The Twenty-Something Series: 12 ways to prep for a solo trip

I've done a variety of solo trips abroad now, so in this post, I share some practical advice on how to prep before you go!

ICYMI, I recently travelled out to Rio de Janeiro for the Bienal (more on that later this week!) and earlier this year, went to Cape Town to visit the set of The Kissing Booth 2

And, quick disclaimer, this post will contain affiliate links to products on Amazon – but are all completely my own recommendations!

Doing anything alone can be quite intimidating, which I’ve talked about on my blog before, but travelling alone is on another level entirely.

The first time I travelled alone abroad was to Germany for work. I travelled to Sao Paulo by myself, and most recently, to Cape Town by myself. Now the thing with this is that I was meeting people out there. I was staying by myself and travelling alone, but there were people out there I saw during the days and not much time to go exploring by myself. 

That in mind, this post is going to be geared towards some more practical advice to help your first trip abroad seem a little less scary and how to prepare for it, and won’t be so much about ~travelling~ alone.

Read on for some advice on things you should make sure to do before you head out on your trip, to give you peace of mind when travelling!

1. Credit cards are great, but take local currency!

Make sure you have at least some cash in the local currency, for emergencies if nothing else. One of my friends at work travelled to our office in Germany for the first time and planned to use her card out there so didn’t take any Euros – but got caught out at the airport when she needed one of those clear Ziploc bags, and didn’t have a Euro coin to feed the vending machine for one. 

Something like a cash passport (Thomas Cook and the Post Office do them, as I’m sure do several other travel companies) is super handy to take, too – it works like a debit card but you upload a certain amount of cash to it in the local currency, so you won’t be charged any commission fees by your bank. Plus, you can often transfer between currencies once on the card – so that $10.66 I have left from New York was easily switched into Euros, which I’m way more likely to use.

(Oh, and in case you weren’t aware: yes, your bank will almost certainly be charging you commission for any payments you make on your card while abroad and using a foreign currency.)

2. …and remember to tell your bank you’re travelling!

Chances are, you’ll be taking some kind of credit or debit card abroad with you, even if it’s only ‘for emergencies’. Well, whether you plan to use it or not, make sure to tell your bank beforehand! Some banks let you do this through the app but if in doubt, ring them up and explain that you’re travelling and may use your card abroad – or else they may think it’s a fraudulent payment and block it. Which is the absolute last thing you need (especially if you’re using the card in an actual emergency).

3. Check up on tipping etiquette

Different cultures have different attitudes to tipping. Here in the UK, tipping your waiter and waitress isn’t as much of a big deal as in the USA. What about taxi drivers, hotel porters? Should you tip them? The maids at the end of your stay in a hotel? A quick Google search of ‘tipping etiquette Cape Town/Rio’ told me everything I needed to know. (And – it’s another reason you should take some cash!)

4. Make sure you’re prepped for your flight

Check in online in advance, make sure you’re familiar with any carry-on restrictions and book any travel to the airport. Sounds simple, but so many people I speak to don’t actually do this – especially getting caught out with not realising their carry-on bag, which is fine with five airlines they've used before, actually needed to be checked luggage for this sixth airline they’re using. Don’t get caught out paying the extortionate fees at the airport. It’s always cheaper to sort out in advance online. 

While I’m on the subject of baggage restrictions: grab yourself a tool like this one, to weigh your suitcase before you go. Might have to leave those wedges behind!

And speaking of prepping for your flight – most airlines have an app you can use to check in with, and call up your booking on. It’s usually way easier to use the boarding pass from your phone than to try get your printer working when it’s decided to throw a hissy fit and stop working the night before your flight. It’ll save you heaps of time at the airport if you check in in advance of your flight – and, you get to choose or change your seat.

(Oh, and don't forget to claim your air miles after your trip!)

5. Invest in a power bank and any travel adaptors

The IT Grads in my year group went out to our offices in Germany with some of the managers last November. Of course, someone completely forgot about the European plugs and didn’t have an adaptor. And, of course, I had about five with me. Make sure you double check what plug you’ll need out there and buy any adaptors – the hotel may not provide them, and they’re always cheaper on Amazon than at the airport!

