A Complete Guide To Solo Travel (In A-B-C Format)

by Melanie

Welcome to the world of solo travel. Instead of your typical blog post, we thought we’d make this a little fun by providing an A to Z travel guide with tips, tricks and tidbits for the independent adventurer. 

As a frequent traveler myself (pictured above), I usually know what to expect, or at least am well-prepared to expect the unexpected. Let’s get started.

A – Airplane Size Containers

Don’t be an amateur. You only need enough to get you through the first few nights, and can always refresh supplies when you’re at your destination. Get creative with holding liquids and other travel-sized necessities in smaller containers, like contact lens cases and pill holders. 

B – Breakfast Buffet

Before the trip: search for and select a hotel with a breakfast buffet, included or paid. Many times it is worth it, and some even tempt you with a discount for paying up front. 

During the trip: No need to be bashful. That waffle bar with the Nutella fountain? Yes. The smoothie shots? Grab 7. The fancy stuff you can’t, or at least definitely don’t, make at home? Looking at you, eggs benedict, chocolate chip pancakes, carving station… 

My point is: the breakfast buffet is amazing. And one less thing to worry about each day. And I really hope the next hotel I visit has a carving station. 

My breakfast buffet haul

C – Carry-on

Consider this a declaration: Carry-ons are all you need. You will be faster, less weighed down, and have less decision paralysis when it comes to choosing an outfit.

Say it with me….

  • Commit to a color scheme
  • Black goes with everything
  • Laundry is king

You’d be amazed at how easy it is to do laundry when traveling. We’ll pick this up in a moment when we get to L.

D – Device Holder

Even bookworms and fitness junkies crave the sweet warmth of the iPad glow with those scarlet letters: NETFLIX. 

Download (and the fact that this isn’t our D word means that something better is coming) and enjoy on-the-go with your devices on airplane mode. Don’t forget your Beats, AirPods or whatever the kids are using these days.

FlipFlap holds your devices and even latches onto airplane seatbacks. Ugly, yes, but definitely sturdy.

E – Emergency Info

Gather and keep together in one place: National Emergency Number (also good to memorize), police, fire and any other numbers you feel are important to know, and also to share with an emergency contact back home. 

Tip: In Europe, Americans can dial 112, and an operator will connect you to an emergency service line for the country you’re visiting. There are US embassies all over the globe and can help in emergencies including lost passports. 

F – Foot Hammock 

Life. Changing. For those of us that sometimes can’t fly in a lie-flat bed sometimes, this invention straps around your tray table, keeps your feet up, and releases the tension from your back. Excellent for long-haul flights.

You’re welcome. 

G – Google Maps 

Do I even need to elaborate here?  Use it to learn cities beforehand, mark and save locations, discover new places and navigate via foot, car or public transit. You can save Maps offline, and download directions before you lose WiFi. Yeah, Google Maps wins.  

H – Hello, Hola, Hej 

If you can learn just one word in the local language, let it be the standard greeting. You might say it wrong, but people appreciate the thought. And you can learn from locals how to say it right! 

Traveling solo lets you practice a foreign language without someone jumping in to translate, or being the brunt of Karen’s jokes for mixing up huevos and jueves (eggs and Thursday) ONE TIME.

I – Insurance

You hope you wont need it, but… you know the rest. Just Do It, as travel insurance companies sponsored by Nike would say.

Related: Information On Chase’s Travel Insurance Benefit Coverage

J – Jewelry 

Take only what you must – the less, the better.

K – Kronas, Euros and Pounds, oh my 

If you’re traveling abroad, don’t flash your greenbacks and expect to get served. My advice: order local currency from your bank prior to your trip to avoid those international fees. Having coins will also come in handy as many regions charge for use of public restrooms. 

L – Laundry 

standard hotel referral

Hotel laundry can be expensive.

Whether you’re reading this alphabetically, or skipped here from C, or maybe there’s some crazy cats who just picked a random letter…either way, laundry is king.

Look for hotels with laundry rooms instead of laundry service, which can get expensive. Ask the hotel if there is regular laundry available (not dry clean) and sometimes they’ll do it for free or for a small fee.

In many cities, laundromats have wash and dry combo machines (I’m telling you, we’re living in the future), and you can toss in a load and return couple hours later to clean laundry.

Anything you can wash by hand, you can use hotel sinks and hang dry.  Just like at home, the key is tackling laundry early and often, and in small batches, so that you always have more clean clothes than not. 

M – Melatonin

Have a few 5 mgs ready to go. You never know when you might need a little help busting jet lag, especially in the first few days. You can buy this overseas, but its just one of those things that’s easier to already have with you. Hit up your local drugstore or buy it on Amazon.

