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Since my student days I have explored the world.
- I have roamed the remote Pacific Islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
- I skied an active volcano in New Zealand.
- I dodged epidemics from cholera off the coast of Mauretania in Santiago, Cape Verde Islands to the Swine Flu outbreak in China.
- I fought off muggers in broad daylight in Europe and barely missed being a feast for crocodiles in Africa.
When the prior year came to an end, several issues remained. The Zika virus is still a concern in some sunny destinations. However, the World Health Organization had already declared th deadly Ebola virus to be over at its starting point in Guinea.
Most travelers don’t face true emergencies. Luckily, most likely such problems are pickpockets and lost belongings. Still, travelers should give thought to going alone at night in a strange place in search of dinner. For all these questions and more, see our tips below for the best way to make your next solo trip your very best one.
Why Travel Solo?
I went on my first solo trip while in college. I wanted to “See the US”. I did not have a car and did have a student’s small budget. What could I do? I spent 5 weeks connecting with buses across the country from the East to the West Coast. Back then I learned to pack light. I took a small overnight bag that I could pitch into a locker at stops along the way.
Once I started working, I didn’t have much time to see the world. In the 1990’s, I found myself back in the groove after a break from solo travel. The reason I once again was a solo traveler? With work or family obligations, it was hard to find a travel mate that was free at the same time. Worse yet, while one friend might want to trek the rain forest others might just want to prowl chic shops in Europe. That meant it was not possible to get to the same plan as to time, place and costs. There was too much world to see to stay home.
How to Get Started on Solo Travel
As I relearned solo travel, I planned a short trip of about 5 days. I chose a “nearby” spot from the US East Coast. I booked a hotel in Iceland for a winter trip. It’s true I made a few false steps as I headed out. For example:
- I had failed to ask when, and if, the sun would rise in February.
- I had my skis in hand. One glitch? I did not ask if there were slopes other than by helicopter!
- It did go well though so I was back in practice to see the world as a solo traveler.
As of January 2017, I now have been to all 50 US states and 68 countries. My last trip was to India, one of the most fascinating places I have been. Along the way, I have picked up some advice for fellow solo travelers from lessons learned sometimes the hard
way. We welcome hearing from you so send us your own tips for single travelers at our Contact page at www.SoloTrekker4U.com.
Part 1: How to Pick a Destination if Solo Travel is New for You
Tip 1. Consider trying your first solo travel in your home country.
- How long will you be comfortable away from home?
- Is this your first leisure trip as a single traveler?
- Will you join a tour?
Tip 2. As a new(er) solo traveler, choose a destination easy to get to. Why is that? The farther you have to go you will have more costs, fatigue and other adjustments.
Tip 3. Adopt the local time zone. I once made the mistake of staying up half the night watching the news while abroad to ski. The next day I had to work to drag up and down the slopes!
Tip 4. Find a destination where your native language is understood.
Tip 5. Think about whether you feel a sense of cultural compatibility with your destination.
Tip 6. Look at your plans, and see if your trip will work at the time you will be there. I once added a Lake Tahoe ski weekend to an early April business trip. I found 50 degree “spring skiing” which didn’t work for me. However, if you plan to museum hop in Paris, do take advantage of up to 50% off price drops in the winter.
Part 2: Getting Deals and Choosing Lodging:
Tip 7. In deciding on a destination, first look at costs, including:
- 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 fee
- Vaccines and travel prescriptions
- Travel insurance
- Clothing or trip-related travel purchase
- 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. You may save if you will be at a resort that is far from nearby competing (and likely lower priced) restaurants. On one trip to the Caribbean one summer, I found the meal plan would have saved me 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.
- Does current security seem adequate? I once 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. They checked room keys before each person went up. As in many office buildings, other hotels may require a key card to use the elevators to reach guest floors.
- The hotel has ATMs or check-cashing facilities.
- Restaurants or room service will be available 24/7. If you arrive at late night hours, you don’t want to have to go out to find 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. Be sure to think of all the things you want to do. Do plan to have some funds put away for 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 pool. Do they have access to a close by health club?
- If you take a rental car, the cost and availability to park.
- 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 who look 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. This is great to enjoy the setting and warm climate. However, if it is isolated, it may present an ideal spot for 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 all of the above plus the following:
- There can be safety in numbers with group houses or other rentals. Do think though whether other guests will come and go 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.
