Another Friday, another guest post. Today, and for two more weeks, I'll be sharing guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers & photographers and people I'm lucky enough to call friends.
Today, I want to introduce you to my friend Gennean! In her words: I’m a twenty-something gal currently living in California who recently returned from the trip of a lifetime — a four and a half month journey through eleven European countries. And it was actually toward the end of this trip that Hannah and I met in real life after following one another’s blogs and Instagram for a while. We met on a rainy London day at a cute shop called Biscuiteers where we drank cream tea and swapped life stories for a good few hours. I was at the end of my big European adventure, and it was so lovely to process some of the things I’d seen and learned over the last few months with a sweet, new friend.
Truly, I could have sat there and talked to Gennean for h o u r s more, but I had to catch the train back to Birmingham! I cannot wait for our paths to cross again, and in the meantime, there’s always Instagram!
For some backstory, after paying off all of my student loan debt in 2016 and saving for about a year, I quit my full-time job in Nashville and moved back home to California for a few months before embarking on my adventure across the Atlantic earlier this year. Of course, there is so much that goes into this story — from the fear of leaving the comfort of my life in Nashville to trusting God to work all of the details together — but some of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting as of late are around the practicalities of planning a solo trip. Whether you are going away for four days or four months, here are some of the things to keep in mind when planning a solo trip:
First things first, let me say this: you should not go into debt for a trip. Ever. If you cannot realistically afford a holiday within your current means, I honestly don’t think that you should be taking one. This has always been my mantra, even (and especially) while I was paying off debt. If I wanted to take a few days off here or there for a long weekend, I would always save for it beforehand. So this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take trips if you have debt; it just means you have to be more intentional in your planning.
Speaking of planning, creating a budget is one of the first things you should consider when planning for a trip. It may seem tedious or annoying, but having a plan for your money is a great way to start the planning process. It was the first thing I worked on with my Europe trip, because I needed to know just how much money I would need to save before I could start getting into the nitty gritty details. You can do this with pen and paper or create a spreadsheet (my preference, that way you can access it easily from anywhere) that includes with all of the necessary categories of spending for your holiday. For my multi-month long trip, my budget included the following:
Food ($X per day, multiplied by X days)
Lodging ($X per night, multiplied by X nights)
Other Travel Expenses (train, bus, etc.)
Entertainment + Fun
Recurring Bills (Giving, Phone, Insurances, etc.)
Placing all of these categories into a formulated spreadsheet that showed total numbers can really help with saving the money you’ll need. You can adapt your budget as necessary for your trip, but this is a good place to start. While actively saving for your trip, you can do a few different things to keep your travel funds apart from your other money to avoid spending it prematurely, like withdrawing cash after each pay check and keeping it tucked away or creating a separate savings account for the trip. For more tips on saving money for travel, check out my more detailed post.
Packing for a trip tends to elicit one of two reactions: freaking out about planning and just throwing whatever into a suitcase, or getting all kinds of excited and creating a detailed document with each and every item to pack based on the weather and activities planned. I tend to fall into the latter category of human, and almost always create a spreadsheet where I compile a list all of the things that I want to pack for an upcoming trip. I realize this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found that preparing ahead of time can really save you both time and potential headaches in the future. Not only will you have better and/or the right things ready to go, but your bag will likely be lighter as a result of planning ahead. And remember, in most cases, you can always run to the store if you really need something that you didn’t pack. When it comes to the practical stuff, like actually getting your stuff into a bag, some people debate the folding vs. rolling methods, but have you heard of packing cubes? They are a lifesaver! Not only do they keep your things organized, but I’m convinced that they also help you get more into your bag than you could without them! So fold or roll to your heart’s content, but make sure you’re using some packing cubes. Lastly, be sure to think through what things might be available to you that you can skip packing, like a blow dryer, toiletries, etc. in order to make more space in your bag. I had to be really specific with what I packed on my Europe trip, which you can read more about here.
My biggest piece of advice when it comes to packing is this: be realistic, and try to adopt a minimalist mindset if you can. Do you need two jackets for a summer trip? Or three pair of shoes for a 4-day weekend? Try to pack intentionally, choosing items you can mix and match to create more outfit choices. Less might really be more when it comes to packing, as having less stuff could free up your mental and emotional space, giving you more room for more experiences and memories. And that’s what really matters, right?
Traveling by yourself, especially as a woman, can seem scary. Trust me, I totally get it. I had plenty of well-meaning people express some concern when I started talking about my plans to travel for a while. While I appreciated their concern, I’m here to tell you that traveling solo does not have to be scary… but it does mean being more aware and a bit more cautious. Some safety tips are fairly common sense, like avoiding dark, desolate areas (especially when you’re alone), not telling someone you just met where you’re staying, and not flashing around cash or expensive items, especially in heavily tourist-filled areas (like the Colosseum in Rome). Along with those, here are a few of my personal tips for staying safe while traveling solo:
Try to look like as much of a local as possible. You can do this in a number of ways: walk confidently and look like you know where you’re going, feel free to make eye contact with people on the street, and don’t wear something that screams “tourist,” like a money belt or big camera. This will help you to not stick out as a potential target to scammers or thieves.
While exploring, keep your headphones on you. Whether you choose to actually listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book or not is totally up to you, but having your headphones in can help you avoid any potentially awkward conversations. Plus, you will actually end up looking more like a local this way.
Keep your eyes up and off your phone. You should definitely know where you’re going, so if that means peeping at Google Maps from time to time, that’s totally okay. But don’t be so focused on your phone that you miss what’s happening around you. Not only can this make someone an easier target, but it keeps you distracted and less able to potentially defend yourself.
Lastly, try to always be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you need to be on hyper alert all of the time, but take mental note of what’s going on around you and make decisions from there. If something feels off, move on. Know yourself and trust your gut.
Ultimately, when traveling solo, remember keep your head up, eyes open, and be as prepared as you can, but most of all, remember to have fun! This is an experience to be savored and enjoyed, so make sure you’re embracing every moment!
THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVELING SOLO
Traveling solo is simultaneously totally amazing and super hard, and that — I think — is the beauty of it. There’s something so very special about exploring on your own, because you will be challenged to grow in so many ways: you will edge out of your comfort zones; you’ll experience exhilaration and exhaustion and loneliness in the same breath; you will learn boundaries and how to take care of yourself; your confidence will soar and you’ll learn when to ask for help; you’ll do things you never thought you could or would; and you will see some absolutely stunning places and meet beautiful souls along the way. You will grow, you will change, and you will be better because of it.
I hope that some of my tips for planning a solo trip — from packing to budgeting and staying safe — have inspired you to take one in the future. I’ve chatted with some people in my circles who’ve said they don’t think they could ever travel by themselves, but let me squash that thought. Letting fear stop you from trying something new is no way to live, and I promise that you have what it takes to do it yourself. So whether it’s a long weekend or a few months, taking a solo trip has the potential to be absolutely life changing…so what are you waiting for?
You should follow Gennean on Instagram, too.