18 Great Money Saving Tips For Solo Travelers

What’s a huge downside of traveling solo? There’s no one to split costs with!

OK, so that sounds like a first-world problem. But it’s true: solo travel on a budget can be tricky, and could very well affect your whole itinerary (and trip length).

As someone who has been traveling solo for quite a while, I figured it’s time to dump everything I know about saving money on the road into one blog post. Hope you find something useful in here!

Executive Summary: on most trips, the three largest expenses are transport, accommodation, and food. All the other stuff is relevant, but pales in comparison to these “big 3” categories. So our priority is to minimize those expenses–before moving on to everything else.

We begin with transportation:

Tip #1: Become a Flight Booking Ninja

If you really want to stretch your travel budget, you’ve got to get better at saving money on airfare.

There are 100’s of flight booking websites out there. In my experience, few are fast and comprehensive as Google Flights. There are some killer features on this site, such as a “Date grid” for quickly finding the lowest prices for a given time period, and a “Price graph” for monitoring fares over time. I prefer this one over Skyscanner and Kayak (the other two popular ones).

Pro tip: you can leave the destination blank and see possible outbound routes from your destination. This is great when you’ve got time and no set plans (my favorite kind of travel!)

As a general rule, you will pay less if you book at least 3 weeks in advance of your trip. You will likely also save money by flying on weekdays (Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Saturday for US domestic flights).

If you’re willing to wake up at 5 AM (or earlier), the first few flights of the day are usually more affordable – and are less prone to delays! As a bonus, it could mean getting to your destination well before dinner, giving you plenty of time to settle in and prepare an action plan for the following day.

Also, don’t forget to check flights in/out of nearby airports. It’s easy to forget, for example, that SFO (San Francisco) is practically next to OAK (Oakland).

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of holiday season (when prices spike up considerably worldwide). I try to avoid all air travel during the Christmas holidays – all it means is more delays, super expensive tickets, and long lineups in airports. For specific date ranges to avoid in 2019, check out this handy guide from FareCompare.

Google Flights fare comparison screenshot
Google Flights is a great tool for finding the cheapest fares

Tip #2: Say “NO” To Baggage Fees

OK, so don’t literally say “no” if you’re asked to pay the fees – or you might get shown out of the airport!

What I mean is: try to avoid paying any bag fees at all. You can do this by:

  • Traveling with only carry-on luggage (just one backpack)
  • Making sure my carry-on luggage is within the size and weight limits imposed by the airline (someone has gone ahead and compiled a complete chart of these – handy!)

“Isn’t that just letting the airlines win?” you might ask.

Yes and no. On one hand, yeah, we jump through all these hoops to save on something that we probably shouldn’t be charged for in the first place. On the other hand, this is the only way now – airlines have had no choice but to deal with rising fuel costs (and competition) by jacking up the costs for everything else.

And I’ve already written at length about the benefits of traveling super light. It’s a liberating feeling, and I do my best to convince everyone I know to skip checked luggage entirely. A “budget airline” ticket isn’t so budget when you have to pay an additional 30$ in checked bag fees.

Backpacker looking at the mountains in the background
It’s a liberating feeling to travel with just one carry-on backpack

Tip #3: Use Credit Card Points To Fly For Free

When I started my round-the-world journey, I already had close to 500,000 air miles saved up – this meant that I flew for free (or only paid the taxes) on multiple long haul flights. This ended up saving me thousands.

Warning: this whole credit-point-ticket-hacking game is a rabbit hole of frequent flyer programs, “cost per point” calculations, and insane flight redemption techniques. Once you start reading the various blogs and fora on the subject, it’s easy to get lost (and waste dozens of hours figuring it all out).

Here’s how all this works (the short version):

  • Long before your trip, you sign up for new credit cards. The focus is on credit cards with a “sign up bonus” (e.g. “50,000 points”). Typically, this means that if you spend a certain amount within 3 months of opening the card, you’ll be given some quantity of card points.
  • The juiciest deals usually have a minimum spend of $3,000-5,000 and up, so people try to sign up right before they’re expecting to make major life purchases. Major business trip coming up (that you can get reimbursed for later)? Perfect. Buying a lot of furniture for your new place? Great, might as well get some points while you’re at it!
  • Once you have the points, they can be converted to air miles for your airline of choice. Generally, I recommended keeping all the points as regular credit card points until you know exactly which airline you want to redeem on.
  • First, I punch in my origin and destination into AwardHacker. This handy tool gives me all the available redemption options (with the miles required).
  • I then go to the airline’s website (e.g. British Airways) and attempt to find available flights that can be booked with miles. If I see something available, I log into my credit card account and send those points into my frequent flyer account with the airline (for example, I would convert Chase Ultimate Rewards points into British Airways Avios miles).
  • Once the points have been converted (typically in 1-2 days), I can go ahead and book the flights with miles.

And that’s just the gist of what’s going on. There’s a bunch of other stuff you need to be aware of in this game, such as point expiration policies, points:miles conversion ratios (e.g. sometimes you get 2:1, or maybe it’s 1:3), possible redemptions on partner airlines (e.g. One World, Star Alliance), and so on. If you want to get really deep into this stuff, start here: churning subreddit.

Note: from everything I’ve seen, these tactics are most useful to U.S. travelers. Other countries don’t have nearly the same selection and award bonuses when it comes to credit card programs. If you’re outside of the US, you may be better off ignoring all this and just getting a cashback card with no foreign transaction or exchange fees (more on this later).

Tip #4: Embrace the Stopover

To the uninitiated, a “stopover” is simply a layover longer than 24 hours. In other words, it gives you a chance to explore a city in-between (before flying to your final destination).