- I have traveled to Siberia in January, but there are many less drastic options.
- Airlines will have reduced load factors and better rates.
- The same will be true for hotels and B&B’s.
- Off-season discounts can start as early as mid-September. Except for the holidays, many price reductions last into May.
Tip 13. Location matters:
- Spain and Portugal are cheaper than most of Western Europe.
- Central and Eastern European capitals still have good prices.
- Ready for adventure? The farther you go off the beaten path, the cheaper it is for lodging and often for meals. Watch though to see how much air fare will cost.
Tip 14. Consider substitute destinations. In the past, I wanted to go to a South Pacific island. I saw then that hotels in Tahiti were more than my budget. With the help of Air New Zealand, I chose to go to Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for about one-third the price. At that time, they were largely unknown by tourists. The trip gave me years of travel lore to pass on.
Tip 15. Sports vacations carry special costs. In addition to hotel and air fare charges, active sports may include extra fees for lift tickets, guides or dive boat rentals. The best way to save is to do much research ahead of time. It is key to find less well known places with the same sports. The Swiss slopes may be chic but pricey. I opted to ski in Andorra just north of Spain in the Pyrenees. I also went to Hafjel, Norway for Intermediate ski class. (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. I had 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 this for flights to the Brazilian Amazon from Washington. I could choose a stop in Panama City, Panama. There was time to sleep and see some sights.
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 travel.
Tip 24. Look for those cruise lines that have “no single supplement” departures.
Don’t forget though the cheapest price may not be the best deal. I learned that the hard way. A college friend was having a gala birthday party in the French Riviera at a chic 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. Do note though that at times, the best prices come from the airlines themselves.
Tip 28. Economy Class can still be a good value even 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. For a 17 day trip to SE Asia, I found just the flight I wanted. The first-leg was 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 or push. Think about how long you may wait for checked bags after a long flight overseas. Do you want to stand in baggage claim as bags are off-loaded for 300 fellow passengers?
Tip 31. To and from the airport: Every big city seems to have costly ways to get to town. Since airports often are 45 minutes outside the city, the best way during the day may be a local train, subway or airport bus/van. In the south of France, I paid $2.00 for a 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 Costs and Ways to Save
Tip 32. When you are excited about the great rate you locked in, remember that most do not include taxes. In New York City, there are several layers of substantial local taxes to consider.
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
Wi-Fi visit the local cyber café. You can have your AM coffee while you connect with friends and family.
Tip 35. On trips abroad, I look for local items for Christmas and birthday gifts for everyone back home. The prices can be low for some unique options. Avoid the tourist shops. Go where local people shop. In Ljubljana, I took a public bus to a shopping mall. I did not speak Slovenian but found some great items.
Tip 36. Take advantage of currency rate drops. Do check your currency conversion as you plan. For example, the US dollar has been strong through early Jan. 2017 at $1 as worth 1.3860 Canadian dollars and equal to 0.9202 Euros.
Part 5: How to Travel Alone Without Having to “Go It Alone”
- I have made friends with fellow travelers from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the streets of Lisbon.
- I have flown over game preserves in Botswana in a plane the size of a Volkswagen with wings and marveled at the Nabataean ruins in Jerash, Jordan and never find traveling alone lonely.
- Being used to celebrating Christmas though, I did discover that being abroad for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day didn’t work well for me. I found a perfect solution by having traditional Christmas Eve festivities at home and flying out later on Christmas Day. The important thing at the outset is to think about what works for you and if there are holidays or family celebrations that you don’t want to miss.
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.
In selecting a tour, see: (1) what is included, (2) what types of lodging are offered, (3) what activities are planned, (4) how much free time is included and (5) what is the size and type of group/group interests.
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 6: Join a River Cruise
Option 3. Split your time with a land package and then take 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 reached 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-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. Is there a charge for special add-on tours or activities?
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 could. 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 other 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 agenda?
