1. A roomy-yet-lightweight travel backpack.
In the great debate between suitcases and backpacks, I prefer to use a backpack when traveling alone. The downside is that most travel backpacks are quite frankly, fugly, and basically say to the world, “Look at me! I’m a tourist!”. Which is why I’m a big fan of the Gregory Compass bag ($99). It has a monotone and minimalist design that can pass for a standard urban backpack, but also has a ton of spacious compartments including a discreet laptop sleeve. If you’re a short lady like me, it can also be tough finding a travel backpack that fits, but even the 40-liter size (the Compass bag also comes in 30-liter) has been easy for me to manage on my travels.
2. An itinerary and plan to check-in with a friend.
Have a documented plan for where you’ll be and when, and send it to a trusted friend. You can be as detailed as you want. I usually include address and contact information for any hotels or Airbnbs I’ll be staying at, along with transportation departure and arrival times. When traveling between locations, I also recommend setting up a check-in time that your friend can expect to hear from you and know you arrived safely.
3. A pair of waterproof boots.
The more multipurpose your shoes are, the less you need to pack. So waterproof boots that work on any terrain and in any weather condition are a good investment. I’ve found that a pair of duck boots like these warm and comfortable Sperry Saltwater Boots are great for both light hikes and city walks alike.
4. A small but mighty flashlight.
If you’re going to be doing any traveling or hiking at night, invest in a strong but compact flashlight you can clip onto your backpack. This one is highly reviewed on Amazon and has adjustable brightness settings.
5. Realistic expectations for how much $$$ you’ll spend.
Let’s face it: Many of the safest places to travel alone are also some of the most expensive. If it’s your first time traveling solo, you may want to consider going somewhere with a good safety reputation in order to make the trip as stress-free as possible. Just be prepared for high costs on things like food (it cost me almost $17 to buy a Chipotle-style burrito bowl in Norway) and lodging, since you won’t be splitting the cost with anyone.
Travel often? (Or want to?) Consider applying for a travel-friendly credit card so you can earn more points on travel expenses and put that toward future trips. Or learn the frequent-flier game — here’s a great beginner’s guide to earning airline miles.
6. A tripod.
An inexpensive and compact tripod can help you take more dynamic photos and videos of yourself on your travels — and it’ll save you the stigma of a selfie stick. This basic one from Amazon fits perfectly into the travel backpack I recommend in this post.
7. A compact raincoat or poncho.
Again, anything that frees up both of your hands is a very good thing when you’re traveling solo. That’s why I prefer raincoats and ponchos to umbrellas. Most ponchos will also fold up really thin and often come with a storage sleeve, such as this one from Amazon.
8. A prepaid data plan you don’t actually use.
For years I relied solely on mooching Wi-Fi from cafes and hotels when traveling abroad, because buying a prepaid international plan didn’t seem worth the cost. However, I’d inevitably find myself in stressful situations where I had no service and really needed to pull something up on my phone, like the receipt for a train ticket when my confirmation number wasn’t working. These days I view international data plans like an insurance policy.
The key is to pretend you don’t even have it. A few posts on social media (especially video) will burn through most of your available data, and international overage charges are not cheap. Set your phone to airplane mode, keep mooching Wi-Fi, and only use data when you absolutely need to. As an added bonus, most international data plans also grant you access to Wi-Fi hotspots in most airports and train stations.
9. A universal travel adapter.
When I travel alone my phone is my life line. It’s my map, my guide book, and my big red panic button in case of an emergency. Which is why it’s important to remember your ABCs: Always. Be. Charging. A universal adapter is easier to keep track of and will serve you on many future trips. Try finding an adapter that also has USB ports so you can keep all your devices fully charged. This one from Amazon is even kind of cute?
10. An external battery pack.
To continue on the theme of “always be charging,” a portable battery pack is pretty much essential. Especially if you’re going to be taking a ton of snaps and Instagrams. Mophie provides a variety of batteries for different needs.
11. Ride-sharing apps that document your trip.
I often rely on services like Lyft or Uber when I’m traveling alone. I can get a fare estimate directly on the app, and I don’t have to worry about negotiating in a language I’m less familiar with. These apps also have a record of your driver’s identity and your intended destination. In addition, you can use the Send ETA feature to allow a friend to track your ride in real time and make sure you arrive safely.
12. A water resistant daypack.
A few years ago I replaced a crossbody bag that was stolen on one of my trips with a Kanken mini-backpack and have never looked back. It has two handles on top which can be snapped together for extra security or so you can hold it like a handbag. The square shape of the Kanken also affords more storage room than a standard backpack, plus it’s water resistant and has kept my belongings dry on snorkeling and kayaking trips alike.
13. An empowering book that can serve as your travel companion.
One of the hardest parts about being alone and on the road is not having a friend there to reassure you when you feel insecure. In some ways, a good book can fill that void. Reading stories about other independent travelers on their own journeys has always made me feel a little more confident, reassured, and inspired.
One of my favorite travel companions is a copy of Women Who Run With Wolves, a collection of folklore from different cultures that examines women’s relationship with nature. You can find more suggestions for great travel-related reads in this list.
14. A plan to arrive during the day.
Some cities never sleep, while others shut down after dark. In case something goes wrong with your reservation, or you’re unable to reach your host, it’s a lot easier — and safer — to deal with this problem during the day.
15. A travel-sized first aid kit.
If you’re on a road-trip, keep a compact first aid kit in your trunk. If you’ll be flying, remember to remove any sharp objects before packing it into your carry-on.
16. Global Entry.
If you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry lets you to skip the line (and having to talk to people) by instead completing immigration through an electronic kiosk, so you can be back in your own bed that much sooner. The $100 fee for Global Entry also enrolls you in TSA-Pre and lasts for five years. Many credit cards geared toward travel rewards will also cover or refund your Global Entry fee as a perk.
17. Laundry sheets that will help you pack lighter.
I usually pack about a week’s worth of clothes and try to stay in places with access to a washing machine. Travel sheets like these from Purex are spill-proof, take up minimal space, and act as both a detergent and a dryer sheet. If you don’t have access to a machine or detergent, you can even get away with using a hotel-sized bottle of gentle shampoo to handwash most clothes.
18. Organizational pouches.
There’s nothing more irritating than having to remove and re-fold all of your clothes in order to dig out that stick of deodorant buried at the bottom of your bag. Instead, use organized pouches to find items quickly and preserve all your folding work. They even make special pouches just for your undergarments, so you can actually pack your bras flat. This one from Mochi Things even comes with a pouch for dirty laundry.
19. A day reserved for doing nothing.
Remember: It’s not a movie. Films like Eat Pray Love and Wild paint an inspiring but dramatized picture of what it’s like to travel by yourself. If you want to spend a day curled up inside your hotel room marathoning Netflix, there’s nothing wrong with that (actually, that sounds amazing).
Take a day to recharge because traveling alone can, surprisingly, be socially exhausting. Don’t feel pressured to “find yourself” either. Just focus on making yourself comfortable and inevitably you’ll learn something from that.