Ultimate Guide to Planning Your First Solo Travel Trip

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The world is a vast and enchanting playground filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, diverse cultures, and endless adventures waiting to be discovered. While traveling with friends and family can be immensely rewarding, there’s something uniquely liberating and empowering about embarking on a solo journey. Planning your first solo trip is not just about choosing destinations and booking flights; it’s a transformative experience that opens the door to self-discovery, independence, and the thrill of navigating the world on your own terms.

In this guide, I’ll dive into the essential aspects of planning your first solo adventure – from selecting the perfect destination to packing your bags and embracing the unexpected. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler looking to break free from the group dynamic or someone contemplating their first expedition, this blog post aims to inspire and equip you with the tools and mindset needed to embark on a solo travel experience that will stay with you for years to come.

Set aside any apprehensions, step out of your comfort zone, and dive into the exciting world of solo travel. Your journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – and this solo travel planning guide is here to help you take that first step with confidence!

Not sure if solo travel is right for you? Read this post for an inside look at what to expect and how to prepare for your first solo travel journey.

What Kind of Solo Traveler Am I?

When planning your first solo travel experience, the most important thing to consider is- what kind of traveler you are. 

There are many different travel styles, including backpacking and budget-friendly hostels to luxury resorts, road trips, cruises, and mid-range adventure trips. I change my travel style frequently from trip to trip based on budget, desired experiences, and length of time.

Once you know what kind of trip you are up for, that will help you decide where to go. 

Some destinations appeal to a variety of travel styles, while others are best for budget trips or camping only. 

Any destination can culminate in incredible experiences, so it’s important to consider what is most important to you. Do you want the comfort of a luxury resort in a vibrant city? Or would you rather take on your own road trip itinerary and enjoy some peace and quiet? 

Consider whether you want to stay in your home country or travel abroad. The convenience of not having to exchange currency and practice phrases in a new language might be appealing to you, or you may prefer the challenge of exploring and navigating a totally new country. 

To choose, assess personal interests, your trip goals, and preferred pace. Introverts might enjoy secluded nature trips, while extroverts might opt for bustling cities. Budget, activities and desired level of planning influence the decision. Tailoring your trip to individual preferences ensures a fulfilling and enriching solo travel experience.

Thinking you might want to try a solo car camping trip? Leave your email below, and I’ll send you my beginner’s guide to solo car camping.

Get Trip Inspired

Once you have an idea of the kind of experiences you are looking for and the type of destination you will thrive in, head to social media, YouTube, and Google to get inspired.

Instagram and Pinterest are great for photo inspiration- just remember social media loves a heavily edited photo and is often better at selling the dream than showing reality. Still, when looking for places to travel, I’m easily influenced by a beautiful photo.

Check out YouTube and personal travel blogs for a more in depth look at possible destinations. Don’t forget about travel books.

Some of my favorite books for travel inspiration are:

It is important to combine multiple sources to ensure a well-rounded understanding of destinations, from practical tips to authentic experiences catering to various preferences and travel styles.

Research Safety

Safety is important to consider when deciding where to visit on your first solo travel trip. 

Safety is so subjective, so it is important to be a conscious “smart” traveler, especially when traveling solo, just as much as choosing a destination with a high safety rating that considers political stability, effective law enforcement, societal safety, and International Conflict.

The World Population Review studied the most dangerous countries for solo female travelers. You can read the study here. The study indicated South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India, Morocco, Egypt, and Iran were among the top 10 most dangerous countries for women. 

With that said, I have traveled to some of these countries as a solo female traveler and had a great experience. Although I would suggest exploring these destinations in a group trip setting, the planning is way easier and gives you much less to worry about. 

I visited Egypt for three weeks as a photographer for an all-female tour group, and our guide was amazing. I never felt unsafe but would not return solo unless I had a guide with me. There were many government checkpoints and requirements while moving around the country that were made a lot easier with a guide.

I spent a few days in India alone before meeting up with another group trip and would not return solo unless I had a guide and driver the entire time. India was difficult to navigate, and the harassment from touts and beggars (even in the group setting) was intense. 

On the contrary, Spain, Singapore, Ireland, Austria, Norway, and Croatia were among the top 10 safest countries for solo females. I’ve been to all these countries except Singapore and I agree- I felt very safe and not bothered.

Once you decide on a destination, always research specific areas more in-depth to get a better understanding of what it is like for solo travelers.

I use Rick Steves’s travel forum and a few solo female travel Facebook groups to gain insight into city-specific information. As I said before, everyone has a different story and experiences so it’s important not to let one bad experience scare you away from a destination but rather inspire you to do things differently while there. 

Overall, choose a destination that speaks to you!