Layover: fly to Tokyo, wait 6 hours, get on connecting flight to Hong Kong
Stopover: fly to Tokyo, explore for 3 days, get on connecting flight to Hong Kong

“Free” stopovers (that is, stopovers that don’t end up costing you than a regular layover ticket) are rare, but they do exist. Sometimes, airlines even advertise “free stopovers” as a major selling point.

Here are some Airline/destination combos that people have pulled off “free” stopovers with:

  • Stopover in Reykjavik (KEF) on Icelandair when flying from North America to Europe
  • Amsterdam (AMS) with KLM
  • Paris (CDG) with Air France
  • Istanbul (IST) with Turkish Airlines (really underrated carrier!)
  • London (LHR) with British Airways
  • Singapore (SIN) with Singapore Airlines (a great way to see Singapore as it’s tiny and can be easily seen in 1-2 days)
  • Tokyo (HND or NRT) with ANA
  • San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) on Qantas when flying between Sydney and the East Coast (e.g. Toronto or NYC)
  • … and so on.

These kinds of opportunities come and go all the time, so check to see what’s possible. Google Flights “Multi City” search is a good place to start if you need stopover ideas.

Pro tip: finding “secret” flight deals gets even deeper. Consider the following scenario, in which you’re looking at flights from Toronto to LA:

  • Option A: there’s a ticket from Toronto to Los Angeles for $300
  • Option B: there’s a ticket from Toronto to Las Vegas (with a stop in Los Angeles) for $250

As you can see, there’s something weird going on with the ticket pricing. People have figured out that you could simply buy Option B, get out in LA, and ignore the remainder of the journey (i.e. don’t get back on the plane to continue to Vegas). There’s even a website out there that helps you find these loopholes (SkipLagged). Warning: don’t do this with return tickets, because if you fail to check in for any segment… the other segments on your itinerary will be void. Also, don’t do this if you have checked bags (because your bags will make it all the way to Vegas!)

Tour bus parked at sunset outside in Iceland
Gas is expensive in Iceland: you can take a bus for your Northern Lights sightseeing expeditions

Tip #5: Take long-haul buses and save big

It’s not exactly a secret, but you really don’t have to fly everywhere.

Intercity buses exist in almost every country, and are an affordable way to cover long distances. Contrary to popular belief, they are typically not “scary” at all – plenty of families take these buses. And you’d be surprised how often you get “business class” amenities on these buses – I’m talking fully reclining seats, privacy curtains, personal TVs, lunch/dinner service (with alcohol), on-demand coffee, on-board bathrooms, and so on.

The longest bus journey I’ve been on was Mendoza to Buenos Aires (Argentina). It took 13 hours, but I got to see a whole different side of the country – and slept for at least half of it. No regrets, and I would recommend this to budget-minded travelers. (I know plenty of you have been on 24+ hour bus journeys – respect!)

Pro tip: if you’re taking a night bus, keep your valuables close to you when you doze off. If putting stuff in the overhead bins, secure them to the rail with a lock (or at least a carabiner). And try not to entrust any of your baggage to the luggage compartment under the bus – bags are notorious for getting “lost” in transit down there.

Inside a Hong Kong MTR subway carriage
The Hong Kong MTR is one of the world’s best subway systems

Tip #6: Public transport is your friend

Even if you don’t really use public transport at home, don’t be so quick to dismiss it abroad. In many places (e.g. major European and Asian cities), it’s the fastest way to get around a busy city – and the cheapest, too!

In the past, travelers would have to walk around with bus timetables and constantly ask locals for assistance with routes and stops. These days, the whole process is heavily simplified: Google Maps, for one, has public transport information for many countries – and they’re constantly adding new features.

For me, a great public transport system is an attraction in of itself. From the futuristic Tokyo Monorail to the classy and chandelier-clad stations of the Moscow Metro (and everything in between), there’s a lot of engineering and architecture to appreciate in places that have invested in efficient transport networks.

Pro tip: if you’re in a city for a few days, it may make sense to invest in a multi-day or weekly transport pass. Buy it once, and you won’t have to waste time figuring out Zone fares, transfers, and all that (especially in a language you don’t understand). You’ll be saving money and time.

Tip #7: Avoid the dreaded airport taxi

OK, so you’ve found a cheaper flight – and snagged affordable accommodation. But there’s still one major challenge remaining: getting from the destination airport to the city.

This is the point at which most travelers surrender – there’s simply no energy left after a long flight, passport control, and multiple interactions with airport staff. Nothing sounds better than to just throw your bag in the back seat of a waiting taxi and pay whatever price they’ve dreamt up for a ride downtown.

And yet I urge you to remain strong! Unless it’s the only option, resist the temptation of the airport taxi (perhaps the only method of ground transport out there that will charge you 50$ for a 10km ride).

Do your research beforehand (we always try to include alternate airport transport information in our guides). Double check with the info desk in the Arrivals hall. Ask someone who’s not busy. Do anything and everything in your power to get to town like the locals do: either via airport bus/shuttle, train, or, in the worst case scenario, via a ride-hailing service like Uber.

Pro tip: if you do have to take an airport taxi, make sure you find out the normal fare to downtown. And confirm with the driver before you get in. Also, confirm that their credit card machine is working if you don’t have any cash – these guys are notorious for claiming the reader is “failing to connect to the system” at the last second.

Interior shot of a clean and modern studio apartment
You can sometimes find great deals on Airbnb for not much more than the price of a hostel room

Tip #8: Hostels are not always the best option

These days, backpackers are so used to staying in hostels that they have developed “hostel myopia” – they simply don’t consider any other form of accommodation!

