Traveling Alone for the First Time: The Complete Guide
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When traveling alone for the first time, it’s hard to know where to start.
Where should I go? How should I book my flight? What do I need to do before I leave? How do I stay safe while solo traveling? These are all common questions every first-time solo traveler has.
To answer all of these questions, I’ve written this complete guide to traveling alone for the first time! From planning to preparing to being on the road, I’ll walk you through step-by-step on how to have the best first solo trip of your life. Keep reading to get started!
Recommended: Follow along with my FREE Travel Checklist + Blueprint for Traveling Alone for the First Time! Fill it out as you read and use it to make sure you don’t forget anything.
Traveling Alone for the First Time: Phase 1
1. Pick a destination
When traveling alone for the first time, above all else, you want to pick a destination that will make you happy, healthy, and safe.
First, think of a few places that you would love to solo travel in for the first time. What excites you? Think of places that have interested you for a while. What places are the sole object of your envy on Instagram or Pinterest?
Related: Need more help deciding where to go? For more inspiration, check out my FREE personalized quiz plus a step-by-step guide for deciding where to travel alone for the first time!
Next, choose which of those top destinations in your mind would be the healthiest. This means low pollution, or at least the ability to escape from congested areas of pollution, and no outbreaks of dangerous diseases. These would be diseases like Zika, Ebola, or Malaria, for example. Check the CDC’s travel website for current health recommendations for the place(s) you have in mind.
Next, which of your top destination choices is the safest? Do a little research. Investigate rates of crime and political unrest. Which place has the most accepting culture towards women, especially women who go around alone? Do you have the ability to either get cell service there on your current phone plan? Or is it easy to get a SIM card once you arrive? These are all important factors to consider.
Related: Check out the top 7 safest places to travel alone in Europe!
Finally, combine these three factors of happiness, health, and safety. Which place fits the bill for all three? Congrats! You’ve just decided on your destination for traveling alone for the first time.
Fast, cheap, and easy flight booking is a three-step process for your first time traveling alone.
If you search for a flight on Momondo and check the top right of the search results page, there will often be a button for “Flight insights from [departure airport] to [arrival airport]. Click on this and get all kinds of useful insights about the best and cheapest times to fly. This will help you decide where and when to travel alone for the first time.
2. Head on over to ITA Matrix
Google’s ITA Matrix software is no-nonsense when it comes to finding the best time to fly. Use the ITA Matrix after Momondo to figure out the cheapest time to fly within up to a month timeframe.
3. Find and book your airfare with Kiwi
Kiwi.com has recently become my most favorite flight booking tool. It has so much flexibility for searching multiple destinations at a time, date timeframes, and a whole bunch of useful filters.
It even has this really cool Nomad tool for finding the best order in which to travel to different destinations on a multi-city trip!
So after using Momondo and ITA Matrix, use Kiwi to confirm your choice(s) and book your flight!
Related: To learn more about how to use Kiwi.com to get your cheapest and best flight yet, check out my post on how to decide where you should solo travel this year.
PRO TRAVELER TIP!
Especially if you have to pay to reserve your seat, consider not reserving. Because you’re traveling alone, often if you wait to check in and get a seat assignment until you arrive at the airport, you can get a premium seat for free!
When traveling alone for the first time, or whenever you solo travel for that matter, I always recommend booking only the first two nights of your stay. Unless you absolutely 100% know you will stay in only one place your whole trip (I don’t recommend this), booking out further than two nights will limit your flexibility. So book the first two nights so you don’t have to worry about figuring it out when you get there. Then you’ll still have the flexibility to go wherever the wind (or your new friends!) takes you after!
For booking accommodations, I recommend Skyscanner Hotels. It has the best assortment of options in my opinion because it collects results and the best deals from all of the major hotel booking sites across the web. The #1 reason I prefer Skyscanner Hotels is that it often shows hostels that don’t have availability on Hostelworld or aren’t on Hostelworld at all!
4. Know how you’ll get to your accommodation from the airport
Whether it’s booking a shuttle in advance or planning on an Uber, depending on your destination, know how you’ll get to your accommodation once you arrive when traveling alone for the first time. This will take the stress out of your arrival. Besides, you’ll probably be pretty tired anyways after a long flight and customs line. Doing this will also lessen the chances that you’ll get scammed by a local taxi driver (again, depending on your destination).
