What to Know if You Travel Solo
It’s taken me a lot of years to compile this new list of my best solo travel tips. Decades, actually.
My first solo trip happened when I was 12 years old. My dad put me on a two-night train ride from Chicago to Phoenix to visit family. As I settled into my cozy compartment, I saw my dad hand the Porter (job title back then) a $20 bill and said to please take care of his little girl.
It was a fabulous trip through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the US. I was aboard the historic Santa Fe Super Chief, of course, B.A. (Before Amtrak). I was hooked on trains at an early age.
I was eight years old for my first cruise with my parents. It was another 18 years until my first solo cruise. I hopped aboard a short three-night Miami-Bahamas run. I was hooked.
Now by choice, I prefer to travel solo. I enjoy the freedom and independence to eat, stay and explore wherever and whenever I want. But there are drawbacks.
As a solo female traveler, safety and security are the most important things to remember. Next is being comfortable on your own. This includes on transportation, overnights in hotels, interacting with a wide variety of humans and especially dining.
Women who travel solo that I’ve spoken with say their biggest concern is dining alone. Actually, it should be their least. I always advise to start solo dining small, which could even be a food truck and finding outdoor seating. Safety is number one.
Most of these 43 solo travel tips lean towards women. But many suggestions can apply to both genders. Here is my most concise list to-date of lessons I’ve learned traveling solo, otherwise known as my top 43 solo travel tips. They’re sorted by category for easier reading.
Getting around as a solo female traveler
- Start using 5 lb. hand weights two- three months before departure. It’ll be so much easier to lift your luggage.
- If you’re in Europe, arrive no more than 20 minutes before your train departure time. Amtrak, 45-minutes to 1 hr.
- If you’re in Europe, go to the station a day or two before your departure. The same trains depart every day and from the same platform. Walk the route from the station entrance to as close to where your train will depart. Especially helpful at major train stations.
- No matter if Europe or US, I always try to find a hotel or Airbnb within a short walk of the train station.
- If you can do the station check, note where the elevators are located. If you have a lot of luggage, avoid the escalators. You don’t want a nasty pile-up if a suitcase wheel doesn’t roll smoothly off the escalator. It happened to me and was scary.
- Avoid train station elevators that aren’t see-through. Many in Europe and now the US are plexi-glass.
- While you wait at a train station in Europe, situate yourself so you can clearly read the departures board, and keep your hands on your luggage handles.
- If ANYONE approaches you at a train station in Europe and asks if you need help, DO NOT make eye contact and loudly say, “NO!” There are kiosks with a large yellow “i” where you go for information.
- Pack as light as possible. Not only to get your luggage up onto the train but also rolling cases across carpet, over ancient cobblestones and metal curb-warning bumps.
- Be aware of huge gaps between the station platform and the train entrance. In addition to the gap, there could be three or four steps up to the train. Remember those hand-held weights.
Solo travel precautions while en route
- Turn on Find Friends on your phone and make sure to share with someone back home. It’s a solo traveler’s best friend.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary and last-minute updates with friends and/or family.
- Pack a faux wedding band. As sexist as this sounds, certain countries view married women differently than someone not wearing a ring.
- Be friendly and polite to the front desk staff whether hotel or ship. You never know when they’ll be needed to help.
- If walking back to your hotel or apartment in a new city or neighborhood late at night, find a group of women that are heading in your direction and tag along with them.
- Don’t walk around while using your mobile phone, if you can avoid it. If I’m walking somewhere, I’ll take a screen shot of Google Maps and study it before I leave. It’s easier to just glance down to see your path in Photos rather than have to walk and follow directions and not be aware of your surroundings.
- Carry a note in the local language with the hotel address. In case you get lost, ask a female shopkeeper or restaurant worker for directions.
- Always confirm the shared-ride’s license plate with what’s on your phone. Don’t just hop in and assume it’s your ride.
- If you’re in a taxi after dark, pretend to call someone and say you’re on your way. Mention the location of your taxi and sound like you know where you are and how soon you’ll arrive.
- Know exactly how many things you bring with you into a taxi or bus or ride-share. When you go to exit, do your count.
- Turn around and look back into the car and make sure you didn’t leave your phone or wallet on the seat.
- If you’re approached on the street and asked for money, don’t make eye contact and loudly say, “No”.
- Conversely to #10, I always give a euro or two to a street musician who’s music makes me smile.
- Always keep your phone at least half-charged.
Read more: Observations on a Solo Transatlantic Crossing
Hotel or apartment rental precautions when traveling solo
- Ask the front desk clerk for a room near an elevator.
- Don’t accept a room that is located down a corridor and around a corner. If you find this out when you get to your floor, turn around and head back to the front desk to change it.
- Never open your hotel door without confirming with the front desk that someone was sent up to fix something.
- Have your key card ready as you exit the elevator.
- Carry a door alarm for your hotel room or rental. Who knows if a past renter made a copy of the key or if the renter is a nut case. I always use this on ships, too.
- Whether on a ship or in a hotel, always make sure the windows and balcony are locked.
- Check under the bed, behind the curtains, in the closet and shower.
- If the idea of dining alone makes you panicky, start small. Visit a nearby food truck or snack shop. Baby steps.
- Dining alone can be a great time to sort through the day’s photos and delete, delete, delete.
- When dining, keep your purse/wallet/cross-body bag either on your lap or away from any foot traffic.
- Don’t drink too much and then have to try to get back to your hotel.
- Old news but don’t ever leave or turn your eyes away from your open drink, if you’re at a bar. It’s so easy to swivel on the bar stool and leave your drink exposed.
- Tired? Dark outside in a new neighborhood? There’s always room service. Or stop at a local market and picnic in your room.
- If something doesn’t “feel” right, leave!
READ NEXT: What the cruise lines don’t want solo cruisers to know
Tech tips and travel hacks for a solo female traveler
- Pack a separate phone charger like a Mophie or Anker (this is the one I have) and keep it fully charged and ALWAYS carry it with you.
- If you see a touristy couple trying to take a selfie, you could ask if they’d like you to take their photo. They’ll usually then ask if you’d like them to take your photo. Quid pro quo. Go with your gut on this one.
- If someone approaches you to ask if you’d like your photo taken and if this person doesn’t have a phone or a camera, your internal radar should have screeched and you need to walk away. Immediately.
- I shouldn’t have to remind you but leave valuables (jewelry, excess cash, extra credit cards) in your room safe or apartment. Better yet, at home. I absolutely cringe when I see solo women flaunting their jewelry in tourist areas and craft markets.
- When you get up to leave a restaurant, bar, café, bookstore and especially at a cashier counter, do a mental checklist of your belongings. Make sure to take your phone. Put everything away before you head out the door. Don’t walk down the street fumbling to put your wallet away.
Some of these suggestions may seem really obvious or downright idiotic. But when you travel solo, no one has your back except you.
What solo travel tips do you have to share? Please leave your comments below. Travel safe and travel happy.
Read next: More about life as a solo female traveler and cruising solo
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