N – New Stuff

You know you’re going to want to buy stuff. Souvenirs, clothing, you name it. Prepare for that and have a plan ready to bring home your new loot.

O – Orange

Okay, it doesn’t have to be Orange, but you should get a local SIM card, which end up being much more cost effective than your US data plan when traveling abroad. You can buy it on Amazon, register and load it in the US, and use an earring back or small pin to pop open the SIM card holder, replacing yours with the local SIM card when you arrive at your destination. Keep your US SIM card in the Orange (or other carriers) packaging so its easily located when you return. 

solo travel guide

P – Packing Cubes

It makes packing easier, but the fun part is the unpacking at your destination. There’s no (okay, less) clutter when everything is contained, and it’s just as easy to pack back up. If you’re in and out of hotels, these will save you precious time. Time that you could be using to shop, to fill this incredibly well-contained suitcase. 

Q – Quiet Time

Use quiet time to slow down and reflect on what’s happening in this new world around you. Pick up a new hobby or revisit one you enjoyed before. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Draw
  • Paint
  • Listen to a podcast series or audiobook
  • Read – books, magazines, SkyMall
  • Solve crossword puzzles
  • Write or journal 

These are activities that are great to do alone and without time restraints. Who knows, maybe you’ll write the next great American novel. 

R – Rick Steves

Rick freaking Steves is a legend. This rockstar has traveled all over Europe, and low-key has an app with a trove of free walking tours led by himself and some old friends he’s picked up traveling through the years. 

Look, I’m not saying this stuff is going to win an Oscar, but it is a great way to learn a new city quickly and get a sense of the layout and main sights. In most episodes, he even recommends hopping out at certain points, pausing the audio tour and spending time in key locations. Other helpful clips cover topics including language, food and culture. Fun and short listens while strolling around a city. 

solo travel guide

 

S – Sapphire Preferred

Or whatever plastic you’re holding. Reward points will fuel your travel dreams, and if you don’t have a card that rewards you, please open a new tab now. 

T – Tours

Particularly for remote destinations, guided tours can be a GREAT option. Search on GetYourGuide, Viator, or others and enjoy reviews from fellow travelers, plus book tours directly. Most activities allow cancellation 24 hours in advance if you change plans, or you know, no longer feel up to that rock climbing challenge. 

U – U-Bahn, The Underground, and other public transportation starting and not starting with U

Public transit is one of the most efficient ways to get around cities, and offers a convenient way to reach both city centers and far-out destinations that can then connect you further. Consider whether it’s worth an unlimited pass for your stay. 

solo travel guide

V – Validate

V is a reminder to validate your train and/or bus tickets when traveling abroad. There are usually small boxes near the tracks before boarding, and they will stamp your ticket to validate it. Some countries have their own unique customs, so find out before you go, otherwise you could end up with a penalty fine, stranded at an unknown location, or worst of all, deemed a complete and utter disappointment to the train conductor. 

W – Window Seat

So maybe you like the window, maybe the aisle, if you like the middle, I’m calling the police. But whatever your preference, there are several chances to strategically pick your seat. 

First, know what you like. Having a clear vision like this is important for seat-selecting. Tall people may enjoy an emergency exit for more legroom, while some people hate turbulence and find sitting over a wing helps. Personally, I’m a wing girl. I love the window seat.

  1. When booking, check the seat. Many airlines will let you select an economy seat without a fee.
  2. At check-in. If you’re checking in close to the flight time, look for two empty seats next to each other. Cross your fingers the other seat doesn’t get filled.
  3. At the airport check-in monitors, you have another chance to change your seat (and also print a hard copy of your boarding pass to save phone battery.)
  4. On the plane, if you’re not happy with your seat, ask a flight attendant if there are any other available seats. This has surprisingly worked for me a few times, but can’t be expected to work 100% of the time. But it’s worth a try!

X – Xercise (“can she do that?”)

Lifting is cool bro, but the easiest – and IMO, the best – way to get exercise while traveling? Just pick up your feet. Set a goal and commit. It’s a great way to see new cities and neighborhoods, and it’s free! 

Related: Guide To The Best Vancouver Walking Tour 

Y – You.

You are in charge of YOU, and you only have YOU looking after you. 

Take extra precautions and if something doesn’t feel right, fix it right away. Check in regularly with friends at home, and trust your instincts when it comes to safety. 

Z – Ziplock Bags

Buy in all shapes and sizes — you will always have a use for Ziplock bags. In separate Ziplock bags you can carry: electronics, including travel adapters; snacks; toiletries; socks; jewelry; important documents… you get the idea. Ziplock bags are a truly underrated travel item. Appreciate the simplicity. 

