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So you’ve decided to take the plunge and try international solo travel for the first time. International travel is as bewildering as it is rewarding so I’ve put together a post on how to plan travelling abroad for the first time.
Most of the planning involves finding the answers to a number of questions. At once you have those questions answered, you’re ready to book those plane/train/bus/ferry tickets.
FIRST TIME TRAVELLING ABROAD: PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS
Have you tried solo travel in your own country first? If yes, what did you like/dislike about the experience? And can you adapt that experience to international travel?
If you haven’t travelled solo in your own country then I strongly consider doing so before you travel abroad. Discover and resolve shortcomings on your own soil rather than in unfamiliar surroundings. But don’t be disheartened by negative treatment in your own country. Some cultures have difficulty understanding the concept of solo female travel, my own included.
Consider a trip of 3-7 days for your first time travelling abroad. This is long enough to build up confidence and familiarise oneself with the new environment, and short enough to tolerate if the destination doesn’t meet overall expectation.
Maybe you could consider going where people from your own country go? What is it that attracts them to a particular destination? Or perhaps you don’t want to be surrounded by fellow countrymen and women. This is another consideration you need to factor in.
Have solo travel bloggers covered your destination of choice? What were their thoughts? Did they feel safe? Any other relevant points made? Read between the lines of sponsored posts. Bloggers have to declare interests but some don’t. Check out this post by Global Goose on the downside of blogger reviews.
And of course you could read my post on the Best and Worst Solo Female Travel Destinations for honest recommendations.
What do you really want to experience? Is shopping your priority? Or is it beaches and scenery? What activity makes you happy and would you like to put that activity as the focal point of your trip? Maybe you want to do something completely different? Or maybe you just want to understand the world.
FIRST TRIP TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Personal considerations aside, does your government advise you to visit your destination of choice? If not, don’t go. Some destinations are riskier for certain nationalities than others. When I visited Iran, the Irish Government warning was ‘High Degree of Caution’ (i.e. okay, but be alert) whereas the US State Department advised its citizens not to travel there in any circumstances.
If you travel against your government’s advice, your travel insurance is rendered invalid.
Illness is difficult to predict but pick a destination that will suit your health. For example, could anything in another country negatively affect a pre-existing medical condition? Have a chat with your doctor.
When people ask me for holiday recommendations, my first question is ‘hot or cold’? Climate can have an equally positive or negative effect on your physical or mental health. Adventure explorer Mike O’Shea loves cold climates whereas snow and ice are my idea of holiday hell! Mike and I grew up within five miles of each other so each to their own.
What’s your budget? Can your budget meet your expectations at your chosen destination? For example, your budget can afford 7 days in Germany but you really want to see more-expensive Switzerland? Then visit Switzerland but reduce the number of days to meet your budget. By the way, Germany is a wonderful country for first-time solo female travellers.
Eurostat’s comparative price levels of goods and services index will give you an approximate idea of costs in EU and a number of non-EU countries.
Chose a destination where language will not be a considerable barrier. Europe has a lot to offer first-time solo travellers but look at all those languages to learn!
What kind of accommodation would you like to stay in? Hostels are great for meeting other travellers but getting a good night’s sleep isn’t easy, especially if it’s a party hostel. For hostels and hotels I highly recommend booking.com as the reviews are from genuine travellers and I’ve used it with great success. You can filter booking.com’s reviews based on type of traveller (e.g. solo, couple, business traveller etc).
Airbnb will have genuine listing reviews but I would caution solo female travellers against staying at a listing with no reviews. I’ve had pretty good success when renting entire apartments on Airbnb but have had mixed experiences when renting an individual room.
Out of a choice of hostels, hotels or Airbnbs, I would recommend a hotel for a first-time solo traveller. Purpose-built resorts may offer great facilities and home comforts but they cater to groups who are disinclined to mix with solo travellers.
Where you stay is as important as what you stay in. Lonely Planet guidebooks are upfront when it comes to listing unsafe areas. Pay extra to stay in an area considered as secure.
How do you plan to travel around your international destination…safely? Most European cities have excellent public transport systems that are cost effective so download a colour map in advance. Research taxi scams if you choose to use that method of transport.
What about booking with a travel agent, you may ask? In this uncertain era, a travel agent can support you if things go dramatically wrong. My first solo travel experience was booked through a local travel agent.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
When you’re on your own, you have to do everything yourself, including lifting your luggage. Minimise outfits so you don’t have to lug a heavy bag around. Don’t bring expensive clothes, jewellery etc that will draw uninvited attention.
Having a general idea of the destination’s history and current affairs is essential for avoiding faux pas.
Get acquainted with culture/books/films etc in advance to set your expectations. My General Armchair Travel Guide details this.
Expect to be nervous during your first time travelling abroad. Expect to be worried. This is a major leap you’re taking in your life. And it may be some time before you see the benefits of travelling abroad. But travel is transformative. And that’s so important to personal growth.
But planning is key to reducing that worry to a manageable level. My Pre-Travel Checklist is perfect for fine-tuning the latter stages of planning. My Tips for First-Time Flyers post has essential advice for those whose mode of transport on their first international trip will be by plane.
Travelling alone does not mean you are lonely. It simply means that you want this particular experience at this point in your life.
What about the begrudgers? Some people will genuinely be concerned for your safety. Some won’t understand the concept of solo travel. But others will resent and belittle your drive towards independent travel and will keenly await your failure. Give the latter a wide berth.
All of your travel expectations may not be met on your first solo trip. In a way, your first trip is a personal challenge. You will discover a lot, mostly about yourself. The question you need to ask at the end of your trip is whether you can or will go solo again.
And I’d love to know your answer.