TRAVEL TIPS

8 Things To Do When You Travel Solo For The First Time

(Last Updated On: April 20, 2018)

“Hey Rioba, I hope you get laid when you are on these trips ndio ukimaliza ututolee statistics ya country vs performance”. 

Just when I thought I had heard it all on 9 hilarious questions you might get as an African woman traveling solo,  someone decided to hit me with that. I was not offended because nowadays I expect all sorts of questions when I travel , especially if I decide to travel solo.

Let’s try something. Tell at least 5 people, including your parents that you are planning to travel solo. Please do it. I’m trying to show you something here.
I reckon most people will respond with:

“Why alone?”  

“Are you crazy?”   

“Don’t you like people?”   

“Wow. where are you going? You must be rich!”

“Are you sure that no one is taking you?”  

“Don’t you have a boyfriend? or girlfriends?

A few years ago if you had asked me if I’d travel solo I’d respond with “Travel alone to where? Like to the market? “  If you told me that few years to come I’ll travel solo through a couple of African countries I would have laughed in your face.
Six months  ago I decided to travel solo. Everyone and their mother decided that I was crazy.  Apparently, It’s one thing to travel solo and it’s another thing to travel solo as a woman. Everyone has an opinion. I had my fair share of questions when I made the decision to travel solo.
I have also gotten pretty encouraging comments. Recently, someone told me that she took her first solo trip because my last solo trip encouraged her to travel.  Another travel lover asked how  I prepare for my solo trips hence this blog post.
For your information, traveling with a tour group is not equal to doing a solo trip. A solo trip means planning every single thing and depending solely on yourself in a trip. Tour groups sort your accommodation and food. A solo trip also means you are taking care of  everything yourself. Basically,  you are an independent man or woman.  Also, solo travel does not entail traveling to another country. As a Kenyan based in Nairobi travel solo for the first time, I would travel solo to towns like Lamu, Malindi or Watamu.
I would like to give a disclaimer and say that I am not an expert on solo travel and that there is no formula that you must follow in case you want to travel solo. It gets lonely and you might even change your mind in the process. Some people like me are serious planners that plan every single detail. Then there are those travellers who pick up their bags, leave then plan as they go. However, if you have never travelled solo, I highly recommend making a plan before leaving.
 As I said, I am not an expert but I will make this post as personal as possible.
 Here are the steps you may need to take when you travel solo:
Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:

1. DECIDE ON LOCATION
Ask yourself:
  • Why do I want to travel solo?
  • What makes me happy when I travel? Beaches? Culture? Food?Adrenaline activities? Game drives?
  • Is there something on my bucket list I can tick off on this solo trip?
Once you have answered these questions, a location will slowly come to mind.
TIP: Choose a city near yours . However, if you are keen on visiting another country, I would recommend visiting countries closer to your home country. 
I believe it’s not that far from home and chances are high you won’t have to deal with visa fees. For instance, as a Kenyan, if I was taking a solo trip for the first time, I would start with the likes of Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam or Uganda. 
2. RESEARCH 
This is a proper research of the place you intend to visit.
This means making social media tools  like Pinterest, travel blogs,  and vlogs your best friend. Use these tools on the internet to find out the cost of:
  • flights and visas
  • food
  • bus tickets/ public tranport
  • activities
  • hostels/hotels

Try and gather as much information as possible and do not forget to note down every little detail you find out. If you are stuck in the process, reach out to travelers on social media that you know have visited the location you intend to visit. Ask them questions that you cannot find answers to. By the way, I do not mean go and ask someone to create an itinerary for you.  You have to research first.  That’s the one thing you have to do unless you pay someone to create an itinerary for you. If you ask a traveler something, the specific questions about where you are going and most of them will be happy to give you information.

Otherwise,  the information is available online and it’s up to you to do the leg work. For instance if you are planning to visit Cape Town, read travel blogs and watch youtube videos on cape town.

TIP: There are Facebook groups that are travel specific. For instance on my last trip to southern Africa, I joined a group on Facebook called backpacking Africa. Any question that I couldn’t find answers on the Internet, I’d post on the group and they’d always be someone that had the information. 