Runner-up: Zzzzs

Sleep is important. Allow yourself rest days and don’t ever feel guilty for going to bed early or sleeping in. And sprawl out — a big, fluffy hotel bed just for you…  that’s reason enough to travel solo.

The Upshot

So there you have it – now you know your ABCs (of solo travel.)  It’s an amazing world out there. Now go explore it!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

9 comments
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9 comments

JRG September 15, 2019 - 12:52 pm

V:

My first trip in Germany and Switzerland on the train. Do I have to validate my tickets?

Reply
Melanie September 15, 2019 - 1:00 pm

Hello! Unless you have a ticket for a specific date and time, you will likely need to validate them in both countries. Look for a small box near the train tracks and insert your ticket to be stamped.

Reply
JRG September 15, 2019 - 4:40 pm

Hmmm. My tickets are electronic and on my smart phone. I bought them with my Deutsche Bahn account.

Reply
Melanie September 15, 2019 - 5:02 pm

If the ticket is purchased for a specific date and time, there is no need to validate it. The reason for validating is to ensure people cannot reuse tix for future travel. But when a date/time is printed, it cannot be used for travel outside that time, so there is no need to validate it.

Reply
Christian September 15, 2019 - 1:50 pm

Very nice list overall. There’s one I’d change and one I’m curious about though. For C, I’d probably list a chip and pin credit card, since that’s what most of the world either uses or is migrating toward. Since my wife and I are fortunate enough to travel for a couple of weeks at a time, we always check luggage. Otherwise, how do you bring back gifts without paying crazy shipping costs? On the curious front, for anyone over about 5’4″ or so, how would the foot hammock work? I’m 6’4″ and I tend to get bruised knees on flights. Even my 5’9″ wife wouldn’t have the space to use one. Not a criticism, I’m truly curious.

Reply
Melanie September 15, 2019 - 2:17 pm

Hi Christian!

You’re right, a lot of the world is embracing chip & pin and contactless pay now (which I love) and the US is quickly adopting that approach as well, so I hope most of our readers are taking advantage! Especially on public transit, like the London tube, it’s a gamechanger!

Since this list is squarely focused on solo travel, I still highly recommend carry-on luggage. It sounds like you and your wife have a great system for traveling together and checking bags, but for my solo traveler readers, a carry-on size allows you to travel light and also gives you the option to buy items throughout your trip to then check home!

Reply
Melanie September 15, 2019 - 2:20 pm

Christian, I looked into the foot hammock question and someone who is 6’2 said it worked well for him because the straps are adjustable. Let us know if you purchase it and what you think!

Reply
Devin Baillairge September 18, 2019 - 9:34 am

Melanie – an excellent list, and great product suggestions! My $0.02:

• A – liquids can be tricky as the container must be a leak proof solution. I use old Carmex containers for hair gel, toothpaste, and anything else slightly more solid than a liquid.
• I – insurance. Typically, they have outs for everything. I don’t buy it. If you have a preferred company, I’m all ears. What kind of exclusions do they have? If the typical reasons for delays are covered (airline problems/delays, sickness, family emergency), then I could be sold.
• K – easiest and least expensive way to secure local currency is to bring a debit card with access to the most common networks. Let your bank know your travel plans before you go. This may not be necessary if it is a chipped card, but best to be safe rather than sorry. Ordering currency from your bank before you go is typically expensive, and you really don’t need currency when you get off the plane. Well, at least I don’t. 
• N – pack a foldable/soft case bag in your carryon for just this purpose.
• P – I use vacuum bags, but sans the vacuum. I simply sit on the bags to force the air out. I use them on all trips that include a flight. Useful for separating clean from dirty clothes as well. Works like a champ, and saves a ton of bag space.
• J – since jewelry is NA to me, I’d replace this with Journaling. As of late, I have used the Chronicle app over the last couple of years. Beats hand writing – who DOES this anymore? I get cramps, and typing is easier for me.
• M or a new E – Ear plugs. If you are a light sleeper like me, these are invaluable if Little Johnny has a temper on a redeye, if you get a 2nd floor room in NYC, or want to zone out.
• R – you like Rick Steeves (and I do too!), but I steer to Frommer’s Day-by-Day books for cities to get the inside scoop. Downside is that they quit publishing them as of late, but older ones are cheap used, and still provide good information.
• Z – I concur with Ziplocs – I carry a bunch. Add rubber bands to the list (think wrapping charging cords).

Reply
Janet September 18, 2019 - 10:15 am

I never get money at home…although sometimes I have money left over from a previous trip…right now I have a bunch of euros. I let my bank know I’m traveling out of the country, and use ATMs. My bank doesn’t charge a fee. In addition, I use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

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