Congratulations! You’re planning a solo trip! You took action steps towards your goal, let go, and it started unfolding. Now you are here to actually decide where you want to go.
Not to mention, it’s your first trip. You might have drafted a list of 4, 10, 100 places and you’re not sure where the best place is to travel solo. Maybe you googled around a lot of different options asked Facebook groups to get advice and everyone had an idea that still made you spin.
You need a game plan! As an extremely indecisive person, planning a solo trip for me can take ages. Throughout the course of my travels, I have been forced to learn how to be decisive (work in progress). I’ve come along way to help you uncover ways get close to the best place to on your first adventure.
The greatest thing to do is to come up with a strategy by asking yourself the right questions and slowly you’ll see the reveal of the absolute YES.
Here is a step guide of questions and travel tips to follow to plan your first solo trip:
Are you ready to plan a solo trip outside of your home country?
If you prefer to stay within your own country, you made a huge stride into narrowing down your destination. It’s Ok, it’s your first time on your own. Maybe you are ready to venture on alone, but you would like to be on home turf first. Road trips, bus, trains or short plane rides could be a great first solo trip.
I am a big proponent when it comes to baby steps. If you still have some fears around this decision, there is no need to judge yourself if a closer trip is where you want to start.
Where have you already traveled?
If you traveled to Bulgaria, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Jamaica with friends or family, is it a yes or no to return to those locations? Maybe you went to Japan but did not go to Okinawa Island and are determined to go back.
Or, if you are like me, you wanted to make sure it was a place you have never been before. This will eliminate the places you have already been so you can move on to the next question
How long do you have for this trip?
If you have 5, 10 or 3 months to explore solo, it is going to determine the better options. For shorter trips, I always recommend not putting yourself in a position to be on a long flight. If you have 5 days off and your home country is in North America, I would stay within North America, Central America, or possibly places in Europe, depending on if you’re in the United states and in New York or Los Angeles I would have different advice, same as if you are coming from Canada or Spain. Where you are leaving from and the length of time are good things to factor into the equation while you are plotting and planning.
What time of year are you planning on going?
Do you have work obligations where July is the best time to go? Or perhaps, holidays at home are important which would eliminate certain months, depending on the holiday you celebrate.
If you know the month, or at least the absolute hard NOs you can start moving through the rest of the list.
November and December were slow at my work. I also know I wanted to be home for Thanksgiving and the December Holidays, which made the 2 weeks very clear.
What is your preferred climate?
What is type of weather experience do you prefer for this trip? Do you love the sun with little humidity, Seattle rain, being caught in a blizzard in the alps, bundled up in Norway watching the Northern Lights?
This is always a huge one for me. As a sun chaser, I am usually gone at the first sign of heavy or freezing cold. While I do have exceptions to my rules, more often than not I do not want to be uncomfortably cold.
This became clear to me when I studied abroad in Barcelona for Fall/Winter. While I had a great time and found myself on the beach in Barcelona, Mallorca and Marbella, when it hit the end of the year and my bestie and I ended our trip with a 2 week Europe Tour, needless to say, we were very cold. I decided after that experience that if I can avoid a heavy coat, scarfs, beanies and gloves as much as possible, that is how I would design my trips. It also helps with my minimalistic backpack travel lifestyle. Less is best.
Do you want to join a tour group to help plan the experience?
My first solo trip was a graduation gift to Australia with Contiki tours. After that I planned a lay over in Fiji. Since, I love making layovers their own little mini solo trip, I found another short hop on and off tour to get me around the Island. My ultimate first solo trip without a tour was to New Zealand, although I did discover on the road a two day tour group I joined and met a friend that I still talk to on FaceBook.
It might take some time to develop your travel style. There is nothing wrong with making your first or any solo trip with an organized group. In fact it is a great way to get started.
You can always start with a tour group for 2, 3 days and then go off on your own. You can go without one, and decide there is a destination where it is either easier to register with a tour group, or you are looking to make new friends, which is what I decided to do in New Zealand.
