spain, my vacation happened to coincide with the Easter holiday. In Spain, Easter is very important, so the celebration goes on for the entire week, called Holy Week. Madrid hosts various religious processions during Easter Week, and they’re quite a sight to see if you’ve never experienced them. Definitely check out the local event schedule to see if there are some things that pique your interest!

And that’s it!

I’m sure there are little things here and there that you may want to add into your plans, but I will emphasize that research is KEY to making sure your trip is successful. Depending on your style of travel, you can do just a little research or you can plan your trip down to the minute. Either way, make sure you plan and have backup plans in case your original plan falls through. Solo traveling can be daunting, but as long as you plan, you’ll be prepared to handle all the various scenarios.

Need some extra tips? Check out my Tips & Tricks page!