Thursday, 3 September 2015

travel tips: solo trips


We're all goin' on a...summer holiday. But hang on a minute, what if we're not?

I don't know about you, but in negotiating the often unpredictable current of my late 20s/early 30s it became clear that an impossible task lay before me. Pinning down exactly the same annual leave and spare funds as friends and family quite rapidly became a puzzle I couldn't solve, so I created a new way.

Not wanting to relive every Spanish family holiday of days gone by on the Costa-del-So-and-So, I didn't want to end up missing out on taking a much needed break from the 9-to-5 or satisfying my inner wanderlust.

Keep talkin'.

It can be tricky when friends are flying off on jaunts with their better halves, or don't have a lil' cash floating around their piggy bank at the same time as you can afford to take a breather. Some have kiddies, commitments or other pressing things that demand their attention (and dollars.) This is just life, so instead of getting irritated, just roll with it.

But solo, Claire. Isn't that weird?

Of course not. I have always been quite an avid traveller, but it takes an extra layer of organisation and confidence to pack that bag and ride solo. I have racked up a few little trips here and there including Sardinia, New York, Oslo, London (many times), Copenhagen and most recently Berlin, so I wanted to jot down a few dos and don'ts for any of you who out there who have been thinking about doing the same and need a little push.

Disclaimer: This is by no means an expert guide or definitive list but rather some helpful pointers (*crosses fingers*) of things I do personally that I have now developed into something of a routine, so let me jump right into it.

1. Hand Luggage Only-In order to nail down that cheap deal be sure to take a cabin bag only. Most budget airlines will charge you for all the added extras these days, so if you are planning to jet off for a few days a standard cabin bag should be all you need. Keep it simple. Make sure that the case fits the dimension requirements, each airline has their own specifications and sometimes they can catch you out (I'm looking at you Flybe).

2. Pack Light-Choose a few key outfits or pieces that you can switch out and are easily interchangeable. This works for both seasons, but obviously it will be much easier to cram in many light layers in a summer case for warmer climes than it will stuffing in a snuggly jumper or two for a winter break. Squish and roll.

3. Timing is Everything-From experience I have found that 4-6 nights is the ideal length for a solo saunter. It provides you with a little bit more of a window than trying to pack the key sights into a weekend but it isn't as long as a whole week in your own company, which can feel a little much. Do what works for you and whatever you feel comfortable with. I feel like this time frame gives me the space to relax into my surroundings and place myself "in the map" rather than feeling like I have blinked and missed it.

4. Pamper Time-When you are taking a trip on your own you will be left with a lot of "down time" when you are not out exploring the sights or hitting up every coffee shop in town. With this is mind, it can help to take a few things with you to help you relax in the evenings when you are back at your apartment/Air BNB. Magazines/Books, face masks, music, skin care extras: there is a lot of value in taking a bit of extra time on yourself doing whatever you enjoy to relax and gives you that feel good feelin'. Losing yourself in a copy of cosmo? Taking a bath and slapping on a face mask? Prancing around your apartment to that embarrassing track you pretend in public that you don't love (ahem, Taylor Swift?) Do what you gotta do.

5. My Pad- An Ipad/tablet makes a happy travel companion if you are lucky enough to have one. Being solo and also a lay-dee, you won't be wondering the streets of your new city into the small hours of the morning so it helps to a have a "one stop shop" for your entertainment needs. You can use your down time to check out some more hot-spots, catch up on a few emails or settle down with a Netflix movie or episode of your favourite show.

6. I Got Plans-There is nothing like organised fun, right? It is definitely possible to plan out a few details of your trip without having a militant agenda. I always lay out the time I have to work with and jot down a few of the top things I want to take in and spread it over a few days and the rest of the time is yours to get creative. The beauty of this is that you have a loose structure without seeming like a crazy person. Hopefully. This is not about playing bingo with your own itinerary and you won't get into trouble if you don't tick off everything on the list. So don't sweat the small stuff.

7. Map it Out-Before you leave try to have a few maps stashed away as they will become your new best friend. Take a notebook. Print some city maps. Add apps to your phone that you can use offline. You may not be able to get on-line instantly especially if your phone is shut off for travel, so it is best to box clever. Plus, printed maps are pretty retro, right?

