2016 Update: 191 Solo Travel Tips
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Part 1: Picking a Destination
● How long you are comfortable being away from home.
● If it is your first leisure trip as a single traveler, and you are not connecting with a tour, try going solo in your home country first as a transition before going solo abroad.
Tip 2. Choose a destination that is relatively easy to get to unless you are a fairly experienced solo traveler. Remember the greater the distance, the greater likelihood of increased travel costs, fatigue and other adjustments.
Tip 3. Adopt the local time zone. I once made the mistake of staying up half the night watching cable news while abroad and then was barely able to stay awake during the daytime.
Tip 4. Target a destination where your native language is understood, if not predominant.
Tip 5. Think about whether you feel a sense of cultural compatibility with your destination.
Tip 6. Look at your planned activities with a view as to whether your trip will be impacted by seasons/weather. When I added a Lake Tahoe ski weekend to an early April business trip, the 50 degree “spring skiing” conditions didn’t work for me. However, if you are
planning to museum hop in Paris, do take advantage of up to 50% off price reductions during the winter.
Part 2: Getting Deals and Choosing Lodging
● Flights, train fare or ship passage
● Hotel, B&B or other lodging
● Tours and tips
● Airport and local surface transportation
● Passports, visas and entry or port fees
● Vaccines and travel prescriptions
● Travel insurance
● Clothing or trip-related travel purchases
● Spending money, gifts for friends and family plus daily out-of-pocket expenses
Tip 8. Before booking, compare all-inclusive packages with separate “a la carte” plans.
Tip 9. If you are staying in a hotel, look at the cost as to:
● Meal plans. They may be a savings if you are staying at a resort that is far from nearby competing (and likely lower priced) restaurants. On one trip to the Caribbean during the summer of 2015, I found the meal plan was a savings of up to $100/day.
● Ask if they have single rooms or double rooms reduced for single occupants.
Tip 10. Look at the following when choosing lodging whether:
● There have been reported incidents of robberies or assaults. Recent security has been adequate. Having stayed in a hotel that had been bombed, I was glad to see their enhanced procedures resembled a modern airport’s.
● They have security staff on duty at all times.
● Guest room levels are open to the public. In Africa, one hotel where I stayed had a staff member at the lobby level elevator bank checking room keys before each person went up. As in many office buildings, other hotels may require a key card to use the elevators.
● The hotel has ATMs or check-cashing facilities.
● Restaurants or room service will be available 24/7 so that late-night arrivals are not left wandering the streets, looking for dinner.
● Room numbers of guests, especially those of women staying alone, can be seen by anyone on staff or given out to those calling the hotel.
● It fits well within your budget allowing for everything you want to do and to meet any unexpected costs?
● It is close to sightseeing or other activities you have planned.
● There is local transportation.
● There is a free shuttle available to and from the airport or elsewhere.
● Day-tours can pick you up there.
● If it is in the downtown or city center, traffic and street noise may keep you awake.
● Paying for breakfast makes sense if not included.
● There is a health club or gym. Bear in mind that many in-town hotels and famous landmarks based in cooler climates do not have a swimming pool. Alternatively, do they have privileges at a nearby health club?
● If you are taking a rental car, the cost and availability of parking.
● If you will be in transit, your luggage can be stored at the hotel if you are returning.
● The Wi-Fi is free and widely available throughout the hotel.
Solo travelers looking to rent a room in a beach house or separate property should consider a number of factors. Unlike a ski chalet at the slopes, many beach properties are built with at least a partly open-air style to take advantage of the location and warm climate. If it is isolated, it may present an ideal spot for a crime of opportunity, such as robberies or burglaries that may escalate.
Renting a room in a house or villa may give more a feel of the local community and culture. However, look into the all of the above plus the following:
● Although there can be safety in numbers, with group houses or other rentals, will others be coming and going at all hours? If so, what effort is made to manage widespread distribution of keys and locking up?
● Are there occupied houses or rental properties in use nearby?
● Is there good mobile phone coverage?
Tip 11. With tours, ask about “no single supplements”, and book early since space for solo pricing is typically limited.
Tip 12. Traveling off-season is ideal for solos. Although I have traveled to Siberia in January, there are many less drastic solutions. Airlines will have reduced load factors and better rates as will hotels/B&B’s. In addition, timing for off-season discounts even in the French Riviera’s top hotels starts as early as the second week in Sept. while many price reductions last into May. If you don’t mind traveling in cold weather, in Jan. 2016, mid-February roundtrip economy fares nonstop from Washington to Istanbul were available at about $650, including a return add-on of several days in Rome. To add to the savings, at that time, one 5-star Istanbul hotel was offering a double room at substantially under $100/night.
Tip 13. Location matters: Currently 5-star hotels in Madrid are at attractive rates, in some cases less expensive than even in Athens. Central and Eastern European capitals are very affordable with best bargains found in the countryside. If you are ready for adventure, the farther you go off the beaten path, the cheaper it is as to lodging and meals. Watch though to see how much airfare runs for the added distance and multiple connections.
Tip 14. Consider substitute destinations. In the past I was longing for a South Pacific island vacation but found Tahiti’s hotels too pricey. With the help of Air New Zealand, I substituted Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for one-third the price. At that time they
were largely unexplored providing endless travel stories for me on return.
Tip 15. Sports vacations carry special tariffs. In addition to hotel and airfare charges, active sports include extra charges for lift tickets, guides or scuba boat rentals. The best avenue is to do careful research ahead of time to identify less visible destinations offering the same sports. Although St. Moritz may be chic, I opted to ski in both Andorra just north of Spain and in Hafjel, Norway at a better price at each. (Language can be a challenge though. In Slovenia, when I had a problem with my bindings, I had to jump off a moving chair lift with only one ski on since I didn’t understand a word of the shouted instructions!)
Tip 16. Recently opened, or newly renovated hotels, can be significantly discounted initially. An example was Paris’s 5-star Hotel Castille down the street from Coco Chanel’s Atelier. Following an impressive renovation, they reopened in 2013 at fantastic short-term rates.
Tip 17. Anniversary specials or other promotions may also be brief so check the expiration dates carefully. My favorite example was the 5-star Westin Palace Madrid. Two years ago for their centennial they offered a double room for 200 Euros, a rate hard to get in major US cities at even a lower 3 or 4-star rating.
Tip 18. Stay outside the city on a local commuter train or subway route.
Tip 19. Airport hotels, even where I stayed in Paris, have had low rates for a decade with Metro nearby. What they lack in charm, they make up for in price!
Tip 20. One of the oft-overlooked values in Europe can be found in chateau hotels. Many are 4-5 star and have been updated to 21st century standards without losing
their Old World charm. Although they typically are in the countryside, certain of the castle hotels, like the Czech Republic’s 5-star Chateau Heralec, are only an hour’s drive from major cities or other popular tourist venues.
Tip 21. Combine a short vacation with work travel or family visits. From domestic to international trips, airlines may allow lay-overs at minimal to no charge. I discovered flying to the Brazilian Amazon from Washington that an extended connection in Panama City, Panama would allow for sight-seeing or sleeping for a few hours before traveling on.
Tip 22. Depending upon your destination, the day of the week for your travel may matter. For popular vacation sites, mid-week rates tend to be best.
Tip 23. Conversely, cities that are major finance/business centers often have reduced rates on Friday nights or at times on the weekends to fill vacancies. This is particularly true of hotels that focus on business travelers.
Tip 24. Look for those cruise lines that are adding “no single supplement” departures.
Remember, the cheapest price is not always the best deal. I learned that the hard way. A college friend was having a gala birthday celebration in the French Riviera at an elegant hotel. Guests were arriving from both sides of the Atlantic. My connecting flight required an overnight stay in London. An airport hotel would have made the most sense if my stay had not been so long, almost 24 hours. I found a telephone number for a travelers’ call center in the UK and, without further research, booked a room. When I arrived, it was not a full-service hotel but one step above a youth hostel. That night I was surprised to see the desk clerk napping on the sofa in the pint-sized lobby! The lesson: If the
price is too much below the local market, it may not be worth the trade off as to convenience, safety, or quality.
Tip 25. For airline deals, consolidators may have the cheapest price.
Tip 26. Alternatively, the longest connections and most frequent stops will almost always be less expensive than non-stop service. However, when booking your outbound flights, remember that if bad weather or other delays occur on the first leg, you may miss your overseas flight. In past years, I frequently took a short hop from my home in Washington, DC to go abroad via New York. I was once left behind because of my local flight’s cancellation in a storm. I had to start over the next day and missed a non-refundable reservation at a 5-star castle in the Netherlands!
Tip 27. Do surf the Internet, but note that sometimes, the best prices come from the airlines themselves.
Tip 28. Economy can still be a good value and not as daunting as it may seem for long distances. I have flown on some of the world’s longest flights in economy. Many airlines offer economy premium that have more leg room. While business class on a wide-body jet is an enormous step-up, on a smaller plane it may afford little more space than in economy, especially on the front row.
Tip 29. Popular lore maintains that booking flights on Tuesday or especially Wednesdays may provide the best rates. However, if you see a great deal, don’t wait. Last year for a 17 day trip to SE Asia, I found just the flight I wanted with the first-leg being non-stop Washington to Beijing. I waited overnight only to find my best flight option had increased by about $500 within a few hours!
Tip 30. Airline extra fees: Take as little luggage as you can easily carry/push. In addition to increased airline charges, the above options at both ends are limited if you have too much to manage. Moreover, after an overseas flight, do you want to stand in baggage claim as bags are off-loaded for 300 fellow passengers?
Tip 31. Getting to and from the airport: Every major capital seems to have expensive options for getting into the city center. Combined with the fact that airports often are 45 minutes outside the city, the best alternative for daylight arrivals may be a local train, subway or airport bus/van. In the south of France, I paid $2.00 for a commuter train ticket from the Nice airport to arrive within walking distance of my 5-star hotel. (The hotel pickup would have been $200!)
Part 3: Hidden Extra Costs and Ways to Save
Tip 33. Don’t pay for what you won’t use. Even if your workouts are a key part of your daily routine at home, will you need to pay for a hotel with special health club facilities? Outside of resorts or the tropics, major capitals don’t often have swimming pools so do extra laps before heading out.
Tip 34. Staying connected: Internet charges may run $25/per day. If there is no free WIFI, visit the local cyber cafe and combine your morning’s cappuccino with checking/sending emails.
Tip 35. On trips abroad, I always do my Christmas shopping and pick up birthday gifts for friends and family. For quality and pricing, avoid the tourist shops
and go where local people shop. In Ljubljana, I took a public bus to a shopping mall and although lacking a common language, found really distinctive items to purchase.
Tip 36. Take advantage of currency rate differences. Do check your currency conversion as you budget. For example, the US dollar has been strong through early Jan. 2016 at $ 1 = $ 1.3860 Canadian and equal to 0.9202 Euros.
2016 Update 191 Top Solo Travel Tips: Part 3 How to Travel Alone Without Having to “Go It Alone”:
Tip 37. If you are less certain about traveling abroad alone, try one of the following options or a combination. As with my 2015 trip to 3 SE Asian countries, my favorite way to travel is to find a top solo travel deal for a hotel in several major cities abroad, take lengthy day trips and then join a river cruise, safari or tour through a remote area like the Amazon.
Consider the following ways to go ahead and travel alone:
Option 1. Join an escorted tour as a solo traveler.
This has many advantages:
● All the planning is done for you.
● Guides can navigate a region unfamiliar to you.
● Prices tend to be all-inclusive, except for airfare.
● There is safety in numbers in regions with high crime and/or political unrest.
● A solo traveler has the opportunity to join others for sightseeing and meals.
● Long term friendships can result.
Option 2. Find companies that offer independent tours, and help you create an itinerary.
This has different advantages:
● Much of the planning is done for you, but you have flexibility.
● This can cover the entire trip or be an add-on to a business or leisure trip.
● Guides can be provided as needed. Prices may cover some but not all aspects of the trip.
● Your tour operator will likely combine your day tours with others, providing new found friends.
Part 4: Join a River Cruise
After taking 4 river cruises, I have found them to be ideal for solos as:
● The pricing is very competitive since lodging, meals and tours are included and in some cases, tips and gateway airfare.
● There is a ready-made group for dinner and touring but the opportunity for time alone in your cabin.
● You won’t need to spend hours planning your trip.
● This is the perfect way to visit remote and unfamiliar destinations newly open to tourism, such as Myanmar/Burma. Many like the Mekong Delta are not easily accessible except by boat.
● You can unpack once while still having new places to explore in day trips at key spots only accessible by boat.
● Although safety can never be guaranteed even at home, a river cruise does have certain security advantages. For example, there is no need to rummage around solo at night for meals and works as a standalone package or as an extension to a business or leisure trip.
Tip 38. Compare the overall cost and a breakdown on a daily basis of the river cruise with an estimate of the following components:
● Average rate for 4-5 star lodging for 6 nights,
● Meals, beverages and snacks
● Local transportation,
● Guides and/or entrance fees if touring independently,
● Out-of-pocket expenses
● Rate of single supplement, absent a roommate option.
Tip 39. Research the destination(s) to see what sights are included and if it is possible to add side trips.
This is really important because the river package will have very specific stops. In each case, I have had a separate land package before and/or after the cruise to address my individual interests.
In Egypt in the past, I started in Cairo before meeting the cruise to sail from Luxor to Aswan.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, I took my own self-scheduled independent full day tour with Phao Lem, a very helpful taxi driver, http://www.cambodiatour.guide, to see Angkor Wat before joining a Mekong Delta cruise. One caveat: If you take a taxi rather than an official tour, you may not be able to have him/her go with you inside some sights as a guide. I found taking my guide book and wandering alone was fine because I could stop and see what interested me specifically. In addition, Phao took me to many local temples that same day that were unlikely to have been on a formal tour. Plus for lunch I was able to go to an authentic local cafe which featured hammocks for those looking for a siesta afterwards!
Tip 40. Consider whether the itinerary fits with your desired level of activity. Do you find yourself stir-crazy absent a full agenda? Alternatively, if too rigorous, can you opt out of part of the daily activity?
Tip 41. Think ahead as to what is a must for you. For example, are you really excited about swimming with dolphins, fishing for wily piranhas or strolling through the spring tulip marts? If these activities are not part of the existing program, are there side excursions that fit?
Tip 42. If you are concerned about the group’s age or other demographics, does this group work for you? If you are looking for a solo trip, do you prefer a women’s or men’s group, a specific age group?
In that context, consider what language groups are represented. I once toured Egypt for a day in Spanish because the 2 other travelers did not speak English or Arabic. Having minored in Spanish and lived in Florida, I was very pleased to have this opportunity. This may not always work so consider your options. (Some tour buses include tapes in multiple languages although that can lack spontaneity.)
Tip 43. In comparison with ocean cruises, solos river cruises have other benefits for solo travelers:
1. They tend to be less couple-oriented/honeymoon-focused. 2. They generally use smaller ships making possible, or required, that groups are formed for meals and day tours providing a team for the solos to join. 3. They may be better priced than ocean cruises since few of the latter have solo cabins.
Option 4. Absent a Tour, How to Travel Alone or Create a Do It Yourself “Tour”!
After you carefully select a hotel and book an airport pick-up at the same time:
Tip 44. You can:
● Plan day trips with local guides recommended by the hotel. This has been my top way of finding travel companions and meet-up’s for additional local sightseeing or meals.
● Identify professional groups in your field that host events, dinners and receptions. During my law practice days, on a solo trip to Detroit, I was elated to join a local attorney’s group for the evening. This may not be everyone’s idea of a “night out on the town”, but it definitely was more enjoyable than sitting in my hotel and having a solitary dinner,
● Sign up for a 1-2 week course with an art gallery, a language school or cooking class.
● Learn a new sport like skiing, snowboarding, golf, horseback riding or scuba diving, or improve your existing skills.
● See if your health club has branches or agreements with a gym at your destination.
● Contact your professional or social clubs as to international reciprocity. Traveling alone in Australia, through a membership at home, I connected with the American Club in Sydney where I had an elegant dinner overlooking the city after sunset.
● Surf the Internet/social media for social dining clubs. Always plan to meet in a public place, and make certain you have reliable transportation back. Use even more safety precautions than you would at home especially if you are unable to speak the local language and couldn’t easily find your way back to where you are staying.
Part 5: Regulations and Formalities
Tip 46. Passports and visas: You can save money getting your own visas rather than paying a service provider a substantial fee. However, be sure if they are purchased
on the Internet that they are valid since some are not recognized by their stated destination(s).
Tip 47. Even if you use an outside service provider, you will still need to follow certain formalities such as having a photo taken. Each country may vary in its regulations of what is acceptable as to glasses, hair behind the ears and white backgrounds. The current process is to submit your existing passport so that the visa is added to an existing page unlike the prior practice where standalone visas were attached. As a result, if submissions are by mail or courier, I recommend making certain there is an effective tracking system in case your passport is lost along the way.
Tip 48. This is a trick question: When is a 10-year passport only valid for traveling 9.5 years? The answer: When you are going to countries that require a valid passport for 6 months after your return (not departure)! I have heard of an outbound passenger’s being denied boarding for Europe for being one day short, So do the math before you head out!