Similarly, grab yourself a power bank/portable charger while you’re at Amazon. This is the one I use and I get a couple of full iPhone charges out of it – it’s not especially heavy, and it’s pink so I can spot it easily in my bag. I’m attached to my phone and get paranoid if it goes under 70% so I’m constantly carrying a portable charger with me. It’s been a lifesaver several times!

6. Check you can use your phone out there - or buy a cheap SIM to use. And know your data plans!

I spent a solid half hour in the O2 store last year checking my data would work in Brazil and New York, after it didn’t work when I was on a family holiday in Spain. (That was a weird fluke we never quite worked out.) It’s worth checking you have a travel plan before you go, though, so you’re not caught out with hideously expensive data charges if you do use your phone – or charged something ridiculous for phoning your dad to say you landed safe.

7. Give someone your itinerary

If, like me, you have a mum who worries and likes a text to say you’re home safe from a night out with your mates even at the age of twenty-four, this one goes without saying. But it’s a good idea to give someone back home – a boyfriend, parents, a mate – some of your travel details. (Especially if you’re planning on having them pick you up from the airport when you land back home!) Leave them your hotel name and address, your flight details, any transfers you’ve booked. They probably won’t need it, but it doesn’t hurt to be on the safe side.

8. Plan your packing in advance

Most of my actual packing is a last-minute-ish job, but I like to write out a packing list a while in advance and just go through the clothes I plan to take, the shoes, the toiletries, the books – and check I’m all sorted. I’d rather not have to run out to the shops to buy a pair of flip-flops because I forgot that mine broke at the end of last summer, or discover I don’t actually have enough face wash in the mini travel-size bottle to see me through the trip.

9. Over-pack because nobody else will have the backups

I’m notorious for over-packing, but that’s mainly because I like to have my things with me, and I like to have choices. (So hello, twenty different tops for a one-week trip.) But if you’re the sort of person who relies on your bestie to pack the suncream or never take paracetamol because your mum always carries some... you’re gonna be caught out. Again: it doesn’t hurt to be on the safe side. Sure, you can probably buy stuff like shampoo and tampons out there and might be able to borrow a hairdryer from the hotel, but you’ll enjoy your trip a lot more if you’re prepared.

And on that note – on TripAdvisor, you can search reviews, which is a great way to see if rooms typically come with things like a hairdryer, or what sort of toiletries they provide, if the hotel’s website isn’t clear. (I mean – Premier Inn, I love you, but I’m not using the all-purpose, all-in-one shampoo/body wash/hand soap/conditioner stuff as anything except hand soap. I’m bringing my own toiletries.)

10. Make sure you can carry your own damn bag

I don’t feel like this one needs explaining, but… make sure you can carry your own damn bag, if you’re travelling solo! There won’t always be lifts and escalators, or hotel porters around to help.

And you know a good way to practice carrying your own bag? When you have to lift it to weigh it before you leave!

11. Learn a few basic phrases in the local language

Honestly, ‘Entschuldigung, sprechen sie Englisch bitte?’ and ‘Kanne ich habe eine quittung?’ got me so far in Germany when I was working out there for a week at a time. I wanted to learn a bit more German because I was going to be working with Germans and thought it’d be handy (and it was), but it’s worth it anywhere you go. 

Even just ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way – when I went to Sao Paulo, I knew everyone I was with would speak English, but still tried to have a few phrases to take with me. It was polite, if nothing else. (And it never hurts to learn ‘Do you speak English please?’) I tried to learn more Portuguese for my trip to Rio, and while I could understand a little more, I still wasn't great... but, I was good enough to order room service on my last day in Portuguese!

12. And one last reminder: don’t forget to download your in-flight entertainment ahead of time

You don’t want to be desperately praying for the airport wifi to buck up so you can download an episode of Queer Eye to see you through the flight. Podcasts is something that always catch me out, as I always just stream them on my phone. A few days before you fly, set things to download while you’re watching a movie or cooking dinner or taking a shower. Kindle books, movies on Netflix, whatever!

Although I’d always recommend a paperback for the flight… Some airlines still tell you to put away all your electronic devices for take off, which is super annoying, and feels like forever before you can get your phone back out – even though it’s all on airplane mode anyway.

What's your best advice on preparing for a solo trip? I'd love to hear, so share in the comments below, or let me know over on Twitter where you can find me @Reekles!

This week's blog posts are going to be kind of travel-themed, so keep an eye out for my must-haves in my carry on, and a post about my recent trip to Rio!

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