Last fall, I felt a fire under me that wanted to explore, wanted to wander, wanted to do the thing I was dreaming of doing. As you read here, “the thing” was spending some time in one of my favorite cities, Washington DC. So, I departed on my first solo vacation and never looked back.
Everyone should make a habit of traveling solo–to the movie theater, the local market, or a place many miles away. The experience was all I imagined it would be, both exhilarating and centering, exhausting and liberating, but resulted in a few lessons learned along the way.
Keep reading for some tips on planning before, during and after your best trip ever!
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Plan head, but stay flexible.
Whether youâ€™re a Type-A planner or only-when-necessary planner, this is the very first step you need to take. While jumping in the car, plane and/or train with nowhere to go sounds very magical and adventurous, you will quickly realize that you literally have nowhere to go.
When planning for any trip, you most likely have a goal in mind that you want to achieve. Your trip wonâ€™t be very â€śsuccessfulâ€ť if you donâ€™t work towards accomplishing that goal, whether itâ€™s seeing a specific site, experiencing a long lost emotion or taking a break from a source of stress in your life. Planning ahead can look differently for every person and depending on the destination. For example, if your goal is to relax and do a lot of nothing (step 1: invite me), you probably shouldn’t plan to visit a major metropolitan area or somewhere that doesn’t offer any type of relaxation opportunity.
While planning is very important, sometimes your feelings will change or something wonâ€™t go quite as you imagined, and thatâ€™s okay! Make a plan, but stay flexible.
Thereâ€™s a fine line between as planned and better than planned.
Take some preventative measures.
This is kind of like part 2 of planning ahead. No one likes a flat tire or not having cash at a toll when theyâ€™re far from home. It can be easy to forget about all the things that can go wrong, so save yourself the trouble and take some preventative measures before departing.
If youâ€™re driving, make sure your car business is in order. Have you checked your oil recently? Does your tire tread pass the penny test? Are there any lingering maintenance issues you should probably take care of? Is your insurance information accurate and easily accessible? Do you have enough gas to make it to the next stop?
If youâ€™re flying or taking a train, do you have the right luggage for the space available? Do you need to check-in? Is your passport handy? Is your wallet full of the good stuff (credit/debit and ID cards)? Do you have a stash of cash, just in case?
Get your finances in order.
No matter where you plan to go or what you plan to do, money will probably have to enter the equation in some way at some time. You donâ€™t want to feel guilty about treating yourself, but you also donâ€™t want to focus solely on spending lots of money in order to have a positive experience. My number one tip here is to save and over budget.
Once you decide more specifically where youâ€™re planning to go and what youâ€™re planning to do, a good way to visualize the expenses youâ€™ll incur is by simply writing everything down. When I was planning for my trip to DC, I created an excel spreadsheet and added up everything I could think of that would require me to spend money.
First, I calculated the skeletal costs of the trip, like hotel accommodations, gas, and museum tickets I planned to purchase. After seeing what this amount looked like, I compared it with the total amount of money I felt comfortable spending throughout the entire weekend. I took that amount and divided it between “extracurricular” elements that were a little more flexible, such as meals, transportation in the city and shopping. While some of these didnâ€™t line up 100% accurately by the end of my trip, it was very helpful to have a guideline so I wasnâ€™t just aimlessly spending money wherever I went.
If youâ€™re on a tight budget or just donâ€™t feel like spending tons of money, check out the free entertainment available at the place youâ€™re going. For example, many museums offer free admission on certain days. A quick Google search will give you a wealth of knowledge.Â If youâ€™re planning your trip in advance (which I definitely recommend), start setting aside a chunk of money every payday. I like to pay for pieces of a trip ahead of time, like hotel stays or event tickets. Youâ€™ll feel less of a dent in your wallet with fewer purchases made at the time of your trip.
PRO TIP: If youâ€™ll be going out of state or anticipate spending a few pretty pennies within a short amount of time, contact your bank to let them know where you plan to go so they donâ€™t deactivate your credit/debit card due to seemingly suspicious activity. Many banks have an option to do this online!
DURING YOUR TRIP
Tell a few people you trust where youâ€™re generally going to be. While they donâ€™t need to know a play by play of your trip, a quick text to a friend or family member every once in awhile about where youâ€™re at and what youâ€™re doing will serve you well in the case of an emergency.
While this may be hyper vigilant of me, I also try to avoid posting my location on social media until after I leave, especially if Iâ€™m alone. I donâ€™t know about you, but I donâ€™t need no burglar or abduction negativity in my life. Wait to tell the world where youâ€™re at until after youâ€™ve already been.
PSA: Don’t wear earbuds in public. Your biggest safety threats will probably make some type of noise…cars, people, weapons. Wearing earbuds keeps you from hearing whatâ€™s going on around you. Donâ€™t set yourself up for danger like that.
Document your journey.
While I don’t encourage experiencing vacation through a lens, I do think it’s important to have a means to look back on your experience. Take some pictures or small video clips, find a souvenir, or write in a travel journal. Do something that will allow you to keep reaping the benefits of your adventure, even after you return home.
Donâ€™t overexert yourself.
Depending on your destination, it may be a little too easy to over do it. During my trip to DC, I easily found myself walking like 10 miles and being immobile by bedtime. Save yourself the pain and be realistic about how far you can push yourself in the name of fun. Thereâ€™s no shame in sitting still or napping for a few minutes if that means youâ€™ll be in your best explorer shape.
WHEN YOU RETURN HOME
Give yourself an extra day.
The best thing Iâ€™ve learned to do for myself after any trip is to plan an extra day to get my life back in order before returning to my daily routine. Nothing feels worse than a travel hangover, so give yourself a moment to catch up on sleep, do some laundry and get your head back into the space it needs to be. Youâ€™ll feel a little less resentment for having returned home.
Check your bank account.
Hopefully all of the establishments you gave your money to are trustworthy and honest, however, sometimes things happen. Keep your receipts and compare them to your bank statement to spot any discrepancies. Also, it isnâ€™t a bad idea to compare the total amount you spent to your initial estimates. If the experience of your trip was worth the expense, I think you did it right!
Have you ever traveled solo? If so, what advice would you add?