When it comes to the most sensible lodging options, it really, really depends on the destination. Some examples:

  • Need a place for a few nights in Hanoi, Vietnam? You might find a hostel bed for a few dollars each, but a decent private hotel room might only be $12/night total (with daily room cleaning and breakfast included).
  • Need to set up base in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a whole month? You could bounce between hostels, but then you’d have to deal with the hassle of having roommates and constantly worrying about your stuff getting stolen. Instead, you could literally rent an apartment for the same price (or less) as long as you pre-pay for the whole month.
  • Passing through Hong Kong? With average property prices so high, there are very few hostels to begin with (and even fewer in a convenient location for sightseeing). I’d be checking room listings on Airbnb to see what’s available on the west side of Hong Kong Island.
  • Visiting San Francisco during a big tech conference? Well… we can’t help you there.

Moral of the story: hostels are great, but they should never be the only option you consider. These days, mainstream websites like Booking.com aggregate a ton of various options – hotels, hostels, villas, apart-hotels, serviced apartments, and so on. Check all your options before you commit.

Tip #9: How to save big on Airbnb bookings

When you book something on Airbnb, there’s a human at the other end of the transaction – not a major corporation. This means there’s plenty of leeway for negotiation.

If you have a good tenant record and want a place for at least a week, you could consider emailing Airbnb hosts ahead of time to see if you can secure a stay for some kind of discount (it’s not uncommon to ask for 40% off right away).

Your message could be something like this:

Hi HOST_NAME,

I'd like to book your Airbnb listing from DATE to DATE.

I'm visiting CITY because BLAH BLAH. I am a OCCUPATION and HOBBIES. And SOMETHING PERSONAL ABOUT THEIR PROFILE.

Airbnb shows the price as $PRICE. Since I'm staying for X WEEKS I'm wondering if I can book your Airbnb for 0.6*PRICE.

Thanks,
NAME

The worst thing that can happen? They’ll say no – or simply ignore your message. No problem, because you can reach out to multiple hosts simultaneously.

Don’t worry about offending the hosts – they understand that this is a business. Airbnb prices are already marked up for tourists and visitors – this is simply a chance to save during less busy periods (e.g. “low season”).

Pro tip: this tactic works even better when you’re already staying at their place (and paying the full listed amount). You could simply message the host via WhatsApp and SMS and offer to keep renting the place at 40% off. Hosts love no-nonsense, clean, and responsible tenants – especially when the tenant offers to pay with cash ūüėČ

Tip #10: Use sleeper trains as your hotel

This is a quick tip that applies mostly to European trips, where overnight train voyages are a popular method of transportation.

The idea is simple: intentionally book an overnight train ride (with sleeper bunks) so you save money on accommodation. As a bonus, you’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore the city – and no days are lost to “travel time.”

This method really only works if you’re a hard sleeper, and have no trouble dozing off on moving vehicles. Otherwise, you’ll be waking up every hour (or worse, not getting much sleep at all).

Pro tip: just as on long bus voyages, it’s imperative that you keep watch over valuables. Secure any bags to the nets/railings, and keep the most expensive stuff (passport, cash, jewelry) on your person. Sleeper trains are notorious target for pickpockets and petty thieves.

Inside a typical Japanese capsule hotel pod
Inside a Japanese capsule hotel pod – a fun experience (for exactly one night)

Tip #11: Get creative with accommodation

Remember: there are no “rules” for travel. There is no performance review, and no one is watching (except maybe your Instagram #followers?)

On your trip, you are free to do anything: including spending your nights in unusual places. Allow me to illustrate with some examples:

  • As long as you don’t mind tight spaces, you could conceivably stay in capsule hotels for your entire stay in Japan. Will it be weird that everyone else there is a businessman or office worker that has missed their last train home? Only at first – then you’ll get used to it.
  • Have you heard of people playing games in those Korean internet cafes for days on end? Turns out these places often have reclining chairs, designed to keep you there – and comfortable – for as long as possible. Put on those noise canceling headphones and doze off, lulled by the excited outbursts of excited gamers and the sounds of simulated gunfire.
  • Need to save some cash in China? Well, you could spend a couple nights in a sauna. They have reclining armchairs, showers, towels, free snacks, water, and WiFi. Sometimes even separate swimming pools. Oh, and you’ll get some world-class massages, too. Nothing shady going on here – there are thousands of these establishments.
  • Willing to house-sit someone’s place while they are away? As long as you have a good reputation for watering the plants and feeding pets, you might be able to swing free accommodation. Check out websites like Trusted Housesitters for more info (females tend to have more success on these websites).
  • You’ve probably heard of Couchsurfing: a site where people offer their couch (or a spare room) to travelers for free. While this is a roll-of-the-dice that I haven’t tried yet, there are millions who have used it (and lived to tell the tale). This is a risky one for both parties.
  • Sleeping in airports has become so commonplace that there is now a site with detailed info on the best areas and airports to overnight in. Not a bad idea, especially if it’s a newer (read: cleaner) airport and you’ve got a flight to catch very early in the morning. Some airports even have designed sleeping zones, padded benches, or full-on sleep pods!

The list goes on. Whether it’s sleeping on a beach (“under the stars!”) or dozing off while hunched over a table in a 24/7 McDonalds, travelers have found all sorts of creative ways to save on accommodation. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever go to such extremes, just know that there are options.

Pro tip: if you really need last-minute accommodation and park benches are not an attractive option, try simply walking into a hotel and asking the front desk if they have rooms available. Turns out you don’t have to book online (who knew, right?) Sometimes, hotels will have discounted last-minute room deals available (this is coincidentally the entire premise of the app HotelTonight).

