The saying “you live and learn” never really goes out of style because, well, it’s true. The more we do something, the more efficient we are in doing it. Skills, hobbies, work… It’s all the same: Practice makes perfect, although nothing ever really makes perfect. 😉
Traveling is no different. You should have seen my face when the flight attendants handed me my first customs disembarkation card. “Wtf do I do with this?” (I didn’t really say that. I just smiled politely and watched what everyone else did before filling out my own card. #truestory)
Needless to say, I knew I needed to do a relatively large amount of research before I booked my plane ticket across the world if I wanted any sort of credibility from my family and friends that I knew what I was doing. Luckily for me, a big chunk of my research consisted of reading blogs.
Gathering experience and advice from other travelers is invaluable.
This post is the pure product of my desire to give back to a community that helped me tremendously in planning an experience I’ll never forget. I hope it is able to help you in your planning. Teamwork makes the dream work, and a trip is always more fun when you’re prepared!
If you’re considering a BADASS reach-for-the-stars kind of vaca but your friends can’t get time off to go with you, I assure you that I met DOZENS of solo travelers on my 19-day trip to the other side of the world. Imagine this… Every single day there is someone traveling down a back road in a small town or island they’ve never been on. And someone is trying food they never thought they would try at a small vendor in a foreign country. And someone else is laughing uncontrollably with a new found traveler buddy they met TODAY.
That’s all happening RIGHT NOW somewhere.
Isn’t that cool?!
If you’re thinking about going somewhere, that’s it! You already have what you need: The desire to go. Don’t let anything hold you back, because you have posts from bloggers like me and others on ze’ web that will walk you through every question you have about embarking on your first solo trip. Not to peer pressure you or anything… But DOOOO ITTTTT.
To make your planning a little easier, I’ve included some things I would change from my first “amateur” solo trip. It’s quite the random list of stuff, but you should find them useful. I’ll definitely be checking back to this list when I plan my next trip!
You can also check out my other posts for more travel advice:
Top 3 “Oh Shit” Moments on a Solo Trip to Bali
How to Spend Less than $2000 Total on a 19 Day Trip To Bali
My ULTRA-LIGHT packing list (coming soon)
(Oh, and where else was I going to include incredibly inappropriate pictures of statues I found, so you’re welcome!)
(get ready, the statues only get worse)
1. Arrive at your destination during the day
If given the choice, arriving at your destination in the day allows you to have more wiggle room to get settled or deal with a delay if needed. My flight was only an hour late, but by the time I would have caught a taxi and drove to my homestay, it would have been pretty late. So I canceled my night at that homestay and got a ride to a closer town to a place that offered later check-ins. But even that wasn’t ideal because the girls in my dorm were already asleep, so I quietly got ready for bed in the dark. It really wasn’t a big deal, but if I could do it again, I’d make sure my flight was earlier so I could get where I needed to be and make sure I could get settled in.
2. Plan out your next day the night before
I’m all for spontaneity but a lot of tours or activities start early in the morning, so it’s nice to know beforehand if you have to be somewhere at 8 am or if you can drink that extra cup of coffee on your patio catching a view of Mt. Agung 😉
3. Put together a list of places to stay BEFORE you leave on the trip
This is a time management tip. I’m all about winging it, seriously. I love the adventure. But I also like to be clean and know I’m staying at a decent place for what I’m spending. So I purposely spent a large amount of time reading reviews of my potential accommodation stays. This helps A LOT with the quality of your stay so I highly recommend it. I used both Hostelworld and Air BnB apps on my trip (and later discovered booking.com).
However, I spent a decent amount of time every two days or so researching my next stay and I could have used that time to explore or relax! So next time: I’m not going to straight up book the nights, because plans change (I stayed on one island for 5 nights instead of my expected two nights), but I WILL spend time before my trip creating a list of accommodation choices in each town I plan on visiting. That way when I get there I can just refer to my list and see who has availability and be done with the process.
4. Get a local SIM card
People have different opinions on this, at least in Bali where WiFi is fairly prevalent across the island so many people say don’t bother with a SIM card. Although some places had spotty service, I did have access to the internet for most of my stay. However, when I wasn’t at my homestay or at a restaurant, I was on my own. It’s certainly nice to stay off your phone but not if that’s where the maps are and you need the info to look up where you’re going. I don’t know how much SIM cards were but I imagine not much, and it would have been nice to have the piece of mind that I could use my GPS or phone when I needed to.
5. Keep snacks handy
Bali has little warungs (food places for lack of a better description) everywhere so I did fine just eating small meals throughout the day, but it’s always helpful to keep a healthy snack on hand to fuel up.
1. Remember SUNSCREEN every day!
Self-explanatory. My SPF did me no good when it was sitting in my room while I was on the back of a moped touring an island for the day. Let’s just say by the end of the trip I looked like a drunk chameleon who didn’t know how to figure out out which color it wanted to turn.
2. Get antibiotics before the trip
I didn’t get sick, fortunately, but you need to be prepared to. To be honest, I planned on going to my doctor before the trip but I ran out of time. I brought over-the-counter meds of all sorts (packing list coming soon) but it would have been nice to have antibiotics on hand if I needed them.
I spent two days meeting up with a friend from home and she came down with a fever and other random symptoms that we equated to a possible case of Bali belly. (Please note that her and I are both trained in prescribing antibiotics. Make sure you go to your doctor to have him or her prescribe the travelers meds they feel right for YOU should you need them.)
