I remember booking my very first solo trip. It was a spontaneous deal, €100 roundtrip from Madrid to Istanbul. I only had 48 hours to prepare myself for the journey, so that meant barely any time to pack, let alone mentally prepare. I googled a few travel guides, said a little prayer, and headed to the airport hoping for the best. It was a trip I will never forget. I made lots of mistakes, but I learned invaluable lessons. Fortunately, now I can share those lessons with you!
1. KNOW ENTRY/AIRPORT PROCEDURES
If you’re going to another country, or flying domestically on a tight schedule, this is an especially important step. It would behoove you to know how an airport is mapped out, and how crowded the lines can typically be. For very large and confusing airports, this can be crucial for making connecting flights.
Some flights even place transfers through multiple airports in a city, like New York’s LGA, JFK, and EWR. That being said, knowing your options for transportation is also important, so make sure you do your research before you land. Take it from me – one thing you never want to be is the person standing outside with all of their luggage looking lost and confused. Nothing screams “I’M A TOURIST! OVERCHARGE ME!” more.
For my international travelers, it’s very important that you check entry form/landing card and visa requirements. This can save you lots of time standing around in line, or even being denied entry to a country! An entry form or landing card is a small document that tells TSA who you are, where you’re from, where you’re going, and why. It’s annoying and pretty tedious to fill out, especially since you get it as soon as you get off the plane. What I like to do is carry a piece of my own paper with all the questions I know will be on the form (flight information, home address, destination address, etc.). That way I can simply copy the answers while I stand in line, instead of fiddling around in my bag for all the documents. Knowing beforehand if you need a visa will also save you time. When I visited Istanbul, I stood in customs FOREVER. When it was finally my turn, the man told me that I had to go back and get my visa, and then wait in line AGAIN! Que annoying.
2. LEARN THE LAND
It is SO important to have at least a general idea of how your destination city is mapped out. I especially recommend memorizing the street names and landmarks around your accommodation. It’s helpful for navigating, and can save your ass from getting lost. Taxi driver can’t read your address, or doesn’t know the name of your hotel? Tell him to take you to the closest train station instead. Need directions from a local, but can’t remember your address? Try mentioning the nearest street names you can muster.
I know it seems trivial when we have GPS, but I’m telling you, it makes a world of difference. In Istanbul I had zero phone service, so I couldn’t figure out how to get to my Airbnb. I wandered the streets aimlessly for about 20 minutes – mind you it was almost midnight. Thank God a random waiter offered to help me out. If I would have looked up the neighborhood and landmarks, I probably could have gotten there by myself.
3. LEARN THE LANGUAGE
I know everybody isn’t a nerd like me, but learning the absolute basics of a language is very helpful. I generally try to learn the question phrases (who, what, when, where, why), and the basics like numbers, food, directions, and niceties. Plus, natives really appreciate the effort. Aaaand it makes you look cultured AF. There are tons of free resources that you can use to practice any language from Polish to Portuguese!
4. RESPECT THE CUSTOMS
Yes, sometimes it is hard to break from your own habits and customs. You may not like the European double kiss, or the Asian bowing. But it’s important to at least acknowledge culture and customs of the land you’ve elected to travel to. It really highlights the respectfulness of your character, which does not go unappreciated. As an American woman in Morocco, I was quite annoyed to be dressed from neck to ankles in 75+ degrees. Especially when I’m sitting at the beach sweating, and the men are practically running around in Speedos. But guess what, I did that shit anyway. Because I wanted to be in that country, I decided to adhere to the customs that came along with it. I enjoyed myself nonetheless, and it was pretty reassuring to get compliments about my style from the locals all day long!
5. COPY EVERYTHING
This is about as basic annoying mom advice as you can get: make copies of every form that you will need. Boarding passes, room reservations, ID, everything. You just never know what can get lost or stolen, so you can never be too prepared.
Where was/will be your first solo trip?