Tip 49. Copy the first page of your passport and visas in case of their loss.
Tip 50. Check whether you need a single or multiple entry visa. This is an easy mistake to make but quickly comes up where you combine land packages and river cruises that cross back and forth between national boundaries.
Tip 51. Note that some countries grant visas to match your exact travel dates while others are for a set number of days from the application date. In the latter case, it would be very easy to overstay your visa if you did not compute enough days to include your return!
Tip 52. Make it a point to sign in with your embassy on arrival. In the past, I have never done this. Being very independent, I always believed I could take care of
myself. However, beyond random terrorist attacks, accidents or stolen passports can occur where you need to be able to reach your country’s embassy. In 2016, this is a practice I recommend. You can contact them online to receive email notifications while abroad. Secondly, if a serious problem arises in-country, embassies/consulates may serve as a contact point for their citizens.
Part 6: Pre-Trip Planning and Practical Considerations
Logically, it would seem that airports always have cabs and available public transportation 24/7. On one occasion in extremely bad weather, I found myself at Washington’s Reagan National Airport when it looked like I would have to wait all night for a short ride home. This happened after an unusual storm, and flooding when the subway had closed and the weather limited many cars’/taxis’ ability to make the run. As I stood in line, I called multiple car/van services with no success and finally found one remaining open with a four-wheel drive. When they arrived, a group of us waiting in line jumped in and just narrowly missed spending the night at the airport.
Tip 54. Password protect your phone and other electronic devices, but don’t write down or record your passwords or pin numbers in case of loss or theft.
Tip 55. Take charge of your credit cards. Notify the credit card companies as to what countries you will travel to and when. Otherwise, your card may be declined.
Tip 56. Consider purchasing a prepaid credit card for your trip.
Tip 57. Plan on arriving with at least some foreign currency to make your way by taxi, Uber/Lyft, bus or subway. Before making an effort to get a larger amount of local currency, be aware, as I discovered recently in Cambodia and the Dominican Republic, that some destinations will take foreign currency like US dollars and possibly others as well. Although the popular wisdom is that payments are lower in local currencies, I found that they were fairly close making it a matter of convenience.
Tip 58. In any case, you will likely find that if you pay in US dollars or other foreign currency, your change will be in local currency. Since small amounts either can’t be converted back to your home currency on return or the commission is too high, you might as well spend it, or leave it as tips. Many international airports have a bin where you can donate such change or local currencies to charities.
Tip 59. Automatic Teller Machines/ATM’s are the best way to get local currency abroad in major hotels, banks and multiple other locations. Even fifteen years ago on a remote one lane road in northern Scotland, I was able to use my US bank card for foreign exchange in an automated teller.
● To use them in safe, well-lit areas or preferably in your hotel, at a restaurant or shop to avoid having a petty thief reach over and take your cash from right under your nose!
● To account for fees, often high, charged by your bank at home.
● To check whether your card or a pre-purchased debit card can be used outside your home country. After making enormous efforts to take a prepaid debit card to the Dominican Republic in the last few months, I discovered the one I purchased could not be used outside the US once I opened the package and read the fine print inside. Having specified at purchase that I needed it for international travel, I was able to get the fees cancelled but wasted a lot of time when I was busy getting ready for the trip.
Tip 60. If you plan to convert currency upon arrival abroad, have both your home currency and credit cards available, and be prepared to present your passport. I discovered after one long flight, that the length of the line you had to wait in depended upon whether the conversion was from foreign currency directly or using a credit card.
Tip 61. This tip may be immediately obvious to many travelers but eluded me on a cold late November Saturday on solo travel in Prague. I wanted to use the ATM when the bank was closed. I could see it inside the locked door beyond my reach. I waited to see if someone would come along who could open the door with their local bank card. It suddenly dawned on me if my US bank was part of the electronic network to receive cash, my own foreign bank card would have to be able to open the door! Next thing I knew, I was inside getting the cash I needed.
Tip 62. If you travel with a smartphone or other electronics with a data plan, check to see how you will be billed for Internet usage.
● Although international telephone charges are higher than domestic calls, it is the data usage that generates much steeper fees.
● It is possible to get a short-term data contract for use abroad.
● Alternatively, turn off your roaming capability. Customers are generally billed for any use, including unsolicited incoming emails that are not even opened or are immediately deleted. As a result, it would be possible to run up a huge bill over just two weeks.
● If you receive a call or use your camera on your smartphone, international roaming can switch back on automatically as I discovered in the Caribbean. Although I had turned off roaming before leaving home, suddenly I was greeted with a personal message from Santo Domingo, saying: “Have a good trip!” If that happens, switch to “airplane mode”.
Tip 63. Know what your existing health insurance policy covers and whether you should purchase international health insurance coverage. (Check the fine print on travel policies to see what is excluded.)
Tip 64. Before you leave home, check with your doctor or travel clinic as to vaccinations needed and prescriptions or other medicines you should take with you. Begin early. Some shots may not be given together. Malaria pills need to be started weeks ahead of departure and upon return.
Tip 65. Surprises can occur. On a trip to islands off West Africa, I was startled when the flight arrived and the passenger next to me said: “Do be careful”. (I had been told that although I was traveling alone I was going to a safe area.) He then clarified: It was the “cholera” he was warning me against. I dutifully carried around a bottle
of water and had no problem but would have preferred to have known about this before I made my plans. In those rare cases that you have this experience on arrival, check the Internet for the ways to best avoid the specific disease or if need be, email/call back to your doctor’s office for advice.
Tip 66. Particularly at dawn and dusk, be prepared to wear long sleeves, long pants or socks in areas where not only malaria but other insect-borne diseases exist. I was surprised in a Dengue Fever area to see a fellow sightseer in shorts and a sleeveless tee shirt, a veritable feast for mosquitoes that carry this serious disease. Lastly, don’t forget to take insect repellent as well.
Tip 67. Being sure to safeguard prescriptions you need since pharmacies in other countries do not necessarily carry the same medicines in the exact dosage, but check local drug laws carefully since official documentation may be required even for over-the-counter medicines you are carrying (or in some cases have taken prior to your arrival!)
Tip 68. Take an antibiotic ointment and band aids. In northern Zimbabwe in a remote area, when a wooden foot bridge broke under my foot, I was left with cuts all down my shinbone. The available antiseptic left me with a bright red leg for the remainder of the trip.
Tip 69. Even healthy millennials can have accidents from driving abroad to navigating mopeds on mountain roads. As a result when combining jetlag with unfamiliar settings, it is important to use greater care than you would at home, especially if you are trying something new like a moped.
Part 7: Packing for Your Next Trip
Today I constantly match wits with the airlines to see how much I can fit in to my carry-on as permitted sizes shrink. Making matters worse, ironically, even in international flights, more leg room may be lost where the expanding electronic entertainment systems are tucked neatly under each seat. As jets get smaller and smaller to be more cost-effective, we may end up with almost no carry-on luggage at all.
One impractical solution is to wear almost everything that won’t fit in your suitcase! Barring that, be really organized and strategic in what you pack so that you don’t need to ever check a bag. (Exceptions allowed if you are traveling with skis!)
Tip 70. As there is constant change, check your airlines’ requirements not only as to the dimensions of the allowed carry-on bags but also their weight! (Note that airlines’ restrictions can vary company by company.) The weight limit is a newer and in my view, an unwelcome, change. On China Airlines on 17 days solo travel through SE Asia in 2015, the allowed weight was a slim 11 pounds, including the bag, itself. In the gate, my overstuffed bag and I lurked behind the furniture while a dutiful airline employee randomly selected bags to be dispatched to the uncertain world of checked luggage.
Tip 71. If you must check your bag, wear something hand-washable or easy to have quickly cleaned in case
of loss/delay. In any case, if you can pack mainly items that can be hand-washed and left to dry on the towel rack overnight, you can avoid taking so many changes of clothes! This worked beautifully for me in Siberia in a converted small Soviet-era lodging where the radiators hissed away but were perfect for drying clothes overnight!
If you find that you have flown to Auckland while your bag is en route to Oakland, you will be glad if you packed what you need immediately in your carry-on. Unbelievably, on a one-hour nonstop flight in northern Europe, my luggage went missing! After an hour’s wait, it re-emerged unscathed having been located elsewhere underneath the aircraft.
