If you're simply visiting a city like Paris for a week, trip planning can be fairly easy. But, if you have a few weeks and want to cover some ground, solo travel planning can be a challenge.
In this post I will share my planning process for a three-week trip that I took to Chile. Hopefully, some of my strategies are useful for you. I'm also hoping that you'll add your tips in the comments.
I choose my destinations based on two things – practicality and my travel dreams. With so many places to go in the world, why did I choose Chile this time? Two reasons.
- On the practical side, my neighbors are Chilean and have a condo in Santiago which they have been urging me to use. An opportunity like that should not be missed.
- On the more whimsical side, I have come to love hiking and mountains. In the past year having spent time in Utah, the Lake District of England, Acadia National Park in Maine and the hills north of Valencia, Spain. The prospect of going to Patagonia is very enticing.
There are two ways that I orient myself when I start planning a trip:
- I study maps. Sometimes not just one but a number of maps as they each might reveal something a bit different – the terrain or the roads or rail system.
- I go to a tour company website. By looking at their various tours I discover the highlights of my destination. Then it is a matter of deciding which highlights I want to include on my trip. Jumping onto one of these tours is also an option.
- Then I might look at tour companies specializing in the highlights that I want to take in.
This is the hard part. The challenge in trip planning is always the transition from one place to another. The logistics. This is definitely the case with Chile.
Tip from Shelley of the Solo Travel Society: I always invest in a Frommer's Guide for every country I go to. Their format is the best and it's never let me down, getting me in and out of trouble as I've needed it.
The guides are useful but I have accumulated so many over the years that are now out of date that I no longer buy them. I research online. Here are some of the ways that I put together the logistics of a trip that will cover some ground.
- I start a file with a table in it to gather useful information and websites. I keep similar information together. For example, the bus options from Santiago to Puerto Montt are bunched together.
- I Google solo travel + my destination. If that doesn't give me what I want I Google more specifically or more broadly depending on the results. Most of what I found on Patagonia was inspiring but didn't help me understand how to get around and experience Patagonia. At this point in time, Google didn't get me far.
- I speak to people who have been there before. I find these people on twitter and Facebook. I spoke to Jeff of Career Break Secrets and Paige who Jeff introduced me to. Paige has done the trip and written about it on a personal blog. I read her blog which was very helpful.
- I go on YouTube and look for videos of the place I'm going.
- I download a cheap guide specific to my needs. I usually find one at some point in my research. In this case it was through Paige who wrote an ebook on Patagonia which I downloaded for $4.99.
- I narrow down my Google searches based on my conversations and reading. At this point I had an idea of how the trip to Patagonia could go so I Googled specific legs of the trip. I find the Thorn Tree Forum on Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor's forum to be very useful but I did travel all over the Internet for information. Links in the forums took me to new sites.
At this point, I have my document full with the names of hostels, B&Bs, bus companies, ferry companies… For Chile, I feel that I know enough to book what I need to in advance. Some planning can take place in Santiago where I'll have access to more resources.
How Much to Confirm
One of the joys of independent travel is that you're flexible. If you're having a great time, if you hear of a new opportunity, you can take it. So, while it is important to have done some planning, I think it is also important not to plan too much.
Tip from Mariellen of the Solo Travel Society: Be realistic about the itinerary — you won't see anything if you only stay one night somewhere — and remember that you get tired, hungry, cranky, bored while traveling too
Tip from Kaylin of the Solo Travel Society: Have someone else (preferably someone who has been there before) look over your plans. If they think it's too rushed/crazy/hectic, it probably is. Tone it down a little.
- Know what the trip will cost you and how you will manage your money.
- Make sure you have travel insurance.
- Scan and email your documents to yourself and at least one other person.
- Check your cell phone plan. You want to know the cost of using your phone while away and the cost of any plans they may have for travelers.
- Confirm weather trends to ensure that you pack appropriately.
- Pack light so that you can carry everything yourself easily.
- If you're carrying a backpack, pack it with what you're planning to bring and carry it for a block or two around your neighborhood. You'll find out if you need to cut some weight.
Additional Tips from the Solo Travel Society
Nick: Pack a small notebook of some kind..moleskin or just a generic one and don't forget the pen!! it will come in more handy than you'll ever know!
Scott: Pack less socks than you think you'll need . . . pack more smiles . . . more patience.
Jessica: Don't forget to advertise where your going to your friends- you never know who will know someone where you're going.
There is, of course, more to say on this subject. I hope you'll contribute in the comments.