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 joining a group of your own age or interests, does this group work for you? If you are looking for a solo trip, do you prefer a women’s or men’s group? Consider what language groups are represented. I once toured Egypt for a day in Spanish because the two other travelers did not speak English or Arabic. 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, 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 7: Regulations and Formalities
Tip 45. Check visa requirements as soon as you book, and read all the fine print! This is especially true if you apply in person. I have found the following variations: i. One country expressly stated that rudeness was a basis for rejecting a visa application so you may want to avoid waiting in line on Monday mornings! ii. Another needed third party verification of my exact tour itinerary and flight schedule for my arrival and departure and iii. A third had only one allowed courier for visa delivery absent your picking it up in person. If that is the case, take a courier packet and a spare in case you fill it in wrong or need to start over.
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! SO WHEN YOU RECEIVE YOUR VISA, READ IT VERY CAREFULLY AS TO DATES AND ANY RESTRICTIONS. CURRENTLY, SOME COUNTRIES MAY REQUIRE TOURISTS OR OTHER TRAVELERS TO REGISTER WITHIN 14 DAYS OF ARRIVAL IN-COUNTRY.
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 2017, 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 8: Pre-Trip Planning and Practical Consideration
Tip 53. Arrange for airport transportation for your arrival.
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. I 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 9: Packing for Your Next Trip
Years ago I got tired of dragging a heavy bag around.
What to do? I learned to pack really light. In college, I spent 5 weeks cross-country to see the US with just a small bag. I took the same small bag for a summer in Europe. Since then, I found not all subways or train stations have elevators or escalators. So I try to go light each trip.
Now the new bag fees make it more important to go light. Even worse, planes may have less leg room for any bag as more seats are added. Entertainment systems take up more room still.
The best solution? Have a good plan for what to take and what to leave at home so you don’t have to check a bag. (An exception is allowed if you are traveling with skis!)
Another reason to pack light? To avoid a trip with a lost bag! I had my bag lost in a non- stop one hour flight!
On the same trip, I was en route to ski in Norway. I arrived, but my bag did not. Stores were closed so I was left with a ski class the next day and no clothes. I went through the lost and found at my hotel. I found a too large coat to pair with my work suit’s slacks. I slipped nylon stocking clad feet in rental ski boots and was off. I really should have followed my own somewhat wry slogan: “If you can’t pack it, figure out how to wear it!”
Tip 70. Be sure to check with your airline. Don’t forget connecting flights. Many flights only allow 11 pounds in carry-on’s. Since each bag has its own weight, this leaves little room for packing for long trips. Cold weather tours are even harder. In addition, there may be weight and size restrictions on your one “personal item”. So, as they say, “know before you go!”
Tip 71. If you must check your bag, wear something hand-washable or easy to clean in there is loss or delay. In any case, pack things that can be hand washed so you can take less! This worked well for me even in Siberia. My small Soviet era room had over heated radiators just right for drying clothes fast!
Tip 72. Have key items, such as a toothbrush, in a carry-on tote.
Tip 73. Be sure your trip insurance covers lost or stolen items. Check about related costs like out-of-pocket transportation charges to replace items. (When I was robbed on travel abroad, I spent $34 in taxi fare replacing stolen items. My insurance paid in full.)
Tip 74. If you travel in a small jet, you may have to check your bag at the gate or jet way. So don’t pack your passport. Have a case to retrieve your laptop or tablet.
Tip 75. Travel in clothes with pockets. See if you can fit some cash (not coins), a photo ID and one credit card in a pocket. This is really important for solo travelers who may have to find emergency funds from home.
Tip 76. If you have a black roller-bag, they can be hard to ID. Add a bright bow. Put a sticker or mark on it. Airport shops often sell a colored strap for the same purpose. If you try that out, be sure the strap can make it through the journey in one piece.
Tip 77. Use your smart phone or tablet to photograph your bag. This helps ID it if it is lost. (You can also take photos of contents. Do be aware that there are limits though on such recovery.)
Tip 78. If you do check a bag and it is lost or delayed, ask about overnight kits and compensation.
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 small as they appear in an ad. When they arrive, they may be too large or too heavy for today’s carry-on’s. After going Upriver in the Amazon with limited access to morning coffee without a leap to the top deck, I decided I needed my own travel coffee pot. I found just the right thing on the Internet. When it arrived, I was shocked. My new travel coffee post 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. 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 which can double as a head or shoulder covering. A long cotton skirt, common in the South Pacific and Asia, that may also be good to avoid a tropical sunburn.