On the same trip, I traveled from the US via a connecting flight to Lillehammer, Norway, for five days of Intermediate ski lessons. When I arrived at the lodge empty-handed on a Sunday night, many stores were already closed. After rummaging through the hotel’s lost and found, I was ready for the pistes in an oversized, ill-fitting man’s jacket, a pair of my business suit’s slacks, and could slip my nylon stocking clad feet into rental ski boots. I really should have followed my own somewhat facetious advice: “If you can’t pack it, figure out how to wear it!”
Tip 72. Have key items, such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, in an easily accessible carry-on tote with a good zipper. Having once arrived at a top resort with a missing comb, I quickly found out that getting to a mini-mart from an idyllic beach setting could require 1-2 days effort.
Tip 73. Be sure your travel insurance covers lost or stolen items and related costs like out-of-pocket transportation charges to replace items. (When I was robbed in Europe at Thanksgiving one year, I spent $34 in taxi fare replacing my stolen transatlantic airline
ticket where an e-ticket had not been available. My insurance paid in full.)
Tip 74. If you are traveling in, or connecting via, a small jet where virtually no carry-on is allowed, you may suddenly have to check your bag at the gate or jet way so never, ever pack your passport. In addition, rather than getting stuck carrying your laptop in your arms like a baby, make certain you have something to put it in with handles attached but small enough to fit in the overhead bins or under a seat.
Tip 75. Travel in clothes with pockets and see if you can fit some cash (not coins), a photo identification such as a driver’s license and one credit card in a pocket in case you are separated momentarily or permanently from your belongings. I have tried putting my ID, credit card and some currency in a see-through sleeve that comes with most wallets. This is really important for solo travelers if you lose your passport, money, credit card and have no travel companion leaving you with a whole series of challenges ahead.
Tip 76. If you travel with the most common roller-bag in black, attach a bright ribbon on the handle, or put a sticker or other conspicuous mark on it. I spent part of one Christmas in the lost luggage room in the Saint Louis Airport on a scavenger hunt, looking for my lost suitcase. However, the trip was salvaged since my bag was easy to spot in a sea of lookalike black bags. Airport shops often sell a brightly colored strap for the same purpose although it may need to be adjusted to get inside the bag.
Tip 77. Use your smartphone or tablet to photograph your suitcase with identifying marks and anything of value to speed recovery or payment for lost luggage.
Tip 78. If you do check a bag and it is lost, when you sign the airline’s form for lost luggage, ask what their compensation policy is, and if they provide overnight kits with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other toiletries.
Tip 79. The truth about traveling with “small” appliances like coffee pots:
● Even if they are advertised as being universal for global travel, they still may not work abroad.
● In any case, they may need an adapter and/or converter.
● Your hotel or B&B may have a local and workable brand in your room or available as a “loaner”.
● Most are not really as petite as they appear in an ad. When they arrive, they may be too large or too heavy for today’s carry-on restrictions. Going upriver in the Amazon on a small boat for 15, I made pre-dawn forays to get coffee on the upper deck in opaque darkness. Although I held on tightly to the rails, it looked really easy to slip over the side undetected while my fellow travelers slept! On return, I dutifully searched high and low for a travel tea kettle to take on future trips for coffee in my room or cabin. Having found just the right thing on the Internet, I was shocked to see when it arrived that it was the weight of a good-sized puppy!
To avoid packing such a “space-stealer”:
● Check with your hotel, B&B or cruise line to see if they provide a kettle/coffee pot in each room.
● Only carry your own in real emergencies!
● If so, tuck lingerie, bathing suits, socks and small items in sandwich bags and then fill it up with all that miscellany.
Tip 80. Even in warm climates, you may need to cover-up to comply with local customs. In Southeast Asia, men must cover their knees, and women their legs and
shoulders, to enter temples and royal palaces. Some locations have a loaner cover-up for visitors to borrow. Other requirements apply in the Middle East at mosques and globally at certain cathedrals. The best solution? Plan to take items that provide coverage but can be used throughout your trip:
A sunhat that completely covers the hair may be acceptable for women in certain places of worship.
A large designer shawl can double as a head or shoulder covering.
A long cotton skirt, common in the South Pacific and Asia, may also be a good beach cover-up to avoid a tropical sunburn.
Tip 81. Consider packing socks even in the tropics. They work well in airport security where you may have to remove your shoes, and don’t want to go barefoot. I also quickly longed for a pair when scurrying barefoot across a blazing hot stone entrance to a Buddhist temple in Cambodia. In the Amazon rainforest filled with brambles, socks were also key to avoid scratches.
Tip 82. Don’t forget to have a pashmina or light sweater to combat arctic air conditioning in restaurants in hot climates or even in international flights.
Tip 83. Consider what minimal electronics you can get by with. If you can take just a smartphone/mini pad, you will save much of the space.
Tip 84. Pack only clothes that have a dual purpose. For example, much athletic clothing can be used to sleep in while traveling. This can be a big help. In small hotels, morning coffee may be set out in the lobby rather than available in your room or from often costly room service.
Tip 85. Think about the climate. On some trips, I have found it rained constantly. In addition, even the
warmest regions can have dramatic temperature shifts at night. I have been on a September safari in Kruger Park, wearing a heavy winter jacket in early morning. Not the typical vision for African safari dress!
Tip 86. Bring a bathing suit even if you don’t swim. Hot tubs and Jacuzzis are generally available in larger hotels even if a swimming pool is not. In tropical areas, a tour may unexpectedly require one as well. I was surprised when my day tour in Central America ended at a hot springs to observe a volcano’s evening activity. By chance, the gift shop sold suits that initially looked like a typical one piece Speedo. I was in for another surprise when I discovered they were a little short on fabric providing less coverage than I expected!
Tip 87. Pick a maximum of two colors that can be worn interchangeably and roll each outfit rather than packing it flat to deter wrinkling.
Tip 88. Dark colors are best since they go with everything and can be worn more times unlike your favorite white slacks!
Tip 89. Take day-to-evening combinations including slacks that can be dressed up.
Tip 90. Especially when traveling to multiple destinations, don’t get stuck digging through your roller-bag every day to find the outfit you need. A practical solution? Use zipper bags that come with pillows and other purchases to divide up your clothes by purpose.
How to do this?
Put the key items you need on arrival and for the first night in one bag;
Divide up what you need for each segment of the trip (Museum hopping? Boating? Hiking? Taking a cordon bleu cooking course?);
Separate casual clothes/athletic wear for sightseeing from dressier clothes.
Tip 91. Avoid filling your suitcase with too many accessories. That large scarf recommended above as head covering can make a nice belt. It can even dress up a workout outfit top to make it more acceptable as street wear.
Tip 92. The one perfect accessory to not be without: Take a smaller “purse-within-a-purse”. The larger purse works well on the flight as your one “personal item” while a smaller fairly flat shoulder bag or pack is easier to manage and serves four purposes:
● This is an easy way to have your travel documents handy when going through airports or immigration.
● You can have your overnight toiletries and any medicines inside where you can find them easily.
● It is a great small tote for sightseeing for holding mini-pad/camera phone, sunglasses and other items.
● To avoid being robbed for a second time, I now remember to have a small flat shoulder bag I can wear under a jacket to foil pickpockets.
Tip 93. Avoid a mare’s nest of bottles. In addition to the airline limits for carry-on luggage, liquids leak easily. As with clothes you are packing, only take items that serve a dual purpose. For example, bring along a tinted
moisturizer with sunscreen in it, a shampoo/conditioner combination or a lipstick/blush. One caveat: Most large hotels provide small bottles of lotion and shampoo. However, on many trips, I have noticed that conditioner was the key item missing.
Tip 94. Where possible, travel with flat-pack samples of shampoo or cosmetics that take up less space than bottles.
Tip 95. In areas with malaria or other insect-borne diseases, remember to bring unscented cosmetics, lotions and sun block.
Tip 96. For purchases to replace missing/lost items, take advantage of local brands. At times when I have not spoken the language, I have prowled the aisles in a drug store and found international brands that were easily recognizable. I then bought the more economical domestic one which was shelved nearby. Do ask for help if you are not sure so you won’t wash your hair with laundry detergent, or brush your teeth with shoe polish!
Tip 97. Bring granola bars or snacks for travel and for bypassing the overpriced hotel minibars or in larger hotels the often steep charges for room service. I like to travel with coffee bags and hot chocolate mix for my room. Even if your lodging provides coffee in your room, they often have chalky, powdered creamers.
Tip 98. Pitch the hair dryer. Virtually all modern hotels now have a hair dryer in every room. If you are going on adventure travel, you may not have the power to run a conventional hair dryer at all making it really useless and yes, yet another “space-stealer”.
Tip 99. Take an electronic or paper copy of important hotel, tour documents or vouchers.
Tip 100. See how much room your electronics will take-up, and don’t pack two items that serve the same functions. Bring a tablet and a smartphone but leave your laptop behind.
