“I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. I experienced the exhilaration of the ups and the despairs of the lows and most of the feelings in between… I learned courage and I learned it myself.“
– Ann Stirk
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience travelling solo for yourself then you will be well acquainted with the truth in those words. Solo travel is the biggest learning curve you will ever take: you’ll learn love, fear, passion and fascination in ways that you have never experienced before; you’ll learn different cultures and ways of life; you’ll learn independence and friendship; you’ll learn simplicity. There is no greater challenge, but the rewards are insurmountable. It is something that everyone can and should experience.
However, the prospect of planning and embarking on such a trip can be daunting for the newbie adventurer going it alone for the first time. But fear not – through my own experiences, I have compiled a list of steps that you can take to plan your own solo travel, making it that little bit easier and that little bit less scary!
1. Calculate your budget
I like to do this before anything else because then I can approach my trip-planning with realistic expectations. It can help you to determine what the length of your trip might be, how far away it might be and how luxurious you can afford. Think about what you are comfortable with. Are you particularly fussy when it comes to staying in hostels vs hotels? Do you mind cooking for yourself or eating street food vs restaurants every night? Questions such as these can help you work out how much money you will need to take with you and ensure that you have a suitable budget.
2. Decide where you want to go.
This one sounds obvious – but so many people decide that they want an adventure before deciding what and where that adventure is going to be. Ask yourself – what kind of trip do you want? Do you want a water sports adventure, do you want a city break, do you want the beach, do you want picturesque hiking? There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored – you just need to work out what type of exploring you want to do! Also ensure that your chosen type of adventure can remain within your budget too. Let’s not dream of two months in South America if you can realistically only afford a city break! And if it is two months in South America that you really want but can’t yet afford, are you able to postpone your wanderlust until you can?
After deciding on the type of adventure that you want, you need to pinpoint the place(s) that you could visit to make this happen. I have found that internet research is helpful, as is talking to friends and travel advisors. Don’t be afraid of stopping by a travel agent’s shop to just sit down and have a chat – you don’t have to pay for advice and they’ll be more than happy to give it!
3. Plan a time-frame
By this time you should have a solid idea of what you want to do and where you want to go, but now you need to work out how long for. Again, you’ll want to look at your options and find out what exactly it is you want to do whilst you’re out there before you pick a time-frame. For example, if you are dreaming of exploring Thailand and you want to head North to the likes of Chiang Mai to visit an (ethical) elephant sanctuary, but you also want to head South to island hop – realistically you will struggle to do this within a week or two. However, if you just want to island hop you might find that two weeks is plenty! Now, I’m not telling you to plan your trip to within an inch of it’s life, some people have incredible trips through the spirit of “winging it”, but as I am a bit of an over-organised planner, my method (and advice) would be: research your destination, make a list of things that you want to do, then find out how long it’ll take you to travel between those things and how long you would ideally like to spend doing each one. This process usually gives me a thorough idea of the duration that I want/need my trip to be.
Next, you’ll want to check the monthly weather averages for your destination. If you’re super keen to have a scorching hot holiday, you might want to make sure that you avoid certain seasons. In doing these weather checks, you will then be able to pinpoint a particular month for when you want your trip will take place. See, it’s coming together nicely, isn’t it?!
3. Research and book flights
Budget calculated + destination selected + time of year chosen = time to find some flights! I would personally recommend that you save yourself a whole ton of money and get your butt onto a flight comparison website such as Kayak or Skyscanner. They allow you to type in your departure and arrival airports and then if you are flexible, you can choose to search flights for the whole month, then picking the dates that are the cheapest. To my knowledge, sites such as these cover the majority of airlines as well, so you generally get the cheapest deals out there.
Additionally, if you don’t mind waiting to book and fancy a little gamble, there is an app called Hopper, which can predict the fluctuations in flight prices. The way it works is simple: you enter your journey into the app and the month in which you wish to fly, then it will tell you any patterns or predictions in terms of whether the price is going to go up or down in coming months. It will also alert you to any immediate changes in prices so you can book at the best time.
4. Travel insurance
Congrats! Your flights are booked. How excited are you on a scale of 1 to 10?! When you can take a second to breathe again, you need to book yourself some travel insurance. Think about what you’re going to be doing and get a comprehensive package to cover all of your prospective activities. Again, you might wish to use a comparison site to find yourself the best deal.
5. Book the rest of your trip
Okay, so I know the subtitle of this is a little vague, but everyone has such different preferences in regards to booking things in advance that it is difficult to give advice on how much you should/shouldn’t book as a traveller. Personally, I was more at ease booking everything in advance for my first solo travel trip. I mapped out where I wanted to go and worked out how much time I wanted to spend in each city and then I booked all of my hostels/hotels and all of my transport. I used hostelworld and booking.com to get the best deals and as it was my first time travelling solo, I was way happier knowing that I had secured rooms everywhere I was going. That being said – some people prefer to go totally al fresco and just go with the flow, rocking up to hostels as and when. It depends on your preference. I am going on a mammoth travel trip in six months time, and as my third solo trip, I am only booking (aside from flights) hostels in the first city of each new country that I visit. Other than that, I will also be adopting the “go with the flow” method. But as a newbie, you might want to have a little more structure, which in turn can put you more at ease!
Same with excursions, you might want to book some in advance or simply turn up and pay on the day. My advice here would be to try and find blog posts of people who have been and done similar activities and what prices they paid on the day – sometimes it is a LOT cheaper to book with locals over travel agents.
Again, with transport it is a similar story. Do a little research and find out what the norm is, but more often than not you will be able to turn up and get a train/bus ticket the day of your travel. You can also speak to your hostel hosts or hotel receptionists who should be able to advise you, and in some cases even book it for you.
You’ve done all of the hard (occasionally nerve-wracking) work, such as deciding to pursue solo travel in the first place, choosing a place and booking it – now it is time for you to look forward to your trip and enjoy it. It will be the best time of your life and I can’t wait for you to experience the same exhilaration that I feel every time I embark on a new adventure.
I hope this advice has been of some enlightenment to you and can indeed help you to plan and pursue solo travel in the future! Let me know about your own experiences of planning for solo trips and exploring because I would love to hear about them. Happy travel, folks!