It’s less than two weeks before you travel the world solo and just like every other aspect in your life – you’re unprepared. You’ve googled “what to pack when traveling alone?” about a dozen times, yet you feel uneasy about what you’re potentially missing.
Lucky for you, I have incredibly well-traveled friends who don’t trust my judgment (or common sense) at all… so below, you’ll find a thorough packing list along with fundamental traveling tips they sent me before I departed on my life-changing trip to Europe (Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon if you need to know the deets!).
If you’re anything like me–incompetent–I feel bad for you if you are, you won’t plan anything until the month you’re leaving. If you’re not a piece of shit that actually proactively plans, I suggest you do the following:
- Plan based on seasons
I planned my trip for spring. Summer tends to be busier, more expensive and way hotter. Because I traveled in spring I was able to enjoy beautiful weather (not too muggy), reasonably priced hostels and less anxiety from everyone around me. If you’re heading to a country because of a specific season, make sure to plan well in advance.
- Book hostels/ hotels months in advance
You’ll want to make sure to check out your living accommodations well before you leave. You’ll most likely be able to save yourself a fortune compared to booking last minute.
- Travel light
Basic, basic, basic! What I mean here is take only your basic necessities (being the list I provide below), I traveled with a decent size backpackers bag, which I was able to take as a carry on – on most flights.
- Book flights early
Normally the sooner you book a flight the better the deal, however, this isn’t always the case so I suggest keeping your eyes on flights until you find a can’t-say-no-to-that price. There are websites like Skiplagged, that can help you find the most affordable flights!
Do a bit of research about the area and the country before you go. Don’t be the super annoying obnoxious American that no one likes because that really is a thing. Be aware and understand at least some customs of the locals. If I had to pick one, I would look up the customs for tipping in each country!
- Be aware
When you’re walking around, be aware of your surroundings only take what you need and always be aware of where it is on you. Pickpocketing is REAL. Anything else, lock up at your hostel.
- Keep shopping to a minimum
Remember that you have to bring everything back and it all has to fit in your pack. If you buy like a bottle of wine or something, then you’ll have to check your bags.
- Eat good, eat local!
Go to the local spots and eat local food. Don’t order boring things and don’t be boring. Eat from food stands on the street, eat bugs or whatever is custom to that area, be adventurous!
- Keep your family/ friends updated
Always keep someone at home up to date on where you are. Give a loved one a copy of your passport and your itinerary.
- Take lots and lots of pictures!
This is a once in a lifetime experience, make sure you document those memories as best you can.
- Pre-download music/ podcasts
When you don’t have a connection, you’ll want to make sure your favorite jams are saved on your phone for your travel days!
- Download travel apps
Maps.Me along with WhatsApp are a few of the best travel apps to have. Maps.Me allows you to download maps so you don’t get lost (works without network connection), while WhatsApp helps you stay connected to all your soon-to-be new international friends! Do some research and download what you think you’ll need!
- Have fun!
Meet some locals and hang out with them. Maybe hook up with them too!? #ForRealTho
When you stay in hostels, stay in the dorm room style rooms in the hostels. There will be times you will want your space and privacy and that’s okay for some days, but really enjoy being around other people from other countries. It’s the greatest way to meet people.
It truly is an awesome thing being around other people who don’t know anyone else, don’t know the area, and want a friend just like you! In Barcelona, I met flatmates minutes within arriving and ended up going out to party with them (and the rest of the hostel) 10 minutes after! Yes, I hadn’t even settled down before I went out for my first night – don’t judge! Anyway.
Within Europe, I recommend taking flights from country to country since they are extremely affordable! My most expensive flight was about $60 (US Dollars). This can help save a lot of time if you are on a restricted schedule and will also allow you to stay in your destinations for longer since you won’t have to be traveling in trains for long periods.
- Plan to arrive at the airport 2 hours before domestic flights, 3 hours before international flights.
- Check TSA regulations for limits on liquids and creams (usually no more than 3 OZ (100 ML) containers), also make sure your carry on items comply with your airline’s measurements.
- Don’t check in your bag, carry it on the plane with you, it’s so much easier! That way, you’ll then never be stuck in a situation where your bag didn’t make it.
Within cities and countries, take public transportation. Buses and metros tend to be cheap, easy to use and convenient! If you are traveling alone and don’t feel like taking a bus/ train/ metro too late, check for Uber and Lyft!
