There’s Nothing Like Your First Time: Tips and Resources for Starting Your Solo Travel Journey

Photo of solo travel by Tim Gouw

Solo travel can often seem like a foreign concept (pun slightly intended) to many, and perhaps even virtually impossible – especially when it comes to solo travel as a woman. My own solo travel journey has just begun, but I hope that I can inspire you to give it a try by sharing these tips and resources that have helped me along the way, especially during my time in Thailand.

 

Read more: Thailand Blog Post Round-Up

 

Without further ado:

My Top Thirteen Tips for Traveling Solo

1. Research and understand local laws, customs, culture, and common scams.

Knowing the general rules for hand gestures, dress code, social norms, etc. go a long way in not sticking out (even more) as a tourist. For example: in some countries, simply being friendly and outgoing as a woman can unfortunately send the wrong message to men. Another fun fact: a seemingly innocent “thumbs-up” is seen as a very obscene gesture in numerous cultures!

Photo of thumbs up in leaves by Katya Austin

2. Arrange at least your first night of accommodations, and stay in a well-populated area if If possible.

Even if you’re planning to wing it for most of your travel plans, it doesn’t hurt to have your first night sorted out. Preferably in a highly-populated, well-lit, secure area. Additionally, it’s helpful to plan your travel to arrive in the daylight hours. In any city, there is more opportunity for trouble after dark.

3. Keep a copy of all critical documents: hard copy and in Google Drive/Dropbox/The Cloud.

It might seem like a no-brainer to have paper copies of your important documents (license, passport, etc.) but it’s even better to have digital copies that you can access from anywhere! This is especially crucial for worst-case scenarios where you don’t have access to your own computer.

4. Don’t reveal that you’re traveling alone or share where you’re staying – to men OR women.

Sadly, even though there is a lot of good in this world, there is also plenty of evil. Sometimes even women can be accomplices to crimes, kidnappings, etc. so be wary of sharing your details with anyone – no matter how friendly or harmless they seem. Also, if you’re meeting with someone new, try to choose a local landmark instead of your accommodation just in case things go south. Lastly, you could consider wearing a fake wedding ring while you’re exploring, if it makes you more comfortable. I have not yet felt the need to do this, but I probably will when I visit certain countries with a more conservative culture…it simply helps to avoid unwanted attention! Just double-check which hand is the “ring” hand in the country you’re visiting, otherwise it may defeat the purpose.

Photo of woman punching with wedding ring by Sarah Cervantes

5. Be firm and polite when possible – but not at the cost of your safety.

For general inconveniences or small cases of inappropriate behavior, sometimes it’s better to show that you mean business without unnecessarily escalating. This goes back to being aware of cultural norms and acting accordingly. If you’re in a country where women are expected to be quieter, subservient, etc., it may not be a great idea to become immediately irate because it could be met with aggression. That said, we women are often too polite for our own good – so I say, screw politeness if being “nice” jeopardizes your safety. If you feel uncomfortable, in danger, etc., then don’t worry about the other person’s feelings. Just get out of the situation however possible.

6. Carry yourself with confidence, as if you’re a local and know your way around.

Even if you feel nervous or out of your element, don’t show it. When in doubt: lift your chin, fix your gaze, and throw your shoulders back. This will instantly make you look more confident – and like less of an easy target. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings and don’t walk around with a map. If anything, familiarize yourself with the area that you’re going to, and then glance at a map that’s on your phone (see below for my favorite app for offline maps!). Also, I would not advise walking around with headphones, as it makes you less aware of your surroundings and more of a target.

7. Learn and memorize some key phrases.

It’s always always ALWAYS a good idea to know some key words and phrases in the local language. You never know when they’ll come in handy. Here are a few that are universally useful: Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, no, yes, help, stop, emergency (and more!)

8. Consider sharing your itinerary with loved ones and checking in periodically.

I get it: it seems counterintuitive to the mission of solo travel to be constantly plugged into your home life. However, it’s never a bad idea to let at least a couple of people know where you’re going – this leaves a digital trail of your whereabouts, worst case scenario. If you really want to go off the grid for a few days, then it’s wise to set a date/time to check in after your unplugged period to let your contacts know that you’re still okay.

Photo of African-American woman texting on her phone by Angelo Moleele

9. Be cautious with packing and showing off your more expensive items.

These items could include your phone, laptop, tablet, camera, jewelry, and so much more. If you have nice things, it’s natural to want to show them off #forthegram and bring them on your travels. However, if you’re traveling solo and potentially roughing it a bit, you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.