Is the destination safe?
The #1 question every solo female traveler will ask is, “is it safe?” I think it is important to determine what safe means to you. It might be something different to you than it does for me.
When I am asking about if it is safe. I generally want to understand my physical safety, the amount of petty crimes, and how women are treated in the countries I am visiting.
Do research about the climate of the country at the time. Anything from war to economic crisis are good things to be aware of while you design your first trip. I recommend joining Facebook groups for travelers. Keep in mind, if you go into an Expat forum in the country you want to go, you will most likely hear positives from the people that are currently living there. The trick is to see if you can get someone who was a traveler there recently to chime in and hopefully direct message you with their experience.
I’ve heard nothing but positives about New Zealand being safe for solo travelers so for me, it was a no brainer. If you are unsure in the slightest, the best thing to do is put it on hold and decide to circle back around when you feel more confident or have a friend to go with. For additional safety planning, I suggest the two hot tips to keep in mind for the beginning stages of your plan.
Hot Tip : Check the arrival time
Since you are traveling solo a, one thing I do not want to forget to mention here that if you can be as meticulous with your planning when it comes to your arrival that will help a lot. I always like to see if I am leaning before sunset or at a reasonably hour that will help for both safety and ease of travel.
Hot Tip: Have an arranged car service come get you at the airport.
Even if this will cost you a little extra, or even if everyone says they have Uber, don’t worry. Or it’s easy to get a taxi. I always feel better when I see someone holding a sign with my name on it from a certified company waiting to chauffeur me to my accommodations. Lately, I’ve be going through booking.com to plan for someone to collect me at the arrival gate. I also liked Viator when I landed in Greece. I found it very easy and affordable!
Do you want to visit a place where they speak your first language fluently?
Since English is my first and only language I know fluently, I wanted to select a location where English was also their mother tongue.
For me, leaving home alone, I wanted the most air tight feeling of ease I could think of with minimal obstacles. This meant any language barrier was going put me in anxiety and since my mental health and need to feel as calm and safe as possible is priority #1, I eliminated any country where English was not their first language. Being familiar with the local language will make your travel planning go a lot smoother.
Are there any new activities you want to experience?
Have you wanted to bungee jump, kite surf, snowboard, or learn how to surf? If you want to learn something new, I would look into the best beginner spots.
Costa Rica was a great spot to surf as I found there were places where there were beginner friendly waves. Shockingly, Ikaria, Greece is an excellent surf sport for beginners. When I booked a Surf Camp trip in Greece, I had lots of friends say, “There is surfing in Greece?” I too, was surprised. For most of the country, no there is not. Kitesurfing, yes, but old school surfing, Ikiaria Island was the only place I found in Greece.
I wanted to go skydiving and for me, the image of New Zealand is all about adventure and adrenaline activities and sports. For me, this was the obvious choice.
Is there an activity that you already enjoy and want to experience on your solo journey?
Are you a foodie, a national park enthusiast, a museum lover? Where in the world do you want to try the food? Is there a national park you have your eye on?
I started getting into Yoga more and thought finding some short yoga retreats would be a good way to meet people and try what I already loved abroad. It’s a great strategy for honing in on where you want to travel to.
These are all good things to know for your travels as all these questions will continue to narrow down your choices.
Do you want to take your age into consideration?
Don’t get me wrong. You can travel to any destination solo or with loved ones at any age. It’s not to say at age 70 you won’t want to go hike Machu Picchu, but are there other destinations that are more appealing to you before you turn 90? It might be a better idea in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. It is great to factor in if some intense activities are higher on the list I would strongly encourage you to do those first.
I’m pushing 40 and Machu Picchu has been on my list. Since I did an overnight hike to a Volcano in Guatemala when I was in my early 30s, I look back on that trip in awe of how I did it. Also, the memories of how hard it was, is now making me think twice about Machu Picchu. There is always the train option to the top though, which sounds pretty good right about now.