Bread with sunny side-up egg
Egg on toast: takes minutes to prepare, and can be made almost anywhere

Tip #12: Cooking for one: is it even worth it?

Unless you really love cooking – and have the right equipment and condiments at your accommodation – it becomes really hard to justify cooking for yourself. Nevertheless, it can be worth it in some situations.

Let’s break it down by meal: is cooking for one worth it?

  • Breakfast: depends on your habits. If you’re like me and need that big boost of energy first thing in the morning, it’s usually worth it to buy some basic ingredients at the supermarket for your whole stay. Otherwise I’d just be cranky and hunting for something – anything – to sate my hunger in the morning.
  • Lunch: rarely worth cooking for yourself. There are so many great lunch deals these days, so I find that it’s far better value to eat at local restaurants for lunch. After all, you’re traveling to experience new cultures – and what better way to immerse yourself than to try the local cuisine? Eat at a different place for lunch every day!
  • Dinner: usually worth cooking for yourself (at least on longer trips). Unless you’re a serious foodie and have a dedicated budget for great chefs and restaurants to check out, you can save a lot of money by cooking some quick meals before you hit the nightlife. As a bonus, learning to cook dinner is great preparation for a romantic night in!

Note: this section won’t even be relevant unless your room/hostel/Airbnb has a kitchen. I also tend to travel “slowly” (staying in one city for 1-2 weeks or even longer sometimes), so cooking becomes a legitimate money saver. If you’re looking for minimalist cooking ideas, check out this handy blog post.

Top down shot of a woman in bangkok preparing street food
For serious savings, eat the local street food!

Tip #13: Dine with the office workers

If you want to find out where to eat to get the best value, just see where all the regular office types eat during their lunch break! They know the area better than anyone, and have already picked out the best cheap eats around.

This tactic works especially well in expensive neighborhoods (e.g. Ginza in Tokyo) where it seems every little snack costs an arm and a leg. Trust me: the local employees aren’t going to be overpaying for anything. See where they’re going, or just ask them where the best ramen is. Don’t tell them you want the cheapest–but ask for a place with big portions!

The general lesson here is: learn to eat local. You’ll save a lot of money by eating the local cuisine instead of constantly seeking out food that you’d get back home (you’ll probably be disappointed with the latter, anyway).

Tip #14: Book tours locally

When I hiked the Salkantay Trek* from Cusco (Peru) to Machu Picchu, I found out that some people in my group paid much more than I did (for the exact same experience). The difference? They booked online, way in advance. Whereas I booked locally, just two days before the trek started (and I paid in cash).

I’ve seen these price discrepancies again and again. It’s almost always better to book things in person at your destination–where you can assess all the options at hand, negotiate face-to-face, and get competing quotes before committing to one provider or another. It’s rarely the case that there’s just one super special tour operator (unless it’s truly exclusive, like an edge of space tour in a fighter jet or something).

Don’t be afraid to comparison shop, and use time pressure to your advantage: if the tour is leaving in a few hours and they still haven’t sold out, you may be able to swing a discounted price. Solo travelers even have an advantage here, as operators may only have the one extra seat/space available–and who else is gonna fill it if not you?

Remember: everything is negotiable. And always ask if you can get a slight discount for paying in cash.

*The Salkantay is similar to the Inca Trail, but you end up arriving to Machu Picchu from a different direction. Same destination, different route (and usually much more affordable). I paid ~$180 in 2017, others paid north of $250, and the folks who booked online? I’ve heard numbers as high as $600 (all US dollars). Keep in mind that these prices fluctuate all the time.

A word on scoring free tours. As recently as a few years ago, travelers were making deals with tour operators like so: “let me go on the trip for free, I won’t tell the others, and in return I’ll take high resolution photos with my fancy camera that you can use for your TripAdvisor pages, website, etc.” This was a legitimate tactic for a while–until it got saturated and most providers got all the photos they need. Today, this could still work if you a) offer great video (drone) footage and/or b) have a very sizable following on your blog that the operator would get exposure on. Otherwise, it’s becoming a hard sell!

Tip #15: Exchanging money (and withdrawing cash) like a pro

Repeat after me: do not exchange your money at Travelex.

Whether it’s Travelex or another big chain of foreign currency exchange stores, more often than not you’re going to get taken for a ride on the exchange (either the rate will be horrible, or they’ll take a hefty commission, or both). These operations are all over major airports and train stations, and I recommend avoiding them altogether.

Usually, the best way to exchange money is actually through the ATM. Use your debit card at a reputable bank branch (ideally, inside the actual branch) to withdraw cash in the local currency. You’ll still be charged an ATM fee, but at least the rate will be close to the real interbank exchange rate that day. Americans have an advantage here if they have signed up for the Charles Schwab debit card (all ATM fees are refunded).

If you really must exchange money on the street, look up “currency exchange” on Google Maps and just read some reviews–if there are any good places, they will be rated 4 stars or higher (with plenty of recent reviews).

Generally speaking, I try to make very minimal use of my debit card abroad. I treat it as an “emergency use only” device. Where possible, I pay with one of my credit cards. If something goes wrong, a credit card company will reverse a suspicious charge immediately (if you used a debit card, the money will simply have left your account and thus begins a long and annoying investigate process with your bank that will require lots of paperwork and phone calls).

