Travelling independently can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
It’s an opportunity to plan every single aspect of a trip the way you want — from where to go and where to stay to what to eat and what to do. That said, there’s no doubt that planning your first solo trip can be daunting, so here are a few tips to help get you started.
Do Your Research
As a solo traveller, you rely entirely on yourself to know some important facts about the area you’re visiting. General knowledge such as the capital city, the official language and the country’s leader is useful, but it’s worth taking your research a step further. What’s appropriate to wear in public? Is it rude to haggle for prices? What’s the accepted form of greeting? You’ll learn many things along the way, but it’s good to have an idea of what the cultural norms are.
Learn The Language
A little effort goes a long way when it comes to learning a new language. Not only is it fun, but knowing a bit of vocabulary and some popular phrases will also come in handy when you’re looking for directions, recommendations, or even if you just want to interact with locals and make new friends. Google Translate, Duolingo, Memrise, Trip Lingo and Papago are all useful apps.
Try Different Modes of Transport
Travelling involves a lot of planning to factor in budgets and time. But if you can swing it, try switching up your methods of transport. Flights are quick, but trains can offer some fantastic views and buses are often the cheapest. Apps like Rome2Rio show you fares for all different modes of transport to compare prices and travelling times.
A Backpacker Is Only As Good As Their Backpack
If there’s one thing worth spending some money on before your trip, it’s a high quality backpack. You want a durable backpack so it can withstand wet weather and rough handling. It should also be lightweight and have plenty of compartments to make for easy packing and organizing. If you can, choose a backpack that meets the carry-on size dimensions of your airline — this can save you a bundle in checked baggage fees throughout your trip.
Read (And Write) Reviews
Hotels, businesses and travel companies rely heavily on their online reviews. Some travellers can be quite vocal when it comes to complaints, but they can be equally enthusiastic if something is worth seeing or doing. Therefore, you can learn from reading both one-star and five-star reviews, especially on sites like TripAdvisor, Hostelworld and Booking.com. Furthermore, if you have something to say about a hotel or restaurant, write a review!
Always Carry Some Cash
You might not remember the last time you paid for something in cash back home, but you could be disappointed to find your credit and debit cards are entirely useless in certain places. Don’t assume all cabs take credit, keep some change for buying snacks on the road — and don’t rely on taking out cash at an airport ATM either; the fees are often higher.
Check Visa Requirements
Every country’s visa requirements are different, and some make it much easier than others to gather the appropriate documentation. It’s important to know exactly what you need before you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, you could risk hours of waiting in a queue, or worse, be refused entry. Make sure you’re getting your information from a legitimate government website and beware of online scams.
Furthermore, keep hard copies of important documentation like your passport, driver’s licence, health card and travel insurance on you in case you aren’t conscious and need medical assistance. Some countries may refuse to help without proof of insurance or payment. Putting scanned copies on your phone or laptop is a smart idea — just make sure they’re password protected.
Get a Local SIM Card
The thing about Wi-Fi is that it’s everywhere… until you need it most. For your own safety as a solo traveller, it can be a good idea to purchase a local SIM card at an airport or transit station. A cheap and basic plan that includes texting, calling and a little bit of data will suit most people. Side note: pick up a paper map. They’re usually free, they’re everywhere and they never need recharging.
Do A Free Walking Tour
Most major world cities (and many smaller cities) offer free guided walking tours and guided food walking tours. These tours are a great way to get your bearings on foot, learn about the city, the food and meet fellow travellers. The guides are often friendly young locals or expats who rely solely on tips — so don’t be stingy!
Make Use Of Forums
Chances are, if you have a question, there’s an online forum to address it. TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves and Travelfish all offer terrific forums with helpful tips and recommendations for hundreds of destinations worldwide. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, post a question yourself and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness and connectedness of the travelling community.
Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone (But Be Smart About It)
Your hotel or local associations and businesses may organize social events, which could be a great opportunity to make new friends.
That said, if there’s something you wouldn’t do at home for fear of repercussions, why do it abroad? Most solo travellers quickly learn that the world isn’t such a scary place, but that doesn’t mean you should put yourself in risky situations. You need to be extra aware of yourself and your surroundings and make sure you have a plan of action if something does go wrong. Save the local emergency numbers, make note of the nearest hospitals, police stations and embassies, and make a habit of letting your hotel desk know where you’re going at the start of the day.
Get The Right Insurance
Even the most meticulous planner needs to plan for the unexpected. That’s why travel insurance is the most important purchase to make before jetting off. Compare packages, get a quote online and find out which plan works best for you.
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This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.