Travel solo in Zambia
Solo Traveling in Zambia
3. PICK A DATE AND LENGTH OF STAY
This entails deciding when you want to leave and how long you intend your trip to last.  It may be a long weekend, a week, a month. Once you select a date, you now have to make arrangements at work to take days off your employer or your business.
TIP: For short solo trips, take advantage of long weekends. These are weekends that align with public holidays.  In Kenya we have madaraka, labour, mashujaa and Jamhuri day. These long weekends will be the perfect time to do a mini solo trip. 
4. CREATE A BUDGET
This is the most important part of your planning.  The money you intend to spend on your upcoming solo trip.
The budget is dependent on the length of your stay. You will then create a budget of how much you will spend per day. Your budget will be grouped into two categories. Daily expenses and one time expenses.
Daily travel expenses include food and drinks, accommodation, transport and activities.
One time payments include flights, visa (if any) and travel insurance.
Tips
  • If you are on budget,  opt to stay in hostels as opposed to hotels. Hostels are cheaper and they are your best bet for a solo traveler to meet people. Airbnbs are also cheaper but not as cheap as hostels. 
  •  If you are a hotel person, use booking.com to find hotels within you range.
  • Use tripadvisor to check how other travelers review and rate hostels and hotels before choosing accommodation. Trip advisor reviewers are brutally honest and they will save you the trouble.
  • Book your flight 8 weeks early. It’s cheaper to book flights early. Compare flight prices on skyscanner before booking directly with the airline.
  • Some activities require pre-booking. Confirm this to avoid disappointments
Travel solo in Victoria Falls, Zambia
Victoria Falls, Zambia
 5. START SAVING
Once you have a budget, starting saving. Add a little extra money to your original budget in case of emergencies
Your method of saving is up to you. Some people choose to save monthly, others bi monthly. It’s what you think works best for you.
Tip: I recommend having a savings account specifically for travels. 
Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:

6. CREATE AN ITINERARY
 As I said earlier, I am a planner. I like to know what I will be doing every single day for the length of my trip and I try to schedule an activity every single day. If I am going to cape town three months from now, I already know  will be hiking the table mountains two days after I land. Remember, your itinerary highly depends on your research.

Tip: Remember to conduct research frequently and update your itinerary should you find new information online. 

7. TRAVEL INSURANCE

If you are taking a trip that last weeks and especially in another country, please, I beg you, take travel insurance. Insurance is significant.  Unpredictable things happen and scammers are everywhere. In case your stuff gets stolen, or you fall sick, that insurance will come in handy for you. There are several insurance companies that offer travel insurance. Find out what works for you and before settling, ask questions. Ask what they cover exactly because who wants to pay for bogus insurance?
Travel solo in Domwe Island, Mala
Solo traveling , Domwe Island, Mala

8. BOOK YOUR TRIP

This is the final stage of your planning. Get the courage to make payments.  Once you make payments there is no turning back. At this point, you are a walking encyclopedia because you have details of almost everything there is to know about where you are going. You are more than ready to see this beautiful planet. A whole other world completely different from yours awaits you and all you need is to find courage to book your trip. You have saved, planned for months or even a year, and all you need is to believe that you can  take care of yourself in a foreign place.

The world is full of good and bad people, even your hometown where you might feel the safest. Eliminate any negative thoughts of bad things happening to you and go out there and have fun.

Tips

  • Use skyscanner to book your flight. Remember 6-8 weeks earlier . It’s cheap to book your flights this early believe me
  • Email the hostel you will be staying at to reserve you room. Hostels do not demand advance payment. You always pay on arrival.
  • Pre-book the activities that may need pre-booking.

Again, understand it’s perfectly fine to be scared. You are doing this for the first time so its normal. It will be there until after  when you will be wandering why the hell were you scared in the first place?

After all that planning and saving, the day of the trip will eventually arrive and you might have serious butterflies. You’ll probably be taken to the airport by your friends or family. They may or may not cry when you leave. My friend cried when I left. For those thinking it’s Pam Tumo then you are absolutely right. ha-ha!  So now that you are on the road, what are some of the safety measures you need to take to be safe while traveling?

I’ll cover this in the next blog post

Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:

 

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for all that info. Am planning my first solo trip early next year for my birthday I haven’t decided on a destination yet, either Tanzania or Uganda depending on several factors. All the information on your blog will come in handy. Am an introvert and this trip will be a leap of courage for me. Can’t wait.

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