10. Write down the phone number and address of your accommodations.

This is a tip that can be underestimated, but it’s really important! In case your phone dies, it’s always good to have the phone number and address of wherever you’re staying written on a piece of paper or card. Bonus points if it can be written in the local language. This will prove to be invaluable if you get lost and need to communicate with a local to find your way back.

11. Watch your drink(s) and keep your wits about you.

It can be easy to let your guard down when you’re traveling in a new place and feeling excited about this new freedom; but it’s crucial to remember that you’re still in unfamiliar surroundings, and that can easily make you a target. I honestly don’t recommend getting drunk if you go out alone, but even if you’re with a group (such as at a hostel) I would still limit drink intake to whatever level gives you a nice buzz without being too vulnerable. Whenever I’ve gone out as a solo traveler, I usually cut myself off after a few drinks and enjoy dancing and talking the night away instead.

12. Conceal cash in less obvious places.

One tip that I recently picked up was hiding your money in unique places versus all in your wallet. For example: on my trip to Thailand, I rolled up money into tiny Ziploc bags and then placed them in a full tissue-pack as well as pad and tampon packaging. The beauty of this kind of packing – especially with feminine products – is that your money is much less likely to be found in one of these locations since they’re some of the last places a thief would (want to) look.

Photo of American money held in the air by Vitaly Taranov

13. Above all: trust your gut.

At home and abroad, your intuition is always talking to you. You just have to learn how to listen and trust your instincts!

 

In addition to these thirteen tips for solo travel, I’ve also put together a list of resources that are helpful for making your first solo travel experience as smooth as possible!

 

Resource List

Maps.me App

This app is awesome for saving and accessing offline area maps! Plus, you can download routes while connected to WiFi and then access them offline later. It’s a much less obvious way to find your way around than looking at a hard copy map.

NomadList

This is a website that’s really made for digital nomads (people who want to work and travel simultaneously), but it can still provide great insight on safety, air quality, cost of living, etc. There are even filters to narrow down locations based on a variety of factors, such as “Safety for Women”!

Travel Advisories and Embassy Information

Information will vary from country to country, but be sure to check your government website (Click here for the U.S.) for any travel advisories before deciding on a destination. It’s important to know what’s going on and how it may affect your travel plans.

Grab App

Similar to Uber and Lyft, Grab Taxi is especially great for southeast Asian countries. It can make you feel a bit more secure than a taxi off the street, since your route and your information will be tracked by the app. However, it’s important to still keep your guard up and follow your route in the app to make sure you’re going the right way to your final destination.

Unit Converter Infinity (Infinity sign) App

This free app is awesome for converting temperature, units of measurement, and – arguably most important – currency. When it’s offline, it even saves the most recent exchange rate so that you know how much money you’ll need. I use it so often and love it!

WhatsApp Messenger

If you’re not familiar with WhatsApp Messenger, this is an app that’s great for communicating with international phone numbers. I consider it an essential, especially if you don’t have an iPhone/iMessage that can send messages over WiFi.

Google Translate

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Google Translate by now, and I’m sure that’s not just from using them in our foreign language classes…right? 😉 But seriously: a super cool feature that was recently added to the app is the ability to download languages for offline usage. Isn’t that awesome?! It really comes in handy if you’re blanking on a certain word or need help translating a question.

Travel/Emergency Whistle

You never know when you’ll need to make a scene or attract attention while traveling (let’s hope you don’t, though!). These whistles are super portable and come in a set of 5.

RFID-Blocking Card and Passport Sleeves

I’ve gotten so used to using RFID-blocking sleeves in daily life that now my cards feel naked without them! But seriously, these are great to ensure that your cards and passports are secure while you’re traveling. I’ve been loving this color-coordinated and affordable set that protects your cards from being skimmed.

Door Stop Alarm

I haven’t felt the need to use one of these yet, but I will probably be investing in it for destinations that are more “risky” for solo travel. I’ve seen this particular one recommended by multiple bloggers and it has pretty good reviews for alerting you if anyone is trying to open your room door.

 

I hope that all of these tips and resources were helpful for you as you embark on your first solo travel experience – or simply plan your next trip! If you found any of these tips particularly helpful, or feel something was missing, drop a comment below!

In the meantime, check out this blog post as a free downloadable resource list below!

FREE DOWNLOAD:

 

P.S. This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. All opinions are still 100% my own.

 

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