Tip 101. Some small electrical appliances say that they work on both 110 and 220. As mentioned above, I have found that was not always the case so I almost always carry both an adapter and converter. If you want to be sure, the newest converter or adapters are compact enough to pack. Many hotels have only an adapter for plugging a device in. Not all of them have a voltage converter.
Tip 102. If you carry your own adapter, note that some destinations have two or more types of plugs so go online to check it out as you pack.
Tip 103. Remember to pack your chargers and any special items, such as micro SD cards and adapters, and throw in a low-tech addition: a small flashlight.
Tip 104. To avoid leaving the charger behind, have a bedside checklist of items, like chargers plus items left in the safe, to recover before checking out.
Tip 105. Although electronics may seem universal, when I bought a memory card for my digital camera while in the Middle East, on return it became stuck in my laptop. I was only able to remove it with great effort since somehow the fit was not the same.
Tip 106. Going boating? Replace your large sunhat with a neutral-toned visor. If you need more coverage, plan to use that large scarf you packed to hold your hat on if you will be in a sailboat or open small craft. Otherwise, you may be chasing your hat
over the side and end up having to unceremoniously be fished out, yourself!
Tip 107. Don’t forget the odds and ends, but just say “no” to that faithful umbrella you must leave behind. Substitute an inexpensive slicker sold in flat packs at local drugstores for a few dollars.
Tip 108. Always take 2-3 inexpensive pairs of sunglasses since what can break, will do so, while you are away from home!
The hardest part of packing may be separating a fashionista from her favorite Bruno Magli’s or strappy sandals. However, the unfortunate truth is that these mischievous beasts are really notorious “space-stealers”. If you want to travel light with only one carry-on bag, you will have to leave most of them behind anxiously awaiting your return.
How to pack light with shoes?
Tip 109. Bring only a pair and a spare! Always travel in the hardest ones to pack, but be sure you have a second pair in your carry-on bag. On an overnight business trip, the low-heel was snapped off one of my shoes on a moving staircase in the cavernous Atlanta airport. I limped all the way to my hotel but fortunately could walk to the neighboring mall and buy a new pair at a reasonable price. If you must pack heels, avoid stilettos, and test the heel to be sure it will make it through the trip. .
Tip 110. Sneakers take up too much space in a carry-on. Try substitutes if you are not a marathoner: Boating shoes like Top-Siders or their generic cousins take up less space, and fit better into a city setting.
Alternatively, I often sightsee and slip into the gym undetected in a regular pair of flats.
Tip 111. Whatever shoes you take, remember to use that empty space and tuck socks or small items in each.
Tip 112. Leave your high fashion shoes at home unless you are planning to attend black-tie events. Wear a pair of dressy gold or silver/metallic flats that go with everything. Let your spare be more serious walking shoes that can make it through a 10-12 hour day of sightseeing.
Tip 113. As an emergency backup, invest $10-$20 in inexpensive fold-up ballet slippers with a carrying case that fit into your tote bag.
Tip 114. Do remember the more intricate the shoe or strappy sandals, the more likely it is to break when you least expect it.
Tip 115. If your favorite shoes are accustomed to nestling in a designer shoe bag, be sure to separate them out to pack them flat. By placing each in a separate container, if nothing else, an inelegant plastic grocery bag, you save much needed space. Then insert them vertically with one on each side of your suitcase or horizontally on the top and bottom.
Tip 116. If you find as I did in Lisbon on a rainy day, that the slick bottoms of your flats are a hazard on steep cobblestone streets and sidewalks, duck into a mini-mart, and buy a stick of chewing gum. This may not be very chic, but you will be amazed at the traction this adds
Tip 117. Pack your shoes carefully, and carry flip-flops for the beach! I realize this violates my “only a pair and a spare” rule as does the foldup ballet slippers, but both can fit in your oversized tote you take on the airplane. I learned about this on a trip to an uninhabited Pacific atoll when I found that going barefoot may not always be liberating. While languidly strolling an enchanting beach, I stumbled on someone’s lightly covered barbeque pit! The result? I ended up flying barefoot back to neighboring Aitutaki. Fortunately, the 6-seater, single-engine prop plane did not have a dress code for passengers!
Tip 118. Even in this digital age, take 2-3 inexpensive ballpoint pens. You will be amazed at all the times you will need to fill out forms and not be able to find a pen anywhere!
Tip 119. A day or two before you leave, try an experiment. Take your suitcase for a promenade, and then lift it up back and forth a few times onto your bed. At that point, you will be ready to open it up, and see which item(s) you need like to leave behind!
Part 8: Safety Issues and Precautions En Route and on Arrival
Tip 120. Although the security within airports makes robbery less frequent, there is one ideal place, when you are waiting in lengthy security lines as your luggage goes ahead of you.
If I cannot switch to a faster line, I hold on to my purse and electronics until the last minute possible. Stuffing a purse or valuables into a well-worn tote bag can also make it less appealing to third parties. If it is really scruffy, after security, you can always, retrieve your purse and hide the then empty disreputable-looking tote in your carry-on to stuff with purchases while abroad.
Tip 121. Take the photocopy of the first page and required visas as ID and about $20 in a secure pocket. Tracking down your valuables may be impossible if they disappear, but with ID and enough cash, you may be able at least to reconfirm e-tickets; contact credit card companies online in a cyber cafe and replace your passport. (Note this may mean your smartphone is also gone.)
Tip 122. In some countries, women travelers are screened privately. I had this experience in Jordan. As a solo traveler, my luggage had to remain behind, unsupervised going through security without me. In that case, I did take my actual passport (not the photocopies) in one hand and my wallet in the other. I held out both for inspection and had no problem. In a worst case scenario, I would have only lost my travel clothes and little else.
Tip 123. Arrange for convenient and reliable local transportation.
One night in Lisbon, traveling solo, I went to dinner and an evening of music at a top nightspot. I was assured by my concierge and the restaurant that the latter could assist me in getting a cab back to the hotel. At 11 PM
after dinner, I stood on the sidewalk waiting and waiting as couples and larger groups commandeered each and every available car ahead of me although the rate was the same for one to four passengers. Finally, two women heading back to my same hotel offered to let me join them. Otherwise, it would likely have been a really, really long time.
● Verify from your hotel/B&B which local taxi companies have a reputation for safety.
● If you are dropped off at a restaurant, arrange a return pick-up. If your taxi does not arrive in a reasonable amount of time, ask the restaurant manager or staff to call for you. Be prepared for a delay, but don’t wait until closing, only to be left standing on the street in the dark.
● Carry the hotel’s card so that you can call them, and also show the driver if he/she does not know the address.
● Subways and commuter trains are much cheaper alternatives if you are good at reading maps in different languages. Even after a year of Russian, I found it hard to move quickly enough to exit at my stop when the signs were in Cyrillic rather than the Latin alphabet. I don’t recommend this after dark if you are alone and unsure where you are heading and whether it is considered a safe and well-trafficked area.
● Not all older stations have escalators and elevators. Coming and going between the airports or train stations, be ready to carry your luggage up and down steps. Another reason for packing light!
● Weekend schedules are likely to have fewer connections, so expect longer waits.
● Don’t assume that a public bus’s return route will be the same as the outbound trip, a mistake I made in Slovenia but could be true anywhere.
Tip 124. Have a plan for dinner and evening activities.
When you book a hotel, make certain that it has one or more full-service restaurants with extended hours, or if you prefer, and can afford it, room service 24/7. On travel, I once found myself having dinner in my room at 12:15 AM. Be sure you are not left wandering the streets looking for restaurants at night with no recommendations as to the safety of the neighborhood or what is still open.
Even if you have a hotel with a top restaurant, eating-in every night misses the point of sampling the cuisine and nightlife of a new destination. Traveling alone in Cairo, I was able to pay a taxi to wait for me while I had dinner. This is not often affordable, however. In Paris or New York, for example, that cab fare could be enormous.
Tip 125. Avoid storing your wallet in a backpack or back pocket giving pickpockets easier access.
Tip 126. Carry just enough cash for that day and credit cards with low credit limits. There is some difference of opinion in various parts of the world as to whether in a holdup having no cash can cause a violent reaction.
Tip 127. If you take the subway, stand away from the doors to avoid having someone steal your purse or other belongings and disappear into the crowd.
Tip 128. Be especially careful in train stations. They don’t have the restricted access of airports and therefore provide an easy entrance and exit for purse snatchers. In addition, travelers are likely to be burdened by luggage or distracted and not notice the loss immediately.
