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17 "I Wish I Knew That Sooner" Solo Travel Tips That Saved Me So Much Time, Money, And Patience

Hey! I'm Spencer, and I recently went on my first solo travel trip ever. It was incredibly fun, scary, and a bit overwhelming, but I learned a lot, so I wanted to share some of my best (and unspoken) solo travel tips with you here. Hopefully, they're extra helpful for you on your next journey, so feel free to take what you want and leave the rest.

1.First of all, always put one of your shoes in the hotel safe with your passport. Traveling solo means no one is around to remind you to grab your passport, credit cards, or whatever else you might forget in the hotel safe. But you'll ~never~ check out without making sure that you have full sets of shoes in your suitcase, so this will save you from making a really costly mistake.

A hotel safe with a passport and a sneaker inside

I actually stole this tip from the queen of solo travel herself, Travel Channel host Samantha Brown. It'll stick with me for years.

Another great tip I learned from the Travel Channel is to never actually mention that you're solo traveling while on your trip. Most conversations you have will be totally harmless, but as an extra safety precaution, I always mention that I'm traveling with friends and meeting them later in the day. That way the person I'm talking to knows that someone is expecting me. (Hey, I'm not trying to get taken!)

Spencer Althouse

2.If you're traveling to a big city, download a hi-res photo of the area's subway system to your phone. Also, make sure you save the pic in a separate photo album so you can easily access it without having to frantically search your "recent" pics while possibly missing your stop or getting on the wrong train.

A screenshot of my photo albums on my phone, with one labeled as "Paris and London," featuring the map of London's underground system

Getting lost in a foreign city can be an especially overwhelming situation, but I saved myself so many times by pre-saving maps of Paris and London's subway systems onto my phone. This way I knew exactly where to go, which stations I should transfer from, and what area of the cities I was actually in.

Spencer Althouse

3.If you're queer like me, try booking your stay through sites that filter with LGBTQ+-friendly options. Traveling alone can already be scary enough as it is, so I used this feature on as a way to take extra precaution. It's so stupid that we even need to take these safety measures, but I'd hate to be in a foreign country and have something go wrong, so it's an easy thing that makes me feel more welcome and comfortable.

A screenshot from of the LGBTQ filter

There are some cities, states, and countries that I simply won't travel to as a queer person (I'm looking at you, Florida), but I love, love, love that this feature exists. Feeling safe and welcome is SO important, especially if you're alone and in an unfamiliar area, so I can't recommend booking with it enough.

4.I suck at directions, so if you're traveling anywhere new — especially to a foreign country or a place where you won't have Wi-Fi — pre-save some key searches (like your hotel's address) into the free Google Maps app before you leave. This way you can access a real-time, overhead map of where you are, and it'll point you in the right direction, even without Wi-Fi. This genuinely saved me from getting lost soooo many times.

A map of Paris from where I was standing

I'm a Type-A person who always needs to know exactly where I'm going, but when I stepped off the metro in Paris, I got completely turned around and didn't know which direction my hotel was in (and it didn't help that everything was in a foreign language). Luckily, I had pre-saved my hotel's address into Google Maps. Even without Wi-Fi, the app uses a satellite to pinpoint exactly where you and your destination are, and it shows you which direction to travel in. This made navigating through a foreign city SO easy, and it completely calmed my nerves for the rest of the trip. Highly recommend.

Google Maps

5.Another savior app with immediate results is Google Translate. I used it every single day in France, and it was especially helpful with restaurant menus and directions. Basically, you just use your phone's camera as if you're going to take a pic, and the app will translate every word it sees into English in real time.

A photo of how the museum sign reads in French

I used Duolingo every day for five months in order to prepare for my trip, and even though I learned a decent amount, I don't think the majority of it was super productive or helpful for a weeklong vacation. But luckily, I had the Google Translate app because I was able to translate things in real time, even without Wi-Fi, which was a huge lifesaver. It also made me feel more like a local because I didn't need to ask for a menu in English.

Spencer Althouse

6.If you're a first-time solo traveler, go somewhere you're semi-familiar with already. The most important part about your first trip is making sure you're as comfortable as possible, so use it as a way to dip your toe in the water before venturing off and doing even more the next time. For me, that meant starting with a place where English is commonly spoken. This way, if I ~did~ end up getting lost or if something terrible happened, at least I'd be more at ease knowing I could try to talk my way through the situation.

me in a park in London

I studied abroad in London over 10 years ago, so while I wasn't as familiar with the city as I used to be, it was still reassuring to know that I'd been there before. I also have a brother who lives in Paris, so the idea of knowing someone while abroad really comforted me. This way we could meet for random dinners, and I could also rely on him for non-touristy recommendations.

Spencer Althouse

7.Always try to book a hotel or hostel through your go-to site's app instead of on their .com site. In my experience, most companies typically offer additional discounts when booking through their free apps, and I love saving money, so it's a win-win.

A close-up of the discounts offered on the app

I booked my stay through because I saw that they offered extra discounts (as a "member price") when you sign up for free on their site. Most rooms automatically had 10+%-off discounts after I did that, but they also offered additional discounts when booking through their app.

