Some of us who travel alone like to organize every detail and hour of the trip. Others prefer to wander and see what happens. I’m somewhere in between. I like to have a general knowledge of where I’m going and why, but leave the details to the whims of my mood and who I encounter along the way. Regardless of trip planning style, it does take some planning to travel alone.
This post assumes that you know where you are going and why. If you haven’t yet decided these, please have a read of How to Travel Alone: choosing your destination.
Solo travel planning step 1: Get organized
You will likely collect a lot of information during the planning stage. Here’s a strategy for organizing it.
- Open a bookmarks folder in your web browser and a file folder on your desktop for storing all online information you find on your destination
- Make subfolders if necessary for things like “accommodation”, “things to do”, “restaurants”, “clubs”…
- Get a portfolio or actual paper file folder (yes, they still exist) where you can keep hard copies of the most important information you find online as well as articles and brochures you collected.
Solo travel planning step 2: Research
The information you need for traveling alone is slightly different than when you’re traveling with a companion. Here’s what you’ll need to research. The second part of this section offers some excellent resources.
How to get there
Being solo on an airline doesn’t really make much difference but, when traveling by train, I like to choose my level of service carefully. If I want to be social I prefer to travel coach. If I want quiet, I book business class. Likewise, if it’s by bus, I choose the back if I want to be more social and the middle for quiet. The front may have someone who wants to chat with the driver.
Where to stay
Accommodation is a big issue when you travel alone.
- B&Bs and Hostels that have common rooms and shared breakfasts tend to be quite social creating opportunities for solo travelers to meet others.
- Hotels, especially high end hotels, tend to be less social. When booking a hotel:
- Refer to current travel guides or websites and choose hotels in safe neighborhoods. You may want to use Trip Advisor or Google Street View.
- Ask for a hotel room on the second floor or higher. If you’re a woman and they have a women only floor (not that common) ask for it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: Are there smoke detectors in every room? Will my room door have a peep hole? Does the room have a safe? Is there 24 hour professional security personnel?
Where to eat
Food contributes to health and we all want to stay healthy when we travel alone.
- Choosing where to eat may depend on whether you’re a foodie or have dietary issues. If you fall into either category, you already know what you’re looking for and a bit of research should help you find it.
- If neither of the above applies to you, you may want to go to restaurants that have communal tables. This is growing trend for both causal and fine dining and great for those of us who travel alone.
How to get around and see stuff
Of course you can rent a car, use local transit and taxis. But, when you travel alone, more social ways to see things are helpful. You may want to find out if your destination offers:
- A Greeter Program
- Free walking tours
- Backpacker’s tours (often cheaper, smaller and more fun)
Like every other traveler, you’ll also want to research
- How to stay safe, happy and healthy when you travel alone. (There are posts coming on these topics)
- The weather and climate so that you can pack clothing accordingly
- Local cultural expectations concerning dress, etiquette, customs…
How to stay in touch
For safety reasons and for the peace of mind of friends and family, it’s especially important to stay in touch when you travel alone. In advance of leaving, research the availability of Internet Cafes, cellular reception, how the land line phone system works, prepaid phone cards and, of course, the postal service so that you can stay in communication with home.
Some great resources:
- Look for blogs on your destination. Do a Google Blog search http://blogsearch.google.com/ on your destination. Review the blog in general to see if you think it is trustworthy. If it is, dig deep and gather information.
- Do a Google image search http://images.google.com/ on your destination to find important landmarks. This is particularly great for visual learners.
- You can buy a travel guide for your destination but there are many free guides online as well. You may find WikiTravel http://wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page helpful.
- Search your destination on http://YouTube.com and you will likely find a video or two on it.
- Go to your library for research. If your trip isn’t a long one, you can borrow a guide and maps to take with you.
- Use Google Street View to get a ground view of your accommodation and what’s nearby. http://maps.google.ca/help/maps/streetview/
- Search Chowhound http://chowhound.chow.com/boards for just about anything you need to know about food in just about any city you could go to – including where there are communal tables.
- Travel-Climate http://www.travel-climate.com/ will give you average temperatures by month for cities and countries all over the world.
- I couldn’t find one central site for country-specific cultural issues but if you Google “adapt culture international travel” and then the country you’re going to, you should find the information you need.
Solo travel planning step 3: make your arrangements
With the research done, you can make your arrangements with confidence.
- Book your transportation to make sure that you can get there when you want to
- Confirm accommodation so that you have a safe home base.
- Purchase tickets to the theater or other events that may require advance arrangements.
- Arrange transportation to the airport if necessary
- Pack lightly – including concise notes on your most valuable research.
- Go and have fun!