Hesitant to travel alone? Proper planning may provide happy trails.
There you are, basking in the spring sun in Nassau, hiking the Swiss Alps in summer, or exploring the bustling streets of Hong Kong in the fall. Poof! Your eyes open, and you have been dreaming of far away places again. You fancy an exciting travel vacation but this is a time in your life when you have no one to share it with. Slight symptoms of resentful resignation appear as you consider a stay-at-home vacation or a “safe” tour organized by a travel agent.
Hold on! You’re staring to believe that nonsense about solo traveling being scary. Sure, it can be, but so can traveling with another person or with a group. Let’s start with the assumption that travel can be enjoyable. Different travel styles each bring unique travel joys. Traveling alone is no exception. Keys to assuring an enjoyable solo trip is lots of pre-trip planning and arranging. Planning builds your confidence and reduces the fears of uncertainty.
Planning can start years before your adventure or just a few months. Outlined below are four phases to organizing and thinking about your trip. They should assist to make your solo flight smooth and rewarding.
Phase I – Become Involved
Perhaps reading a book has already sparked your interest in a travel area or destination. Clavell’s Nobel House made Hong Kong a must stop on many Orient adventures. Many of James Michenor’s books have motivated people to travel to Spain, South Africa, and the South Pacific. When a book or movie makes a spot intriguing, visit the library and internet and seek information about the history, economics, politics, and sights of your destination. Become a mini expert on your favorite place.
Beyond reading, consider taking a course at the local college to prepare for your solo flight. For instance, if you plan to visit Germany because your family emigrated from there in the 1850’s, try a class on 19th century German history. Your roots will vibrate and stir your desire to explore. You’ll also know more about what to see once you arrive.
Taking language course can obviously benefit some travel. In addition, contacting someone who knows about your destination, such as a foreign teacher, business person, or recent traveler who can be helpful. Meet people who are interested in the same area and who will join you for lunch to share ideas and resources.
Do specific research on places, transportation, and accommodations After a healthy dose of all of the above you should be chomping at the bit to begin your trip. Desire and interest are strong. Now, how can you get specific, current information about your corner of the world?
Begin with internet searches. One site will probably link you to many others. Start with the terms “travel” and your area of interest. Travel guidebooks from the library, even if they are slightly out of date, can be useful. Travel books can be expensive, so spend some leisurely time in the library with travel books published by Fodor, Waldo, or Michelin before you purchase one of your own. Note which books give you the type of information you are most seeking.
You may want to purchase the current edition of the travel guidebook that appeals to you the most. No one book is ever perfect. Travelers have been known to buy more than one guidebook, tear out the relevant pages from each, and then assembly their personalized travel guide. You may be able to accomplish the same thing by downloading selected internet pages.
Phase II – Logistics
Now you should be ready for your first meeting with a travel agent. Travel agents provide several basic services which include trip planning, making reservations for accommodations and transportation, arranging tour packages, and making recommendations important for your specific trip. These might include inoculations needed and alerting you to weather conditions during your stay. A good agent can be a great facilitator for your trip. An extra plus is to use an agent who has been to the area to which you are going. Equally important, be sure there is a little “chemistry” between you and your agent. After all, this person will be an integral part of making your fantasy flight a pleasure reality. If you don’t have a travel agent, talk with three agents and choose the one who appeals most to you.
Prepare a general travel plan before you meet with your travel agent. The plan should include the plan or places you want to go, the amount of time you want to stay in each, your budget limitations, and any other personal considerations or desires. Your initial itinerary can be very tentative. Ask your agent for personal experience suggestions.
Now attach costs you your plan. Your agent will then be able to give you costs for your trip. Do not accept the first proposal from the agent as final. Continue to check on your own and encourage your agent to check other fares and options. Remember that you must be willing to spend time on this. In the end it is your trip, not your agent’s, and you have much more investment in the costs involved. This is even true for exceptionally good agents.
Specific and General Research on People Contacts Probably the most common detractor for solo traveling is the fear of being alone. Again, prevention can overcome! Try to identify at least one contact person for each major place on your tentative itinerary. Sound impossible? A challenge, but not all that difficult, and fun, if you approach your hunt positively.
There is no best first step to the search for contacts, so start with the people closest to you. Ask friends, relatives, and co-workers if they know anyone where you are going. You’ll be amazed at how many second-cousins once removed or former AFS students who lived with your Aunt Bernice surface. Collect all the names and addresses you can.