Traveling Alone for the First Time: Phase 2
1. Make sure your passport is valid
While interning in the consular affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, I was SHOCKED at how many cases we had of Americans who suddenly had expired passports. Please, for the sake of everyone, make sure your passport is valid for at least 3 months after you will return. This goes for whether you’re traveling alone for the first time or are a seasoned solo traveler. Just checking this one little detail will save you A LOT of hassle (and unwanted trips to the embassy at your destination). Trust me.
If your passport won’t be valid for at least 3 months after your return, make sure to submit a renewal application no later than two months before you leave.
2. Purchase travel/health insurance
At the very least, I always make sure I have major medical health coverage before I go on a trip. For traveling alone for the first time, I would suggest getting a policy that will cover both your health and your trip and belongings, just for peace of mind.
I like GeoBlue Travel Insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield for health coverage. I find their claims reimbursement process really easy, and it’s an added bonus that they already have some doctors on their network in each country that agree to direct billing. This means you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket at the doctor’s office!
I haven’t personally used it, but I know many other travelers recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for general trip coverage as well as medical coverage.
3. Get essential vaccines and medication
At least a month before you go, check the CDC’s travel website for vaccination recommendations for your destination. Then make the necessary appointments with your doctor to get these vaccines. There are also travel clinics in many areas specifically geared towards providing this medical care for travelers.
4. Automate bill payments and cancel unnecessary subscriptions
You don’t want to have to remember to pay bills while you’re away, especially when you’re traveling alone for the first time. Set up automatic bill pay before you go so you don’t have to worry about it. Similarly, cancel any subscriptions you have, digital and otherwise, that you won’t need while you’re away. Instant money saver!
5. Set up your phone plan
If you plan to use your current cell phone provider while you’re traveling alone for the first time, make sure your phone is enabled for use internationally. Go to your cell phone provider’s website and search for how international roaming works with them.
Even if you don’t plan to use your phone plan most of the time, it’s important still to have global capabilities activated when you’re traveling alone. That will make sure you’re always able to be connected in case of an emergency.
6. Know when your flight is and when you’ll arrive at the airport
The general consensus is to arrive 3 hours before an international flight and 2 hours before a domestic flight. When you’re traveling alone for the first time, I would recommend sticking to these general guidelines to take away any potential stress.
Go to your local airport’s website and make sure there isn’t any construction or other barriers that will cause delays when you arrive. If there will be, plan some extra time accordingly.
It’s never fun to have to run through the airport. So prevent it at all costs when you’re traveling alone for the first time!
PRO TRAVELER TIP!
If you’ve already reserved your seat on the plane (see previous pro traveler tip), set a reminder alarm on your phone for when online check-in opens for your flight. Then you can check in as soon as possible.
7. Pack all of the essentials
Before you start packing for your first time traveling alone, first you need to make sure you have the right gear.
My favorite travel backpack for women is the Osprey Kyte 36 pack. It has top and side access, a separate bottom compartment for shoes or a sleeping bag, and a hip belt with pockets. Best of all, it has enough room for extended travel but not so much that you’ll risk overpacking. My pack has withstood 3 years of heavy traveling so far at the time of this post and is still going strong.
Along with the Kyte 36 backpack, you’re going to want some eBags packing cubes. Let me tell you – these cubes are an absolute travel game-changer. Ever since I bought some before my summer in Albania in 2016, I will never again travel without them. Especially for traveling alone for the first time, these packing cubes will make your life so much easier. You’ll be able to almost double what you can pack and taking things in and out of your bag will be a breeze.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to start packing no earlier than 2 days before you leave. This way, you’ll make sure you’re packed on time, but you won’t be stuck twiddling your thumbs because you’re ready too early. Time to kill before traveling alone for the first time = chances for fear and anxiety. Don’t make this mistake like I did the first time I traveled solo!
Related: Wondering what else to pack? Check out my 13 travel essentials that will change your life – I know they changed mine!
8. Scan and print all essential info
This might seem like an unnecessary pain in the butt, but I promise you’ll thank me later.
If you lose any IDs or cards while traveling, your phone and external batteries die so you don’t have your mobile boarding pass, or you need to answer an important question for some billing back home, you will be glad you have scans of all of these items with you.
At the very least, scan the following items into a Google Drive or OneDrive folder:
- Health insurance info
- Credit/debit card(s)
- Passport ID page
- Accommodation(s) booked (remember – you should only have the first 2 nights booked at this point!)
- Any activities booked
To avoid digital failures, print copies and bring the following with you:
- Accommodation(s) booked (remember – you should only have the first 2 nights booked at this point!)
- Any activities booked
- Passport ID page
Again, I know it might seem like a pain in the butt now. But if a problem arises while you’re traveling alone for the first time, you’ll thank me later.