To sum it up, quick “finance” tips for travelers:

  • Before leaving, see if you can get a debit card that refunds ATM fees.
  • Also, sign up for a credit card with no FTF (Foreign Transaction Fees). This means that all purchases abroad will be treated just like purchases back home
  • If asked whether you want the credit card transaction to be in the local currency (e.g. Thai Baht) or your home currency (e.g. USD), always pick your home currency. This way, the exchange rate used will be the bank’s (as opposed to whatever exchange rate the local payment processor has concocted for that day).
  • Before you set off, put a travel alert on all your cards so they don’t suddenly get frozen by the bank for “suspicious activity”
  • Have some amount of cash hidden away for emergency uses at all times. I like to keep at least $200, half of that in American 20-dollar bills (very handy), and the other half in the local currency.
  • Be very careful about using your debit card at random ATMs. Even if it looks like a busy area (with cameras), you never know which ATMs have been fitted with card skimmers/readers. This stuff happens way, way more often than you realize.

Pro tip about tipping: find out what the tipping culture is like at your destination before arrival. If you’re American, for example, you may be used to tipping 15-20% for just about everything–this is considered over-the-top in most places around the world. As a general rule, 10% is a perfectly good tip in a restaurant (read the bill, as it may have already been added on as a surprise “service charge”).

Person withdrawing money from an ATM
To minimize fraud risk, only use ATMs inside major bank branches

Tip #16: Bring your student ID

Are you a student? Bring your student ID ¬†You will be saving a lot of money through discounts on transport, entertainment, museums, food, clothing, etc. You may even be eligible for “student only” packages and tours.

Pro tip: try to register for an ISIC card before departure. This is an internationally recognized student card that is sometimes the only form of student ID a business or organization will accept.

Tip #17: Sign up for some walking tours

In almost every major city, there are people offering guided walking tours. Often, they are marketed as free (or close to free). I highly recommend taking advantage of these for the following reasons:

  • It’s a quick way to find out a lot about the city you’re exploring. Walking tour guides are knowledgeable and have done the tour many times, so they’ve already got lots of answers to common questions. Let’s face it: it’s far easier to have someone give you the entertaining, abridged version of the city’s prolific past than to read a long Wikipedia article ūüėČ
  • These tours usually last anywhere from 2-4 hours, and will end up costing you around 10-20 USD at most (it’s how much I’ve tipped on those free tours if there’s no suggested price). This is great value for money, and is effectively “outsourcing” the afternoon’s itinerary to someone else.
  • It’s a great chance to meet other travelers–whether they’re also solo (or traveling as a group). Strike up a conversation, and you’ll be surprised at how receptive people are to meeting someone new!
  • The tour guides tend to know a lot about the city, so you can get the unfiltered local wisdom from them about what else is good to see, eat, and experience. They’ll know where the best nightlife is, and which areas are to be avoided.

Pro tip: this is something you can do without even going anywhere! Ever signed up for a walking tour of your own city? Sounds silly, but you’d be surprised at how much there is to learn about the same streets you’ve been walking on for years.

Person paragliding in Queenstown, New Zealand
Sometimes, it’s worth it to splurge on fun stuff (like paragliding in Queenstown, New Zealand!)

Tip #18: Don’t sweat the small stuff

Finally: don’t try to squeeze every last penny of savings out of the trip.

You’re on a trip, after all. Why waste hours and precious energy trying to over-optimize every last detail? If you’re lucky enough to be able to take time off to travel somewhere else (a luxury by world standards), then you can afford to spend the extra few dollars.

Don’t be the guy wearing a $300 high-tech travel backpack while haggling over a $0.50 tuk-tuk discount in Chiang Mai. Or the girl too cheap to buy a round of drinks when it’s your turn during the hostel pub crawl in Budapest.

Your trip won’t last forever. Eventually, you’ll have to return home–in most cases, back to the office and 100s of unanswered emails. Believe me when I say this: when you’re back home and going through the 9 to 5 motions again, you won’t regret paying that $200 for a spontaneous scuba dive tour that you didn’t even know existed on the island you were staying on. All that money will feel like cash well spent.

Don’t sweat the small stuff–enjoy the trip!


I hope at least one of these tips was helpful as you plan–or continue–your solo adventure. Please feel free to leave any other tips you have in the comments so that we may all benefit!

PS. For a detailed comparison of major tour group operators, check out our  article.

Groups & Tours For Solo Travelers: An Overview

Should you travel as part of a group trip (Contiki Tours, Gap Adventures, etc.)?

Well, it depends. Our goal is to help you make an educated decision on the matter. In this post, we’re going to cover:

  1. The pros & cons of traveling by yourself vs. in a group tour
  2. A detailed comparison of all the popular group tour providers, including approximate costs and what kind of traveler each is best suited for. We’ve also included some reviews from Reddit for each provider.

Let’s get started!

Pros & Cons of Group Tours For Solo Travelers

Here’s a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of traveling as part of a group tour.

Pros of Group Tours (The Good):

