All Your Solo Travel Questions—Answered
There’s something special about traveling alone. After all, no matter how great a travel buddy you have, nothing quite beats the perfectly selfish sense of autonomy that comes with putting a pin in a map, boarding a plane, and venturing off into the unknown with no one but yourself for company.
Feel like spontaneously staying at that beach town a few more nights? No one is going to stop you. Want to go back to same no-frills trattoria three nights in a row? Sure, indulge yourself in another bowl of cacio e pepe. For many of us at Condé Nast Traveler, traveling solo is, hands down, our favorite way to travel. But with a world of endless options to choose from, planning a trip for one can be a little overwhelming—and when you’re a woman going it alone, factoring in safety is an unavoidable reality.
With this in mind, we decided to take some of our Women Who Travel members’ most frequently asked questions to three of the most impressive solo travelers we know. Here’s what they told us.
What factors are important to consider when choosing a solo travel destination?
It depends on what you’re looking for, but one thing that I always try to keep in mind is how easy it is to get around by walking or on public transportation. Renting a car or taking taxis is more cost-effective when splitting it two or three different ways, but costs can easily add up on your own. It’s also important to keep in mind what kind of activities you like to do alone. I prefer to wander through museums on my own instead of having to chat with friends or my husband, so I’m a big fan of checking out bigger cities with more cultural opportunities when I’m solo. —Christine Amorose, blogger and Instagrammer
Obviously the number one concern when traveling to new place is going to be safety. You can check this easily online but reaching out to other women who may have visited your destination is always a great idea. Sometimes the U.S. State Department website strikes fear into you where it may be unnecessary, so check with as many sources as possible—specifically people who have been. Secondly, picking a country where you’ll feel comfortable is extremely important: That may mean considering language, religion, or the level of conservatism. When traveling solo as a woman, confidence is important, and comfort enhances confidence! —Jessica Nabongo, of founder of The Catch Me If You Can and boutique travel firm Jet Black
What are your packing essentials for a solo trip?
Plenty to read! I love to get caught up on a bunch of good books when I’m traveling solo, so I always make sure my Kindle is fully charged and in my bag. I also think it’s important to only pack what you can comfortably carry on your own, whether it’s just in and out of a taxi or down a cobblestone street and up a five-floor walk-up. —CA
How much do you plan in advance vs. how much do you leave up to spontaneity?
I do a lot of planning in advance to make sure I have transportation, hotel, and a general itinerary plotted out, but I try to leave the days themselves open ended so I can figure out some new things to do along the way. Spontaneity is fun but sometimes it’s better to be boring and plan things out to be on the safe side, so you don’t wind up in a new town after dark with nowhere to stay without realizing it was a big local holiday. Plus, you can always cancel or change things around if something more interesting or exciting comes up along the way. —Sarah Khan, ‘Condé Nast Traveler’ contributor
I love to wake up early and check a lot of things in the morning (before there are crowds!), but my favorite part of travel is also just having time and space to walk and explore new neighborhoods. Part of my activities might just be wandering around a certain neighborhood: checking out a particular shop or café, and then giving myself the freedom to see what else I discover. —CA
If there are a few key sites I want to visit, I try to identify those before traveling; same with restaurants that may require reservations. Other than that I try to remain flexible because then you are open to more amazing, random experiences: If the cutie at the bar wants to show you his city and you’ve already booked a full day tour, you may be missing out. —JN
How do you meet new people when you’re traveling alone?
Staying in hostels—even if you opt for a private room instead of a dorm—can be a great way to meet open-minded and friendly travelers. Booking a single room in a hostel or an Airbnb can also be a good way to save money. I also love bike tours of a city: the guides are usually really funny, it’s a cool way to get the lay of the land, and you can meet other active travelers. I actually met a great friend on a bike tour in Munich when I was solo backpacking around Europe after graduating college—we ended up going paragliding in Bavaria on that trip, and have since road-tripped across the U.S., and traveled together in Australia and Denmark. —CA
I usually try to eat dinner at the bar rather than a table because it’s easier for strangers to talk to me. The hotel lobby is also a great place, so if you have work or research to do hang out there rather than in your room. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to other travelers while you are visiting touristy sites, and small group day trips are another great way to meet new people. —JN
Whenever I’m going somewhere new I usually post about it on Facebook and Twitter and reach out to anyone I know who’s there, or has been there, for tips, which often results in introductions or suggestions of people to meet. And once I’m posting about my travels on Twitter and Instagram I almost always have someone in that destination messaging me asking if I want to meet up or need any tips—and I always say yes! —SK
What are your favorite apps to use when traveling solo?
The REAL App is still pretty new, but I think that’s going to be hugely helpful in connecting with new people while traveling solo. —CA
I don’t have apps that I use specifically when traveling solo, but some of my favorite travel apps are: Google Translate for reading menus; XE Currency for currency conversion; TripIt to keep flights, hotels and car reservations organized; Mobile Passport (it’s better than Global Entry); GateGuru to find out where restaurants, ATMs and more are in the airport; and Been app to keep track of where I’ve been. —JN
TripIt is a major part of my planning—I upload all my flight and hotel info into one itinerary and share it with my family so they’ll know where I’ll be every step of the way. —SK
How do you stay safe in a new place?
Although I feel pretty comfortable exploring most new cities on my own, I definitely limit how much I drink or how late I stay out when I’m traveling solo. I feel much more confident navigating an unfamiliar place when I’m clear-headed. —CA
Common sense, street smarts, and positive energy keep me safe. I generally ask locals which areas are safe at night and whether areas are safe for walking—it’s always best to ask locals these types of questions—and I often take taxis rather than public transportation at night. Most countries in the world are safe and, statistically speaking, even in places with high crime you have to have bad luck to be the victim of a crime.—JN
I worry about safety all the time. I always keep my guard up, and try not to be overly brazen in unfamiliar places, even if it means missing out on some experiences—just because a place looks safe during the day it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be after dark. And depending on what city I’m in and what my plans are, I’m willing to pay extra to hire a car service or something else that will make sure I feel at ease. Peace of mind is worth a few extra dollars. —SK
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By Lale Arikoglu © 2019 Condé Nast Traveler