I’ve definitely learned a lot since I’ve been travelling around Europe in the last couple of years, so here’s some helpful solo travel tips for anyone who’s tempted to strike it out on their own.
Stage 1: Planning
When it comes to flights and hotels, book early. Don’t be that person who rocks up to a country with no hotel booked, only to spend half of your first day frantically trying to find something decent. Choose what you want and book everything beforehand. Make an itinerary with contact details of the hotels you’ll be at and email it to a close friend or family member, just so someone knows where you’ll be at all times. Yes it takes the spontaneity out of things and it’s a bit pedantic, but it’s an essential safety thing. There’s a ton of websites and apps out there that can create itineraries for you, personally I use Travefy.
Figure out how you’ll get to your hotel from the airport/train station, read up on what taxi companies are reliable at your destination, or if it’s quicker/cheaper to catch the bus into town. Download local train apps to give yourself a better chance of getting the hang of the public transport system.
Update your phone and make sure you have enough memory for photos. Research local sim card providers or see if your own will let you roam in Europe for a small fee.
Read up on local customs. If you’re going to a country where it’s unusual for a woman to be travelling around on her own, then maybe look into joining a tour or hiring a private guide. Read reviews and check government websites for safety warnings, but take it all with a grain of salt. I was terrified to go to Morocco after everything I read, but once I got there it was one of the best places I’d been to.
Stage 2: Once you’re there
Keep in contact. This doesn’t have to be a constant deluge of Facebook check-ins and selfies (unless you’re that way inclined), but let your parents know you’re okay as you go along with a message or a photo. Also invest in a small battery pack charger for your phone, just in case.
Dress down (but not too down). One thing I hate about travelling is looking like a tourist. Some people embrace the zip-off khaki’s and bumbag look, but that is definitely not me, and it’s definitely a no-no for a solo traveller. Just dress like you normally would if you were at home, and wherever you go walk with purpose and your head up (not buried in a map or your phone). Blend into the crowd and everyone will think you’re a local which, in theory anyway, should make you less of a target for thieves. Keep it simple, but not touristy. Also leave the expensive watches and jewellery at home, it’s not worth the risk of losing them.
Wear a watch. Just buy a cheap one (see above) it’s so useful. Especially when your phone dies.
Keep money back ups, both cash and card. Whenever you go out, make sure you keep a back up cash and ID locked up in your hotel safe/luggage. Or if you like to keep stuff on you, then some of the stuff from the Clever Travel Companion is very handy (I’d recommend the tank top, but not whilst going through airport security – see my trip to Morocco for more details).
Go with your gut and for god’s sake use your common sense. If something doesn’t feel right then leave, you’re under zero obligation to go anywhere that you don’t feel safe.
Finally, always be curious. Because you’re by yourself that means you can do whatever you want, when you want. Go to that weird museum, go sit on the beach for the day and have that extra croissant. Don’t wait around for everyone else, just go!