Updated June 17, 2020.
It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! I’ve been doing some extra solo travel lately and writing about how to do it as well as possible, but sometimes we learn from mistakes better than we learn from what we’ve done right. So this week, here are some solo travel mistakes and mishaps that I made so you don’t have to!
Mistakes to Avoid Before You Go
1. Choosing Accommodation Solely on Price
Price is important, but there are a few more numbers to consider. How far is your accommodation from where you’ll be spending most of your day? Is it a safe walking distance, or will you have to take a taxi, Uber, or public transportation (which all cost money)? Does it include breakfast or will you be going out to eat for every meal? Trust me, it was not worth saving $25 a night to stay “just outside of downtown Charleston” (which was really a three-mile walk) instead of downtown. It would have been better to use that $25 for a closer accommodation!
Keep reading: Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel in Charleston
2. Over-scheduling Yourself
Some things need to be scheduled in advance because events and tours can fill up, especially during a destination’s high season. But one of the benefits of solo travel is 100% flexibility! It’s great to schedule a couple of tours or events in advance for your trip (and sometimes it’s even necessary), but don’t tie yourself up all day every day. Sleep in, get up early, go to bed early, do whatever you want. Just don’t tie yourself down!
Pro Tip: Try not to schedule something expensive and non-refundable your first day. If your flight gets delayed or cancelled, you’ll miss it!
3. Not Being Organized, Even a Little Bit
Traveling solo means you’re only responsible for you…. but also that you’re the only person responsible for you! Keeping up with flights, accommodations, train schedules, etc. can get overwhelming when you’re jet lagged. Use an app to keep track of all that for you, and know how to access it without wifi! Keep your passport in the same pocket every time so you’re not always looking for it. And for goodness’ sake, zip your jacket pocket so your phone doesn’t fall out in your Uber! (Don’t ask me how I know that happens.)
You can find the best apps right here: Apps for Savvy Travel
4. Not Bringing Enough Money or Having Access to Cash
Before you go on your trip, please make a cash plan! It’s a great idea to have a credit card with no international fees for your travels, but it’s also a good idea to have a debit card on you as well. I have a Visa credit card and a MasterCard debit card, just in case one or the other doesn’t work in the country I’m visiting.
You can use the U.S. dollar in many countries, but you will always get the best exchange rate in a country’s local currency. I always take out local currency from an ATM as soon as I land. It’s better to pay an extra dollar or two at an airport ATM than a lot more at a currency exchange station, or to be wandering around with no cash looking for an ATM.
Mistakes to Avoid in Transit
1. Leaving Your Stuff Unattended
This is one of the negatives of traveling solo—no one’s there to watch your stuff when you need to go to the bathroom! It might take a little longer and be a little awkward, but you just have to take it with you. Do not leave your stuff unattended in the airport, in the train station, on the ferry, etc. And never ask a stranger to watch your luggage for you. I know, we’ve all done it; just don’t do it again.
2. Not Having a Plan when You Land
Solo travelers can wing it on a lot of things, but if you plan nothing else for your trip, please plan how you’ll be getting from the airport, train station, ferry terminal, or other transportation to your accommodation. Check out Uber, public transportation, shuttles, and search the Internet for how people usually get around the area. People travel that same route every day, so there has to be a good solution! Find out what it is before you land.
Keep reading: Is Solo Travel Selfish?
3. Not Having a Plan B
Sometimes things go wrong. It’s a fact of life and a fact of travel! So have a plan B if your flight gets cancelled. Also, I don’t recommend planning anything for your first day at your destination—it might be 24 hours before you can get on another flight to get there! Roll with the punches, make the most of every situation and opportunity you’re given, but have a contingency plan if things don’t go smoothly.
Usually things will go as planned, but remember that every traveler experiences complications and frustrations along the way. Have your airline’s customer service number handy, and know how to get in touch with your accommodation if you’ll be in later than you thought (not all accommodations abroad have someone at the front desk 24 hours per day).
Read more: What to Do When You Miss Your Flight
Mistakes to Avoid on Your Trip
1. Not Being Self-aware
Again, you’re the only one looking out for you, so make sure that you do! Look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, even if you kind of don’t. Before you set out for the day, figure out how to get to your first stop whether it’s a tour, museum, cathedral, or other site. Know where your phone and wallet are at all times, and leave your expensive jewelry at home. Don’t look like a target, and you’re less likely to be a target! And check out How to Outsmart the Pickpocket and Pickpocket Tricks of the Trade!
More here: How to Travel Safely
2. Losing Self-control
Maybe it’s prudish, but I do not drink or do drugs ever, and I advise that you don’t do either while you’re traveling solo. Are you traveling to see the world or to go to a bar? You’ll save some major cash by opting for water instead of alcohol, and you’re less likely to lose your inhibitions. No matter what choices you make, do not lose your self-control or inhibitions. If you appear to be losing your self-control, you will be a target.
More here: Confessions of a Solo Female Traveler
3. Not Checking In with Loved Ones
You’re on your own, you’re safe, and you’re having the time of your life! But don’t forget to check in with friends and family back home. Whether you post to social media, call via Skype or FaceTime, e-mail, or communicate another way, make sure those who love you know you’re safe! Did you hear about the guy who travels the world with a sign that says “Mom, I’m Fine!”?
4. Not Asking Someone to Take Your Picture
I know a lot of travelers are kind of obsessed with selfies. I am not, and I do not own a selfie stick, nor do I want one. However, I often get home from a solo trip and realize it looks like I wasn’t even there! I’m not in any photos! Don’t be afraid to ask someone to take a picture of you, and offer to return the favor—especially for a family or a couple! People all over the world are more than happy to snap a quick photo for you.
Now that you know the pitfalls to avoid, you’re ready to set out on your own! Where will you go first?
Be sure to check out all my best tips on my dedicated Solo Travel Page!
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