Tip 81. Consider packing socks even in the tropics. They work well in airport security if you have to take your shoes off. I was glad to have them too to go barefoot across a hot stone entry to a temple in Cambodia. In the Amazon rainforest, socks were also key to avoid scratches.
Tip 82. Don’t forget to have a pashmina or light sweater to combat arctic air conditioning.
Tip 83. Cull your electronics. 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 lots. Even warm beaches can be cold at night. I have been on a September safari in South Africa with a heavy jacket on. Not the typical idea of 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 looked like a one piece Speedo. I was in for real surprise when I saw they were a little short on fabric with less coverage than I expected!
Tip 87. Pick a maximum of two colors that can be worn with everything. Roll each one to reduce wrinkling.
Tip 88. Dark colors are best. They can be worn more times than your favorite white slacks!
Tip 89. Take day-to-evening outfits. Pack slacks that can be dressed up.
Tip 90. Use zipper bags to divide up your clothes by purpose or when you’ll need them. You can get them for free when you buy pillows or sheets.
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 take: Pack a small “purse-within-a-purse”. The larger purse works well on the flight as your one “personal item”. The small one should be flat and work as a shoulder bag. Why is that?
- This is an easy way to have your travel documents ready for airports or immigration. ● You can have your toothbrush and any medicines where you can find them fast. ● It is a great tote for sightseeing to hold a tablet, smart phone and sunglasses. ● This is hard for pickpockets to grab, especially under a coat.
Tip 93. Avoid a nest of bottles. In addition to the 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. Find a shampoo/conditioner combination or a lipstick/blush.
Tip 94. Where possible, take flat-pack samples of shampoo or cosmetics. They take up less space than bottles and don’t tend to leak.
Tip 95. In areas with malaria or other insect-borne diseases, bring unscented cosmetics, lotions and sunblock.
Tip 96. To replace missing or lost items, buy local brands when you arrive. They are cheaper than imports and easy to find. Do ask for help if you are not sure. You don’t want to wash your hair with laundry detergent, or brush your teeth with shoe polish!
Tip 97. Bring granola bars or snacks. They are great for flight delays and to avoid hotel minibars.
I like to bring coffee bags and hot chocolate mix for my room. Even if you have coffee in your room, they often have just chalky, powdered creamers.
Tip 98. Pitch the hair dryer. All modern hotels now have a hair dryer in each room. If you are on adventure travel, you may not have the power to run a hair dryer at all making it useless.
Tip 99. Take a digital or paper copy of plane tickets important hotel, tour documents or vouchers.
Tip 100. Bring a tablet and a smart phone but leave your laptop behind.
Tip 101. Some appliances say that they work on both 110 and 220. I have found that is not always the case. I take both an adapter and converter on trips abroad. Many hotels have only an adapter to plug a device in. Not all of them have a converter.
Tip 102. If you carry your own adapter, note that some destinations have two or more types of plugs. Go online to check it out as you pack.
Tip 103. Don’t forget your chargers and any special items, such as micro SD cards. Throw in a low-tech addition: a small flashlight, if you don’t have one on your phone.
Tip 104. To avoid leaving the charger behind, have a bedside checklist of items to pack up before check out. Keep a list of things in the safe, too.
Tip 105. Be aware that all electronics may not work together. I bought a memory card for my camera while abroad some time ago. I tried to download pictures to my laptop from the card. It stuck. I was only able to remove it with great effort. Somehow, the fit was not the same.
Tip 106. Going boating? Trade your large sunhat for a neutral visor. If you need more coverage, plan to use the large scarf you packed to hold your hat on. Otherwise, you may be chasing your hat over the side!
Tip 107. Don’t forget the odds and ends. Do 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. They can break or get lost right when you need them most.
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. Think only a pair and a spare!
- Always travel in the hardest ones to pack.
- Be sure you have a second pair in your carry-on bag. On an overnight business trip, the low-heel I was wearing snapped off on a moving sidewalk in the cavernous Atlanta airport. I limped all the way to my hotel. Luckily, I could walk to the nearby mall and buy a new pair at a good 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 plan to go to a black tie event. 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 a backup, invest $10-$20 in inexpensive fold-up ballet slippers with a carrying case that fits into your tote bag.