  • It’s never a dull moment when you’re traveling in a group. Whatever happens, there will be a conversation going on about it. And with enough people, the chances of something unexpected happening are very high. If you’re the kind of person who finds it difficult to travel alone, a group tour is a way to get all the social benefits without the need to rally your friends back home to join you.
  • You’ll make some new friends. Group tours attract lots of solo travelers, so everyone’s starting out “by themselves”–striking up a conversation and making a new friend is pretty easy. And the more stuff you do together, the more at ease you’ll feel with one another. Not to mention that you all (independently) signed up for the exact same tour–so you probably have far more in common with a group member than with another traveler taken at random.
  • Safety in numbers: if you’re traveling in a group, everyone is looking out for one another. There’s less chance of someone attempting a mugging (unless one of you strays from the herd). This point is especially amplified at night–it helps to have a buddy or two when you’re drinking and partying in a foreign land.
  • Local wisdom can make any trip more interesting. Group tours benefit from having access to knowledgeable guides that can explain the significance of important locations, attractions, dishes, etc. You’ll save a lot of time flipping through guidebooks and translating everything back to English.
  • Ease of travel: forget planning out your accommodation, meals, and day-to-day itineraries. The tours generally have everything prepared already–it’s truly travel on easy mode!
  • Exotic destinations can become a possibility with a group tour. It’s much harder to justify a solo trip to Antarctica, for example, when there’s a possibility of splitting costs 15-20 ways via a tour group. Even if the tour is expensive, you may still come out ahead than if you attempted to pull it off by yourself. Naturally, this varies by operator and destination.
  • The possibility of sexy times.¬†What do you think happens when you put a bunch of singles on the same trip–and fill up their day with activities that encourage social bonding? Romantic relationships and quick flings are not unheard of, especially when the nights are spent partying and dancing.
Young people hanging out at a pool party at sunset
On a group tour, you’ll be doing EVERYTHING together – which can be good or bad

Cons of Group Tours (The Bad):

  • It’s never a dull moment. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, group tours may not be the best solution. At the end of the day, these packages are about having a great time¬†together¬†— and this often takes precedence over immersing yourself in the local culture or attractions. Extroverted people will naturally be comfortable in a group setting when traveling, while introverts may feel a nagging claustrophobia.
  • Being the odd one out¬†isn’t very fun. If it happens that you don’t get along with anyone else on the trip, you’re still stuck with them until it’s over. Maybe you’re very introverted, and they’re not. Or vice versa. Or maybe you don’t fit the demographic profile (this is why operators often have references or even limits as to the age of the participants).
  • Too much alcohol. Not to generalize too much about tour providers (there are a lot to choose from, all with their own approach), but many of the companies that target 18-35 year olds put a heavy emphasis on partying and going out. This leads to a lot of alcohol-fueled nights, and a lot of time spent in bars/clubs. It can be a lot of fun, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. Make sure you read reviews before you commit to a particular operator! (If possible, talk to someone who has gone on a similar trip with them).
  • Missing out on the actual destination.¬†This may sound a bit silly, but a group tour *may* limit your interaction with the local attractions. If the focus is on doing everything “together” and bonding, then there’s naturally less time for solitary activities such as going on a photo walk, exploring a museum, or getting lost in the side streets of a foreign place.
  • Less chance of interacting with locals.¬†It applies in almost any situation (regardless of whether you’re on a trip): when you’re in a group, strangers are less likely to strike up a conversation with you. A group acts as a social “shield”–both protecting its members and organically “repelling” anyone else. Contrast this with the typical experience of a true solo traveler–everyone’s naturally curious about someone traveling alone and many will ask questions and try to get to know you.
  • You’re stuck with the itinerary.¬†Group tours take away a lot of the freedom that attracts people to solo trips in the first place. The start and end dates are fixed. Most of the day-to-day activities are predetermined, and are not going to change. Even the meals may be pre-booked in restaurants of the tour operator’s choosing. And if you want to spend less or more time in a particular place, it will have to happen on a future trip.
  • Being told what to do. As a naturally independent person, this is something I’ve always struggled with. I have trouble taking orders from people, especially when I’m on a vacation that I paid for. Sure, I’ll wake up at 8 AM to get on the damn boat–but I won’t like it. And the idea of having someone else determine how much “free time” I have in a given day? It’s a tough pill to swallow.
  • Cost: group tours can be very expensive. Before you commit to spending thousands on an 8 day / 7 night itinerary, check to see how much the trip would cost you if you were to book everything by yourself.
Group of people hiking up a hill
It’s no secret: most of the popular tour companies draw a younger crowd

Comparison of The Most Popular Group Tour Providers

All the companies below are reputable group tour operators–they have been doing this for decades. And while you’re unlikely to go wrong with any of them, there are some differences between how they operate, where they travel, target demographic, and general approach to travel.

In alphabetical order:

Contiki Tours logo

“Travel with no regrets”

Full name: Contiki Travel Tours (website)
Founded
: 1962 (New Zealand)
Description: “Contiki is the travel company exclusively for 18-35 year olds. Our purpose is to connect young travellers to the time of their lives.”
Where they go: “350 trips across 6 continents” (everywhere except Antarctica)
Target demographic: 18-35 year olds
Price range: $230 – $9,800 USD
Trip length: from 3 to 55 days
Trip photos: Contiki Instagram feed

Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):

“If I had to redo the choice of either going myself on a DIY trip and going through Contiki for my first Euro trip, I would 1000% do Contiki again. The people I met were amazing, and it was essentially like a road trip through Europe. It was a great gateway for someone like me who had never been to Europe and was nervous about planning everything and getting between places. I’m heading back to Europe for two weeks this fall and revisiting some of the countries that I loved. If you are a solo traveler, it is a great way to meet people.” – kb32492

I did Contiki (Europe) when I was in my early 20s and I generally had fun. It was my first time travelling and went with a few friends and had a good time. Lots of drinking and such. It was expensive, but easy to organise. The ‘extras’ tagged on were sometimes a bit so-so. Also, a lot depends on the person/drivers hosting you. My guy was incredibly annoying and seemed to use the contiki tour as his own personal pick up joint. The hotels we stayed at were reasonable, but not awesome.” – loggerheader

“Did a Contiki last year in England and Scotland, absolutely loved it. Was my first time overseas and I wanted to do it on my own as I didn’t really have any friends to go with, sounds cliched but absolutely no regrets. My tour was only ten days unfortunately, and it only left me wanting more. The trip managers are pretty cool, the coach is comfortable enough. We had a good enough mix of people: those wanting to party and those just wanting to see sights and experiences. I definitely had a good mix of both.”swanny246