Tip 129. The trains, themselves, present another challenge. I was robbed as my train left the station in a European capital in broad daylight. Those of us traveling alone also run the risk of having our luggage stolen if we leave our seats. The best solution? If there is no one you can entrust to watch your luggage for a few minutes, take your wallet/passport with you, and time it between stops so that while you are gone your bags don’t leave on a separate vacation!
Tip 130. Don’t be an easy target for pickpockets working in pairs. The most obvious scenario is as follows: You are a fairly new arrival. A stranger bumps into you on a crowded street and profusely apologizes. Just as you are pleasantly replying, “No problem,” his colleague is lifting your wallet and your travel documents!
A variation on this theme is as follows: A local resident or fellow tourist stops to ask you for directions. When you are distracted, your wallet disappears.
Tip 131. Identify and avoid scams. Tourists tend to be conspicuous even if not traveling in a group. When I was a student in Europe, you could always identify the tourists in Paris. They had their heads down and were intently walking in a straight line reading the Michelin green guide! On a student’s budget, you could almost skip buying the book, and get a free tour following single file along behind everyone else!
In a more recent trip to Paris, as I made my way from the Left Bank to the Right Bank, a woman approached me saying she had just found a “gold” ring that very minute. She offered to sell it to me. Ironically, it looked like an American man’s wedding band. Even if it had been platinum, it was something I wouldn’t likely wear or purchase. I continued on down another street. The same woman was there and had just, at that moment, “found” the same ring and not recognized me. As I continued on and passed by the Louvre, another woman had evidently just had the same good fortune to find an identical “gold” band.
Tip 132. A more frequent tourist scam at home and abroad is being forced to pay really excessive taxi fare or being taken on the long, long, long way to their destination. Tourists are especially easy prey upon arrival in airports. When I flew one January from Siberia to St. Petersburg, Russia, a colleague had arranged for a taxi to be there on arrival and charge us $20. When we arrived, we never found our prearranged ride. There was a long row of taxis setting rates at about $40 for the same route. After intense negotiations, I was able to get the price down to $30. Plan ahead to avoid this hassle when traveling between foreign domestic airports where language barriers can make it even worse to negotiate.
Tip 133. Not a scam, as such, but for me, a nuisance at times on day tours in the form of the “inadvertent” shopping sprees. I would really rather see the history and culture of my destination, not go to touristy, souvenir shops. Since it can appear rude to show no interest, I have found it is a frequent challenge to extricate myself.
One of the most curious such “tours” was what I thought was a brief sightseeing sojourn into neighboring Zambia, accompanied by a Zimbabwean taxi driver. I paid a princely sum for this prospect of seeing more of the area around Victoria Falls. My tour ended up to be an unexpectedly short two hours primarily a roadside shopping expedition. Before I knew it, I was back south of the Zambezi River with a 6 foot 2 inch tall hand carved giraffe in tow. It now greets me in the hallway every time I open my front door here in the US. I have really grown attached to it although it serves as a permanent reminder of a lesson learned: Ask a lot of
questions about how long a day or half-day tour actually lasts and where it goes to avoid getting diverted into unwanted shopping excursions or paying too much for the “tour”.
Tip 134. In remote areas, take a guide who speaks the local language and has been vetted as reliable.
Tip 135. Always meet the guide for the first time at your hotel. Don’t try to connect in a public place where it can be hard to find each other. I found this out when on solo travel in Egypt some time ago. I had arranged to ride a horse into the setting sun at the Pyramids. Unexpectedly, taxis were not allowed to drive up to the stables after 5 PM leaving me to trudge up the hill alone on foot. When a man appeared with a horse, he said “yes” when I asked if he had come for me from the stable. Standing alone in the desert, I didn’t have any way to verify if he was, in fact, my guide. After the sun set and the only other horses were visible on the far horizon, it became apparent that he had not been sent by my stables but was merely a stranger with an extra horse! This misidentification did end safely. However, be sure that you have not followed the wrong man!
Tip 136. Check currency restrictions.
Another way your travel funds can disappear: In an international airport transit lounge, I found that having unknowingly failed to complete a currency form I could lose almost all my cash as a fine before taking the next leg of my flight to a neighboring country. I did manage to hold onto my funds after an enterprising fellow passenger tore his blank form in half so we could each technically have the required document! Don’t fall into this trap; check out currency restrictions before leaving home.
Tip 137. Watch out for missed flights that leave you stranded in a strange city without a reservation to spend the night. This happens most easily when you have a domestic and international flight for the same day. If bad weather or other delays occur on the first leg, you then miss the flight back home.
I witnessed this first hand on a ski trip to Argentina. When the local flight from Bariloche to Buenos Aires was late, we missed our return flight to the US. With my fellow skiers, the problem of not having a place for the night meant canvassing hotels by telephone to find a last-minute vacancy. The result? We found a hotel, but it was not serving dinner. We walked up and down the streets until we found a restaurant still open late. Outside of large cities, having to search for dinner at odd hours can make for a long night.
Tip 138. Be Safe in a Digital Age by Limiting Personal Information Available on Lost/Stolen Electronics.
Lost luggage, a purloined passport, and a missing wallet were previously a tourist’s worst nightmare. The convenience and prevalence of electronic devices have created new forms of crime, which can have long-term ramifications.
With smartphones trending, isolated instances of an innovative new crime has been reported, now known as “cyber” or “virtual kidnapping”. This eliminates the middle man, that is, the hostage. Creative extortionists have taken advantage of lost cell phones and electronics to contact travelers’ families to pressure them to quickly wire money for the supposed release of their loved ones. After the victims paid, they later discovered they had never been kidnapped at all!
The Internet and enhanced global communications have apparently created some uniformity in the approaches used to separate unwary tourists (and others) from their
cash. On a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina and earlier in Barcelona, Spain within a four-year period, two members of our same ski group had an identical encounter with pickpockets located more than 3,000 miles apart: Two men surreptitiously sprayed something on their jackets, and then pointed to birds flying overhead as the bad actors hoping in the confusion to relieve them of their wallets. Clearly, this identical script was not a mere “coincidence” but a likely result of the Internet’s information highway or social media.
So do consider if traveling in high crime areas:
● As noted above, password protecting your phone, at least while you are away.
● Clearing your existing call history.
● Avoiding listing your own residence as “home” in your contacts.
● Creating an emergency password known only to close family or friends.
● Removing personal photos, anniversary gifts, your family’s snapshots from your wallet.
Tip 139. When checking out of a hotel, never leave your electronic key card in your room on checkout, as it may contain credit card or other personal data.
Thoughts for Women Traveling Solo
Although I have come through my multiple solo travels unharmed, women traveling alone do need to be realistic about safety. It is important to:
Tip 140. Research your destination’s culture, its customs, and dress. It can be frustrating, but as I found in Cairo, even cafes may not be places women go alone. The solution I found? Restaurants in large international hotels were an exception to that rule being accustomed to an influx of travelers from around the globe. Unfortunately, that is more expensive and does not provide as authentic a feel for a locality.
Tip 141. Behavior at home that might be viewed as friendly could be misconstrued.
Tip 142. At home or abroad, a dangling purse over your chair back or on the floor in a restaurant is an open invitation to a pickpocket.
Tip 143. Don’t go alone to remote locations even in the daytime. Seeing ancient ruins or waterfalls off the beaten path is a real joy as I found standing alone at the Boer War Memorial in a vacant park in Johannesburg. However, it is not a great idea, as you have no back-up when traveling alone so when in doubt, take a reliable local guide.
Tip 144. Limit walking around alone at night. If you really want to do so, be careful. Check with women that work at your hotel or B&B to see if there are areas to avoid and what they do themselves.
Tip 145. Staying in a crowd is usually the best protection.
Tip 146. Carrying mace can be a problem since it may violate local laws and an attacker might wrestle it away from you and use it against you.
Tip 147. Plan a time of day to text, phone or email a friend or relative to check-in with while traveling.
Tip 148. Have a plan to obtain emergency funds. If banks are closed, your hotel will generally give cash advances against a credit card. I have found debit cards to be used as easily as traditional credit cards but not necessarily with cash back.
In addition to having a daily check-in back home, I recommend that you have a contact that can wire you money in an emergency. On a flight back from Costa Rica in the 1990s, I spoke with a fellow passenger who
almost missed his plane. He was an experienced world traveler. By chance, on a Sunday, he was robbed on the way to church. The US Embassy was able to work on getting him a replacement passport. One problem: For it to be expedited, he needed to pay $60 to $70. After being robbed, he had no money and no credit cards. He began calling friends in America. However, since it was a Sunday afternoon, he kept reaching voicemails nationwide instead of his friends and family but finally found someone in time to replace documents and make his flight.
