The world is the independent traveller’s oyster – The availability of budget travel and now budget accommodation, courtesy of Airbnb, means the solo traveller is spoilt for choice. What are the key things to think about before your trip begins?
Below are some tips to make the most of your independent trip:
Booking travel first
Getting cheap travel is usually the number one priority. It’s useful to use a site like Sky Scanner to benchmark prices and then go to individual airline sites, such as Ryanair to try to improve on the prices. Airlines often do not try particularly try hard to make their pricing transparent, so the consumer is forced to do a lot of “shopping around”.
Tip: – Cheap flights often equate to long stopovers or anti-social departure/arrival times. Flying out of Stansted airport at 7 am may present problems and involve extra costs – this is a factor to bear in mind.
For long-haul flights, the comfort and the spacing of the seats is a factor to be taken into account (https://www.seatguru.com). Finally, it is all very well booking cheap flights but you want to improve your odds of arriving safely by avoiding airlines with a chequered safety record (see here).
The same principle applies to booking accommodation, you need to benchmark prices in a location. Use Booking.com (never joined? Get 10% off with this code here), Airbnb (Get £25 off your first booking here), housetrip.com (also worth checking out) and filter the places by price to suit your price range. Always check the cancellation policies so that you are not too out of pocket if you unexpectedly need to cancel your booking. Another cancellation risk is that an Airbnb host may cancel at a late date. It may be worth identifying alternative accommodation as a back-up.
Tip: If you want to travel on a budget consider staying in a hostel. Read our top 7 saving tips for staying in hostels here.
Check the weather
Apart from events that may thwart your travel plans, it’s as well to review average weather patterns for previous years; look at hours of sunshine/average rainfalls. Wikitravel is a good site for providing general weather trends per region. It may prevent you from arriving somewhere in the middle of the monsoon season during a national/bank holidays.
Tip: If you are an intrepid traveller and your travel plans involve high-risk countries, it makes sense to check the consular advice issued by a number of developed countries.
It always makes sense to have some cash for incidental expenses, local buses, taxis, snacks in your country of destination.
Once you have identified a cost-effective card, depending on initial fees, it may make sense to split your funds over two or more cards so that you have a backup arrangement in place just in case one card is lost or stolen or the visa payment system suffers an outage.
Tip: Remember to give yourself a few ways to access your money when abroad and when travelling around, do not keep all your money in the one place/wallet.
Insurance – you need it.
Within Europe, an EHIC gives EU resident travellers access to the state healthcare system in the travel destination. It is essential that travellers ensure that they carry a valid EHIC card with them on their travels. It is easy to overlook the fact that these cards carry an expiry date (in small print). Ensure that yours is up-to-date. Because the EHIC only provides a basic level of health cover (which does not exclude pre-existing conditions), travellers are recommended to have private health insurance as well.
When travelling to certain countries, e.g., the US, Canada, Caribbean and certain countries in the Far East, comprehensive health insurance is essential because the costs of treatment can be insanely high. The insurance documentation should be carried with you always because it may be necessary to prove entitlement to cover before receiving treatment. Because insurance is a contract of the “utmost good faith”, you should avoid the temptation to conceal information to reduce the premium. In these circumstances, the insurance will be void. See our article on getting cheap insurance here.
Tip: If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may need to approach a specialist insurer who can evaluate the risks and set an appropriate premium accordingly. Over 80? Read our top insurance tips here.
Staying in touch
Always leave close friends a detailed itinerary of your travel plans and notify them of safe arrival/departure. Notify them of any trips “off the beaten track” beforehand and agree what procedure they should follow if you fail to report back in on time. Subscribe to FCO twitter feeds that may alert you to new risks. Scan copies of travel insurance, EHIC and essential passport details into an email account and give any travel companion /close friend/relative back home access to it.
List galore – What should you pack?
Nothing is more annoying than forgetting to pack something essential for your trip. This link provides a very comprehensive list that you can adapt, as appropriate, for your travel. Remember to have separate lists for hand luggage (important documents etc) and hold luggage (swiss army knives, although users will be confiscated if packed in carrying- on luggage). Packing medical items? see this useful BBC link.
Tip: First aid kits can cause problems in some jurisdictions because they may contain banned substances. The travel advisory in www.tripprep.com may identify some of these potential problems.
All this information should, at least, improve the chances of avoiding mishaps while abroad. *Special thanks to Adrian Ogley for contributing towards this article.
Have a safe trip. Please share any tips below.