Last October, I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone like I never have before. I traveled to Cancun (Playa Del Carmen region) all by myself. No group, no meet-up…just me, my myself, and my fears. So what led to my decision to travel out of the country and vacation by myself? Well that’s a long story that I promise to address in a future blog post. While I don’t consider myself to an expert regarding all things solo travel, I am qualified to share my experience and few precautions I took beforehand and others I learned along the way. Some of these pointers range from basic common sense to borderline overkill. Please, take what you need:
The planning aspect of traveling can range from being fun and excited to exhausting and frustrating. But, if it becomes too much of a chore, please don’t short change yourself. Be patient and spend time researching your travel destination, accommodations, and excursions. I promise, you will really appreciate your effort in the end. Seriously, there is nothing worse than shelling out your hard earned money to travel abroad only to have a horrible experience. And to add insult to injury, you now have to endure it by yourself. Do you really want to spend a couple of thousand dollars to room with scorpions and tarantulas or spend 5 nights/6 days in the midst of a hurricane? I didn’t think so.
While planning, ask yourself the following questions: 1.) What is my budget? 2.) Is it all-inclusive? 3.) When is the best time of year to travel this destination? 4.) What do I want to do or experience while I’m there? 5.) Do I need a Visa or travel vaccinations? 6.) Is there any type of conflict or travel advisory in that area? When I planned my solo adventure to Cancun, TripAdvisor provided a wealth of information on travel destinations, from the popular and touristy to the intimate and remote. What I love most about their site is the ability to see up-to-date reviews and “untouched” photos of hotels, resorts, and excursion companies from actual USERS. As a sidebar, I try to stick with larger to moderate hotel chains or all-inclusive resorts. This isn’t to say that accommodations such as AirBnB, Homeaway, or smaller more intimate chains aren’t safe for solo travel. Nope, no shade at all. It really just depends on your personal comfort level. I find that all-inclusive resorts usually provide more secure controlled access, have on site security, and you don’t have to venture off too much from the resort. And until I become the experienced “Urbantravelista” I’m striving to be, this makes me comfortable.
The following are tips that seems like common sense, but often not thought about. Before you depart, please provide a copy of the following traveling documents to a family member, close friend, or someone you trust:
- Travel itinerary (including flight numbers)
- Hotel/resort and/or Excursion company info
- Photocopy of your passport
- If you have a pet, boarding/vet contact information
Again, this is one of those “common sense” things, but with a twist. You’re smart, urban, and survive the day to day ills of living right here on American soil. And if you’re from Chicago like myself, your street cred just went up a 1000 points. So, of course you’re going to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Of course you’re going to safeguard your personal belongings at all times. Of course you’re going to keep an eye on your drink at all times. And of course you’re going to politely turn down that invitation from that sexy locale to venture off the resort. You’re going to take the same day to day precautions as you do at home and maybe use a few of these tips:
- Decoy wallet- Keep an old spare wallet in your purse with a couple of useless credit cards and about twenty bucks in it. This is what I like to call a “decoy” wallet. If you’re ever in a situation where you are robbed, you can hand the robber this wallet. Now there’s a great chance that you won’t ever be robbed abroad and an even greater chance that you’ll end up using that wallet right here on American soil. But as the cliché goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry later.
- Purchase a pre-paid credit card with at least $100 on it to keep in a safe place. If you somehow misplace your cash or your real wallet, you will have immediate access to funds.
- Passport- DO NOT travel out and about with your passport. Keep it securely in your hotel or lock it in your safe. While you might be tempted to quit your job and just stay in Costa Rica, you will have to return home. While I have never attempted to go through customs without a passport, my intuition tells me it would be a complete nightmare.
- Communicate with your family/friends- Once you get settled in, it’s easy to get lost in your experience and forget to communicate with your loved ones at home. I’m not saying you have to run up your cell phone bill and call them daily, but at least do a check in on your whereabouts from time to time. In the age of social networking and wifi (especially if your hotel/resort offers free wifi) this will be pretty effortless and inexpensive to do with simple check-ins and status updates. Communicating this way not only puts your loved ones at ease, but it leaves a timeline and trail of your activities just in case something goes awry.
Now that you’ve endured the stress of planning your first solo adventure, the mental anguish of your well-meaning friends and family ensuring you’ll by kidnapped by pirates or sold into the sex trade, and mentally replaying every worst case scenario in your head from the time you book and until you finally land, don’t forget to do this one thing: RELAX. Be open, take in your experience, and enjoy this sense of newfound freedom.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful and put your mind at ease as you plan your first solo travel experience abroad. And as always, embrace the unknown and live fearlessly!!!