Traveling Alone for the First Time: Phase 3
On the Road
1. Get to the airport on time
Get to the airport at your pre-determined time (see step 6 under “Preparation”) and no later. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport and to get through security and find your gate. Like I said before, it’s never fun to have to run through the airport, so especially make sure to avoid it when traveling alone for the first time!
2. Stay hydrated
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Staying hydrated is so important while you travel, especially when you’re on a long flight and at risk of dehydration. I use the Vapur water bottle to stay hydrated on-the-go! Not only is it lightweight and only $12, but it also completely folds up when empty! Perfect for getting through airport security and shoving in your bag when not in use.
Related: Get through security faster, feel more comfortable, and stay healthier with my top 10 tips for flying internationally!
3. Keep an external battery charged
Whenever you solo travel, and especially when traveling alone for the first time, it’s important to make sure you can always contact local authorities and family in the case of an emergency. That’s why it’s important not only to have a working phone plan but also a charged phone at all times. That’s why I always carry at least one (and usually two) fully-charged external batteries when I travel. That way, you’re never without power for any of your devices, and you can stay safe.
I love the lipstick-sized Anker portable charger. It’s small, easy to use, and can hold quite a charge!
4. Keep an eye on yourself and your belongings
When you’re unfamiliar with a destination, it’s important to keep a closer eye than usual on yourself and your belongings. As you get a feel for the place, you’ll understand how necessary it is to watch out for pickpockets and other petty crime offenders. Especially when traveling alone for the first time, always stay aware of yourself and your surroundings.
Related: Check out the top 7 safest places to travel alone in Europe here.
5. Don’t get too intoxicated
Unless you’re with people that you know and really trust, don’t ever get too intoxicated while solo traveling. You need to make sure you can look out for yourself and stay safe, and let’s be honest – you just can’t do that when you’re intoxicated. Go easy on the drinks and your head and stomach will be happier the next morning, too.
6. Engage with locals in a safe environment
Making an effort to engage with locals on any trip is super important and fulfilling on a deeper level. When you’re traveling alone for the first time, don’t be afraid to reach out! Just make sure to do it in a place and with people that feel safe to you. When you bridge the gap between yourself and the culture of your destination through a simple conversation with a local, you will get so much more out of your experience.
Related: Want to engage with others on your solo trip but don’t know how? Check out my best tips and tricks to introduce yourself to others and to make friends while solo traveling!
PRO TRAVELER TIP!
When in doubt, go do something. When you first arrive when traveling alone for the first time, it can be easy to stay holed up in your room. I know it might be difficult, but resist this temptation. Grab your wallet and your camera (don’t forget your keys!) and go out on the town. Find a history museum, a delicious-looking restaurant, anything. Whatever you do, just get yourself outside and start exploring with your new freedom! It might sound scary now, but you will thank yourself later for staying active.
7. Don’t expect to make friends immediately (but expect to make friends)
Be patient when it comes to making friends abroad. Whether you’re shy or outgoing, when you’re traveling alone for the first time you should know that making new friends can take a little time. Don’t expect to become the best of friends the first time you meet a person; just take it slow, be friendly, and let things progress naturally. At the same time, don’t worry that you will never make friends and that you will be lonely your entire journey – so many solo travelers make lifetime friendships while going it alone!
Related: Wondering how to make friends while traveling alone for the first time? Check out my top tips for making friends here!
8. Remember you’re so much stronger than you think
Solo travel is full of ups and downs. If you encounter times where you feel hopeless or lost when traveling alone for the first time, remember that you are so much stronger than you think you are.
And solo travel is only making you stronger.
When it comes down to it, you will feel like you’re on top of the world and can conquer any challenge – and that’s because you can.
Related: Read about more tips and things to know on the road in my list of 11 things every solo traveler should know.
Traveling Alone for the First Time: Recap
- A happy, healthy, safe destination
- Book your flight
- Book your first two nights
- Make sure your passport is valid
- Purchase travel/health insurance
- Get essential vaccines and medications
- Automate payments and cancel unnecessary subscriptions
- Know when your flight is and when you’ll arrive at the airport
- Pack all of the essentials no earlier than 2 days before you leave
- Print out essential info
Read more related: 13 Travel Essentials That Will Change Your Life
3. On the Road
- Arrive at the airport on time
- Stay hydrated
- Keep your phone charged and functional
- Keep an eye on yourself and your belongings
- Make an effort to engage with locals
- Be patient when making friends
- You’re so much stronger than you think
Read more related: 11 Things Every Solo Traveler Should Know
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