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Last Updated on 23/12/2020
Planning your solo travel adventure is a mixed bag of emotions. You’ve thought about where you want to go and you might have even started making some initial arrangements about flights and hotel bookings.
It’s exciting but there are a few niggling worries to contend with. For one thing, planning a trip for any length of time by yourself can be overwhelming. Every minute detail is down to you and every problem is yours to solve. Overthink it and it’s enough to put you off.
The key to success is to break up the planning into themes for you to tackle one at a time. For example, on one day you make a plan to research activities in a particular place you’re keen to explore. On another you concentrate solely on how to get from the airport to the hotel (this can be surprisingly tricky).
No matter what system you use, you’re bound to make a few mistakes when organising your solo trip. If you’re keen to avoid as many as possible, here’s a list of dos and don’ts when planning your solo travel adventure. These are the secrets I’ve learnt and I hope you find them useful in avoiding some common pitfalls.
1. DO think about the season before you book your trip
You may just find yourself in a blizzard when you were hoping for sunshine. Seasons are also a good indicator of how popular your chosen destination will be and will impact the flight prices. When I decided on New Zealand, I was so giddy at the prospect of my first ever solo trip it didn’t even occur to me that because of the different hemisphere I would be travelling from midsummer to midwinter.
As it turned out, I would need more après-ski than After Sun. However, unrebuffed by the surprise, I turned my attention to the prospect of whale watching, hot springs, and skiing. I didn’t regret it for a moment – you can read about solo travel in New Zealand here.
Despite my chilly choice, the flights weren’t cheap being on the cusp of the summer holiday snow-chasing rush. If you’re on a budget it pays to aim for a month or two shy of this season. You get similar weather but without the busy hoards and extortionate prices.
2. DON’T leave your visa applications to the last minute
This may seem like an obvious tip, but I’ve been guilty of this. It causes a mighty amount of stress on top of the planning you have to do. Things like visas and travel insurance are easy to put off because they’re more of a chore than say, planning an awesome itinerary.
They can creep up on you when you only have a couple of months or weeks left before your departure date. Then you have a mad scramble to get the applications sorted (and correct!) and sent off.
So, if you think you might need a visa, research ahead of time so you can meet the requirements (you’ll definitely need travel insurance!). Don’t put off these travel essentials as it determines whether you’ll even set foot on your destination. Unless of course, you’re a bit of a daredevil who thrives on living in the balance. If so, I have nothing but nervous respect for you!
3. DO choose a tour operator to go with if you don’t feel confident
If you’re travelling solo for the first time or you’re going to a destination that you don’t feel 100% confident in they can be an important safety net for you.
Contrary to certain beliefs, backpacking isn’t just arriving at your chosen destination and then wandering off into the wilderness with a tent and several Kendal mint cakes in your pocket.
Your average backpacking holiday doesn’t require you to make a campfire from scratch in a remote region of the world. I have huge respect for anyone who attempts these missions, truly I do but they are not the norm. Anyway, most countries have strict rules about a pyrotechnic showcase.
Your solo travel backpacking holiday can be anything you want it to be. I find that the easiest way to find my feet in a destination is to join a tour group because the safety net gives me the confidence to branch off in my own time. Backpacking alone can feel daunting but the trip and destination become more obtainable to you when you find a group to travel with at least for the first few weeks. Plus they do a fair bit of the planning for you. Sorted! Find out whether a group tour is right for you here.
4. DON’T allow several weeks to fly by without making plans for your trip
Doing so is the best tried and tested method for achieving instant panic. It’s easy to do with solo travel because there’s no one else to give you a prompt. You tell yourself it’s too early to book anything. Your plan to go abroad next summer becomes a vague repeated mantra and begins losing its meaning until suddenly reality hits you with a jolt: YOU’RE GOING ABROAD IN THREE MONTHS.
Then you become a quivering wreck, overwhelmed by transport plans, hostel bookings, travel insurance, luggage, vaccinations etc. And you can’t shake the feeling that you’ll probably end up getting lost on your way to the airport anyway.
