“I was once the type to just throw things in a bag and go,” said Amanda Burrill, a Navy veteran, TBI (traumatic brain injury) advocate, adventure athlete, writer, chef and a Global Rescue member (since all these passions have sent her globetrotting across most of the world’s continents). “But I’ve learned things over time. Having quality travel items was a huge game-changer for me to make things go smoother, as well as safer.”
[Related Reading: Best Tips From Expert Women Travelers for Safe Solo Trips]
Preparation can go a long way in allowing you to savor every second of your solo travel. Here are a few of the must-have travel items well-seasoned solo travelers suggest you never travel without.
Back-Up Copies of Important Documents
This may seem like an obvious one, but it can’t be understated since a lost passport, visa or ticket can seriously derail your travel plans. While most opt to make electronic copies of travel documents (storing them on their phone or laptop, online cloud, or memory stick), Burrill prefers to keep printed copies. Why? Because phones and laptops die, break or can get stolen.
The State Department advises making two copies of all travel documents — passport, hotel/car rental/tour package confirmations, airline/rail/bus tickets, health information/travel insurance — then keeping one copy with you and leaving the other at home with a friend or family member. Find more tips in our blog post about safekeeping travel documents.
Burrill also prints a list of important contact phone numbers, including emergency contacts, credit card providers, phone plan provider and Global Rescue, to name a few. “If your phone’s compromised, you have quick access to all these essential numbers,” said Burrill.
Fake Wedding Band
Dianette Wells, another longtime Global Rescue member, while not married, intentionally wears a very thin band on her wedding finger when she travels. “It looks like I’m married and deters any unwanted advances,” said the endurance athlete and mother of three who has climbed the Seven Summits, run 150+ miles across some of the world’s harshest deserts, as well as competed in four Eco-Challenges. “And when I’m out alone, it also gives the impression that there’s someone waiting for me back at the hotel.”
A phone charger (bring an adaptable plug) may be a no-brainer, but what about when you’re out and about? Phone battery life can drain pretty quickly when you’re taking photo after photo or using apps to guide you. “I always, always keep a power bank on my person,” said Burrill. “I never want to be out of communication.”
International Phone Plan/Satellite Phone
Even if your phone is fully charged, it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t work. Burrill always checks with her phone plan provider to double-check connectivity in the destination she’s headed and makes any necessary international upgrades.
“It’s not fun to rely on public Wi-Fi when you need data,” said Burrill. “Connectivity and contact are things I don’t like to leave to chance.”
If you’re heading somewhere remote, there’s less likely to be a cellular network, therefore, a satellite phone or messaging device is extremely important. They can also save your life in an emergency or disaster where cellular networks become overloaded or disabled. Just keep in mind that satellite communications devices are illegal in some countries.
“Ditch the big handbag,” said Wells. “It will only make you look like a target.” Wells, instead, opts for a money belt, which looks a bit like a thin fanny pack that goes under your clothing.
Especially useful in big cities, large crowds, and public transportation, you can easily keep your money, as well copies of those important travel documents close to you as you explore a new destination.
“Even if I know it’s going to be 110 degrees where I’m going,” said Wells, “I still always pack a wrap because it’s lightweight, travels well, and can be valuable in so many situations.” For example, it can be used to protect you from the sun, if you need to cover your knees or shoulders for modesty, as well as for travel comfort.
“I once got stuck in an airport overnight and spent a night on the chair and was freezing,” said Wells. “Now, when I travel, I use my wrap as a blanket when it’s chilly or you can even ball it up for a pillow.”
“In my early days, I made the mistake of traveling with a heavy piece of luggage and the handle broke,” said Burrill. “Since then, I’ve invested in a suitcase that is easy to maneuver.” Better maneuverability means being able to quickly move through crowded spots.
Snacks and Electrolytes
Both Burrill and Wells always stash some sort of snack on them, like trail mix, granola bars, electrolyte packets to add to your water bottle to regulate hydration.
“You could be jetlagged, arrive in the middle of the night, and have no access to food,” said Wells.
“Or you could lose track of time when you’re out and about and be nowhere near a market or restaurant,” added Burrill.
A Mileage/Airline Rewards Plan
Collecting frequent flyer miles is a profitable pastime for road warriors and occasional travelers alike.
“I never get on a plane without a mileage plan because your mileage and benefits can really add up,” said Wells. “Don’t waste a flight, make sure you’re reaping the rewards to put toward future travel.”
There are hordes of travel apps out there, everything to help you research and book a trip to packing assistance (according to the destination and duration) to currency converters and global tipping calculators.
But one that Burrill always, always has on her phone? Google Translate. “Before smartphones, I used to carry a dictionary, but this is obviously faster and easier,” she said. The app offers text translations (translation by typing) in 108 languages, translates 59 languages offline (if you are suddenly without internet connection) and more.
Global Rescue Membership
“A lot of solo travelers deal with ‘what ifs.’ ‘What if I get a stomach bug in Paris?’ ‘What if I lose my passport?’” said Wells. “Having Global Rescue takes so much of the stress associated with the ‘what ifs’ away because you know you’ll have 24/7 access to help.”
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