You’re on your own and it’s a big, new city.
And yes, there’s that saying… you don’t know what you don’t know.
Sometimes that’s a good thing. Going without too much of a plan can result in some wonderful surprise experiences.
But sometimes it’s not so great. You have your safety and budget to protect plus there are likely some not-to-be-missed sights. Going without a plan could cost you more plus you could miss some of the best of your destination.
In preparation for my trip to Ireland next week when I’ll be going to Dublin, Galway and Belfast I’m doing some city travel planning. And I’m observing how I do it. So I thought I’d share my tips for solo travel to a new city.
Solo Travel to a New City: The Do’s
- Before you go…
- Study a map before you go. Get to know what’s up and what’s down. Is the city organized on a grid? Are there landmarks that can be seen from many directions that could be your guide? In New York City you’ll notice that streets run east and west while avenues run north and south. In Toronto the CN Tower is near the lake and therefore south. Glean this kind of information by studying a map and navigating a new city will be easier.
- Identify your priorities. From guide books to blogs, there are so many ways of doing this. Check out our Destination section to learn what we have on your city of choice. Go to the UNESCO site and their World Heritage List to learn whether there is a cultural or natural site of great significance in or near your destination. Another favorite is to look up city tours and see what’s on offer. You don’t have to take a tour. Just looking at the itinerary will help you decide what you don’t want to miss. Viator.com and Urban Adventures are great places to start for this.
- Find the free stuff. Every city has free stuff. Read Solo Travel with Fabulous Travel Freebies and check out our 32 Tips section which has a list of free and low-cost tips for many major cities.
- Book accommodation central to your priorities. Start with the Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide where you’ll find hotels, B&Bs, hostels and boutique hotels that have been recommended by other solo travelers.
- Understand the transit system. Again, you may want to start by studying the transit map. Is it simple like Toronto’s so you can sort out most routes on your own or complicated like London’s where you’ll definitely want their app to help you get around. Most cities have apps for tourists now. They’re worthwhile downloading.
- Prepare the basics you need for every trip. This is not specific to solo travel to a new city but it needs to be part of all travel plans. Read our trip planning page and make sure you have insurance, a VPN to protect your privacy on public WiFi, a spare credit card and more. We have a simple VPN setup guide here.
- When you get there…
- Take transit from the airport or train station to your accommodation. May as well start saving and learning to get around by transit right away.
- Check in and if you’re too early, drop off your luggage. It’s exciting. You want to get going. Drop the weight of luggage and head out. But, before you do…
- Talk to the desk clerk or concierge. As a solo traveler you want to leave a crumb trail behind you. Chat with the desk clerk about the best way to get to your first stop. That allows him or her know that you’re alone and where you’re going – you don’t need to be obvious about this. Grab the hotel’s card so that you have no problem getting back at the end of the day.
- Listen to locals. People will love to tell you where to go. Sometimes you have to explain that you’re looking to do things and go places that they go – not the places that tourists go. Once they get it you’ll start receiving inside tips for food, sporting events, theater…
Solo Travel to a New City: The Don’ts
- Don’t plan too much. You’ll want to have time to be spontaneous and go with the flow – whether that flow is a surprising opportunity or a plan that didn’t work out and ate up your time.
- Don’t take cabs. There is so much to be seen and learned by walking and taking public transport – never mind the savings you’ll enjoy. Take a cab at night if safety is an issue but otherwise slow down and enjoy the getting around as much as the getting there.
- Don’t just stay in the city center. Get outta town. Find out what’s in the suburbs and even farther afield. A day trip beyond your city destination really rounds out your travel experience. I’m thinking of my trip to the Blue Mountains out of Sydney and Tai O, a fishing village outside of Hong Kong.
- Don’t go away from public places with someone new. This is a safety issue. You’ll be meeting people which is great fun. But for your safety, stay in a public place.
- Don’t break any of the safety rules you were taught growing up. Just because you’re on holidays doesn’t mean you can drop all rules. Keep the safety rules taught to you by your parents. They are as important traveling as they are at home.