Solo traveling is an experience like no other, especially when you’ve only vacationed in the past with your family or friends. Your first few solo trips definitely come with a learning curve, however. Even with thorough planning and a wonderful solo trip to Paris under my belt, multiple curveballs were thrown at me on my recent escape to California.
I learned a lot on my eight day journey. Read on for some tips that could help your first solo travel experience go smoothly.
More Independence, More Responsibility
One of the best parts of solo travel is that it can really make you feel independent. I alone made my California adventure happen, and that was super fulfilling.
It is important though to remember that there is a downside to assuming full responsibility while traveling. There is no one to switch off with, no one to rely on but yourself, and this factor must be considered in the planning stages.
An example from my recent trip: A lot of time was spent driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back again. In total, I spent about 15 hours driving, with most of it happening right in the middle of my trip. I did not consider the toll that hours of driving in a short period of time would take on my body. My back and hips were not happy to sit for so long. It would have been more doable had I been sharing driving responsibilities or if I had spaced out the time better (more planned stops, less rush to reach destinations, etc.)
The increased responsibilities should not dissuade you from trying solo travel, just be sure to think about the various ways that being alone can impact your plans.
Take Care of Your Feet
My favorite way to explore a new place is by simply walking around, and I bet other solo travelers love to do this as well. Walking through a new city among locals makes me feel present and active (as opposed to sticking to a tour bus.) I take long urban hikes through Manhattan often, and tend to reach 10,000 steps a day easily. So I should’ve been all good to walk all over California, right?
Wrong. My feet took a beating on this trip. Bad blisters developed on the balls of both of my feet right on my first full day in San Francisco and significantly impacted my mood and energy.
The horrible sight of my mad feet came as a surprise to me at first: I had done significantly more walking in Paris than in California and didn’t get any blisters over there. Why weren’t my feet cooperating now with less distance per day?
I simply did not think about my feet enough when packing. In Paris, I had two main pairs of shoes, boots and sneakers, that I switched between. On this trip, I only had my sneakers and a pair of flip flops for the beach, which was a big mistake. I should’ve packed one more pair of real shoes to alternate my sneakers with. I also packed thicker socks for Paris while my California socks were thinner based on temperatures. Thick, athletic socks can help your feet handle the activity better. I certainly learned my lesson!
Obviously foot health isn’t only important to solo travelers, but being alone made my blisters particularly frustrating. It was terrible to be in so much pain and not have someone to who could make a run to the closest pharmacy for me.
If you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet, prioritize your shoe and sock choices on your packing list, and consider investing in aids like gel insoles or moleskin to prevent foot issues ahead of time.
Make Your Safety a Priority
This relates to the first tip, but deserves some additional attention. Solo traveling is a vulnerable act, particularly for women, people of color, and queer people. All travel comes with risks, of course, but those risks can feel magnified without having someone to watch your back.
Do what you can to feel safe by preparing yourself for worst-case situations that are specific to your destination. I definitely felt safer traveling in California than in Paris, simply because I was still in my home country and am a native English speaker, but I still kept safety in mind throughout my west coast trip.
A few Cali-specific examples: I tried to keep my rental car parked in safe spots and made sure to not leave anything visible from the car windows. I had several friends in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I made sure that my lodging sites had a front desk attendee at all times in case of an emergency. I did my research on the laws related to recreational cannabis before visiting a dispensary.
Don’t forget general travel safety tips, including carrying multiple copies of ID in different locations, wearing clothing that blends in with the general population, and showing your itinerary to someone you trust, to name a few.
If you’re traveling to a place where you don’t have any contacts, I highly encourage you to connect to someone local online ahead of time. Having some sort of emergency contact can help you feel safer, and you could end up making a new friend who you can meet up with during your travels. Women can check out this Facebook group – it’s been a tremendous resource for me and most members are very friendly.
Interact With Others
It can be very easy to isolate yourself while solo traveling, but I highly encourage you to connect with people around you while on the road alone. Whether they are locals or travelers as well, simply talking to other people now and then can add some memorable moments to your travels.
Let the locals tell you their favorite eateries and what tourist traps to skip. They can be a more authentic resource than the review you found through Google, and you’ll learn about your destination on a different level.
Obviously keep stranger danger in mind and protect yourself. Consider chatting with your bartender, cab driver, or hotel clerk if reaching out to a random person makes you nervous. I chatted with plenty of cast members and fellow park-goers at Disneyland, and doing so made my visit even more special.
Go With the Flow
Despite having made some ambitious plans for my trip I had to alter many of them for a variety of reasons. I didn’t get to walk through Golden Gate Park, ride a trolley, or climb any of the staircases like I had planned due to my foot situation. The stops in-between San Francisco and Los Angeles were also greatly altered simply because I did not want to tack on any additional driving hours when I was already feeling weary. I originally had wanted to experience more of the coast, but the closures on Highway 1 and the extra time ended up deterring me. I stuck with quick snack and bathroom stops on my drive back to LA instead of hitting up towns like Santa Barbara, Cambria, and Ventura.
It didn’t feel great to change and cancel my plans as a type-a person, but following my intuition was the correct thing to do while solo traveling. Pushing myself to complete all of my plans would have exhausted me and taken the fun out of it. I wouldn’t have fully enjoyed the steps in San Francisco with the pain in my feet and my body was definitely happy to spend more time at the Santa Monica beach than on the highway.
Let your plans change. Who knows, you might end up doing something else that is equally as memorable. I left Disneyland park early because I was tired and ended up watching the fireworks from my motel. In San Francisco, I let myself spend some extra time reading Ginsberg’s poetry in the City Lights Bookstore as a break from walking and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I would even suggest leaving some blocks of time open in your schedule to allow for some on-the-go improvisation. You could stumble upon something wonderful or gain a local perspective.
Did you miss out on something that was very important to you? Use it as a reason to visit that place again in the future. There’s always next time! Highway 1 won’t have closures forever, and one day I’ll drive the whole route.
Stay tuned for more posts about my California trip soon!