For context, I almost booked my London hotel with 10% off on my laptop, but when I looked on their app, they offered an addition 10% off, so I ended up saving 20% on my entire stay.

Spencer Althouse /

8.Be smart about how you travel, and if you know you're going to do certain things ahead of time, always book them ASAP because they'll be way, way cheaper. For example, I knew that I was going to travel from Paris to London, so I opted to take a Eurostar train instead of a flight. The earlier you book, the cheaper they are, so I spent $65 a few months in advance, but if I had booked my ticket the week of, it would have cost over $250.

me on the Eurostar train

The train was more comfortable, convenient, and way cheaper than any flight would have been. Rather than wasting the entire day at the airport, I breezed through security at my Eurostar gate and got on a quick 2-hour ride that dropped me off in the center of London (literally two tube stops away from my hotel in Covent Garden!). If I had opted for a flight instead, my journey to the airport in Paris and through security would have taken more time than the train ride itself, so always look at all of your travel options.

Spencer Althouse

9.Do. Your. Research. Again, I'm anxious about everything, so I plan whatever I can. The first thing I did was set up alerts from different discount sites for flights (like Hopper). But I found that the most underrated search engine is actually TikTok. There are a lot of great travel and food accounts that consistently post about flight deals and the best places to eat in whatever city you're going to. Watching actual videos of people at their favorite restaurants and seeing their go-to dishes is so much more effective than scouring through a restaurant's outdated website without any pics.

The menu from Akoko

TikTok accounts like topjaw and knivestomeetyoulondon consistently highlight must-try restaurants all across London. The first account features recommendations from chefs, locals, and celebs, while the second account is basically food porn in the best way possible. I had some incredible meals because of their suggestions, and I never would have found them had I not searched on TikTok.

But my favorite meal from the trip was actually a recommendation from Will Poulter during his Times Radio interview. He raved about the fine-dining West African restaurant Akoko in London, and holy crap, I was not disappointed. I've had dreams about their jollof rice ever since, and I'd happily bathe in several of their sauces.

Spencer Althouse

10.But if you're feeling especially overwhelmed about planning everything and have no idea where to start, consider asking AI to do some research for you. AI sites like ChatGPT and ForgeMyTrip can create full itineraries based on your preferences, budgets, dates, and so on. You can get as specific as you'd like, have the responses include prices, ask for free activities, etc., and they'll send you detailed suggestions that can be used to tailor a vacation based on who you are and what you're looking for.

An illustration from Jean Cocteau from a queer art exhibit I went to

Do I think these AI sites will give you perfect results? Absolutely not. But they'll definitely give you a great jumping off point and guide you along the way. For example, I asked for a bunch of lesser-known events in Paris + some free activities that'd be going on in each city. From those results, I was able to do the extra research to see what I'd actually want to see, eat, and do. It also told me about a queer art exhibit (featured above) going on during my stay, and I never would have known about it had I not asked. So, like, I guess AI can sometimes be good?

Spencer Althouse / Jean Cocteau, Spencer Althouse

11.Always have at least one book downloaded onto your phone before you leave for your trip. This way you'll have something to do (even without Wi-Fi) while waiting at a restaurant, on the subway, or in line at a museum without having to physically carry a copy with you.

A screenshot of what I've been reading so far

I'm always prepared with both physical and digital books, just in case, but I find myself reading on my phone more often while on vacation. I don't typically carry a bag while exploring a new city, so being able to keep myself preoccupied without having to lug something around is ideal. My phone was on airplane mode throughout my entire vacation, so having a downloaded book on my phone was a super convenient and comfortable option while out and about.

Pro tip: There are a bunch of free online libraries to get ebooks from, so just do your research. Personally, Project Gutenberg has been super clutch for me so far.

Spencer Althouse / Ecco Press / Hachette Book Group

12.Figure out your main goal for going on a trip in the first place, and then plan what you actually want to spend money on based around that. For me, I cared more about eating my way through a city than I did about seeing certain landmarks, so I planned my trip around the food. As a result, I felt less stressed and didn't feel like I needed to cram every single thing into one vacation.

my lunch at Cavale in Paris

Vacations are expensive, so figuring out your main reasons for going will help you save time and money, rather than attempting to do, eat, and see everything that's available. My goal while abroad was to eat really good food, so I did a ton of research about the best restaurants for me (and asked friends, followers, and locals for their faves, too), and I built my itinerary around that. This way I basically had a map of go-to spots and could plan my days around what was close by. It also helped that I had been to London before, so I felt like I could prioritize food and great seats on the West End over paying for more touristy experiences, like a tour of Westminster or something.

It's also important to weigh your options and personal safety levels. To me, getting crammed into a tiny room with the "Mona Lisa" and 500+ other tourists was not worth it. I was one of maybe three people with a mask on, and the whole process of actually getting semi-close to the painting took about 20 minutes. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and heavy breathing by everyone around me, and the final result was a picture where I've never looked more tired and stressed out in my life. Basically, if there are some attractions you think you'd be okay with skipping, then it's probably best to trust your gut.