“I am from California. And I have traveled 3 times with Contiki. Highly support it. Great for people in their mid 20s. Fast paced, get to see a lot. Tour guides are generally super knowledgeable. I think they do Europe the best. I liked my Europe Spain Contiki better than my Asia Contiki.”s0ysauce09

G Adventures logo

“Help make our world a little bit better, one adventure at a time”

Full name: G Adventures (website)
Founded
: 1990 (Toronto, Canada)
Description: “G Adventures is an adventure travel pioneer offering the planet’s most awe-inspiring selection of affordable small-group tours, safaris and expeditions.”
Where they go: Over 700 different tours across 100+ countries (all continents)
Target demographic: minimum 18 years old. No upper age limit on most tours, but their 18-to-Thirtysomethings tours are limited to 18-to-39-year-olds
Price range: $240 – $16,000 USD
Trip length: from 2 to 65 days
Trip photos: G Adventures Instagram feed

Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):

“I’ve done 5 trips with them in the past and have another one booked… I’ve picked tours where I felt the logistics would have been a bit more difficult to do on my own…. they generally are relatively fast paced tours, and you’ll often want a holiday at the end. Overall I’ve found the itineraries of the trips I’ve done to be structured very well – most places I would have loved more time in (as is the nature of travel) but was very happy with what I did/saw and didn’t feel like I’d missed out. There’s also been a good mix of “organised time” and “free time.” – cupp95

“I‚Äôve travelled with them ten times on five continents. They have 3 styles of travel: 18-30something (basic, hostels, public transport), classic (standard hotels, private transport) and comfort (upgraded hotels, a/c busses, etc.) I‚Äôve travelled on both 18-30something and classic. Age group in the former is mostly 18-25, and classic is mostly 25-40+

You usually share a room with 1 person (or more if hostel accommodation), but always same gender, and never with strangers. It’s massive fun, and you get to make a lot of new friends as part of the trip. You always have people to hang out with if you want (no force).

I wouldn’t use G in Europe because it’s easy to do on your own, except maybe for their sailing trips around the med. I used them in Australia & NZ, which maybe wasn’t necessary, but I had a great time. SEA wasn’t as amazing, so I wouldn’t recommend them there either. But their tours in all of Latin America is great, they’re epic in Central Asia, and have fantastic trips in Africa.

Finally, their trips can be really good value. Look at their website for tours on offer.” – windcape

Logo Intrepid Travel

“Responsible travel, small groups and very (very) big adventures”

Full name: Intrepid Travel (website)
Founded
: 1989 (Melbourne, Australia)
Description: “The world’s largest small-group adventure tour company, carrying over 100,000 travellers across the globe each year”
Where they go: “more than 1,000 adventures in over 100 countries” (all continents)
Target demographic: all ages (18+). Some tours are limited to 18-29 year olds.
Price range: $515 – $18,000 USD
Trip length: from 4 to 58 days
Trip photos: Intrepid Instagram feed

Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):

“I did my first Intrepid tour last year! I went to Egypt and Jordan and I did one of the all ages trips. I LOVED it. I went as a solo traveller 28 years old. For my Egypt group the range was 24-71. I’d say half of those people were mid to late 20s, the other half were older. I was one of 3 solo travelers. You spend a lot of time together socially. You travel together to and tour each location together so there’s a lot of socializing. Typically after you tour the location with your guide you get like an hour or two to walk around on your own and typically you stick with a couple of members from the group so you have a buddy to explore with. Our tour leader was also great at arranging large group dinners with the whole squad, but that was optional.”lhs0726

“I’ve traveled a lot with Intrepid and it’s usually a huge variety of age ranges. A lot of younger people who want a party atmosphere will do the trips specifically for younger people. If you want that, go for it. If not, stick with the mixed crowd.”huddle1031

“I‚Äôve been on 2 intrepid tours and one of the guides told me the key is in the price. Intrepid has tiers, and the cheapest tier is (almost) always full of young people, where as the expensive tier is (almost) always full of older people. You will have a good time regardless though!”furiousfire

“I did a 15-day trip to India with Intrepid Travel last June and had an amazing time. There were 11 of us including the guide. I was solo, as was a few others. There was a mother/daughter from the US, a couple from New Zealand, and a couple from Australia.”kilroyishere89

Topdeck Travel Logo

“Here at Topdeck, it’s your trip, your way”

Full name: Topdeck Travel (website)
Founded
: 1973 (United Kingdom)
Description: “We offer variety, comfort and value for money, and promise a hassle-free holiday, loaded with authentic local experiences.”
Where they go: “330 different tours in 65 countries” (all continents except South America and Antarctica)
Target demographic: “18 to 30-somethings”
Price range: $180 – $7,700 USD
Trip length: from 4 to 58 days
Trip photos: Topdeck Instagram feed

Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):

“I went on a Topdeck tour many years ago to Europe. I wasn’t alone but many people were. I have mixed feelings about these organised trips. I had a great time ,made some really good connections and definitely saw A LOT! almost too much. this was my biggest beef, we were constantly on the move. we were in 9 countries in 3 weeks. I really didn’t get to fully enjoy or experience any one place because we were in and out so fast. One great advantage is that everything is planned for you, you can sit back and enjoy the ride.”travelboy

“I have done 2 tours with Topdeck before and both were brilliant. The first one was a 4 day ANZAC day tour to Gallipoli and Istanbul in Turkey, the second was a 9 day tour of Egypt. They were professional and the guides were fantastic. But the best part (from your point of view) is that it was really easy to make friends, especially because it was a pretty small group (10 -12 people). All it takes is one night at the pub and you’ll never want to forget them”lukemarlin