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Best Locations for First Time Solo Travelers

Traveling solo for the first time is a big step. Knowing that your chosen destination is considered safe for travelers is comforting. A good destination for a solo traveler will depend largely on how receptive the locals are to tourists, the frequency and type of crimes committed, how easy it is to navigate, and costs for a solo traveler.

My Personal Favorites (I have visited solo)

  • Scotland (my first solo travel trip) is a very welcoming country, full of lush scenery and historical ruins, best explored by car.
  • In Barcelona, you’ll find plenty of activities to curb any solo travel boredom, with a vibrant social and cultural scene, accessible transportation, and diverse neighborhoods. But be very conscious of your valuables. Barcelona is known as one of the top 10 cities in Europe for pickpocketing (Paris, Athens, Rome, and Amsterdam all made the list). 
  • Australia welcomes travelers with its many outdoor activities, diverse landscapes, friendly locals, vibrant cities, and a safe environment, but it’s not cheap.
  • Iceland is another great solo travel destination for outdoor lovers with its dreamy landscapes, and welcoming locals who speak perfect English. Consider a camping tour to help cut solo travel costs.
  • A USA West Road Trip is great for those who love the outdoors and seek solitude. It’s remote but has some incredible Mars-like landscapes.

Other Popular Destinations (I have not visited these yet)

  • Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo offers a perfect blend of modernity and tradition. The city’s safety, efficient public transportation, and diverse attractions make it ideal for solo exploration. Japanese hospitality ensures a welcoming environment, and the city’s orderliness simplifies navigation for solo travelers.
  • Lisbon, Portugal: Lisbon’s charm, affordability, and laid-back atmosphere make it an excellent solo travel destination. 
  • Thailand: Thailand’s warm hospitality, affordable prices, stunning landscapes, and a well-established backpacker scene make it an ideal destination for first-time solo travelers seeking adventure, cultural richness, and a friendly atmosphere.
  • Singapore, a safe and modern destination, is ideal for first-time solo travelers with its efficient public transport, diverse cuisine, English-friendly environment, and a mix of cultural experiences in a compact space.
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Decide on Your Budget 

Your budget should be at the top of your priorities when deciding where to go on your first solo trip. Choosing a destination based on your travel style and safety is just as important as one based on budget and desired activities. All of these things go hand in hand. 

Your budget will help to determine how far across the country or world you can travel, how long you can be gone for, and what kind of experiences you can enjoy along the way. 

I usually spend most of my budget on experiences, activities, and car rentals. I skip the luxury hotels for mid-range stays and eat in as much as possible. But for some, a boutique hotel with a relaxing spa and stunning rooftop views may be why you travel solo anyway, so spend away! Travel priorities are different for everyone, and that is absolutely okay!

Just make sure you plan your destination, length of stay, and activities around your budget. It is always good to have an emergency fund in case of any disasters so you are not stranded anywhere. 

Start Booking

I usually start booking 2-3 months out from my trip date. Many travel gurus have their own thoughts on how far out in advance you should book, but there is no definitive answer. 

I usually plot my desired activities and things to see in Google Maps and then decide where to stay based on distances to those things. 

If I am visiting a city, I love being able to walk to everything. I always wake up early to stroll the streets before the crowds and take photos. I prefer a central location but one that is not too far away from transportation.  

If I rent a car, I choose accommodation with easy parking.

On my US road trips, I hit the road without pre-booking anything. I love how flexible road trips are!

Last minute planning works for trips close to home and when you have your own transportation. Otherwise, planning ahead is key to enjoying your first solo travel experience. 

My Favorite Pre-booking Sites are:

  • Skyscanner
  • Skiplagged (I don’t book through them)
  • Google Flights
  • Trainline 
  • Air B&B
  • Google Maps
  • My Capital One Travel Credit Card booking site

I’ve never been a fan of the “cheap” booking sites and third party providers. I try to book direct as much as possible (if the rate is the same or better). Booking direct makes it much easier to deal with any flight changes, delays or travel mishaps. 

If I have cash, I’ll call or email guest houses I have found on Booking.com or Expedia.com directly to ask if I can book through them to get a better rate and avoid the booking fees these sites add on. 

I have a lot of success with that in Europe, especially during my trip to Croatia. There were a lot of guest houses and the hosts were happy to take cash upon check-in rather than going through a 3rd party site. This really only works if you have local currency cash.

In some countries though, this would not be possible. Most of the accommodations in the US are owned by large corporations with set prices. I used to think Air B&B was a cost saver but with the added fees and cleaning charge, Air B&Bs in the US are just as expensive as a hotel. 

While you may be on a strict budget, I highly recommend not booking sketchy accommodation or taking the cheapest flight combo you can find if you are new to solo travel. You might want to save money, but don’t forget to consider logistics, stress, and safety that, when at risk, may cost more than if you booked a better accommodation or easier flight in the first place.