Tip 114. Don’t forget the more intricate the shoe or strappy sandals, the more likely they are 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, a plastic 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. On a rainy day in Lisbon, I found that the slick bottoms of my flats were a hazard on steep cobblestone streets and sidewalks. If you have this happen, 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 it adds.
Tip 117. Pack your shoes carefully, and carry flip-flops for the beach!
- I know this breaks my “only a pair and a spare” rule as does the foldup ballet slippers.
- Both can fit in your oversized tote you take on the airplane.
- I learned about this on a trip to an uninhabited Pacific atoll. I found that going barefoot may not always be liberating. While 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 cheap ballpoint pens. You will be shocked at all the times you will need to fill out forms and not a pen anywhere!
Tip 119. A day or two before you leave, try this. Take your bag for a stroll. Then lift it up and down and back and forth a few times onto your bed. Then open it up and see what you should leave back home!
Part 10: Safety Issues and Precautions En Route and on Arrival
The greatest mistake in staying safe abroad is interpreting everything through the lens of what exists at home. As a result, it is easy to not know when there is a problem when there is time to know what to do fast.
When you travel the world alone, there are two things to think of: i. preventing issues from arising and ii. In rare cases when you will need real help, knowing where, and how to, find the right help.
Tip 120. Although the security within airports makes robbery less frequent, there is one ideal place. That is when you wait in long security lines as your bag goes ahead of you.
If you can’t get to a fast line, hold on to your purse and electronics until the last minute. Stuff a purse or valuables into a well-worn tote bag to make them less a target to third parties. If it is really scruffy, after security, you can always retrieve your purse. You can hide the then empty, worn out tote in your carry-on. You can use it for when you shop abroad.
Tip 121. Take the photocopy of the first page and required visas as ID and about $20 in a deep pocket. Tracking down your lost items may be impossible if they disappear. However, with ID and enough cash, you can get new tickets and cancel credit cards. (Note this may mean your smart phone is also gone.)
Tip 122. In some countries, women travelers are screened privately. I had this happen in Jordan. As a solo traveler, my bag was left behind unattended. In that case, I did take my passport in one hand and my wallet in the other hand. I held out both to be checked and had no problem. In a worst case, I would have only lost my clothes and not much else.
Tip 123. Plan on having reliable local transportation. One night in Lisbon, traveling solo, I went to dinner and an evening of music at a top night spot. I was assured by my concierge and the restaurant that I could get a cab back to the hotel. At 11 PM, I stood on the sidewalk and watched couples and larger groups get each cab. At last, two women heading back to my same hotel offered let me join them. Otherwise, it would likely have been a really, really long time.
- Verify from your hotel/B&B which cabs are safe to use.
- If you are dropped off at a restaurant, ask for a return pick-up. If your cab does not come in a reasonable amount of time, ask the restaurant manager or staff to call one for you. Be prepared for a delay. Don’t wait until closing, or you may be left to stand on the street in the dark.
● Take the hotel’s card so that you can call them. Show it to 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. 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 going.
● Not all stations have escalators and elevators. Coming and going between the airports or train stations, be ready to carry your bag up and down steps. This is a good reason to pack 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. I made that mistake in Slovenia, but it could be true anywhere.
Tip 124. Have a plan for dinner and evening activities.
When you book a hotel, check to see if it has one or more full-service restaurants that are open late. If you prefer, and can afford it, ask about room service 24/7. On one trip, I once found myself at dinner in my room at 12:15 AM. Be sure you are not left to go out to find restaurants at night with no idea as to what is safe or what is still open.
Even if you have a hotel with a top restaurant, one point of your trip is to try local food and cafes. Some time ago traveling alone in Cairo, I was able to pay a taxi to wait for me while I ate. This is not often affordable, however. In Paris or New York, for example, that cab fare could be enormous.
Tip 125. Don’t store your wallet in a back pack or back pocket. That is easy for a pickpocket to swipe it before you know it.
Tip 126. Take 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. That makes it hard for a thief to steal your purse and dash back into the crowd.
Tip 128. Be more careful in train stations. They don’t have the restricted access of airports. That means it provides an easy way in and out for purse snatchers. In any case, travelers are likely to be tied down to their bags or distracted and not see the loss fast.
Tip 129. The trains, themselves, have a risk as well. 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 bag stolen if we leave our seats. The best solution? If there is no one you can entrust to watch your bag for a few minutes, take your wallet/passport with you. Do try to 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 teams 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> He apologizes. While you speak to him, his partner lifts your purse or items from a back pack!
