I love to travel. Exploring new places, learning about the history and culture, and of course sampling all of the foreign junk food I can get my hands on – what’s not to love? So far I have visited 15 countries and I can’t wait to add to that number when this corona stuff is over. I’ve travelled abroad with friends and family, but the trips I have taken alone are definitely some of my favourites.
Solo travel is a chance to venture beyond your comfort zone, giving you new experiences and a level of freedom you’re unlikely to get with a travel buddy. You choose the destination, where you stay and how you spend your time. Best of all, you can take as many selfies in front of famous landmarks as you like because there’s no-one you know there to judge you!
Unfortunately my bank balance does not share my love for travelling. With flights, accommodation, travel insurance, transport to and from the airport and spending money to consider, the cost of any holiday can escalate quickly. Luckily I have become something of an expert at booking breaks on a budget. I present to you my 10 commandments for travelling solo without the need to remortgage your house to fund it.
1. Thou shalt always find the cheapest flights
Always check the notoriously cheap airlines first, such as RyanAir and EasyJet. Flights at ungodly hours tend to be lowest in price, so make sure you have a trustworthy alarm clock and someone who loves you enough to drive you to the airport at 3 in the morning.
If you’re flexible on where you want to go, check out Skyscanner. Select ‘Everywhere’ as your destination and then sort the results according to price. As well as finding a bargain flight, it’s a good way to discover new places that you would never have considered travelling to before.
Google Flights is an indispensable site if you are booking your break in advance. It allows you to track fluctuations in flight prices with ease and receive email notifications when they change, ensuring that you never miss out on the best value tickets.
2. Thou shalt never put luggage in the cabin
Hand luggage is the budget traveller’s best friend. By keeping luggage to the minimum, you can avoid those extortionate cabin prices along with the hassle of dragging a heavy suitcase to and from your accommodation. Come on, be honest with yourself – you don’t need three different hair styling tools for a weekend city break. Or that Morphe eyeshadow palette. Bang your favourite Instagram filter on that selfie and no-one will know the difference. As long as you’ve got your toothbrush and clothes to wear, you’re good to go. Stick to packing the essentials!
3. Thou shalt always carry a portable charger
Your phone is your most important possession when travelling alone. I never did manage to learn how to read a map and thanks to Google Maps I don’t have to! As long as your phone has juice, you have access to thousands of apps and websites specifically designed to make exploring an unfamiliar city as straight forward as possible.
Keeping your phone charged is also essential for personal safety – should you find yourself in a dangerous situation, help is just a phone call away. Make sure Apple’s god-awful battery life doesn’t leave you in the lurch by taking a portable charger wherever you go.
4. Thou shalt always be equipped with a pocket translation guide
I know the previous commandment stressed how important your phone is but on the flip side technology is unreliable, so make sure you are prepared for those times when it does fail you.
For example if you run out of data abroad and you don’t have a translation guide, you will be forced to resort to conversing with locals using the few random words you remember from GCSE Spanish. It doesn’t matter how frantically you shout the Spanish word for ‘bike’ at passers-by, it won’t get you the directions you need when you’re lost.
5. Thou shalt always print travel documents and essential information
The beauty of this digital era we live in is that almost everything in life can be done on a smartphone. However, as we have already discussed, a back up plan is always a good idea, so make sure you have hard copies of all the essential information you need for your holiday. Boarding passes, booking confirmations, travel insurance, your emergency contact number, the address and phone number for your accommodation – don’t forget to print them all and keep them together in a handy folder that fits in your backpack.
6. Thou shalt always use TripAdvisor to find the best value attractions and places to eat
Even when I don’t have a holiday booked, I enjoy wasting hours of my time on TripAdvisor, daydreaming of all the cute cocktail bars and quirky burger joints I could visit in the future. What can I say? It’s my happy place on the internet. When you have an actual trip booked, TripAdvisor is even more fun, allowing you to plot an itinerary on a map of your destination. The site provides you with information and reviews on all of the must-see attractions in the city you are visiting, from historic landmarks to picturesque spots that are perfect for the ‘gram.
The ‘cheap eats’ category is particularly useful for minimising your spending without having to miss out on the local food scene completely. The best part is that every activity and venue recommended on TripAdvisor has a handy cost key that allows you to tell at a glance whether it will be out of your price range.
7. Thou shalt always plan downtime
Sometimes people can get caught up in seeing as many tourist attractions as possible when they travel somewhere new, but I firmly believe that every traveller should plan some downtime into their itinerary. If you come back from your holiday more stressed than when you left, you’re doing it wrong.
Downtime doesn’t have to mean napping in your accommodation (although admittedly that is my favourite way to unwind), it can be a good opportunity to enjoy relaxing in the city’s natural surroundings, like the local beach or a popular park.
I enjoy reading but rarely have the time to get stuck into a good book at home, so I always take my kindle with me whenever I travel. If you aren’t a fan of reading, download a podcast or Netflix series onto your phone when you have access to a WiFi connection. You could also pack a notebook and start a travel diary to log your most memorable experiences.
Aside from being great ways to relax during an otherwise busy trip, these suggestions are all completely free and therefore perfect for a limited budget.
8. Thou shalt always consider staying in a hostel
When many people think of a hostel, they imagine somewhere with no privacy or hygiene standards only fit for student backpackers. But dismissing hostels before you’ve even looked at the options available will mean missing out on some great deals.
The main advantage of booking a hostel instead of a hotel is definitely the low cost. As well as bargain room rates, many hostels offer food and drink at lower prices than the local restaurants and bars.
If you enjoy socialising, hostels are a great way to meet other travellers – many have comfy communal areas where guests can relax and some even run social events throughout the week.
The authentic hostel experience would of course involve sleeping in a cramped room full of bunk beds. If getting changed in front of a dozen strangers is your thing, I’m not here to judge, but personally I need my own space in order to relax. Luckily hostels also offer private single and double rooms, with or without private bathroom, at very reasonable prices.
9. Thou shalt always choose a destination that is good value for money
Earlier this year I booked a trip to Copenhagen with my best friend. Unfortunately it was only after I had paid for the flights that I found out Copenhagen was in fact the most expensive city in the whole of Europe. We still managed to have a memorable holiday without going too over budget, but the experience definitely taught me a valuable lesson: always check the living costs of a destination before booking anything.
If you would like to avoid making the same mistake I did, here is a list of the 10 cheapest cities to visit in Europe according to Interrail:
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Krakow, Poland
- Bucharest, Romania
- Belgrade, Serbia
- Budapest, Hungary
- Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Cesky Krumlow, Czech Republic
- Warsaw, Poland
- Zagreb, Croatia
- Bratislava, Slovakia
10. Thou shalt stay in touch with family
This might seem like an obvious point, but it can be easy to forget when you’re busy having fun (especially if alcohol is involved!) If you are alone abroad by yourself, it’s natural that your family and friends may worry about your safety. A daily text or phone call to let your parents know you are alright requires minimal effort and will be greatly appreciated.