The Ultimate Solo Travel Planning Guide
Planning a long overseas trip alone can be a daunting experience to say the least. There are so many things you need to think about and if you are travelling solo then it can be even more of a challenge to ensure you have everything planned out.
REASONS TO TRAVEL SOLO
This is probably where you started off when you first started to think about planning a long term trip. There can be many reasons why people want to travel solo and take a break, these can include taking a career break, taking a gap year between study and work or simply to go explore and see the world. More often or not many people now start their trip alone as it’s often hard to find a willing partner who will have the same time as you.
EARLY PLANNING STAGES – WHERE TO GO?
So you have worked out when you want to go, the next stage is to consider where you want to go and for how long. This will have an impact on a number of things, e.g. which visas you need to get beforehand, which jabs you will need and medical cover. Where you go will also have an impact on how much money you will need to save or have access to.
For instance a 6 month trip alone around India will cost considerably less than 6 months in Australia. So first you must decide where to go…
There are lots of resources on the web to help you decide where to go such as Lonely Planets Thorthree Forum and Tripadvisor forums too. Also you can check out the solo travel country guides and travel indie guides too. As a rough guide you will find that Southeast Asia tends to be the cheapest destination closely followed by South and Central America. Africa is surprisingly not that cheap and Europe is cheaper than you may think. North America is generally the same as Europe and North Asia.
Australia and New Zealand use to be considered cheap by European standards but this is certainly not the case anymore, however as a solo traveller it is possible to live in a car or stay in cheap hostels. Once you have decided where to go you can then get into the serious planning stage!
PRE-DEPARTURE PLANNING STAGES
The most important thing for your whole trip, assuming you are travelling to another country is your passport. Make sure you have enough time left on your passport (most countries require at least six months left) and that you have enough free pages too. When travelling alone and visiting many countries it’s surprisingly easy to fill up an older passport. Most countries allow you to go for a larger sized passport with more pages which can very useful if you are going for a long period of time. The next thing is your flights or transport. Most long solo travel trips will involve flying from your home country.
There are many online tools to help you get the best deal on flights, to name but a few Kayak, Skyscanner, Expedia, Google Flights. The ideal time to book a long haul flight is around 6 weeks before you intend to travel or look out for sale periods often in shoulder seasons for instance, flying to Southeast Asia from Europe tends to be cheaper from September through November and also March through May.
Once you have booked your flight and have that leaving date for your big solo trip you can start to focus on other aspects of your travel plans.
GETTING YOURSELF PREPARED
As mentioned earlier one of the most important things to plan for is your health while you are away. You should firstly arrange an appointment with a travel nurse or at a clinic and then go along with your travel plan to show which countries and regions you plan to travel to. If you have a booklet or details of any previous jabs you have had then this would be useful too particularly as certain vaccines are now lasting longer than previous thought.
While you are away you might well fall ill or be involved in an accident so medical health travel insurance is essential, even if it is the most basic cover. There are lots of companies that will provide you with quotes. While this is essential to do before you go some companies do offer you insurance while you are away in the event that you have forgotten to take out cover or if your current cover as actually ran out. World Nomads (pictured below) will offer insurance to most residents of different countries and can be taken out at any time.
WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU
The old saying ‘less is more’ really is good advice for anyone solo travellers who are going away for a long period of time. The fact you are going solo will not help you in terms of packing, for instance if you were going to take camping gear you have no one to share the packing with.
The most important thing is to firstly ensure you have the right size pack. Of course there are no hard and fast rule about what size back you should take although this is very important particularly if you go too big as you might feel obliged to fill it up! So the advice is always to go smaller than you think, for instance for a guy 65kg should be plenty of space and 55kg for a solo girl. Girls could argue they take more stuff e.g. hair products, clothes etc but these are ll consumables and can be bought as and when on the road. If your solo trip is just to a hot climate e.g. Southeast Asia / Central America then there is even less requirement for a larger bag as your clothes will be much less than if you were going to cooler climates.
What you must consider is that you will almost certainly end up walking some distances with your pack and it needs to be light enough to easily carry around when you are looking for a bed during a busy period. Less is more! Here are the essential items, obviously there is room for more personal stuff but I’d ensure you have this as a minimum.
The Essentials Solo Travel Packing List
Passport – you ain’t going to get very far without one! Ensure you have a photocopy and a scanned electronic version too in case you lose it, also handy for checking into hotels and to have in your wallet/purse if you are out and about away from your passport e.g. when you are in an internet cafe booking flights. You don’t necessarily want to carry your passport at all times unless these is a specific rule in a country that says you do.
Money / Cash / Credit/Debit cards – Again you ain’t going to get very far without money unless you plan on begging, hitching and sleeping rough around the world! Travellers cheques are so last century so it’s important you have a good array of different methods to get hold of money when you need it. ATM cards that incur few fees are good, carrying hard currencies such as US dollars, Euros help too. Always have a back-up card and try and always split your cards so you have one in your room and one on you. Obviously this is not possible when you are on the move between places but even then don’t keep all your cards in one bag for instance.
Clothing obviously, consider quick drying light fabrics as this means you can hand wash your clothes and dry them pretty much anywhere. In the tropics you could get away with only a couple of warmer layers, e.g. for extra cold air-conditioning in aiports, on flights, so a lightweight fleece would be useful and maybe a lightweight rain jacket. Obvious other essentials would be underwear, long pants/trousers which could be useful to stop mozzie bites in the early evening. Swimwear is useful too as is a sarong for men and women, they can act as a makeshift towel, something to lie on a beach or to wear and the best thing is they are super light and easy to wash.
Footwear – there is no reason why you cannot get away with one pair of sneakers and flip flops / thongs.
Bathroom products such as a lightweight towel, shampoo, toothpaste and any medical supplies, particularly prescription drugs although there shouldn’t be an issue obtaining these anywhere in the World. Taking a small medical kit is definitely recommended too. Also you should always have sun protection but this can be bought from pretty much anywhere these days so not necessary until you get to your first destination.
Electrical / Gadgets – in the age of the smart phone you could get away with just that, a smart phone. Think about what you can do with a Samsung S5 or Iphone 5 that replaces other gadgets. For instance why take a camera when smart phone cameras are so good (unless you are specifically into photography and need a big lense etc) these days. You don’t need and ipod or mp3 player anymore with a smart phone. Ebook reader/Kindle? Well you could just download the Kindle App for your phone, particularly if you have a larger handset such as a S5 or Galaxy Note.
Do you really need a laptop? Well they are very handy for travellers and can be a great way to store and watch stuff as well as browse the web of course, but seriously all these functions can be done on a smart phone these days. It’s also useful to ensure your smart phone is unlocked so you can buy local sim cards and access local data and call rates.
Other useful items: Plastic zip lock bags, sunglasses, reading glasses, money bags and elastic bands, duct tape, little fabric, empty film canisters, water purity tablets, student ID, driving licence (if you are renting or buying a car abroad).
Remember you may be a little scared going solo but going alone is better than not going at all and you’ll always meet people however shy you might be so go for it!