The Washington Post reported the story of a local art gallery owner detained in Serbia. Border officials raised questions about customs or other fees they argued were due on paintings in transit to an exhibit. Of course, this happened on a weekend when reaching a bank or routine contact would be more challenging, especially across time zones.
Expect the unexpected. Take emergency contact information specifically to get cash in case of a misadventure.
Staying Safe in Special Circumstances
After 2 emergency landings on large commercial jets some years ago where fortunately no one was hurt, I was fascinated later watching a video on how to survive a plane crash. Fortunately, such survivability is becoming more frequent while the likelihood of a crash is very, very small. The key points were:
● Before takeoff, look at the safety instructions even if you are a veteran flyer since each aircraft can vary on how to operate exits.
● Recognize the importance of moving as quickly as possible.
● Note two separate exits preferably within 7 rows of your seat.
● Plan how to find your way in darkness if the lights to the exit(s) are not working. (For example, if you know how many rows to the exit, can you touch the headrest/top of each seat to see where you are?)
● Don’t dose during takeoff and landing as those are two points where incidents may more often occur than in mid-flight in good weather.
These general concepts in a flight emergency, i.e, the need to be aware and be prepared/have a plan, can be applied to virtually any problem that may arise.
Single travelers in lacking the protection of a ready-made group need to be focused at all times, particularly in wildlife preserves and beyond in certain rural areas. At Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, some time ago, I was startled to see a sign saying: Avoid walking into the village at night since “lions and other wild animals” had been seen! As unlikely as that seems, in later years a neighbor back home did, in fact, have a young family member killed by a lion in another part of Africa.
Tip 149. Be alert and follow the rules while adding some Plan B thoughts of your own! In informal, remote settings circumstances in the wild can change quickly. Although it is tempting to view wildlife strictly via your camera/mini pad, you may discover that you are well-positioned not just for photos but to be lunch for a roaming carnivore! While you are sizing them up, they are doing the same.
Remember the dangers work both ways. On a trip to Brazil, I was thrilled to be allowed a special, private visit to watch capybaras when they were being fed. As I tried for the perfect photo up-close of a family of these loveable 150 pound rodents, I suddenly realized I had
left the gate open. I missed my shot dashing to close the gate but avoided having them escape leaving me to chase after them.
Tip 150. Don’t touch the animals without asking first. Again this works for mutual protection. As a friend seated in an outdoor Mideast cafe found out, a scratch from a stray animal (a cat) can result in spending part of your trip taking rabies shots! In contrast, during my visit to Australia’s Victoria, tourists were not allowed to pet koalas (don’t say “bears”) because humans could endanger them by transmitting diseases.
Tip 151. Nocturnal animals present separate dangers. Besides learning of prowling lions in Africa, in Hawaii I was warned against evening swims in the ocean since large predators were apparently out and about seeking “fine dining” options!
Tip 152. Ask locals for their advice. I was surprised to learn in Brazil that swimming near the shore in shallow water was a favorite venue of piranha! In contrast, having read of the perils of swimming in fresh water in Africa, my Botswana guides successfully persuaded me that the local small pool was safe for swimming. However, I didn’t know that this involved diving off the back of a large elephant! I do have the pictures to prove it really happened! As they say, when in Rome…
Tip 153. Don’t feed the animals unless directed to do so since you may attract aggressive behavior. In any case, “people food” can be a danger to many species. Allowing even household pets to feed on simple foods like grapes, onions or sugarless gum can have life-threatening consequences. In tourist areas, animals may be overfed even if the snacks offered are not harmful.
The greatest problem you will likely find in wildlife adventure tours? The difficulty of finding and photographing animals in their natural habitat. Between dense foliage and their keen sense of hearing, most animals successfully play hide and seek when tourists arrive. If your heart is set on studying animals when traveling, I recommend the solution I found in Amazonas, Brazil. I met with a biologist at a rescue facility where I could observe both endangered and other local animals, and on return from going Upriver, I spent hours at the local science center. That strategy provided the best of both worlds for animal lovers!
Part 9: In Case of Fire
That New Year’s Eve fire demonstrates that even modern, elegant buildings, at times, can hold such risks. The problem is being unaware a fire has started or in any case, being unable to get out quickly. On travel, especially abroad, fatigue, language difficulties and lack of familiarity with temporary lodging can compound the problem. I have seen this happen while on a ski trip in Europe. Part of our group at a neighboring hotel had to evacuate in the middle of the night because of a fire. Fortunately, no one was injured. For those of us solo travelers, not having a travel mate, we need to be vigilant to recognize the problem and to get our safely.
Tip 154. Travel with a small flashlight in case the lights are out or smoke has filled the hallways leaving little visibility to get out quickly. (These are also a great help in non-emergencies.)
Tip 155. When you arrive, see where the fire exits are, both the closest one and an alternate if it is block.
Tip 156. If you are especially concerned about fires, choose a room on a lower floor. An added benefit, they are likely to be much less expensive!
Tip 157. Don’t assume a fire alarm is a false alarm. You may have only seconds/a few minutes to leave your room. Before going to sleep, put your shoes (and a jacket in cold climates) next to your bed in case there is an emergency in the middle of the night; tuck your hotel key and smartphone in your pocket. If it is possible to return to your room, you don’t want to wait in line along with everyone else who is then locked out of their rooms! In addition, if you previously took a picture with your phone of critical travel documents, this will speed up getting replacements if they were destroyed by fire.
Tip 158. Be particularly aware that during festive celebrations fireworks can start a blaze, or more often, Christmas trees (even artificial ones), can catch on fire.
Fortunately, if you choose your lodging carefully, fatal hotel fires are not a likely daily event. In any event, taking reasonable precautions can help to prevent serious injury and not disrupt your trip.
Part 10: Cruising Safety
January 2, 2016 press accounts disclosed results of an inquiry into the June 1, 2015, sinking of the Eastern Star in China’s Yangtze River. There were only 12 survivors while 442 on board lost their lives. Having taken multiple river cruises, including one on the Yangtze, I am really puzzled how even with hurricane force winds the ship sank so quickly resulting in much loss of life.
More frequently, problems on cruises as to safety and health are non-life threatening, unpleasant ones, like the Norovirus on large ships.
Tip 159. Before booking passage whether on an inter-island ferry or cruise ship, research the provider’s reputation and record for safety and health.
Tip 160. Pack seasick pills if you are new to cruising since an upset stomach can make it hard to react in an emergency or merely spoil your trip.
Tip 161. Upon boarding, as in a hotel, note the exit and an alternate. On a larger cruise ship, this can be very difficult. I learned this lesson on a 2,000-person ship in Alaska’s Intracoastal Waterway. Fortunately, it was not an emergency.
Tip 162. As a solo traveler, look for another single traveler, or friendly fellow passengers to create your own “buddy system” or local contact.
Tip 163. If there is a language barrier, find a crew member that you are able to communicate with.
Tip 164. In severe weather or other special circumstances, use your life vest since even strong swimmers can have a head injury from falling.
Tip 165. Be more vigilant when deteriorating conditions make emergencies more likely. Avoid having a three-martini lunch that can impair your judgment.
Tip 166. On small vessels, to avoid serious falls with sudden shifts, always hold on with one hand, especially on open decks.
Tip 167. In high winds, watch out for falling debris.
Tip 168. Since a ship serves as a floating hotel, use the same care with valuables you would in an urban setting to avoid theft or other crimes.
The good news is that cruises seldom result in catastrophe. While floating ice in Alaska’s Glacier Bay immediately reminded me of the Titanic, today’s modern electronics and other equipment make that
really unlikely if you choose a cruise line wisely, stay aware and have a plan for emergencies.
Part 11: Sporting Activities:
Tip 169. Set up your own informal local buddy system.
● In a sports activity, such as snorkeling, try to follow along with others at your same ability level.
● Ask to join other solos, couples, or families if you are snorkeling.
● Take a group lesson.
As an experienced solo traveler, I have most needed backup during sporting activities.
This was especially the case when I headed for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as the only solo (No. 201) in a small tourist boat. When I changed into my wetsuit to snorkel, I noticed the sign that read: Death could result from going into the water. The greatest danger seemed to be the infamous, lethal Box Jellyfish a year-round hazard, fortunately less frequent during certain times. They are small and not necessarily conspicuous. I had heard that a buddy system was recommended. Having come that far, I had no alternative. I jumped in alone hugging the pier area. I was within sight of a fellow snorkeler. However, he and I did not share a common language and did not really qualify as a backup.
Part 12: Avoiding Accidents and Participating in Special Activities
On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, a hot-air balloon exploded over Luxor, Egypt, killing 19 tourists and critically injuring the pilot and remaining survivor. Press accounts raised questions as to both maintenance and piloting skills.
