Solo Female Travel for Beginners: A Practical Guide to Planning Your First Trip
This post was originally published on the Solo Female Travel Network
Planning a Solo Trip: A Guide for Beginners
So, you’ve decided to take the solo travel leap and are now planning a solo trip? Congratulations! Your first solo trip will be one that you will never forget!
This beginner’s guide is a practical tool to assist you in planning your first solo trip, including pre-travel logistics to navigating your destination like a pro. Let’s begin!
Planning a solo trip doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated. There are however, a few pre-travel logistics to consider before even booking your trip. Don’t worry, once you get the hang of it, these things will just become second nature.
Ensure your passport is up to date and doesn’t expire for 6 months before you plan to travel internationally. Also make sure it has enough blank pages in it to accommodate new stamps and visas (I made this mistake and had to renew my passport abroad in Kenya).
You will want to keep a digital copy of your passport handy or store a photocopy of it in your carry-on; in the worst-case scenario that it is stolen or lost, at least you will have a record of your identity and your passport number.
You may or may not need a visa depending on your citizenship and the country you are traveling to. You can often check this on your government’s travel website, or you can check on the iVisa website. If you do require a visa, you may need to apply for it in advance, so it is recommended to do this online before booking your trip, as unfortunately there is no guarantee your application will be approved.
Exceptions to this are if the visa is offered on arrival, meaning you can complete the visa application form and pay in person at immigration when entering the country. Again, this will depend on which country you are entering and your citizenship.
Considering how you will manage your finances is an important aspect of planning a solo trip. Some sources recommend calling your bank to let them know you will be using your debit card or credit card abroad, so they don’t activate identity theft protocol.
In terms of how you will actually navigate your finances while traveling internationally in a new currency, there are a few options:
ATMs typically give the best exchange rate of the day and are usually conveniently available at airports upon arrival. However, most ATMs charge a fee for their use and some financial institutions charge their own fee; this could add up to a whopping $10 in fees per withdrawal.
Check with your bank to see what your options are. Some bank accounts offer to reimburse international ATM fees, and if you are lucky enough to have this benefit, using an ATM to access money will be your best option.
Cash exchange kiosks are notorious for charging high exchange rates, meaning you will lose money during the exchange. You are better to directly exchange cash at your financial institution and only resort to commercial cash exchange companies if you’re desperate. For example, you are left with a foreign currency and need to get rid of it at the airport before returning home.
If you don’t want to walk around with large sums of cash, having a travel credit card is your best bet. Look for one with a 0% foreign transaction fee so you don’t pay more for each purchase and ideally also one with a travel rewards program.
Some travel credit cards also offer travel insurance, so definitely read the fine print to see what you are covered for. I use the American Express Premium CashBack card because it offers comprehensive travel insurance and car rental insurance, plus I get 2-5% cash back on all my purchases!
Planning a Solo Trip
Booking your Trip
Travel agent vs. self-planned
If you don’t have much experience traveling or creating a trip itinerary, or you don’t have the time to plan a trip, working with a travel agent can be extremely helpful. Agents can help you with everything from booking flights, to scheduling ground transfers, accommodation and tours — basically the whole package. They can also be extremely useful in sorting out issues in the event that something goes array while traveling, such as a flight being cancelled or delayed.
However, those on a tight budget or who desire more flexibility in their travel schedule may want to plan their own trip. There are a variety of budget airlines and fight search engines nowadays which can help you get to your destination cheaper, notify you of sales, or even explore all destinations across time according to cost. I usually use Skyscanner for this reason (I have an entire post on how to use Skyscanner to get cheap flights if you aren’t familiar with it).
Deciding Where to Stay
Hotel vs. Hostel vs. Airbnb
Once you have your flights booked, the next step in planning a solo trip is to decide where to stay. Generally speaking, you have three options: hotels, hostels or an Airbnb.
Hostels are budget-friendly and tend to be conveniently located in city centres near bus or train terminals. They usually have kitchen facilities and some of them even have an in-house bar! Staying at a hostel is a great way to meet other travellers and participate in group activities while traveling solo (though there is hostel etiquette you need to follow). The downsides are less privacy and the potential for noise or uncleanly shared environments.
Hotels may appear to be the more expensive option, but this really depends on your destination. In some areas of Asia and Africa, a basic hotel room can cost less than a bed in a dorm room. There are lots of great websites to explore your options, such as Hoteltonight.com or Booking.com (just be sure to read the reviews to determine the accuracy of the listing). Sometimes booking a hotel directly on their website can be cheaper, so it might be worth-while to compare costs. Use this link to get $25 towards a booking with Hotels Tonight!
Finally, Airbnb has become a popular choice for travellers to find a home away from home while on the road. If you prefer to have your own kitchen or work space while traveling, booking an apartment on Airbnb might be for you. You can also rent a room in someone’s home via Airbnb, meaning you will share space with the host. Just like with anything, check the reviews and trust your gut. Use this link to get $30 off your first Airbnb booking!