- When you take busses or taxis, always tell them where you’re going and ask for the price FIRST. A lot of times they’ll try to throw a huge price at you cause they know you’re foreign.
What You’ll Need:
One of the crucial things you should do before even considering booking a flight is getting your passport! If you don’t have a passport, remember, it can take up to 8 weeks for this document to be processed, made and shipped. Don’t let your impulse get the best of you, so keep that information in mind before booking any non-refundable tickets out of the country.
A passport is also one of (if not) the most important document you will be carrying. Losing it can prove to be a major setback for any traveler, and can potentially cost you a lot of time and hard-earned money. Therefore, it is important to keep your passport safe at all times. I recommend keeping it in a safe area when traveling (fanny pack, purse, front pocket) and once you’ve arrived at your destination I recommend storing it in a locker or drawer.
Pro tip: If staying in hostels or other shared spaces, put your passport in a locked compartment.
Thinking about carrying your passport on you as a form of ID? Don’t! Carrying your passport on you when walking through the cities is a risk that you most likely don’t need to take. Throughout my two weeks in Europe (Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon), I was only asked for my passport at the airport and at my hostel (showing them an ID at the hostel would have worked too).
Pro tip: Make copies of your passport and place it in your luggage/ carry on.
If you’re an unlucky fuck who loses their passport abroad, you’ll want to read this article.
This part is pretty subjective, depending a lot on your spending habits and needs. I don’t like to carry more than a few hundred on my person, so what I did, was open a credit card that had no foreign transaction fees at all. More debt! What could possibly go wrong, right?!
Anyway, this card actually helped me save a pretty penny since foreign transaction fees can unexpectedly add up. Most bank cards will likely charge an ATM fee on top of a percentage of what’s being taken out – so be aware of how much you’re carrying and do some research on what you think you’ll need.
Before heading out on my trip, I got 500 Euros. Because I would use my card for most transactions, I went through my cash slowly and used it wisely. Not all places accept cards, so that is where cash will come in handy!
Always carry some cash on you in different denominations, but not all in one place. I kept an emergency $100 on me (somewhere hidden), a small amount in my wallet, and the majority in a fanny pack, which I wore under my clothes at all times. That way if I was ever mugged I would just give away $20 in my wallet while still keeping most money and without having to worry about how I would pay to get home.
Don’t forget to tell your bank you’re traveling so they don’t stop your card. You can usually put a note on your account online.
Pro tip (aka I fucked this up on my trip and learned this the hard way): Remember to exchange currency at least a week or two before your departure. Not all currency exchanges will carry the currency you are looking for, so you mustn’t leave this for the last minute. I also recommend keeping an eye on the exchange rate and exchanging when your currency is worth more.
What to Pack:
Before heading out you’ll want to calculate how long you’ll be gone for since the number of specific items (sweaters, coats, jackets, underwear) depends on the length of travel, where you are going and your destination’s weather pattern.
Besides two cold and rainy days in Paris and one super rainy day in Lisbon, I was greeted by incredible weather in Europe!
My well-traveled friends were able to send me this incredible list:
- A sweater and a jacket – One hard shell and one softshell. In other words, something to keep you warm like a sweatshirt, and something to keep you okay from sucky weather like a windbreaker or rain jacket.
- Wear these on the airplane for extra room in your luggage/ carry on! Again, check the weather before you depart you do not want to be stuck in a country cold or wet as hell because you failed to do so.
- Workout outfits – Work out tops and bottoms. This is for the unanticipated hikes, the lazy days, the traveling days spent on trains, planes, also for those questionable hostels, etc.
- I suggest lightweight anti-stink gear that won’t bulk up your bags. I took a few pairs of Lululemon shorts and their signature non-stink tops, which are comfortable, lightweight and easily packed into an already over-stuffed carryon.
- Something to pass the time –Leave your laptop at home, you don’t need to add any more weight to your already heavy bag so instead opt for a book or a journal.
- Comfortable shoes and socks! Make sure your socks are thick, sturdy, and comfy; your feet will definitely thank you after all the walking. Bring a good pair of shoes that are nice for walking and a pair of waterproof sandals, these will help your feet breathe and will also help you avoid stepping on the bathroom floors in hostels. If you have room, I’d pack an extra casual pair for when you want to give your Nikes a break (or when they just don’t match your ‘fit).
- If you’re running out of room in your pack, tie your shoes to the outside of your backpack, and of course- wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane.
