Back in 1997 I took the first of many solo trips, well in fact that year I did 3 trips the first a group trip skiing in the French Alps, the second my first volunteer trip away in Greece for 5 weeks and then Egypt for 4 weeks. I spent a lot of time in airports and on buses, trains and taxis that year as well as being at University. Since then I’ve flown solo to various destinations around the world. Backwards and forwards to Greece when working as a volunteer out there and then from the UK to Costa Rica via various routes numerous times a year and from Costa Rica to the USA as well.
Woman carries your luggage at the airport terminal via Deposit Photos
Going to the airport solo isn’t like travelling with friends and family and making those first steps can be really daunting. Here are my top tips for the airport as a solo traveller:
A note from world travel, not all airports have trolleys, and in a lot of airports the trolleys need a local currency coin to use them. So pack sensibly, you will need to be able to walk around and it could be for quite long distances from your arrival point to the check in desk and possibly stand around with your luggage. It wasn’t until I got married that I owned a suitcase (we actually won them!) I’d always had a backpack and if I could carry it then it wasn’t coming with me. My test was standing for the news on TV (around 20 minutes) with the backpack on full of the stuff I wanted to take and my day pack… if I couldn’t do it then things had to go.
Trolleys, restrooms, vending machines, the overly helpful guy that won’t put your bag down as you step out of a taxi they need some coins. Some destinations it’s easy to get hold of coins for, friends and family may have some Euro’s, Dollars etc laying around and if not when you get your travel money get the lowest domination note and change it for something anything as soon as you arrive so you have some change in the local currency.
Wherever you go in the world these are a big deal – sort it out. I can’t believe still how many people don’t get this. It’s simple the small zip lock bag with all liquids in 100ml or less inside. This includes toothpaste and lip salves. Ditch your water before you enter the line, drink it but keep the empty bottle or use a refillable bottle. Keep your liquids bag right at the top of your carry on. Get it out in the queue for security and let it go through the x-ray machines. As soon as you get to the other side either fill up your water bottle from a water fountain or go and buy one.
A real book
YEP really bring a real book with you – something that you know you will be interested in reading. What you don’t want to do is find out you have a delay and end up wearing out the batteries on your e-reader instead you can save those batteries and sit and read a real book. When I travelled first this wasn’t a problem no e-readers back in the dark ages of backpacking but I always had at least 1 book that I could pull out. Sometimes it was a book that I was re-reading other times I would have exchanged it along the way but it was and still is a constant companion.
Get through to the departure lounge as soon as you can
If you are lucky and are being dropped off at the airport for your first solo trip leaving your family and friends can be a big step no matter how you are prepared if not then as soon as you have checked in and you can get through to departures there are normally LOADS more seats there and even if you have to stand for a little while you are in prime position to get a seat as soon as one becomes vacant. There are also usually more options for food, drink etc… So now is the time to have a bite especially as you’ve got time and we know how bad some airplane food can be!
Truthfully if you are backpacking you are highly unlucky to be bumped because lets face it, you’ve got a backpack on your back and if you are returning no matter how well you have laundered your clothes depending on where you’ve been you may also smell (sorry it has to be said!) so you don’t need to dress high-end fashion instead dress comfortably for your point of departure but be prepared for your arrival point as well. Avoid clothes that have belts, buttons, too many zips (do you want to be setting off the alarm each time you go through) instead opt for comfortable clothes and layers. Fleece will keep you warm and doesn’t take up as much space as other warm clothes. Try and avoid jeans even if they are you staple piece of clothes – swap them for something more comfortable, less hot denim is horrid in humid heat and they will dig in whilst you sleep (yes I speak from experience here!).
Oh and shoes – UK and US airports in my experience require you to take off your shoes elsewhere in the world not so much and you know what shoes have metal in them especially ones that are great for walking in. I travelled after 9/11 wearing my walking boots, laces everywhere and regretted as I did a 3 stop over flight! From that point on I carry my walking boots in my backpack and wear my sandals in the airport. If it’s cold I swap them over when I arrive and always put a pair of socks in my carry on and then as soon as I get my backpack and through security at the other end I swap them back again so I don’t have to carry the heavy boots to the transport.
Charge everything before hand
More recently and I’ve only noticed this when flying with the kids is that they may stop you at security and ask for you to switch on anything battery operated – so your phone, camera, tablet, laptop, etc… Make sure that you charge it before entering the airport and see above about the real book it’s just another reason to make sure that you have one.
If you don’t have it charged and can’t get it to work it is a security risk and will be destroyed.
I’ll be back with more solo traveller advice as well as advice for travelling with kids and with friends.