Tips for the Solo Traveler

By | December 26, 2018

I travel 7-9 times per year, with 3-4 of those trips being international, and with 5 of those trips being for business. I’m not saying I am the wise-woman of travel, but I have learned a thing or two about traveling solo, and I’ll try to share some of that here.

Airports. Many metro areas in the USA and other countries have multiple airports, and sometimes the airport closest to your ultimate destination isn’t the best one to use — either because they have better amenities, or transportation in and out of them is easier, or something else. If you know anybody from the area, ask them for their advice. And of course, be sure the arrangements you make to get from the airport to your hotel are starting from the airport to which your flight will actually take you!

Many bloggers have written about choosing the best airport for your trip — start here.

Food. Unless you are in a city that regulates airport pricing (such as in Portland, Oregon, USA), buy your gum or other munchies before you get to the airport. I also always bring a bag of nuts or something for emergency sustenance, because delays do happen and sometimes you are stuck in an airport where the only food options are greasy or gross (or absent) — or perhaps your schedule is such that by the time you check into your hotel it will be too late to find food. 

Restrooms. Use the restroom in the airport immediately before boarding, which of course means knowing where a restroom is that is closest to your departing gate. And on the same topic of bathroom-related stuff, although not so pertinent to someone who restricts their diet: refrain from the big bean-ey meal before you travel. 

Boarding. Most airlines board by zone, group, or row-number — but regardless of their method, they always first board those who are disabled or otherwise need extra time, those who are active military, and then first class passengers and the uber-flyers who fly so frequently that they get special privileges. If your boarding pass says you are in group #3, don’t get too excited: that’s really more like group #7.

Want more detail about boarding groups? Start here.

If I am not in one of the early boarding groups, then why the rush? I just sit near the boarding area with a book, wait for the line to be gone, and try to be one of the very last people to walk on the plane. Be sure to pay attention (and stay awake!) so that you don’t keep people waiting, or worse, miss your flight. Of course, I can only do this because I pack so as to avoid needing much space in the overhead bins (see Packing below). 

Economy Plus. If I am on a flight that crosses three or more time zones, I look into the “economy plus” or “comfort plus” seats. Depending on the airline, the flight, and the purchase date this adds around $60 to $150 (sometimes more) to the cost of the flight, but it gets you just enough extra legroom and a few other comforts that it’s worth the cost. You’ll still be packed in like animals, but not like sardines — and it moves you to a lower boarding number. On international flights, the difference between economy and economy-plus is often considerably more noticeable than it is on domestic flights in the US. But of course, all of this differs by airline. (Note that I am not talking about business class or first class here, which are just too expensive for me to even consider.)

Only you can know if paying extra for Economy Plus is worth it to you. Here are articles from Frommer’s and Business Insider for more info.

Packing. Many people pack to avoid having to check a bag. This saves them from having to trust the airlines not to lose their bag and also from dealing with retrieving their luggage. Many of these savvy packers see this as a badge of honor and will brag about the time they took a 3-week vacation in Europe with only a carry-on bag. That’s great! But to do this, they must depend on overhead bin space, and thus must stress about getting onto the plane early in the boarding process. They must also have the ability to lift the weight of the bag into the overhead bins — which I only barely have and am losing fast. Also they must drag that luggage around with them while in the airport, which is usually fine, but which may get to be unpleasant when you have multiple flights, delays, and long hours wandering around airports. 

Especially because I carry two laptops with me when I travel, I gave up on packing light and now always check a bag: Having to look for a nearby male to help me with the overhead bin was getting to be too much for my pride to handle. Now that I’ve decided to just be a person who checks my bag, I’m marveling at how much more pleasant air travel is! With all the travel I have done, I have only one time had a problem with missing luggage — and it was located and sent to me the next day.

Of course, use common sense: keep your valuables and meds in your carry-on, just in case. (Note that my checked bag is just a carry-on size: lugging a huge suitcase to and from the airport is too horrible, especially when traveling internationally as you encounter cobblestone surprisingly often.)

Transportation: My least favorite part of any trip — especially international — is getting from the airport to my hotel. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Hotel address: I always print out a few slips of paper with the address of my hotel to hand to taxi drivers. This removes the chance of miscommunication and helps bridge language barriers. This is especially important for international travel, and many hotels post their address in their local language for you to copy and print.
  • Catching a ride: If you plan to rely on a service such as Uber or Lyft, search to make sure that those services are available in your target city. While you’re at it, search for details about your target airport to pinpoint where it is that you must go to connect with your ride or where taxis can pick you up. Note that some metropolitan airports have train stations right there at the airport: unless your arrival is late at night or you have a lot of luggage, this might be a great way for you to get where you’re going.

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