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17 "I Wish I Knew That Sooner" Solo Travel Tips That Saved Me So Much Time, Money, And Patience

Hey! I'm Spencer, and I recently went on my first solo travel trip ever. It was incredibly fun, scary, and a bit overwhelming, but I learned a lot, so I wanted to share some of my best (and unspoken) solo travel tips with you here. Hopefully, they're extra helpful for you on your next journey, so feel free to take what you want and leave the rest.

1.First of all, always put one of your shoes in the hotel safe with your passport. Traveling solo means no one is around to remind you to grab your passport, credit cards, or whatever else you might forget in the hotel safe. But you'll ~never~ check out without making sure that you have full sets of shoes in your suitcase, so this will save you from making a really costly mistake.

A hotel safe with a passport and a sneaker inside

2.If you're traveling to a big city, download a hi-res photo of the area's subway system to your phone. Also, make sure you save the pic in a separate photo album so you can easily access it without having to frantically search your "recent" pics while possibly missing your stop or getting on the wrong train.

A screenshot of my photo albums on my phone, with one labeled as "Paris and London," featuring the map of London's underground system

Getting lost in a foreign city can be an especially overwhelming situation, but I saved myself so many times by pre-saving maps of Paris and London's subway systems onto my phone. This way I knew exactly where to go, which stations I should transfer from, and what area of the cities I was actually in.

Spencer Althouse

3.If you're queer like me, try booking your stay through sites that filter with LGBTQ+-friendly options. Traveling alone can already be scary enough as it is, so I used this feature on Hotels.com as a way to take extra precaution. It's so stupid that we even need to take these safety measures, but I'd hate to be in a foreign country and have something go wrong, so it's an easy thing that makes me feel more welcome and comfortable.

A screenshot from hotels.com of the LGBTQ filter

4.I suck at directions, so if you're traveling anywhere new — especially to a foreign country or a place where you won't have Wi-Fi — pre-save some key searches (like your hotel's address) into the free Google Maps app before you leave. This way you can access a real-time, overhead map of where you are, and it'll point you in the right direction, even without Wi-Fi. This genuinely saved me from getting lost soooo many times.

A map of Paris from where I was standing

5.Another savior app with immediate results is Google Translate. I used it every single day in France, and it was especially helpful with restaurant menus and directions. Basically, you just use your phone's camera as if you're going to take a pic, and the app will translate every word it sees into English in real time.

A photo of how the museum sign reads in French

6.If you're a first-time solo traveler, go somewhere you're semi-familiar with already. The most important part about your first trip is making sure you're as comfortable as possible, so use it as a way to dip your toe in the water before venturing off and doing even more the next time. For me, that meant starting with a place where English is commonly spoken. This way, if I ~did~ end up getting lost or if something terrible happened, at least I'd be more at ease knowing I could try to talk my way through the situation.

me in a park in London

7.Always try to book a hotel or hostel through your go-to site's app instead of on their .com site. In my experience, most companies typically offer additional discounts when booking through their free apps, and I love saving money, so it's a win-win.

A close-up of the discounts offered on the hotels.com app

8.Be smart about how you travel, and if you know you're going to do certain things ahead of time, always book them ASAP because they'll be way, way cheaper. For example, I knew that I was going to travel from Paris to London, so I opted to take a Eurostar train instead of a flight. The earlier you book, the cheaper they are, so I spent $65 a few months in advance, but if I had booked my ticket the week of, it would have cost over $250.

me on the Eurostar train

9.Do. Your. Research. Again, I'm anxious about everything, so I plan whatever I can. The first thing I did was set up alerts from different discount sites for flights (like Hopper). But I found that the most underrated search engine is actually TikTok. There are a lot of great travel and food accounts that consistently post about flight deals and the best places to eat in whatever city you're going to. Watching actual videos of people at their favorite restaurants and seeing their go-to dishes is so much more effective than scouring through a restaurant's outdated website without any pics.

The menu from Akoko

10.But if you're feeling especially overwhelmed about planning everything and have no idea where to start, consider asking AI to do some research for you. AI sites like ChatGPT and ForgeMyTrip can create full itineraries based on your preferences, budgets, dates, and so on. You can get as specific as you'd like, have the responses include prices, ask for free activities, etc., and they'll send you detailed suggestions that can be used to tailor a vacation based on who you are and what you're looking for.

An illustration from Jean Cocteau from a queer art exhibit I went to

11.Always have at least one book downloaded onto your phone before you leave for your trip. This way you'll have something to do (even without Wi-Fi) while waiting at a restaurant, on the subway, or in line at a museum without having to physically carry a copy with you.

A screenshot of what I've been reading so far

12.Figure out your main goal for going on a trip in the first place, and then plan what you actually want to spend money on based around that. For me, I cared more about eating my way through a city than I did about seeing certain landmarks, so I planned my trip around the food. As a result, I felt less stressed and didn't feel like I needed to cram every single thing into one vacation.

my lunch at Cavale in Paris

13.If you can swing it, buy one nice, tangible "thing" for yourself while on your trip (and I'm not talking about a random trinket or souvenir with the country's flag on it). Think of this like a jacket or a pair of shoes or even a cheap pair of earrings. Whenever you use the item, you’ll think, "Oh, these are my London sunglasses" or whatever, and they’ll always have you feeling nostalgic about your trip and ready to book another one.

me in a brown Rhone jacket in front of Big Ben

14.Be a local, and recognize that you can't (and shouldn't) plan everything. There will always be hidden gems that you can't find online, but you'll never be able to discover them if you stick to a full itinerary the entire time.

my brother and me riding bikes in Paris at night

15.As a way to treat yourself, do small things you wouldn't normally do in everyday life. My family was never an appetizer or dessert family at restaurants (I have three brothers, and it’s expensive to take six people out for a meal, so I totally get it!), but when I was on vacation by myself, I wanted to make the most of it. Ordering an appetizer or a dessert at a nice restaurant — even though I was still conscious of the extra cost — was a great way to make me feel special and worthy of nice things and like I was truly on vacation.

me sitting at a restaurant in front of three desserts

16.No matter what you do, keep reminding yourself that you will never be X age in Y city again in your life. I promise that this will change how you interact with and experience everything. For example, I kept saying to myself, "You will never be 32 and in Paris again," and that really pushed me to have more fun and make more memories.

my brother and me in Paris

17.And finally: Be. A. Hoe. (Safely!)

A painting of a woman touching another one's body

That's it! If you have any other solo travel tips that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks!