Going it alone: Pick your first solo destination wisely

December 11, 2018

Pick your first solo destination wisely

If you are reading this you’re either considering traveling alone or you’ve already decided to go, so kudos, you’re one step closer to a once in a lifetime experience. Picking a first solo destination wisely is an important step and requires you to spend some time on research and planning. Here are some recommendations on how to do so:

Choose a place where you feel safe

The scariest thing when you travel solo is the possibility that you might end up getting hurt. Without the safety net of traveling companions, you start picturing all kinds of terrible scenarios in your head –from being robbed to being killed.

With proper preparation, however, the unknown becomes less intimidating. When I went on my first major solo trip, one of the reasons I chose Thailand was not only because it offered sunny weather but also because it was among the safest places to travel as a solo female. If you have no idea where you would want to go, a good starting point is to check out some legit rankings of the world’s safest countries to visit alone. A good starting point is LonelyPlanet’s safest places around the world ranking.  

Also, don’t be ignorant about where you are going. Before packing your bags, learn about your country of interest’s history, political situation and religion, customs and traditions. Read about the dos and don’ts to avoid uncomfortable situations and looks of disapproval ಠ_ಠ. Check which places travelers visit and stay, and which areas are best avoided.

Despite all your fears, traveling alone isn’t any more dangerous than traveling with others. A good rule of thumb regardless of the destination you choose is to stick to all safety tips you normally follow at home and you’ll be fine. Some examples include:

  • Avoid walking into dark alleys alone
  • Watch your drinking
  • Be respectful with proper dress or manners
  • Keep your belongings close
  • Have emergency info at hand
  • Stay connected with family and friends

Choose a place according to your budget

Naturally, how affordable a destination is, depends on how much you are willing and able to spend on a trip. However, with proper planning and budgeting, one can go anywhere.  

There are two approaches to budgeting your travel.

  • Priority on the where and how. The destination and the things you’ll do are more important tha the budget. Figure out how much the trip will actually cost you. 
  • Priority on how much. The mere fact of traveling is more important than the destination itself. Start with how much you have and work backward to find a place that fits within your budget.

In each case you need to consider the following:

  • Airplane tickets

This might be your biggest expense, depending on where you’re going. A good way for sourcing flight deals is to use travel fare aggregator websites such as kiwi.com and skyscanner.com. But always check the airline website to compare prices. A good idea is to subscribe to some major airlines’ newsletters to get notified for exclusive offers and promotions. Also, start your search a couple of months in advance, search incognito with disabled cookies, set price alerts, be flexible on dates and avoid booking flights around major holidays as prices skyrocket.

  • Accommodation

This is an expense that can vary. It all depends on your preference. Hostels are a good option for solo travelers as they allow you to easily meet fellow travelers and are generally cheaper. However, if you don’t want to compromise on your comfort and privacy, you might want to check out the prices of guests’ houses or hotels. To get a rough idea of the accommodation cost, determine the average nightly rate and multiply it by the number of nights you’re staying.  

  • Transportation within the country

Unless you’re spending your whole trip at one place, check out the options of getting around within the place of interest: flights, intercity buses and trains, car rentals and gas. Bear in mind that sometimes the price of an intercity train/bus could be more expensive than booking a flight out of the country. Check out how the locals are moving around. For example, in Southeast Asia tuk-tuks are a popular means of travel, while in South America that’s carpooling. 

  • Food

That’s another expense that greatly depends on your preferences. Regardless of whether you’re going for the high-end celebrity chefs restaurants, eating street food, or cooking, plan for it.

NB! Don’t always count on street food being an option though. Some countries have streetfood that might be too spicy for the uninitiated stomach. Check what other travelers with backgrounds similar to yours think of local street food before risking it.

  • Entertainment

Even though there’re plenty of free things to do in a lot of places, scuba diving trips, museum entrance fees, theater tickets, and some other fun things, will cost you. Booking in advance is recommended with a few exceptions. For example, in Thailand, I realized I got cheaper trip prices when I booked via the tour agencies on premise. Of course, you need to have some bargaining skills.

  • Travel insurance

Even though you might be rolling your eyes over this one, you absolutely need it. Before buying one, however, check whether you’re already covered by your credit card while you’re traveling. Most banks support their credit cards with travel insurance that covers emergencies only.

  • Gifts and pocket money  

Gifts and souvenir purchases, as well as unexpected expenses might occur. Being on a budget leash is not fun, so I like to have about 20% of my overall travel budget available for spontaneous purchases.

  • Duration

Before quitting your job to become a backpacker, first time solo travelers might want to consider a trip of shorter duration to get a feel of whether or not they enjoy traveling alone.

As you’re putting your budget together you’ll be changing your mind along the way. That’s where a spreadsheet comes in handy (thanks to Solo Travel Society).

Choose a place with a purpose in mind

Having a “why” when making your itinerary would bring more value and meaning to you. A great destination offers access to a new culture, fun things to do, or both. If you have no clue where to go and what to do, check out some travel bloggers with backgrounds similar to yours for inspiration.  Some meaningful activities include: volunteering, teaching English, staying with a local tribe, etc.

For example, I visited Chiang Mai, Thailand for a Buddhist Meditation retreat. I went to the Bolaven Plateau in Laos to spend time with Captain Hook’s family and learn more about the Katu tribe. I spent a night on a boat around the Similan islands because I wanted to check out the best-known diving spot in the Andaman Sea.

Many say it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. But when it comes to first time solo traveling, the destination might be crucial to enjoying the whole experience. Pick wisely!

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