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. ID 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, I saw a new scam in practice. 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. She offered to sell it to me. I was puzzled since it looked like an American man’s wedding band! Even if it had been platinum, it was not something I would wear or buy. I went down the street. The same woman was there and had just, at that moment, “found” the same ring. Not recognizing me, she offered to sell this “new” find to me again! Minutes later by the Louvre, another woman had just had the same good fortune to find an identical “gold” band.
Tip 132. A more common tourist scam at home and abroad is being forced to pay really excessive cab fares. This may be on the meter if you go the long, long way home. Tourists are especially easy prey upon arrival in airports. When I flew one January from Siberia to St. Petersburg, Russia, I had a Moscow friend have a cab pick us up for $20. When we arrived, we never found our 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. The lesson learned: Plan ahead to avoid this hassle when traveling between foreign domestic airports where language barriers can make it hard to negotiate.
Tip 133. Not a scam, as such, but for me, a real pain at times on day tours. What is it? The “unplanned” shopping spree! When I go to see ancient sights and get sent to a souvenir shop, I am annoyed. Worse yet, it can be hard to get out and not be rude.
One such “tour” I had thought was a brief sightseeing look over the Zambian border with a Zimbabwean taxi driver. I paid a huge sum. My tour ended up to be just two hours focused mainly on roadside shopping. 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. It does also remind me of what I learned: Ask a lot of questions. How long is the day or half-day tour? Where will we go? What will we see? What is the full price? (In some places, you need to find out if you are paying for gas!)
Tip 134. In remote areas, take a guide who speaks the local language. Be sure he/she 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 reserved a horse to ride into the setting sun at the Pyramids.
When I arrived, cabs were not allowed to drive up to the stables after 5 PM. That left me to trudge up the hill on foot. When a man showed up with a horse, I asked if he had come for me from the stable. He said yes. Alone in the desert, I didn’t have any way to be sure if he was, in fact, my guide. The sun set and the only other horses were far off on the horizon. It became apparent that he had not been sent by my stables. He was just a stranger with an extra horse! This mix-up did end safely. However, be sure that you have not followed the wrong man!
Tip 136. Check out currency restrictions.
This is one way your travel funds can disappear: In an airport transit lounge, I found out I had by mistake failed to fill out a currency form. I could have lost almost all my cash as a fine before taking the next leg of my flight to a second country. I did manage to hold onto my funds. A creative fellow passenger tore his blank form in half. He kept one and gave me the other to use! So we could each technically have the form to fill out. Don’t fall into this trap. Check out currency restrictions before you leave home.
Tip 137. Watch out for missed flights. They can leave you stuck in a strange city without a place 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, we had no place for the night. We did find a place at last, but it did not have meals. We walked the streets for some time to find the right dinner spot. We were lucky that we were in a late night city where places were still open.
Tip 138. Be Safe in a Digital Age. Limit Personal Information Available on Lost/Stolen Electronics.
In the past, the only worries were lost bags, a purloined passport, and a missing wallet. Now electronics have created new forms of crime with long term effects.
With smart phones everywhere, new crimes have included “cyber” or “virtual kidnapping”. This cuts out the middle man, that is, the hostage.
How does this happen?
A traveler loses a cell phone. His family gets a message that he has been kidnapped. They pay for his “release” but find out later he was not a hostage!
The Internet can make some scams go global. I saw this first hand on separate ski trips to Argentina and Spain within a four-year period. Two of our same ski group had an identical encounter with pickpockets that were 3,000+ miles apart. Two men sprayed something on their jackets, and then pointed to birds flying overhead as the bad actors. The goal? To swipe the victim’s wallet!
So think about:
● 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 while on trips.
Tip 139. When checking out of a hotel, never leave your electronic key card in your room. It may contain credit card or other personal data.
Thoughts for Women Traveling Solo:
I have come through multiple solo travels unharmed. However, women traveling alone do need to be aware of safety issues. It is important to:
Tip 140. Research your destination’s culture, its customs, and dress. As I found in Cairo, even cafes may not be places women go alone in certain places. The solution I found? Restaurants in large international hotels were fine since they had an influx of travelers from around the globe. Unfortunately, that can be costly. It also does not give 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 places even in the daytime. Seeing ancient ruins or waterfalls off the beaten path is a real joy. I found that out 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. So if traveling alone and 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. See if there are areas to avoid and what they do themselves.