Sure, leaving leeway for spontaneity is recommended when travelling but personally, I prefer to know every single detail of my journey, particularly when there’s a flight at stake. If you’re someone who finds a lack of a plan terrifying, then don’t wait! Book and plan until you feel in control again.
5. DO make use of all the travel blogs out there
Blogs are a wealth of information from advice on what to pack, where to go, and who to avoid. When planning gets too much they become a refreshing antidote to the stress as they remind you why you’re going away in the first place.
Suddenly sorting out what you’re going to do about your phone contract abroad doesn’t seem too bad when a stunning beach promising scuba diving and unlimited Mai Tais pops up on your Instagram feed.
I’ve particularly found solo female travel blogs crucial in providing me with the confidence to travel by myself. Having taken up the challenge before us, they’ve done a lot of the legwork already.
After nervously sitting down to google solo female travel tips for the first time I have encountered a whole community of solo female travel experts who make it all look so easy! Without them, I wouldn’t know what to pack for a New Zealand winter, how to stay safe abroad or even how to plan a successful trip. I owe a lot to travel bloggers and I really can’t stress enough how valuable a source they are.
6. DON’T let anyone tell you that a solo trip is impossible to do
I’ve encountered many a muttered foreboding sentiment when I tell people I’m travelling alone, and it only makes me more determined.
Not having anyone to tag along with you isn’t the end. If you have a destination that you’re desperate to visit but no one else is, or if you fancy a rewarding challenge, then travel solo at least once in your life. I dare you. It’s the only way to guarantee that your travelling dream becomes a real, concrete reality.
The bonus is that you get to book what you want without waiting for someone else’s approval. Learning to become confident in my decision to go solo travelling and kicking those mutterings to the kerb has been an important lesson.
Travelling alone is rebellious in nature because the status quo believes it’s dangerous. To do so shows a paramount of strength and fearlessness even though you may be quivering with terror on the inside.
7. DO work out a realistic budget
This is surprisingly tricky and it all comes down to the cost of the destinations you’re visiting. Places like Australia and New Zealand are not cheap to travel around. You can get a lot more for your money in Southeast Asia, for example.
Having said that, it’s entirely doable to visit more expensive places if you work out a realistic budget for yourself. The hardest part as you plan for your trip is saving. You’re going to have to keep spending to needs only rather than wants. This means that in the time leading up to your trip you’ll have to make sacrifices.
In the run-up to my first solo trip, I left my life in London to move back into my family home and start a full-time job in a pub. It wasn’t easy but thankfully my decision paid off and I saw a boost in my savings. It pays to make sacrifices if it means saving what you need for your trip. After all, as a solo backpacker, you don’t have the guaranteed luxury of splitting travel costs.
8. DON’T make your trip all about you (even though it is)
If you decide to go solo, it’s a daunting prospect for all involved including your family and friends. The best way to help them come to terms with it is to communicate every stage of the planning process to them. These details can be as small as a new accommodation booking or your travel insurance plan. Nothing is too trivial if it helps them get the picture.
Filling them in on important bits of information about what you’ve organised and where you’ll be going helps them feel confident that you at least have some idea about what you’re doing. It makes the process less stressful and encourages them to join in in your excitement about the upcoming trip.
9. DO spend time researching where your money ends up abroad
The world of travel and tourism has a huge environmental impact on the planet from sunscreen to noise pollution. In recent years, the tourism industry has improved vast amounts with travel agencies such as Thomas Cook removing elephant rides from their activities and taking measures against pollution. However, where there are consumers there are always those who will monetize through exploitation.
Tourism is a celebration of what the planet and its countries have to offer. It strengthens economies by creating business for local communities. Therefore, it’s in the tourism industry’s best interest to sustain that which it monetizes and protect it not just for future travellers and businesses but also for the wellbeing of the planet as a whole.
You have an influence on this verdict. By putting your money into tourism which is founded on ethics and integrity you allow the industry and the environment to stand a chance and put exploitation out of business. You can read more about what you can do as a sustainable traveller here.