Planning a solo trip is super exciting. You get to decide your destination, budget, and activities. Yea, ok, it’s also quite overwhelming, because every decision is up to you. But take a deep breath. Make a few lists and take it one decision at a time. The thoroughness of your planning is up to you, but my favorite travel memories are the ones that happened in between my plans. So I highly encourage you to leave room for spontaneity. Perhaps, you only book your destination and a few nights at a hostel for your arrival. Once you arrive, you can decide daily where you’d like to go. Or perhaps you want to maximize your short vacation time so you plan it all out.
No matter your method following these steps for planning a solo trip will have you well on your way.
Before we go on, I have affiliate links in this post. This means that I use and love these products and think you could benefit from them as well. If you decide to make a purchase, I will earn a small bit of commission, at no additional cost to you.
Step 1: Determine Your Budget
Determining how much money you’re willing to part with on your trip will guide many of your future decisions before takeoff and well after landing. Knowing your budget will help you determine how long and how far you can travel. $1,000 can take you quite far in some places of the world and not too far in others.
It’s also important to know where you’re willing to save and splurge on travel expenses. Food and accommodation are typically the most expensive parts of travel (after a flight) so finding ways to save on these can help stretch your budget. For instance, Couchsurfing in more expensive cities for a few nights can lengthen the amount of time you’re able to spend there. Or perhaps you love retreating to a comfortable hotel room so choosing a less expensive place to travel where you can have the comforts you need is more budget friendly for you.
Whatever the case is for you, create a budget and set aside money each month to reach your goal. Begin reining in your lifestyle just a bit. Cutting out coffee shops and making coffee at home is an easy place to start. I used to compare each tiny purchase with the cost of a hostel stay in Ecuador. For instance, the average nightly cost of a hostel in Ecuador is $10. Which is also the cost of my lovely matcha lattes and sweet treat from the cafe. I’d ask myself if that treat was worth one less night in Ecuador, if it was then I enjoyed it, and if it wasn’t, I transferred $10 into my savings account!
Step 2: Get Your Paperwork & Health Sorted Early
This is an integral step and if you don’t take care of the necessary paperwork well in advance, well you’re not going anywhere (internationally anyway). Make sure your passport is valid for 6 months after your trip (but if it’s even cutting it close may be a good idea to just get a new one). Additionally, ensure that there are enough pages left for stamps. Depending on your destination, a visa may be required. Check this site to find out. These things can take time and money. They should be factored into your budget and handled early in the planning process.
Also, consider applying for Global Entry or a Mobile Passport to ease the flying process.
If you travel with prescription medications, understand the policies of the destination you will be traveling to regarding bringing these into their country. Ensure that you have a written prescription from your doctor and keep the medication in its original packaging. Always make sure that you have enough for the entirety of your trip. If you will be gone longer than it is possible to carry the medication with you, know how you will obtain a resupply before you go.
Vaccinations are annoying and expensive, but necessary. Since these vaccinations are viewed as optional, many insurance companies will not cover them. But, check with your primary care provider first. They may be able to provide the vaccinations at full cost to you. Another option is to visit a travel clinic. These nurses are knowledgeable about the vaccination requirements of various countries and can best guide your decision making in this area.
Often, vaccinations are required for entry in various countries. At customs, an agent may ask to see your vaccination card. If you don’t have it, you may be looking at a very expensive flight home.
And of course, these vaccinations could potentially save your life so it’s worth checking in to.
Step 3: Decide Your Destination & Book Transportation
Once you’ve determined your budget, you can decide your destination. A few items to consider when deciding where to go are the types of activities you’d like to pursue, the type of weather you’d like to enjoy, and travel distance. The best part of a solo trip is these decisions are up to you. You can pursue activities and places that inspire you without worrying about your travel partner’s enjoyment.
But, this is often the most overwhelming part of the planning process. Just the fact that there are so many options (specifically with a US passport) can be confusing. To help narrow this down, I have a 4 part email series and worksheet to help you through deciding your destination for your solo trip. If you’d like to be a part of it, drop your email below!
Once you’ve decided, begin looking at transport options (whether it’s a flight, a bus, or a rental car) to get you there. When you’ve found a deal that looks good for your budget, clear your cookies and book!
Side note – I used to not believe in the whole cookie thing. I did it every time and never saw a difference. But on my last trip to Ireland, I found an awesome ticket price in the morning and planned to book it after work that evening. When I got home the price had risen about $80. I cleared my cookies and it returned back to the original price!
Step 4: Start Saving & Selling Items to Achieve Your Budget
You’ve made some excellent progress in your planning and most of the important items have been settled. So take a break and brainstorm items you can sell to help fund your trip. Everyone is in a tidying up phase it seems, so join in and sell or donate some unused items. Perhaps cutting cable for a few months or biking to work instead of driving will help as well. A side job might be a solid option as well. Also, don’t buy anything new.
I know this sounds kind of like a lot for a trip, but returning without a massive credit card bill because you’ve done your diligence with your budget and savings is a great feeling.