Continue your treasure hunt for contacts by considering work and organizational ties. For example, if you are a teacher, social worker, nurse, or member of some other profession, write a letter to a local union, school, or agency and get names of contacts, Many foreigners are just as eager to have contacts in the U.S. and will welcome such an opportunity. If you live in a university or college town, visit the international student service office. They usually have lists of students from foreign countries who desire to meet local residents.
Also, review your leisure interests. Do they provide clues to making contacts? Often specialized leisure magazines ranging from running to sailing to frisbee throwing have addresses of local organizations around the world. Take a risk and write to a local club, a good contact may result. Use imagination, some perseverance, and assertiveness and you will get a good list of contacts for enhancing solo travel.
Phase III – Preview
By now you have covered the people, places, accommodations, and major activities of your solo trip. Look at another travel asset: you! Believe it or not, you are probably one of your own best resources for coping with the challenges of solo travel.
As your trip comes closer, think about how you will occupy relatively large chunks of time alone. You have many activities planned and, of course, you will be inspired during your trip to do more. But inevitably, you will be alone a lot, and thinking through how to deal with aloneness is good prevention.
Aloneness, compared to loneliness, can be a good experience. It may be a luxury during a busy personal and professional life filled with commitments, deadlines, and big and little responsibilities. A solo trip can be a rare opportunity to experience old and new aspects of yourself.
Joan, who was in personnel management in a large firm, was about to begin a month’s solo journey through northern Europe. She had purchased a Eurorail pass and had selected places to visit, and also left room in her itinerary for being spontaneous. Thinking ahead, she knew there would be long train trips and other alone times. What to do during those times? She made a list which included writing letters (the ones she had been promising for the last 10 years), stitchery, reading, and she thought of many other things. She ended up making a “solo trip pack” with all the things she would need to do the activities imagined. By the time she completed her “pack” she realized that she was looking forward to some solo time, a rare luxury! Maybe she would even use some time to just do nothing and contemplate whatever seemed worth contemplating.
Even shopping can be more fun if you have though about it ahead of time. Most guidebooks describe the shopping specialties of each country and/or city. Make your own shopping list favorites. This might necessitate having clothing sizes and dimensions written down. If you want to rise the possible consequences, take on as many shopping requests for friends as you want, but promise nothing!
Exercise and health should not be left to chance. Nothing is quite as depressing as being sick during solo travel. Here an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Think and plan ahead to make good health happen while you travel. First, think of ways to maintain your current exercise routine. Take along your portable tape recorder and do your favorite workout. Pack a jump rope and exercise safely in your room. Think through the exercise routines you use, and decide if they are portable. If not, plan and implement alternatives. For example, if you are a cyclist and have always wanted to start yoga, now’s your change to make a yoga program a part of your day. Exercise has the second advantage of adding purpose and structure to your day as well as keeping you healthy!
Plan ahead for other health maintenance measure. If you are convinced of the utility of vitamins and minerals, don’t count on their worldwide availability; take them with you. One traveler’s bane is constipation. Remember that you don’t have to rely on restaurant food for fiber. Carry zip-lock packets of bran mixed with flax seed and add it to your breakfast cereal.
Phase IV – Final Preparation
Your trip is about to become a reality. Consider these next two items when making your final packing decisions.
Believe it or not blank books for various and sundry purposes can be the solo traveler’s best friend. Blank books call out to be filled; they record pleasant, interesting and challenging experiences and even not so interesting events. Recording events provides a structure to the day as well as assisting with anticipation and recall.
Some solo travelers may become blank book junkies. Many people travel with a blank journal to record their happenings, thoughts, opinions, and feelings regarding their journey. But this only scratches the surface for true addicts. Specialized blank books can add to the fun. For instance, if you are going to take pictures on your trip, a photo log is almost essential. It is difficult to remember three months and 25 rolls later just exactly where that fantastic castle was located. Another helpful blank book is an expense log, indispensable if you are trying to make any portion of your trip tax deductible. Talk to your tax accountant regarding this one.
Packing as you life depends upon it! As your takeoff is imminent, take time to do a trial packing. Set aside a couple of hours and pack everything that is on your list. If you really want to do a simulation, attempt to carry that bag (surely you’ve never considered taking more than one!) for 20 minutes. This effort usually revises the packing list (in a downward way).
Have a fun Send off. If no one has done it for you, give yourself a proper send off. It doesn’t have to be a big event, in fact you might prefer several smaller celebrations to heighten the anticipation and share the enthusiasm with your friends. Consider taking your travel agent, friend or neighbor ( whoever else has been helpful or supportive) to lunch to celebrate your leave taking. Ask them to promise to write letters to your exotic locations and savor the admiration they have of your courage and fortitude to travel solo.
Phase V – Blastoff, You Are On Your Own!