Spencer Althouse

13.If you can swing it, buy one nice, tangible "thing" for yourself while on your trip (and I'm not talking about a random trinket or souvenir with the country's flag on it). Think of this like a jacket or a pair of shoes or even a cheap pair of earrings. Whenever you use the item, you’ll think, "Oh, these are my London sunglasses" or whatever, and they’ll always have you feeling nostalgic about your trip and ready to book another one.

me in a brown Rhone jacket in front of Big Ben

Like, sure, totally grab yourself a shirt with the UK flag on it if that's what you really want. But in addition to that, if you can afford it, I'd definitely suggest getting something more usable and less hokey that'll make you feel extra good when you use it.

For example, when I was in London a decade ago, I remember going into a store and seeing a reallllly nice jacket. It was more money than I preferred to spend on clothes when I was 21, so I left the store, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. A week or two later (literally the morning of my flight home), after thinking about how much I'd regret not getting it, I went into the store and bought the jacket. I still have it today, and every time I wear it, I think, "This is my London jacket," which I think is really cool.

Spencer Althouse

14.Be a local, and recognize that you can't (and shouldn't) plan everything. There will always be hidden gems that you can't find online, but you'll never be able to discover them if you stick to a full itinerary the entire time.

my brother and me riding bikes in Paris at night

One of my favorite nights in Paris was when I had no plan and just walked around like I lived there until I found a restaurant that looked cute. I listened for French speakers who were eating outside because that let me know the restaurant was good enough for the people who actually live in the city.

But if you're pressed for time and don't have the luxury of walking around until you find some hidden gems, just ask the people who you come across who actually live there. I'm normally super introverted, but if I can do something to make my vacation even better, then I'll probably try it. At one point, I walked into a nice-looking shop and asked the woman who worked there for her favorite restaurants nearby. She pointed me to a great spot called The Pelican (featured in the pic above) that I never would have found on my own, and I absolutely loved it.

Spencer Althouse, Alissa Foti / @fotayheyhey / Instagram: @fotayheyhey

15.As a way to treat yourself, do small things you wouldn't normally do in everyday life. My family was never an appetizer or dessert family at restaurants (I have three brothers, and it’s expensive to take six people out for a meal, so I totally get it!), but when I was on vacation by myself, I wanted to make the most of it. Ordering an appetizer or a dessert at a nice restaurant — even though I was still conscious of the extra cost — was a great way to make me feel special and worthy of nice things and like I was truly on vacation.

me sitting at a restaurant in front of three desserts

I grew up in a dollar-menu family. Fast-food value meals were strictly off limits, anything other than tap water at a restaurant was forbidden, and I've never seen my parents order off the dessert menu in my life. A lot of that has stuck with me into adulthood. But I wanted to change that when I was on vacation. I'm there to have a good, memorable time, so I often treated myself to "bonus" things that I wouldn't normally do in my regular life. That meant picking something decadent off the dessert menu or splurging for better seats on the West End, which I went to almost every night in London.

Spencer Althouse

16.No matter what you do, keep reminding yourself that you will never be X age in Y city again in your life. I promise that this will change how you interact with and experience everything. For example, I kept saying to myself, "You will never be 32 and in Paris again," and that really pushed me to have more fun and make more memories.

my brother and me in Paris

Obviously, I'm super fortunate to be able to use this mindset on my trip. To be completely honest, I have a really weird relationship with money and often don't think I'm worthy of things, so I never spend it. But I've been trying to change that, and this mindset really put me in the moment and helped me enjoy my trip (and myself!) way more than I typically would have.

I actually stole this idea from TikTok where a guy talked about having the chance to fly and stay in Dublin for St. Patrick's Day for $600 when he was 23. He ultimately decided against it because it seemed like a lot of money at the time (which is absolutely valid!), but looking back now, he'd redo it in a heartbeat. His reasoning is that he'll never have those experiences or memories of being 23 and in Dublin, and life is short, so he shouldn't wait his entire life to save up and have those experiences at a later date. Instead, he'd rather find a way to make those experiences happen now, especially since "later" isn't always guaranteed.

Spencer Althouse

17.And finally: Be. A. Hoe. (Safely!)

A painting of a woman touching another one's body

Vacationing is all about new experiences. It's the perfect time to find out what you like (or don't like), and one way to do that is by taking advantage of the fact that you will never see any of these people again in your life.

Also, real talk, you're bound to get kinda lonely on a solo vacation. And I'm not just talking about physical loneliness. It's a very daunting experience to be alone with yourself for that long. There were a few days when I thought to myself, "What the hell am I supposed to do now?!" But the beauty of solo travel is that you can literally do whatever you want. So if you're feeling overwhelmed and want to relax with a personal "hotel room day," do that; if you want to spend five hours in a museum you've never been to, have at it; or you want to download some dating or hookup apps to get out of your comfort zone a little, go have some fun. (To be completely honest, this is also a great way to meet some locals and fellow travelers and ask for their best recommendations in the city.) Just be smart, safe, and respectful.

Spencer Althouse / Gabrielle d’Estrées

That's it! If you have any other solo travel tips that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks!