Whether we've actually experienced it or only imagined it happening, we each have our own ideas of what solo travel disasters might be.
For some, it could be an issue at home while we're away. For others, it might be a problem in transit or at our destination.
The bottom line: when you travel solo it's all up to you.
Navigation, negotiation, safety: every decision is yours. This is great when everything is going well. But it may not be when there is a problem.
If something goes wrong as you travel solo you're pretty well on your own to find a solution.
The upside: if it's resolved easily it will make you feel capable and confident.
The downside: if it's not resolved, it could make you question your abilities to travel solo.
It's important to plan for success should things go wrong. For me, travel insurance is an essential part of my plan. Read Going Alone? A Complete Guide to Travel Insurance for Solo Travelers for tips on where to buy and not buy travel insurance, how to make sure you get the right coverage, and a price comparison of two recommended insurers, or Best Travel Insurance for Seniors: How to Find What’s Right for You for tips on buying travel insurance for seniors, including those with pre-existing conditions.
But travel insurance is just a backup. It's great to have if you need it but it's even better not to need it at all. So, let's begin with tips to avoid travel problems in the first place and then delve into how to address them should they arise.
How to Prevent Solo Travel Disasters Before You Leave
To avoid travel problems while on the road, look at your trip from all angles before you leave. Here are a few preventative tips to help you avoid problems before you even walk out the door.
- Avoid problems at home.
- Leave your keys with a trusted friend and have them check your home periodically. If you own a house, check the terms of your homeowners insurance to confirm how often you need someone to check your premises and what they should look for.
- Put out all garbage before leaving.
- Unplug devices to conserve power.
- Pay anticipated bills in advance or set them up to be automatically paid when they come due.
- Arrange for your mail to be held at the post office or be picked up.
- If you're going to be gone for a while read Top Tips for Solo Snowbirds for more ideas.
- Protect your identity. When you're traveling and going on public Wi-Fi it's important to protect your identity, especially when using your credit card or accessing any other confidential information. Sign up for a VPN service before leaving so that you can access important sites securely. Read Best VPN for Travel: What, Why and Feature-Price Comparison.
- Back up important documents. Carry your passport, travel insurance, and other documents in a safe place–a money belt or pouch is a good idea. But you also need to have backups of your documents in case you need them.
- Make photocopies of all documents and keep one set in the bottom of your suitcase and give another to a friend.
- Keep information securely in the cloud. Securely is the key word here. I use LastPass for this and more. Lastpass is a free app that's added to your computer, phone, and laptop. Its primary purpose is to securely generate, store, and populate passwords on the various sites you sign into. It also allows you to store personal data on its secure platform so I have my passport information stored there. It is recommended by our tech specialist, and much safer than storing passwords on your computer, using weak passwords, emailing your document information to yourself, and other basic forms of storing your information.
- Ensure that you have access to money. Carry more than one kind of credit card with you in case your preferred card is not accepted. Use ATMs to get money but don't take out large sums. Keep emergency backup funds in a separate place. It's always a good idea to have some American money or Euros on you no matter where you're traveling. Some credit card companies still want you to inform them when and where you will be traveling so give them a call. Read How to Manage Money While Traveling for more.
- Address health issues before leaving. Check with your doctor to determine whether you need special vaccinations for your destination. Book an appointment with a travel clinic if you do. Make sure that you have enough of any medication that you take regularly and travel with it in the bottle labeled by the pharmacy where you bought it. Falling ill while traveling, even if it's not serious, can feel like the biggest solo travel disaster of all. Read Sick & Solo: What’s a Traveler to Do? for tips to prevent illness as you travel and what to do if you become unwell.
- Pack wisely: Whether you only take a carry-on or you travel with more, it's a good idea to put your ownership information inside your bag. Check the airline's policies regarding carry-on luggage and make sure that you meet their restrictions in terms of size and weight. If you're over their maximum weight try wearing the heavier items and packing the lighter ones. To help you pack light, check out my carry-on packing list.
- Carry and back up all travel arrangements: With so much travel planning done online, there can be a lot of tickets and confirmations to juggle. At the beginning of trip planning, I start a new travel folder on my computer. I store all flights, hotel bookings, excursions etc., in that folder. Before leaving I print out all documents and back up the folder in the cloud so that I will have access to it even if I lose the hard copies.
- Buy travel insurance: I have a premium credit card but I still never travel without buying specific travel insurance. If you're planning a long trip, watch carefully for the duration of trips allowed. Note: with the exception of World Nomads, you must buy insurance before leaving on a trip.
What to Do When Things Go Wrong on Your Travels
Unfortunately, there are some solo travel disasters, medical and non-medical, that you can't plan for. In these cases, travel insurance comes to the rescue.
- If you need to delay, cancel, or shorten your trip: We cannot control everything. Sometimes plans change. You may not be able to travel due to an illness, job loss, or an immediate family member’s medical emergency. You may need to return home earlier than planned for similar reasons. In cases like these, travel insurance can protect your travel investment. But call your insurance provider before changing your plans.
- If you have a medical emergency: When selecting your medical insurance, make sure that it includes upfront payment of claims and adequate emergency medical coverage. When an emergency happens, call the emergency contact number as soon as possible. You will reach multilingual representatives who are experienced in coordinating emergency care for travelers. They know your coverage and will coordinate your care with the hospital nearest to you. If the emergency prevents you from calling, call when you can or have someone else call on your behalf. This will protect you from receiving treatment that is not covered by your policy.
- If your luggage is lost: You are more likely to lose luggage if you are taking many flights with connectors or using small carriers with planes that cannot manage the standard carry-on. Unfortunately, many airlines will not reimburse you for lost luggage. Make sure your travel insurance covers lost luggage and contact your travel insurance provider should this problem arise. Luggage tags can give you some peace of mind. Here's our review of two luggage trackers and an explanation of how they work.
- If you encounter problems on a road trip: I have written extensive guides for both fair weather and winter road trips that will help you with both preventing and resolving solo travel disasters of the automotive kind. Read A Winter Road Trip Alone: 40 Essential Tips for Survival and Enjoyment and A Road Trip Alone: Top 10 Tips to Prepare for everything you need to know.