8. The List-I love lists. They help me organise my thoughts and get a handle on what I want to achieve. In the run up to your trip take a little time out on a weekend to sit down and read around where you travelling to and note anything that could be useful. The route from the airport to the city centre. The journey to your accommodation. Get a feel for the different areas/districts of your city and the things you can do there. What is it famous for? What floats your boat? If you are a foodie or coffee junkie then pick out some recommendations from other blogs/Trip Advisor that get a good rep and may be right up your street. It is a good idea to note the district of each place so that if you find yourself in a particular neighbourhood one afternoon you can quickly scan your list for somewhere you know is great, rather than standing on a street corner, hangry and bamboozled by choice. I've been there, and it ain't pretty.

9. Set a Curfew-This may take you back to the time of your teens but bear with me on this one. This will mostly be dependent on the area of the city you are staying in and also how quickly it gets dark. As a girl, you want to feel safe at all times especially on your route home each night. I'm talkin' about walking down the street, nipping off the tube etc. By having a set time in your mind that you want to return it ensures that you are safe but also gives you a little time to wind down before lights out. WIN.

10. GPS, don't Guess-Become very familiar with your route home and get to know it like the back of your hand. Don't take perceived short-cuts or be an alley cat if you are walking solo. Trust me, it really isn't worth it to shave 2 minutes off your journey. Stick to main roads that are well lit and surrounded by people. You may get the occasional cheeky comment/whistle if you pass a group, people can be annoying like that. Just ignore it, keep to your eyes ahead and skip home quickly. If it helps you can listen to music (one ear phone is plenty so traffic can't surprise you or no-one can sneak up on you.) If you are feeling a little uneasy you can also take a fake call. Whatever gives you peace or mind, no-one is there to judge, so do whatever works.

11. Planes, Trains and Automobiles-Chances are if you are headed for a city break you will have to weave you way between buses, trams and underground etc. A word to the wise, get to know your transport and tickets options. Most cities will offer special daily tickets/weekly tickets or city cards that will generally make your life a whole lot easier and your purse will thank you.

12. On Tour- I have found that this is the best way to cover the essential tourist attractions or must-sees and capture those kodak moments. It also helps you get a feel for the city and the layout of the land. Most main cities will offer free walking tours or City Sightseeing bus tours if you prefer to kick back and rest tired paws. Make sure to work this in within the first couple of days. You can then use the other time to go off the beaten track to find those side street surprises.

13. Table for One- Do me a favour and go for dinner, on your own. I know I know, it is slightly weird at first and takes a little practice. Some people buckle with feeling all kinds of self-conscious, but take a book if you are worried about the lack of chat. I can't deny it is a little trickier than having a coffee on your own but you will get the hang of it. Trust me, give it a go. If you have plans (be it now or in the future) to travel alone you will just need to get over it. It is something I don't even think twice about now and a good skill to get "down".

14. Wifi- Usually when I touch down at my destination I switch my phone network off so that I can use it solely for a camera, maps and to check my email on the move. Use free WIFI at cafes and other spots around the city to check your GPS, sreenshot that map or basically stay connected with life. You will usually find places dotted all over the city to do this and sneaking some WIFI when you get the chance will hopefully keep you sane and save you from selling a kidney to pay for your next phone bill.

15. Disconnect-There are times to stay connected with the globe, and there are times to shut the world off. I was reminded of this most recently when I treated myself to a spa day and had the opportunity to toss my phone in the locker and not give it a second thought. This is a foreign concept to those with FOMO and who crave connectivity. Very rarely in life do we get to switch our phones on silent or power down, so when you get the chance...DO IT.


If you have never travelled alone, you should definitely try it on for size. It is amazing experience that helps develop your confidence and sense of adventure. Whether you need to take a break, grab a little solace or escape your bubble, always remember that there is nothing wrong with taking some time to please yourself. You will gain vital life skills that you can apply in a variety of situations and it will also leave you with an incredible sense of fulfilment and accomplishment. Plus you will have lots of fun along the way (and maybe meet Spiderman).

I have heard so many stories from friends who would love to explore on their own but find themselves stuck in their tracks due to fear, stigma or social expectation.

It could be time to buck the trend, people.

Truth is, I already know you can do it.  Don't talk yourself down from a solo adventure. Europe is such a fantastic playground with so many beautiful cities itching to be discovered and the magic is that they are but a short plane ride away. There can be something quite fascinating about parachuting yourself into a space that is out with your usual circle and blending into a new culture. City buzz, incredible landscapes, photo opportunities, language, friendly people. What's not to like?

Situations change. Life changes. Sometimes you can't wait around for someone else to make the first move. The only thing left to decide now is where you want to go...



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