- Note: Because of my restriction (only one backpacker’s bag) I only ended up taking the pair of shoes I wore and one pair of sandals. If you do, however, have the room in your bags I suggest taking more.
- A few shirts – make them adaptable, comfortable, and layer-able. I would pack no more than 4 or 5.
- Try not to choose “outfits” when you’re packing, just aim for a lot of things that can go together and can be easily matched.
- A packing strategy is to “roll” them rather than fold them. You can look up a video of this on YouTube.
- Your favorite pair of comfortable jeans, a few shorts, and another pair of pants – I don’t think you need to pack more than 3 or 4 bottoms. You’ll end up wearing the same easily-matched jeans/ shorts every day anyways.
- Bathing suit – I would pack two, especially if you’re going somewhere with beautiful beaches or extravagant pools.
- Portable phone chargers/ long charging chord/ international converter – You will definitely need these at some point. Don’t be that “can we sit next to an outlet?” person. This is a must, especially when you find out there’s no outlet next to your hostel bed and then it’s just annoying. A long charging chord will set you back a few dollars and will give you some freedom to move around. Nothing is more important than buying an international charger converter! You’ll need this anywhere you go – you don’t want to be that bitch mooching off of someone else’s converter!
- Backpacker’s bag (backpack?) – Ditch the suitcase. Get a backpack that’s small enough to be a carry-on but obviously big enough to hold all your things. You don’t want to deal with checked luggage in another country or any country for that matter. Check what the carry-size limits are for your airline, and stick within that.
- When you shop for backpacks sometimes they are labeled as “carry-on approved” or something along those lines. Ensure your backpack is comfortable and sturdy, I recommend looking for a backpack that ties around your waist – this can help relieve some of the pressure that is put on your back.
- If you don’t have enough money to buy a backpack, borrow from a friend!
- Towel – Go for a quick-dry towel. I know what you’re thinking “they suck at drying you”, but hey it’s better than throwing a large smelly wet towel back into your backpack.
- Headphones – Besides jamming out on your long journey, these can also help you practice being anti-social on planes, trains and other people-packed transportation methods.
- Hats/ sunglasses – To look cool, keep cool and keep the dreaded sun out of your eyes.
- Travel-sized toiletries – Don’t pack a lot of fancy items, pack the bare necessities! Also, don’t forget to purchase these products in 3 oz quantities. You won’t be able to carry on more than that and it would be a shame to get them thrown away without having the time to use them. Below I’ve listed a few common items (in no particular order) to help you pack. You can decide what you think is a necessity.
- Hand Sanitizer
- Baby Wipes
- Contact Solution
- Face Wash
- Tooth Brush
- Tooth Paste
- Tums/ travel medicine/ Imodium – For when your stomach can’t handle other countries’ foods, this will save you a few trips to the toilet and some pain too. Airborne or vitamin C can also be helpful if you’re feeling a bit ill. Aspirin is great to take (not all countries sell over-the-counter pain medications) for those nasty hangovers!
- Contacts/ contact solution/ glasses – I wear my contacts when I’m going out to party, trying to wear sunglasses or when I really want to see specific details without having my frames bother me. Of course, take your frames for when your eyes get tired!
- Travel Lock/ Luggage Lock – These can really save your life, not all hostels will have locks so I recommend buying these before (Walmart sells them for $5 apiece). This will help you lock your backpack, hostel locks, etc.
- I like the mini travel combination locks. They are not heavy and you don’t have to worry about losing a key.
- Camera/ Go Pro/ Accessories– Take lots of pictures! Capture memories that are going to keep you happy for the rest of your life. Don’t forget your Go Pro’s charger and any other cool accessories you have for it!
- I recommend taking a Go Pro or a small camera, taking a larger camera like my Canon 80D would be too risky for me. I didn’t want to worry about it on my trip and it is heavy and requires a lot of equipment.
Traveling alone doesn’t have to be scary! What to pack for Europe or any other country for that matter doesn’t always have to be either!
Now, Have so much fun, be super flexible and be open! It is time to meet new people, enjoy your youth and make incredible memories with some of the best people you’ll ever meet. Don’t forget, If you need alone time don’t hesitate to leave your new friends behind for a bit. This is your vacation! Enjoy everything about backpacking and being in a different country, you’ll miss it when you’re back!
If you think I missed any tips, or if you have some great ideas of your own, feel free to DM me on my Instagram or comment below!