Tip 145. Staying in a crowd is usually the best way to be safe”r”.
Tip 146. If you pack mace, it may be against the law. In any case, someone may get 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 away.
Tip 148. Have a plan to get emergency cash. 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 credit cards but not necessarily with cash back.
Besides a daily check-in back home, you need a contact that can wire you cash in an emergency. On one trip abroad, I met a fellow passenger who almost missed his plane. He was a world traveler. But by chance, on a Sunday, he was robbed on the way to church. The US Embassy was able to work on getting him a new 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 to call friends in America. However, since it was a Sunday afternoon, he kept reaching voicemails nationwide instead of his friends and family. He finally found someone in time to replace documents and make his flight.
The Washington Post had 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 hard.
So do expect the unexpected. Take emergency contact information to get cash in case of a misadventure.
Staying Safe in Special Circumstances:
After two 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. Why? 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 in case exit lights don’t work.
● Don’t dose during takeoff and landing. Those are two points where incidents may more often occur than in mid-flight in good weather.
Single travelers lack the protection of a ready-made group and need to be focused at all times. This is 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 after 8 PM since “lions and other wild animals” had been seen! As unlikely as it seems, in later years a neighbor back home did have a young family member killed by a lion in another part of Africa.
Tip 149. Be alert and follow the rules. Add some Plan B thoughts of your own! In remote settings in the wild, circumstances can change fast. When you try for the best shot with your camera, watch whether your ”photo subject” is close enough for a selfie! That’s a good indicator that you are a lot too close and may be on the menu!! 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 through a city of one million.
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”). Humans can 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. Why? Since “large predators” were apparently out and about then seeking “fine dining” options!
Tip 152. Ask locals what they think. I was surprised to learn in Brazil that swimming near the shore in shallow water was a favorite venue for piranha! In contrast, having read of the perils of swimming in fresh water in Africa, my Botswana guides successfully persuaded me that their specific 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. I also spent hours at the local science center. That strategy can provide the best of both worlds for animal lovers!
Part 11: In Case of Fire
On Dec. 31, 2015, the 5-star hotel known as The Address Downtown Dubai went up in flames. As firefighters fought the blaze, nearby fireworks were launched to celebrate the New Year.
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.
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 hurt. For those of us solo travelers, not having a travel mate, we need to be aware to this problem and get our safely.
Tip 154. Travel with a small flashlight. It helps in case the lights are out or smoke has filled the hallways. There may be 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. Check for both the closest one and an alternate if it is blocked.
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. If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, tuck your hotel key and smart phone 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. 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 12: Cruising Safety
January 2, 2017 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. 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 trying to exit 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 in small craft, use your life vest since even strong swimmers can have a head injury from falling
Tip 165. Be more vigilant when bad weather makes emergencies more likely. Avoid having a three-martini lunch that can cloud your judgment.
Tip 166. On small boats try 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, I was reminded of the Titanic. Luckily, 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 13: 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. It is a year-round hazard, fortunately less seen during certain times. They are small and not necessarily easy to see. 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. A better choice would have been to ask a family group I had met if I could join them.
Part 14: Avoiding Accidents when 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 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. 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. In addition, 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
If you go to places with political upheavals or substantial crime, you need to learn more before you leave home. Both at home and abroad, I have found myself in situations where safety was slim. I have been surprised by how fast thing situations can change.
If you plan to go to a volatile area, think if 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. Don’t overlook natural disasters, like droughts, that cause crises such as food shortages. If you still want to go, be aware of the following:
Tip 173. In turbulent areas, stay with your group or team to avoid getting left behind.
On another trip 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 were separated from the others. We stood alone as a crowd approached. Having studied the local dialect, I tried a greeting in hopes this would be a friendly meeting. I was pleased, and relieved. They were a welcoming team of community organizers. However, this shows how fast safety in numbers disappears if you get lost in the crowd.
Tip 174. In areas of political unrest, carry and watch out for your passport. (As suggested above, do check-in with your embassy when you arrive.)