Luxor is the heart of ancient Egypt. It is famous for its Valley of the Kings where the Pharaohs are buried. One such tomb, the Temple of Hatshepsut, was the site of another tragedy in November 1997, when at least 70 tourists were slain by militants.
The statistical likelihood of such disasters is much less than commonplace highway injuries or fatalities. Nonetheless, a quick Internet search or two can further reduce the chance of getting in harm’s way when you plan such an adventure while traveling.
Tip 170. Check out specific providers.
If you plan to take a local tour by balloon, helicopter, or small plane, major vendors will have websites that you can cross-reference with safety records. Aside from the latter, if your search shows the company is in real financial trouble, their pilots and maintenance are going to be suspect.
Tip 171. Consider the terrain and weather conditions. If you are headed for Alaska, surface transportation is nonexistent in some areas while sudden blizzards can cause delays or present hazards. In contrast, if you fly in southern Africa with long droughts, sudden storms are not a factor and the flat grasslands provide informal runaways in emergencies. In deserts, be prepared to carry lots of water, and find you may not get a signal on your cell phone.
Tip 172. Dress in (or carry) layers for changes from sudden snow storms in the Alps to drop in desert temperatures at night.
Travel in times of heightened alerts/Avoiding local legal issues
Traveling to destinations experiencing political upheavals or substantial crime calls for more detailed consideration prior to your arrival and once there. Both at home and abroad, I have found myself in situations where safety was marginal and have been surprised by how quickly situations can change.
If you are facing shifting sands in a volatile area, really consider whether you should cancel or defer the trip to a future date. The latter may make sense if a specific trigger, such as upcoming elections, is at issue, or natural disasters, like droughts, are triggering food shortages. If you are still determined to go as scheduled be aware of the following:
Tip 173. In turbulent areas, stay with your group or team to avoid getting left behind inadvertently.
On another foray with a business group abroad, I was walking with our team in an area still undergoing a low-grade civil war. Suddenly, the only other woman in the group and I became separated from the others and were standing alone as a crowd approached. Having studied the local dialect, I attempted a greeting hoping this would be an amicable meeting. I was pleased, and relieved, to find they were a very friendly team of community organizers. However, this shows how suddenly safety in numbers disappears after getting lost in an unfamiliar area.
Tip 174. In areas of political unrest, carry and safeguard your passport. (As suggested above, do check-in with your embassy when you arrive.)
Tip 175. Stay clear of political protests/avoid a stay in the local jail.
In countries experiencing political unrest, it is hard to know when a crowd or demonstration will become
violent. If you choose to be a spectator, give yourself room to get away fast.
Tip 176. Don’t “Follow the Leader”. In Russia, I followed a band of other tourists crossing the icy Neva River en route to the famous Fortress. I later discovered it was illegal. Don’t assume what you see others doing is the right way to go.
Tip 177. Check your home and destination websites as to regulations for bringing prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs with you and as to accidents while driving, if you plan to rent a car. In certain countries, problems as to either may result in an arrest or fine or at a minimum, a really unpleasant situation.
Part 13: More on Staying Healthy Once You Arrive
Tip 178. Even in top hotels in St. Petersburg, Russia, as recently as 2004, tap water was not safe. My hotels provided two bottles of water daily. Remember that if you can’t drink the local water, you should not brush your teeth with it, rinse your toothbrush in it, swallow it in the shower, or have ice in your drinks. In addition, fruits and vegetables likely to have been washed in contaminated water must also be avoided.
Heating water for coffee or tea is not sufficient. It must be boiled for a period of time. Drugstores often carry tablets to purify the water. However, that can take up to 30 minutes.
Tip 179. When faced with a real emergency, make as much noise as possible.
I have a key chain to wear on my wrist that also has a whistle used for “man-overboard” exercises when I took sailing lessons. This is also the perfect way to attract attention in an emergency. It is likely to draw
a crowd if for no other reason than that it is loud and irritating. I highly recommend it for travel.
Part 14: Seniors and Baby Boomers Abroad
For otherwise healthy seniors, most recommendations are the same for any age-group.
However, it helps to consider the following:
Tip 180. In preparing for the trip, note that certain vaccines, such as Yellow Fever, carry different risk disclosures based upon age.
Tip 181. Besides checking a tour’s activity or difficulty level, see whether public facilities are accessible.
Tip 182. If you prefer a shower or tub with a grab-bar, contact your hotel to find out what is available. (For everyone, put a mat down.) In international travel, generally more expensive accommodations include a bath tub. On a cruise, be sure to ask ahead of time, since sudden swaying motions could result in a fall for anyone.
Tip 183. On the bright side, always ask about senior discounts. Do compare them with advance booking and other specials. The latter may be a better deal, and promotions can rarely be used in combination.
Part 15: Money Savings In-Country
mini-mart or better yet, a local supermarket. If you have ever raided a minibar and paid $12 for a can of Coca Cola as I have, this will already be on your checklist as well.
Tip 185. Plan your own picnic after visiting open-air markets rather than having a lunch in a local bistro.
Tip 186. If you have to take a taxi, ask your hotel what the approximate fare should be to your destination. Try to establish the rate with the driver before you get in to be sure what you will actually be charged.
Tip 187. Use a calculator so you know exactly what you are paying if the currency is not familiar to you.
Tip 188. Be sure to bring all the photographic equipment you need, memory cards, as they are likely to be much higher abroad, especially in tourist shops.
Tip 189. If you are looking to try local wines, find a shop where you can make a purchase rather than pay heavily by the glass in a restaurant or bar. In any case, having your own wine-tasting may feel less awkward than being a “party of one” in a bar.
Part 16: Miscellaneous
On my solo travel through Ireland in a rental car, I did not have access to a local GPS. As a result, I drove around and around, habitually lost for two days. I twice ended up in a circle at the same detour. I found a local resident at one point who cautioned me not to follow the signs since they didn’t tend to be right! I met other
tourists who had had a wonderful trip and saw the entire Ring of Kerry on a local bus. Having opted to do it myself and missed practically every major sight, now I need to redo the whole trip.
● If an automatic is not available, can you drive a manual transmission?
● Are you a good navigator if you don’t have a local GPS?
● In cities, is parking available and affordable?
● Are there gas stations along the route?
● Will there be reliable help if the car breaks down?
● Can you change a tire if you need to?
Part 17: Upon Arrival
When I return from a trip and it is fresh on my mind, I try to think what worked and what didn’t so the next one will be even better.
Do a little Monday morning quarterbacking and note whether:
● You had flight or local transportation issues.
● Your hotel/lodging selection was a good one.
● You missed sights because of poor planning or research.
● You packed items you never used and missed taking others.
● Your budget was realistic to cover everything you wanted to do.
If you didn’t do it while you were away, be sure to back up photos and dates and names of sights and new friends met along the way.
Not Every Mishap Is a Calamity
Although it is important to consider safety while traveling solo, not every misstep ends in disaster.
I once raced woefully around the Nice Airport one early September day. I was not traveling with an international cell phone and had set my passport down while on a call in a phone booth. When I dashed back to get it, it was gone. I had visions of an entire day in the French Riviera lost replacing it. Suddenly, a stranger came up to return my lost passport! He had recognized me from my passport photo.
On a trip to Costa Rica, I took a day tour. At breakfast in a small remote cafe, the guide needed to run my credit card. At lunch, I asked if I could get it back from him to make some purchases. He was surprised since he had put it back on the table during breakfast without my noticing it. There was virtually no hope that I would ever see my credit card again. When the guide called the cafe, the manager was not encouraging but went to look. There was my credit card still sitting on the table!
Returning from a South African business trip, I had reserved a room in the Cape Verdes off Senegal and was set for a relaxing tropical weekend alone. At the last minute, I found out my hotel had closed. With flight delays, I would be arriving at 3 AM in an airport that was closed and had no local transportation. I was rescued by the flight attendants who took me with them to their hotel that did, in fact, have a vacancy.
I encourage other solo travelers to explore as many diverse cultures as can be crammed into one lifetime. (However, always let someone else try out the gangplank first!) Although it may seem daunting, with preparation and good judgment, solo travelers have the whole world just ahead of them. It’s time to go to the Internet, check an atlas, and make your bucket list!
Looking Back at Past Trips
However, I do have select special memories that represent for me what it is like to explore new and exciting places:
● Going on a small elephant-back safari through the Okavango Delta
● Strolling through Angkor Wat and traveling SE Asia alone for the holidays
● Being the only foreigner in the Old Suq at Luxor, Egypt (arriving no less in an open horse-drawn cart)
● Swimming in the Amazon on Christmas Day