I went to Tanzania alone to train agricultural cooperatives, to Puerto Rico alone to learn Spanish, to Greece alone to study belly dance, and many more! For all the ladies who are contemplating their first solo trip, I’ve narrowed down 7 steps for making it awesome (flight not included).
- Find and book awesome activities:
Roaming around, checking the sites and talking to locals is par for the course. But to get the most from your time abroad, why not try exploring an interest or diving into a hobby?
Interested in studying the language? Go to http://www.languagesabroad.com or similar sites to find your course. Want to master the local cuisine? Find and sign up with a cooking school. Love sunshine and sweat? Take up a hiking trip.
I’ve done travel with no activities (just random sightseeing) and with activities and find that activities always lead to meeting more people, learning more and just getting more out of my time in country.
- Research and reserve lodging
Once you know where your activities will be taking place, you can narrow the search radius for your hotel within the vicinity. Or alternatively, can search for lodging near another destination in the same city (whether it’s the Eiffel Tower or the Escadaria Selaron). Whether you book a hotel, hostel, airbnb or couch surf, its really important to check reviews as much as possible- ideally with multiple sources. Then, also check the location on Google Earth so you know you feel comfortable with it.
I have ended up using frequent flier miles to be stuck without internet on a shady street in Joburg and staring smack dab into a tenement in Piraeus- I want more for you so for your own safety and comfort, please do a bit of due diligence.
- Figure out airport transfer
Not every city is safe for women to take taxis alone- even from the airport. From Delhi to Sao Paulo, there are countless incidences of women being raped by taxi drivers. So check online or with friends whether airport taxis are a reasonable option, or set up a plan B- i.e. uber, hotel transfer, metro, etc.
- Send contact info to family
Email your hotel/lodging and flight details to your family, spouse or someone close to you. Everyone feels better know where you are and how you got there, and you feel better knowing someone will check, if you disappear in the Bermuda Triangle.
If possible, buy a local sim once you get to the airport and then text your new number to your loved ones. This means your current cell phone must aoready be unlocked by date of travel.
- Bring a prep pack in your carry-on
Since you are alone, you need to have some precautionary measure in place. For every trip, I bring a prep pack in my carry-on, which can be tailored for the country. It includes:
- Extra outfit and underwear (in case luggage is delayed, which has happened multiple times)
- Cipro (in the event of Delhi belly from drinking water by accident. Not applicable in Europe)
- All my chargers, plus adaptors for the country
- Eye mask, travel toothbrush, socks, mini versions of toiletries (which is why I always take extra in-flight kits or hotel kits)
- Sewing kit and stain remover
- Yellow fever card (some countries)
- Pepper spray (some countries)
- Get intros from your network
This is one of the most important tips. So many of my best friends in a new country were introduced by old friends at home. So do a facebook post or send an email asking your friends to connect you with any of their family or friends in the new country. I will even sometimes look up alumni from my university on LinkedIn and reach out to ask if they want coffee, which works for small foreign cities like Dar Es Salaam but less so with big global capitals, like London.
Set an itinerary of meeting with all your new second degree connections and they will give you a local view of the city. You will discover clubs, restaurants, stores, all kinds of places that would never be included in a typical tour or travel book- this is the best way to move closer to an authentic experience of the city/country.
- Pop in to meetups and member events
If you don’t have a global network and couldn’t get intros, you’re still all good. You can look up membership organizations you are already affiliated with, for local chapters abroad. OR you can attend meetups hosted by Couchsurfing and Internations and similar groups. They have themed events, such a Yoga/Meditation or AfroBeat or Foodies Galore, as well as general happy hours.
This is another way to meet some locals and see something different in the city.
There you have it- my top 7 steps, distilled from over 20 years of solo travel, since going to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish as a kid.
May they bring you awesome times and safe happy travels.