Tip 175. Stay clear of political protests to skip the risk of a night in the local jail.
It can be hard to know when a crowd or protest may be 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 others as they walked on the icy Neva River en route to the famous Fortress. I later found out 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. Find out what the laws are as to drugs. This means those legal at home and those prescribed by your doctor.
If you want to drive, see what license you need and what the rules of the road are. In some places, a car wreck can result in jail time.
Part 15: More on Staying Healthy Once You Arrive
Tip 178. Even in top hotels in some parts of the world, tap water is not safe. Don’t forget: If you can’t drink the tap water, you should not brush your teeth with it. Don’t rinse your toothbrush in it. Take care in the shower. Don’t have ice in your drinks.
When water is not safe, foods washed in it won’t be OK. When in doubt, peel fruit and don’t eat uncooked vegetables
Note, too, that hot drinks, like coffee or tea, may not have been heated long enough at a high rate to be safe. Drug stores may have tablets to treat 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 wear a key chain on my wrist with a whistle. It was used for “man-overboard” drills on a sailboat. That is a great help in a crisis. It may draw a crowd since it is loud and annoying.
Part 16: Seniors and Baby Boomers Abroad
As a fellow Baby Boomer, myself, I think a common mishap on travel is being jetlagged and stepping into a huge pothole breaking an ankle! This seems to happen in all age groups. I have known both a college student and a hale and hearty 50 year old who had this occur while in Europe.
For otherwise healthy seniors, most recommendations are the same for any age-group.
However, it helps to look at the following:
Tip 180. As you plan for your trip, note that certain vaccines, such as Yellow Fever, have different risks stated based upon age.
Tip 181. Check out a tour’s activity or difficulty level. See if public facilities are accessible.
Tip 182. If you prefer a shower or tub with a grab-bar, ask your hotel what they have. In the past year, I have seen that many hotels don’t have a safety mat in the shower! (For everyone, ask for one. If the hotel does not have one, see what can help you avoid a fall.) In international travel, generally more expensive lodgings have a bath tub not just the shower. On a cruise, be sure to ask ahead of time. There sudden swaying moves could cause anyone to fall.
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 17: Money Savings In-Country
Tip 184. Just say no to the minibar. I found how to save this way from the chic Right Bank of Paris to quaint Quebec City. When I check in, I go right away to a mini-mart or better yet, supermarket. If you have ever raided a minibar and paid $12 for a can of Coke as I have, this will be high on your check list as well.
Tip 185. Plan your own picnic. Prowl local open-air markets so you don’t have to pay for lunch in a cafe.
Tip 186. If you have to take a cab, ask your hotel what the fare should be. Try to set the rate with the driver before you get in.
Tip 187. Use a calculator so you know exactly what you are paying. This makes sense especially if the currency is not familiar to you.
Tip 188. Be sure to bring all the SD and memory cards you need. They are likely to be much higher abroad, especially in tourist shops.
Tip 189. If you want to try local wines, find a shop where you can make a purchase. One whole bottle may be close to the price of one to two glasses in a bar! In any case, if you can have your own wine-tasting, you may feel less awkward than being a “party of one” in a bar.
Part 18: Miscellaneous
Tip 190. Think carefully before you rent a car. If you love to feel free, driving may be for you. Do look into it first. Will it create more problems than it is worth?
I rented a car on my solo tour through Ireland. I did not have a GPS. I drove back and forth for 2 or 3 days. I twice ended up in a circle at the same detour. At one point, a local resident warned me not to follow the signs. Why? In her view, they didn’t tend to always be right!
I met other tourists who had had a wonderful trip. They saw the entire Ring of Kerry on a bus tour. 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?
Tip 191. Give yourself and your trip a report card.
When I return from a trip and it is fresh on my mind, I try to think what worked and what didn’t The goal? For the next one to 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 around the Nice Airport one early September day. I was not traveling with an international cell phone. I 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 thoughts of an entire day in the French Riviera 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
I have been asked what was my favorite country or best trip. I don’t have a ready answer It is hard to compare a trek through a rainforest with a week on the Riviera. One is not better than the other but simply different.
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
Every solo traveler has an idea of what is a memorable trip or the perfect destination.
Whatever your objective and sense of adventure, forge ahead as a single traveler. Every time you leave home, be determined to make this trip the best one you ever had!