Traveling alone? Don’t panic! It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime. Travel blogger Carl Unger reports back after a solo vacation with tips for travel safety and budgeting for your solo travel.
Traveling alone takes some guts: You board a plane, solo, and set off for distant lands where you may not know anyone or speak the language. What if you get lost or lonely? What if your wallet gets stolen?
But if travel opens your eyes to new cultures and ways of life, then traveling alone is a journey inward as well, a means of exploring both the familiar and foreign. To paraphrase John Muir, it turns out that going out really is going in.
Last April, I took my first solo trip, a relatively tame five-day jaunt to Copenhagen, Denmark. Despite this being what I’d call “entry level” solo travel (most Danes speak fluent English and, generally speaking, the culture shock wasn’t too shocking) I had my moments of doubt.
Your mileage may vary, but I found the planning, booking, and waiting to be more challenging than the traveling itself. Here’s how I prepared for traveling alone and managed the trepidation that came along for the ride.
Where to go? The beauty of solo travel is it’s all up to you. You can go anywhere you want! But the burden of solo travel is that—you guessed it—it’s all up to you. So ask yourself: Where do I really want to go? Maybe you have a few places in mind, but if not, narrow it down based on your interests. Maybe you want to visit your ancestral home. Or it’s about damn time you went to Paris. You can spin a globe and pick a random place if that’s your thing, but make sure the destination speaks to you. After all, it’s your hard-earned money.
Speaking of which…
You gotta pay for it. I’m no accountant, but I budgeted this trip down to the penny. And as a solo traveler, there are two primary factors that can make budgeting a little tricky:
Accommodations: When you travel with a companion, typically you split the cost of your hotel room or rental. Not so when you travel alone, and (depending on your budget) you may need to get creative. Shared rooms are a good way to save money, and of course, hostels are abundant in Europe. Consider your preferences and comfort level: Personally, I booked a $55-per-night studio apartment with a shared shower in the basement and loved it.
Food: When you’re traveling with others, you can split food costs, namely groceries. Buying groceries to minimize dining out is often an effective way to save money, but it’s a bit less so when you’re footing the bill yourself.
In general, make sure you have a good sense of what you can expect to spend for food in your destination. You don’t want to be surprised when a cup of coffee costs $5 and simple lunch costs $20, forcing you to make sacrifices just to stay on budget.
After estimating my on-the-ground expenses like food, transportation, and museum admissions, I used the goal-setting feature offered by my bank, Simple, to help budget for it all. It lets you select an amount of money you want to save up and a date by which you’ll need it, and then sets aside a small amount each day until the desired amount is reached. Over the course of two months, I painlessly set aside $500 and arrived in Copenhagen ready to roll.
Itineraries: I’m a wanderer, and when left to my own devices I tend to drift aimlessly with no particular agenda. Knowing this, and that I’d have no one around to keep me on track, I arrived in Copenhagen with a more structured itinerary than usual. I left plenty of space for improvised exploration but made sure I plotted out the major things I wanted to see. I also looked up restaurants where I’d feel comfortable eating alone, mostly casual places where it wouldn’t be out of place to sit with a book.
The point is, solo travel is all about you, which means all of your good and (cough) less good qualities are pulled into sharp focus. So be honest and create a trip that works for you. You’ll get lots of advice from all sorts of people (and, um, blogs), so stay true to your wishes and hopes for your trip.
Before you go: When traveling alone, it’s especially important to take precautions against any and all unforeseen calamities. So, be sure to:
- Tell your family and friends where you’ll be and how to contact you.
- Make two copies of your passport—leave one behind with a trusted friend and take one with you.
- Tell your bank where you’ll be so they don’t shut down your card when they see unexpected activity.
- Only carry what you need each day—cash, a debit or credit card, and your ID (not your passport). Leave as much behind as possible in your room safe, just in case you encounter a pickpocket.
- Be smart about where you walk and when, and listen to your gut—if something feels sketchy, it probably is.
Carl Unger is a writer living in Massachusetts.
Follow him on Instagram @cunger38.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.