My biggest dream is to travel the world, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Last Spring I decided to put my big girl pants on and fly to Italy by myself. I was so unbelievably scared, because 1. I’m from a super small town so I never really traveled anywhere, 2. Flying was NOT my thing, and 3. How am I supposed to navigate my way around Italy by myself?!
Traveling by yourself is easily one of the most intimidating, yet rewarding things you can do. Obviously venturing into unknown places alone isn’t always the easiest thing to rationalize, but when you look at how many people do it and are completely fine, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it. Plus, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and can do a lot of soul-searching during that time. As cliche as that sounds, it’s the truth.
Being a person who’s done the solo international traveling gig a few times, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips that I wish I would’ve known before getting on that first plane. So before you take off, make sure to check these out so your vacation can go as smooth as possible.
1) Never get a ticket with a layover longer than 5 hours!!
At first 6+ hours worth of a layovers doesn’t sound that bad, and maybe you’re even saving a couple hundred dollars by taking that super long layover or two. But take it from the person who bought the ticket with a 9-hour layover one way, and two 12+ layovers on the way back. You spend more money trying to find somewhere to stay and transportation during the layovers (because most are overnight), than you would on the ticket for shorter layovers to begin with. Plus, being by yourself and having long layovers in an unfamiliar place, is actually kind of scary.
2) Buy a really big, or colorful luggage tag.
The first time I flew internationally by myself, I used one of those paper luggage tags you get from the airport. Every time I had a layover, I would have to frantically search for my bag, and because it was so plain, nothing really made it stand out, which is a problem because it takes FOREVER to find yours, and someone else could mistake it for their own and take it. So make sure to individualize your bag with something that will stand out, and have your name and number on it in case it gets lost, or someone takes it by mistake.
3) Prepare yourself for the long flights.
You’re by yourself, so you don’t really have anyone to chat with to make the time go by. So if you’re the type of person who likes to listen to music on long car rides, you’re going to be the type of person who likes to listen to music on long flights too. Make a playlist that lasts at least 4 hours, that way you don’t get bored of the same songs over and over. If you have Netflix, another great resource is to take advantage of their downloadable movies and tv shows. The plane will definitely provide TV capabilities, but if you’re really into binge-watching a specific show, downloading that will make the time go by faster. Or, if you’re a bookworm, you could just bring a good book and read that the whole time, that’s what I do. Also, make sure to bring a pen to fill in all the immigration forms for when you land in another country because having to awkwardly ask people all the time really gets on your nerves.
4) Learn basic phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting or have layovers in.
Yes, this can be kind of time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Learn things such as “Hello”, “Where is the hotel” or “Where is the gate”, simple things you would need to say to ask for direction or help. I was lucky when I was traveling to Panama because I have an advanced knowledge of Spanish, and during my layover in Mexico, no one spoke English and I needed to get a hotel room. So knowledge of their language DEFINITELY comes in handy.
5) Buy a basic international plan if you’re going to be gone for at least a week.
God forbid something were to happen and you need to get ahold of someone but you don’t have WiFi. Especially your first time traveling alone. You’re probably going to be nervous and want to talk to someone to ask for help or their opinion at least once. Even if you think you’ll be fine, it never hurts to do it. If you end up not getting one and having to make an international call, it’s really going to add to your phone bill, trust me (sorry mom).
6) Pack light, and pack a carry-on.
Okay so packing light is super hard for some people (aka me) because you want to bring lots of cute outfits and what not. But if you overpack and buy stuff to bring home with you, good luck making the weight limit for your suitcase. Also, it’s REALLY hard to lug around a huge, heavy suitcase when you need to get to and from the airport. Some taxis will even charge you extra for it, so you’re better off packing light. Also, always pack a carry-on. This is your back-up to your suitcase in case it gets lost. In your carry-on, you should have a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, extra contacts/glasses if you wear them, extra underwear, all of your meds, and a change of clothes + pajamas.