While my dad is still running marathons in his 70s, he would also agree to knock those off the least when your body can handle not stretching as much. I would perhaps, you can save the Luxury Safari in Africa for when you are 65, and go on a three day trek in the Himalayas when you are under 65.
What places do you to go with friends or a group?
When I started organizing all my future trips, it was easy for me to eliminate some that I thought would be better to do with friends or a group. Since I have heard mixed things about India, I would definitely want to do that with an organized group tour, a planned retreat where the organizer comes to get me, or with really good friends, preferably if one was a citizen of the country I was concerned about. As you start arranging your travel plans you will hear what other and locals you meet that are from the countries on your list, if they think it’s safe or ideal to do alone or with people. I strongly encourage you that if a local tells you to go with a friend or group. Listen.
What is your budget ?
Deciding on how much money you want to delegate for this trip will help a lot. Are you traveling with a low, mid or high sized budget? That can narrow down choices quickly. If Singapore was on your list and you wanted to stay there for 2 weeks, on a low budget, you will have a very budgeted experience as opposed to using the same budget on a trip to Mexico.
Hot Tip: Add a few hundred or so US dollars to your budget
Leaving room for the unexpected is impereative. If you don’t like an accommodation you booked and have to eat the money and move, you lost your no international charge credit cards and now have to use your debit card, missed a flight, forgot to account for the snorkeling trip that was $70USD not $30USD, got in a scooter accident and thought travel insurance would cover it they did not, you will be happy to have the cushion. Every solo traveler will have a story for you how they had to spend extra money on a trip fo paux, in fact, it’s part of the initiation process :).
And always remember, quality over quantity. Since I am an advocate of slow travel with my motto being, how slow can you go?…I would not let the short trip that you really wanted go to Italy but with your budget you picked Nicaragua to extend the trip longer and to not stress on budget. All good reasons, and I have done both! I want to ensure that you are going to the place you are really excited about as your first solo trip.
Hot Tip: Scan Flights Before you decide
When I am starting to narrow down some choices, I hop over to Kayak and Skyscanner as my two favorite apps to see the prices of flights.
Hot Tip: Don’t just look for price, look for length of trip & lay overs
It’s easy to see a flight for $200 to France! Then realize it is a 32 hour flight with 3 layovers. If you are up for that type of adventure, go for it. Keep in mind, the length of time you have allotted for this trip.
What type of Accommodation do you want to stay in?
This is a big point to consider when it comes to your comfort and meet people. If sleep is important or you think you are going to spend more time in your accommodations, it’s wise to map out the cost for both. My first trips, I did hostels because I wanted to meet other travelers and experience that lifestyle. My first solo trips I preferred hostels. I wanted to meet people and save money. Slowly, I picked hostels where I could have my own room. Eventually, I wanted my own space for the majority of my travels. Now, there are time where I hear about unique stays and want to experience it. For example, you can stay in a space capsule in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Singapore and more! A
Deciding what type of accommodations you want to experience will also help clarify your budget (hostel vs hotel vs villas).
Hot Tip: Look on Hotel and Hostel Sites to check out prices & quality
Once you know where you want to sleep and how important that is for, check out sites like booking.com, airbnb, Agoda, Hostel World to look at prices, photos and reviews.
Hot tip: Location Matters!
Average in the cost you might spend on transportation. I was blessed with free places or cheap places to stay on my travels. Then I did the math for transportation and the cost if I spent more to be in a better location and it evened out. In hindsight, it would have been better to spend the extra money on a spot in a better part of town.
Trust your gut
The most important thing is to trust your gut. You will know the right trip for you and only you can determine that. Budapest might be calling for an unexplainable reason, even if it didn’t tick all the boxes, that’s when you toss out the rules and go.
My guidelines will get you to a place of clarity. Ask yourself the questions to come to your own answers…always. Have fun on your very first solo trip.
I am here if you need more guidance on deciding where to go!