Step 5: Consider a Travel Credit Card & ATM Card
While we are on the topic of finances, consider getting a travel credit card that rewards your purchases with points. Only get one that offers bonus points if you spend x amount of dollars in x amount of time. Then put all of your regular purchases (rent, mortgage, insurance) on this credit card until you get your bonus points. Ensure that you can pay it off each month so you don’t go into credit card debt. I’ve used Chase Sapphire and Capital One Venture cards for this. The majority of my flights have been purchased with points from these cards. If you haven’t heard of the Points Guy – I recommend checking out his site for more in-depth resources on this. Also, make sure that the card you choose has no foreign transaction fees so you can use it abroad without getting dinged each time.
Most US-based ATM cards charge you a fee when you use an ATM that is not associated with the bank, both domestically and internationally. But when you use an ATM internationally, you also get hit with a foreign transaction fee, meaning you’re spending your own money to access your own money. Not cool. To avoid needlessly wasting money in this way, consider opening up an investor’s checking account with Charles Schwab. They reimburse you for any fees and their customer service is great if by chance your information gets stolen (like mine did in Mexico).
Also – don’t forget to alert your banks of your travel plans before you go! This way they don’t freeze your account for fraud when you start using it abroad!
Step 6: Daydream Your Trip’s Bucket List
Ok, now that we’ve got our paperwork and finances sorted, let’s have a little fun! Daydreaming about a trip often brings as much happiness as actually going on the trip! It’s fun to develop a small bucket list for the things you’d like to do while traveling.
Blogs and Guidebooks are great for this but don’t get too hung up on crossing everything off of the list. This is just to have an idea of what you can do when you get there. Planning too much in advance decreased the amount of spontaneity in a trip. You can always book a tour the night before or get advice from locals or other travelers on hidden gems.
Also, consider learning a new skill while you’re traveling. Take a language class, learn how to scuba dive, or take a photography class. This will enhance your travel experience way more than seeing another church, it will introduce you to locals, and you will have a new skill to bring home!
Step 7: Book at Least One Night of Accommodation
As your departure date moves closer book at least one night of accommodation in your arrival city. I’m a huge proponent of this as it will provide you direction upon landing. Many travelers I’ve met just show up and pop in to hostels until they find a suitable place to sleep. I’ve tried it and honestly, it sucks to wander around with a backpack popping in and out of places looking for a deal. Plus, as a solo female traveler, it has made me a target.
Avoid a backache and book in advance. If the place you book is awesome, then book more nights on arrival. If it stinks, then use it as a place to at least store your luggage as you find a more suitable place to sleep.
I’m going to recommend checking out Couchsurfing one more time :). I Couchsurfed in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Budapest. Each time I had a unique experience that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. In Paris, my host’s street had a huge farmers market every single day and was home to the best cheese shop in Paris (according to my host). My host in Brussels worked for the EU and he took me out for drinks with some very influential people. In Budapest, my host showed me a great place for a sunset. My only awkward experience was with my Amsterdam host when he gave me his unwarranted analysis of my personality.
Step 8: Purchase Travel Insurance
I used to roll my eyes at travel insurance, but after breaking a surf board in the middle of the ocean in Costa Rica, I realized I could’ve seriously hurt myself. Now, I never travel without it – even if I’m doing a city trip. Those cobblestone streets are just asking for a sprained ankle! And I don’t want to have to use money budgeted for my trip to pay for emergency health care.
Before you purchase additional travel insurance, check the coverage offered by the credit card that you used to purchase your flights and accommodation. Many times they will offer coverage in the case of a canceled flight or other emergencies. However, emergency health coverage is usually not a part of this. I use World Nomads to make sure my bags and body are covered. Get a quote for your trip below.
Step 9: Create a Packing List…and Pack!
I am all about lists. To do lists, bucket lists, packing lists, etc. I make a packing list before each trip so I don’t forget the more obscure items – like that vaccination card!
The less you pack, the better off you will be. It’s super annoying to schlep a heavy bag or suitcase through airports and it will save you having to pay for a checked bag. Bring laundry detergent to do some sink laundry and Febreeze spray for in between washes to keep your items smelling fresh.
At times, when you get to the gate, they will ask you to check your bag. Some airlines will still charge you for this at the gate if you tried to be sneaky with your slightly oversized carry on bag. While others will not. Make sure you know what your airline’s policy is before you pack. Just in case, make sure you have all medications and other necessities In your personal bag (the one that goes at your feet). Other lovely items to have handy are an eye cover, headphones, and a book.
You’re Ready for Takeoff
And just like that 9 steps later, you’ve effectively planned your solo trip. You’re off to enjoy the beauty that is solo travel. I feel a very strong urge right now to quote Dr. Seuss, but I will refrain. If you still need some help planning, feel free to check out these other resources on my blog related to solo travel. Additionally, I’ve got an awesome workbook filled with all the checklists you need to plan an epic solo trip!
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