Make sure to read reviews thoroughly and do in depth research on any place you choose to stay. 

Consider using a travel rewards credit card. I have the Capital One Venture X Travel Card and really like it. It offers 2x points on all purchases, 5x and 10x points when booking travel through their site, a $300 yearly travel credit, and a nice signup bonus. I’ll get a referral bonus if you apply using my referral link and are approved.

Many solo travelers look to hostels with communal spaces and group activities, which foster a sense of community when traveling alone. However, some hostels offer limited privacy, noisy bunkmates, varied cleanliness standards, and communal bathrooms that pose more security concerns. 

When I first started traveling solo, I kept to myself and never wanted to advertise that I was alone. I chose hotels or bed and breakfasts with staff that could help me navigate where I was and give me local suggestions, which eased my solo travel anxiety and helped me feel more secure.

No matter what type of accommodation you are booking, consider booking flights, overnight stays, transportation, and activities far enough in advance to allow for a solid plan and detailed itinerary (while still leaving room for flexibility and spontaneity) so you are not scrambling once at your destination.

Plan Your Itinerary 

Once you know your trip style, destination, and budget and start booking, pull your travel information together in one easy-to-find place.

Information to Include in Your Itinerary:

  • Flight details
  • Hotel addresses
  • Dates and times
  • Costs
  • Transportation
  • Confirmation numbers
  • Planned activities
  • Additional travel notes

I’ve used several trip-planning apps like TripIt and Roadtrippers over the years but keep returning to good ole Google Sheets. Google Drive is free and easy to edit while on the go, plus you can easily share docs and sheets with friends and family.

I love Google Drive for all my itineraries and storing travel information. Here is a link to a basic spreadsheet I use to track all my important travel information.

Girl in a straw hat and white dress holding a bunch of lavender.

Prep For Your Trip

Once you have gotten this far in your solo travel planning journey, It’s time to go one step further in the planning process to ensure you won’t encounter any hidden surprises.

Before you are ready to enjoy your first solo travel experience, there are just a few more key points to research. 

Check for Required Vaccinations

Ensure you’re up-to-date on vaccinations required for your destination. Consult with a healthcare professional and obtain necessary immunizations well in advance.

Check Visas and Travel Requirements

Research and secure any required visas or permits for your destination. Familiarize yourself with entry and exit requirements to avoid complications during your journey.

Purchase Travel Insurance

Prioritize travel insurance for financial protection against unexpected events. Ensure coverage includes medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and personal belongings. 

Research Local Culture and Customs

Gain cultural insights to respect local customs. Understand appropriate behavior, dress codes, and cultural nuances to enhance your travel experience.

Exchange Local Currency Before You Arrive

When traveling abroad, exchange local currency in advance for expenses like food and taxis that might not accept cards. Familiarize yourself with local currency to navigate transactions seamlessly.

Stay Connected

Plan your communication strategy. Consider purchasing a local SIM card (if your phone accepts one) or an international phone plan. Download offline maps and communication apps like WhatsApp for convenience on international trips. Also, share your itinerary with friends or family and have regular check-ins.

Practice Reading Maps

Hone your map-reading skills to navigate your destination confidently. Familiarize yourself with key locations and landmarks before your trip.

Take Yourself to Dinner Solo

Embrace solo dining as a confidence-building exercise. Practice enjoying your own company in a local restaurant, immersing yourself in the experience of dining alone.

By addressing these points, you’ll set the foundation for a well-prepared and enjoyable solo travel experience!

Start Packing

The final step in the solo travel planning process is to pack for your trip!

For solo female travelers, the best packing tip is to prioritize safety and versatility. Pack a compact, mix-and-match wardrobe suitable for various occasions. Opt for a crossbody bag for convenience and security. Dress respectfully, blending in with the culture. Consider safety items such as a discreet money belt or a doorstop alarm. 

The biggest thing to consider when packing for your first solo travel trip is how much you can easily carry and where you will have to carry it. 

Will you be hotel hopping or staying in one palace? Are you planning to use a lot of trains? Are you visiting towns with cobblestone streets? 

Lugging a heavy suitcase up and down stairs or on and off trains is not fun. Neither is pulling a rollerboard across an uneven stone road. 

Only pack what you can easily carry. If it’s not a must, leave it. Bring laundry sheets to do sink laundry for items that soil quickly. 

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Don’t let these steps overwhelm you. You can get through most of them quickly. By researching, crafting an itinerary, and embracing spontaneity, you’ll be ready for your inaugural solo travel adventure in no time. Trust your instincts, savor each moment, and go with confidence as you set off to see the world!

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Sam wearing backpack and hat walking through town.

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