Top tips for first time solo travelers

I get a lot of questions about how I go about planning for a trip, what are the important things to plan in advance and how I know where to go. So I thought I’d write out some basic tips to help anyone who is thinking about taking the leap for some solo travelling or just travelling for the first time, things that can help you feel more prepared and confident. But feel free to skim over it and just look at the pictures 🙂

Travelling doesn’t have to be scary – if you break it down into individual steps, and know what to expect, it’s easy. In the wise iconic words of Julie Andrews (bring on the corny!)

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A B C
When you sing you begin with Do Re Mi

 

So when you travel you start with the airport – the basics.

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A plane coming in to land at Faro airport.

 

The airport

Airports are easy. They are largely the same the world over – they can be your safe space. Everything is signposted and labelled in English, your route is all laid out for you, all you have to do is follow the crowd.

First, check in. Most airlines let you do this online in advance, although the lead-in time will vary. Make sure you print your boarding pass unless they specifically say you don’t need to (e.g. via an airline app).

Arrive at the departure terminal at least 2 hours before. If you have more than carry-on luggage you will have to check in your bags.

Once you’re checked in, you have to go through security. Be prepared, it saves everyone a headache. Some airports are stricter than others but if you are prepared for the most strict regulations you will be fine. Have all your liquids (less than 100ml each) in a clear zip lock bag within easy reach. In the same place have all your electricals (phone, laptop, kindle etc). If you are wearing boots, a belt, a jacket or scarf, be ready to whip them off and put them in the tray.

It goes without saying – don’t bring any sharp or hazardous items on the plane. Leave your aerosol sprays at home.

If you’re flying domestic, that’s all you have to do. Look at the screens or your boarding pass to find your boarding gate and time and make your way there.

If you’re flying international you will then have to go through passport control. Sometimes this is at the boarding gate, but don’t worry – airports are designed so that you can’t accidentally miss any of these steps. But it helps to know what to expect, right? All you have to do is show your passport, and sometimes complete a departure card.

Then you’re home free! Or the opposite, in fact, you’re on your way to new adventures! As soon as you board, put your electronics in flight mode, sit back (don’t recline until you are in the air) and relax.

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A train station in Seville, Spain

Arriving at your destination

I strongly recommend you have your first steps upon arrival all planned out. The airport part is easy – just follow the crowd – or the signs – to passport control, baggage claim, customs and exit.

It’s the moment when you reach the arrivals hall that people start to feel uneasy. You might have travelled a long way, you might be tired, a bit disorientated. So you want to know in advance which hotel you are going to and how you are going to get there. If you are arriving late at night or you know that you’re just not going to be up for a challenge when you arrive, book an airport transfer in advance. A shared transfer is usually quite a lot cheaper than jumping in a taxi, if you book through your hotel or hostel, you know it’s going to take you to the right place, and if you pay in advance it means that you don’t have to worry about sorting out money the moment you arrive. A little bit of advance planning here can give you a lot of peace of mind.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can look into public transport options. Most airports have either a bus or train that will take you straight into the heart of the city, which makes it super easy if you are also staying in the heart of the city (more on that later). Most airports will have good information on their website about transport options, so take a look and figure out the best way for you.

Money

Obviously you are going to have to pay for your public transport when you arrive. If you can buy a ticket with a travel money card that’s easy, if it’s cash only you will need to seek out an ATM the moment you arrive, or sort some foreign cash from home. I try to avoid withdrawing cash from airport ATMs simply because they often have high fees. But if you have to, just do it. It’s not worth stressing about money on your holiday.

On that note, do think about how you are going to access money before you go away. There are many options out there, and I’m not going to list them all here because it’s not the purpose of this blog. I’ll just say that I use travel money cards –  you know, those cards that can store different currencies? I have a Caxton FX card to access my UK accounts, and a Velocity Travel Money card to access my Australian accounts. I chose them because a) they were free to get the card b) there are no fees to load money onto the cards c) there are no fees to use the cards at point of sale (in shops or restaurants) d) there are no or low fees to withdraw cash from ATMs.

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A view of Lisbon, Portugal

Phones

Another important note for using public transport – it helps to know where you are!

Everyone is different, travels with a different budget and has different requirements for keeping in touch with people. For me, I never bother with putting my phone on roaming while I’m away. As I am travelling alone, I don’t need to be in constant contact with anyone. I leave my phone on flight mode the whole time and rely on free Wi-Fi and GPS.

I swear by the Google Maps app – not the maps app which comes pre-loaded on your phone, the actual Google Maps app. It’s a free download and it gives me so much peace of mind. Before I travel to a new city I look it up in the app and download the area to my phone. It takes a matter of seconds, and then the moment you arrive you can start using the app to show you where you are. You can also ‘star’ or favourite locations like your hotel or sights you want to see, or just look them up on the go, and you don’t need to use data at all! No coming home to a massive phone bill = winning.

With your  handy map you will know when it’s time to get off the train or bus, and how to navigate to your home away from home.

(Being reliant on your phone means you always have to have a spare battery, battery pack and/or charger with you!)

Choosing where to stay

You will have done this well in advance I should hope, but I’ll say here that I recommend staying somewhere within walking distance of the city centre if you can. This has the benefit of being easily reachable from the airport, and it means that you can hit the ground running – walk out your front door and start sight-seeing! I’m a big fan of walking around a city to get a feel for it. It’s the best way.

However, as I said above, everyone is different and travels for different reasons in different ways. If you are doing a fly and drive holiday it might make more sense for you to stay outside the city. Or you might simply want to stay somewhere peaceful and quiet out in the countryside or close to an attraction that’s not located in a city centre. Accommodation is often cheaper away from the main attractions, so you have to weigh up the savings against the extra hassle and travel time.

Obviously it’s up to you, however wherever you stay you will want to consider how you are going to get there.

And while we are talking about it, you should check the hotel/hostel reception opening hours and let them know if you will be arriving very late at night. There’s nothing worse than arriving to find the doors locked against you!

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Just a nice view of the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Safety and security

There are a few simple ways to stay safer while travelling.

It’s always a toss-up for me whether I leave my valuables in the hotel (in a safe) or take them with me when I’m out and about. There are drawbacks to both, so at the end of the day don’t take anything on holiday that you can’t afford to lose or replace.

If you want to use a money belt under your clothes, that’s a pretty safe option. Although – please – don’t put ALL your money in your money belt. Nothing screams ‘tourist’ as much as that person standing at the counter digging under their t-shirt to pull out their wallet, and that might make you a target.

You want to try and avoid looking too much like a tourist. Obviously as soon as you start taking photos you’re going to look less like a local, but at the very least try to look confident like you know where you are and what you’re doing. Avoid standing on a street corner looking lost with your head buried in a massive paper map. Use a map on your phone, it’s much more subtle. And step away from the crowds if you’ve lost your bearings – sit on a park bench, take a sip of water, look at the view while you collect yourself. You will be fine.

Be alert but not paranoid. Be aware of your surroundings, know where your valuables are at all times, don’t leave any valuables with strangers, be sensible.

And finally, have travel insurance. You don’t have to have the most expensive plan, but make sure you have yourself covered for the things that are important. Spend a bit of time on a comparison site, at least skim through the fine print, and buy it.

 

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