Another option is to take probiotics before and during the trip for prevention of unhappy bellies or sickness. I did just fine eating fresh food in Bali but please read about food cleanliness before you go!
3. Keep a copy of your doctor’s prescription on you (or note from them)
I’m gonna get real with you guys for a second. I have a prescription for an ADD medication that I’ve been trying to wean myself from (we can talk about that later). I didn’t want to go on the trip without it because I’d risk running into severe fatigue. But I FREAKED out when I had to fill out a customs disembarkation whose country didn’t want me to have stimulants on me.
Turns out I had no trouble at all (and I had my meds in the prescription bottle with my name on it if I did run into problems), but it still would have been comforting to have a copy of the physical prescription from my doctor, or a note from him saying I needed to travel with it (or maybe both). By the way, turns out I rarely needed the med and I’ve barely used it since I’ve been back home. High five!
4. Buy a phone outlet adapter
This is referring to Americans or other Westerners traveling abroad to countries that use AV220/240 outlets. It was quite a surprise to me when I reached my homestay in the middle of the night to an outlet by my bed that I had never seen before. I thought I was smart by bringing two chargers, but I couldn’t use either one. You don’t have to get the adapter before the trip, but know that you’ll need one when you arrive. There were plenty of places to buy one and mine only cost me $2.63 USD there, which I’m sure beats the price I would have paid for it in America.
5. Bring a mini straightener
I packed LIGHT. Like no-cream-or-sugar-in-your-coffee kind of light. I was BY FAR the traveler with the smallest amount of luggage. And it was great! I’ll be writing a post about how I did that. One way was I left the hair dryer at home and braided my hair after showers (I’m not lucky enough to have thick-flowing, luscious locks when I let my hair air dry). BUT every once in a while it would have been nice to say hi to my girly-girl side. Mini straighteners are small (and cute!) and would have fit in my bag just fine.
6. Bring two ATM cards
Heyyyyoooooo. “I’m going to Bali! I’m going to be smart. I’ll bring two credit cards in case one gets lost or stolen. I’m also going to put my cash and cards in different places so if anything happens I don’t lose it all.” ::::::: goes to Bali and gets ATM card stolen on first night :::::::
This was definitely an Oh Shit moment for me and although I didn’t let it ruin my trip, I experienced a new kind of stress knowing I had the money that I needed, but I couldn’t ACCESS it. Lesson learned. Always have another ATM card to take out money. I’m not one to give financial advice (actually that’s just laughable) but I’ve read it’s smart to have two checking accounts for different purposes anyway.
1. Pack only about three outfits and buy clothes in Bali
I had no idea what to wear when I was over there. Yoga was on the list so I knew to bring a few of those outfits. Besides that, I didn’t even wear some of the stuff I bought; There were two outfits I brought from home that I thought about leaving behind multiple times to free up space.
Especially in places like Bali where things are CHEAP, it’s worth being able to shop a little, and the clothes are beautiful. I actually wasn’t planning on shopping, but the village of Ubud got me BAD, I was in awe of some of the styles and designs. Not to mention it makes you feel a little less touristy wearing their pretty clothes! Plus putting some money aside to satisfy your shopping habits just feels good.
2. Wear a bathing suit all the time if you’re on an island
Duh. Well not duh because I screwed up. Yes, Bali is an island, but I’m talking about the beautiful places off the cost where you REALLY feel like you’re on an island (Penida, Lembongan, Cenningan). The same tour I went on that scorched my shoulders, we went to so many little beaches and cliffs. Tourists were being all cutesy and taking Instagram photos and I was all like…..
3. Just pack more bathing suits
Who doesn’t like options? And nowadays bathing suits are small enough that they’ll take up as much space in your bag as the earplugs you brought so it’s a win-win. (And ear-plugs…. bring the earplugs and thank me later!)
4. Wear better shoes for volcano trek
Think rationally here. I ended up throwing out my running shoes during the trip because I completely demolished them, so it’s up to you if you want to bring a pair of $150 shoes for active days. But don’t be like me on the other end of the spectrum either.
In the shoes’ defense, they were warriors. I had them forever and they lasted me well. BUT they had zero tread on them while I was hiking up a volcano at 4 am. And I mean ZERO tread. It was quite the slip-n-slide on the way down. (By the way, if you have the opportunity to do any kind of volcano trek, DO IT. It was one of my favorite experiences over there. Just make sure to bring a windbreaker, water, “good” shoes, and don’t forget your camera.)
5. Bring a hat
I don’t care what kind of hat. A sun hat, a sports hat, a trucker hat. Next time, I’m bringing one. And if you’re going to have days out in the sun, you should too.
Lastly, as a little bonus tip, if I could do it all over again, I would bring something American with me on a trip abroad. Many locals I met were curious about where I came from, and many of them will never be able to see the States. So to share my culture with them would have been rewarding too. If I ever make it back to the island of Penida, I would bring a little book of English words to one of my homestay owners. Or perhaps a small pile of postcards from different American cities. Just thoughts!
Overall, I loved every part of my trip (except maybe my “Oh Shit” moments) and couldn’t be happier with the experience. But it’s nice to know I’ll be even more prepared next time I decide to pull the trigger and go.
If you want to hear more about tips from this adventure, sign up at the bottom of this page to my newsletter so you know when I’m publishing posts like these 🙂