Pre-travel Health Considerations
We all know that life is unpredictable so even the best planned trip can go off the rails. Travel insurance covers not only travel expenses and your belongings (e.g. your flight is cancelled, or your luggage is stolen), but also your health (e.g. you need to be hospitalized or medically evacuated). The costs associated with seeking medical consultation and treatment abroad can be very minimal in some countries or astronomical in others. It is therefore always best to be prepared and purchase travel insurance, such as a comprehensive package through a legitimate company like World Nomads, who I have used several times now.
When purchasing insurance, always read the fine print to see what you are or are not covered for and how you would be required to make a claim. Leave a copy of your insurance policy behind with a family or friend and keep an electronic copy of it in an easily accessible file in your email or on your phone.
As mentioned earlier, I use American Express for travel insurance (such as if my luggage gets stolen or lost) and car rental insurance (such as if I damaged a rental…and yes I have crashed before lol you can read about the time I drove into a highland ditch if you are curious).
The annual fee for this particular card is $99 per year, which breaks down to $8.25 per month for coverage of any travel you purchase with that card. For example, if you book a flight with the Amex, you are protected if that flight is cancelled, if you miss the flight due to a medical reason, if you miss a connection due to that flight being delayed, if your bag is lost or damaged. If you book a hotel with the Amex, you are protected if the room is broken into and belongings are stolen. The list goes on!
To determine if there are mandatory vaccinations required for entrance to the country you are traveling to, you may want to check the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health website. For example, proof of receiving the yellow fever vaccine is required to enter East African countries and without your immunization card you may be denied entry. Conversely, there may be vaccines or tablets recommended for your destination, such as the rabies vaccination or antimalarial pills.
If you have a prescription medicine you need to take with you on your travels, speak to your pharmacist about getting it in bulk so you won’t run out while abroad. Also, it is important to ask for a prescription to keep with you as you may or may not need it during transit.
It is also important to consider whether your medication is legal in the destination you are arriving into. For example, some forms of narcotics are illegal in certain counties. You can check the status of your prescription medication at the CDC travel medicine website.
Avoiding Travel Mishaps
Do your research
Airplane travel doesn’t have to be stressful or cumbersome with a little preparation. Make sure you check with your airline for their luggage requirements and fees, including the weight and size dimensions of both checked and carry-on baggage. If you’re not sure about luggage, you can read about the best travel accessories.
No one wants to show up to the airport and have to pay an unexpected cost, so weigh your luggage once you are done packing (though be sure to leave some extra space for things you may want to bring home with you). You may want to read my tips on how to pack lighter if you are concerned.
If you are flying out of a large airport, check the airport website for which terminal your airline departs from and the estimated wait times. Once you start to travel more, you will come to know which airports are notorious for being chaotic versus streamlined, but for now it can be really helpful to orient yourself online before arriving to the airport.
Checking in online can save stress while at the airport and also gives you the option to pick your seat on the aircraft (though often at an additional fee). Note that if you are stowing baggage, you will still need to drop your luggage off at the airline counter. Nowadays there are often electronic kiosks which print bag-tags, and a designated bag-drop line so you can avoid the check-in line all together.
If you are nervous about doing this, simply wait in the check-in line and give the staff your passport. However, if you plan to do this be sure to give yourself a full 3 hours before your international flight to accommodate for long lines.
Pack your carry-on properly
Most airports are very strict on fluids, gels and aerosols over 100ml/100g and any objects which may appear to be a weapon (e.g. scissors or knives). There is nothing more stressful than having items confiscated or your bag pulled apart by security agents. If you have personal care products in your carry-on luggage, ensure they are in bottles or containers < 100ml and inside a clear pouch or plastic bag. Reusable water bottles are fine but make sure they are empty when you pass through security.
You will also want to keep all valuables and travel documents in your carry-on. My rule of thumb is to pack my carry-on as if I know my stowed luggage will be lost or tampered with. I am therefore always prepared by having some essential toiletries and a change of clothes in my carry on, as well as all electronics, medications and forms of identification.
Navigating your new surroundings can be difficult when dealing with jetlag, culture shock and language barriers. While most hotels and hostels provide city maps and can offer you further advice, you might prefer to use a digital navigation strategy. Apps like maps.me offer offline solutions to navigate, simply requiring you to download the country map before you go off wifi. I usually do this at the airport before I fly to any new country. Conversely, getting a local SIM card once on the ground will ensure you never go offline and can readily use google maps, Uber or any local transit apps.
Hiring a local guide or taking a local tour can also be great ways to orient yourself to a new city by foot, and often serve as great opportunities to find local hot spots and hidden gems.
While solo female travel is generally very safe, it is still important to be proactive in any situation. It is therefore helpful to consider how you will take measures to protect yourself while traveling.
First, check your government website for any travel advisories for your destination and register as a citizen abroad to get direct email notifications of any emerging events. Reading about your destination can also provide useful information on local crime rates or any popular scams to be aware of, as well as helpful tips like whether public transport systems have female-only sections or how local women typically dress.
More specific safety tips will vary based on the context of where you travel, but it is always SO important to trust your gut. If something or someone doesn’t feel right, trust your inner intuition to keep you safe.
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