“I decided to do a Topdeck tour because I had 0 experience overseas and had friends who had done Topdeck trips and loved it.¬†

Pros:

  • It’s a fantastic balance of scheduled activities and free time
  • Got to meet a group of fantastic people
  • Everything was booked. Didn’t have to worry about finding transport and accommodation
  • Knowledgable guides who could answer any questions I had. Give good recommendations on what to do on free time
  • always had somebody to do activities with but could also just do your own thing on free days
  • a lot of meals are included (65% on estimate)
  • my group was very sociable. Always went out on a night, met new people from other tours. However there was no stigma if you decided to have an early night – definitely made friends for life

Cons:

  • not as cheap if you booked it all by yourself
  • the final couple of days I was starting to get sick of a few people. just stayed away from them; was fine-
  • if somebody gets sick, most likely you will as well¬†
  • having to get up at 8am for travel days is hard (just sleep on bus)
  • only a couple of days in each city. If you like a place it’s not enough time. However if you don’t like it your out of there quickly
  • you’re hanging out predominately with Aussies, kiwis and Canadians.” – Uleh11

* * *

TL;DR: all the tour companies are great, and of course your experience will greatly depend on who you get in your group. Contiki and Topdeck seem to attract more of a “party” crowd, while G Adventures and Intrepid are a bit more toned down. Also, any tours to Europe typically involve much more partying than trips to other destinations.

If you’re looking for a smaller tour operator (that comes highly recommended by other solo travelers), check out Free and Easy Traveler.

Pro tip: if you have any questions, call the operator beforehand! Don’t be shy about asking for specific details about the typical age makeup of the tour(s) you’re considering. Also, ask if the tour generally gets more couples, more solo travelers, or an even split. Get all the details before you spend all your savings!


We hope this guide was helpful. If you feel that we’ve missed anything, please leave a comment below. Safe travels!

PS. Looking for solo travel destination ideas? Check out our article featuring great trip ideas for new solo travelers. 

12 Unconventional Solo Travel Tips (For Guys!)

There’s a lot of advice out there for women who travel solo–but not nearly as much for male travelers.

“Yeah, but isn’t travel way more dangerous for women?”¬†

It certainly is. Women are not only at high risk of sexual assault, but are also expected to conform to additional social norms and customs that don’t apply to men (e.g. having to cover up in Muslim countries).

Nevertheless, I see guys getting themselves into all sorts of trouble and shenanigans. After years of traveling solo myself, I figured it’s time to give some advice.

Guys: I’m not telling you what to do. Or ordering you how to behave. These are just tips that I feel are at least worthy of your consideration.

#1. Don’t be a hero

If they have you at knifepoint against the wall, don’t do anything stupid. Just give them the wallet and phone. Your life is more valuable than that, and you’ll recover. If you’re dealing with people who have nothing to lose, it’s best to act calm, make slow movements, and comply.

Of course, it’s better not to get into these situations in the first place (more on that in tip #2 below). But you should always be prepared for the worst.

Another thing: do not try to interfere in other people’s disputes. If you see a guy yelling at his girlfriend, leave it be. If there’s a disagreement at the bazaar, don’t insert yourself into it. While it’s tempting to be the hero and defuse arguments and confrontations, it’s also not your job to be the vigilante. More often than not, all parties involved will team up on you instead. Unless it’s a matter of life and death, stay out of it.

If you do get mugged, don’t delay. When the coast is clear, get out of there. If you’re not injured, head back to your hostel/hotel/etc and call your banks(s) to freeze your credit and debit cards. Ask locals for advice regarding your chances of recovering anything. If there is rule of law in the country, file a police report–even if it doesn’t help you, it may help future travelers. I personally never travel without a backup phone (stays in the room), physical photocopies of my passport photo page, and emergency cash reserves (they stay in the room, and I keep very little cash in the wallet when I go out).

Man standing on top of an urban skyscraper
Climbing TV towers and skyscrapers is dangerous and reckless (on top of being illegal)

#2. Take risks, but don’t be reckless

Want to ride a scooter in Thailand? No problem, scooters are awesome. Just wear a helmet.

Want to go trail running through the jungle of Bali? Sure, it’s a lot of fun. Probably best to go with a friend, though.

Want to take gritty street photos in Medell√≠n? Go for it, but tell someone where you’re going (and maybe don’t go at night). Probably best not to show off an expensive DSLR, either.

I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s just a reminder. We guys are notorious for doing crazy things and pushing ourselves physically. But there’s a fine line between recklessness and calculated risk. Know the limits of your abilities, and don’t be pressured into doing anything just because “everyone else” is.

One of the best examples from my journeys was biking down North Yungas Road (the “Death Road”) in Bolivia. If you follow directions, maintain speed, and signal before overtaking, you’ll be just fine. But try to do anything creative (e.g. racing someone, or using one hand to film yourself with a selfie stick), and there’s a very strong chance you’ll go over the edge–as many others have. You’re not invincible–be careful.

#3. Try not to fight anyone

No matter how many hours you’ve trained in martial arts, it’s almost never a good idea to get into fights. At best, you’ve asserted dominance over something minor. At worst, you’re dead.

Guys will try to start fights over the dumbest things. Maybe you looked at their sister for a second too long. Maybe you said something to insult their politicians (more on this later). Maybe you’re just a foreigner, and they want to prove that they’re “tough” in front of friends. Some even start fights out of sheer boredom.

Here are some good reasons to avoid fighting during your trip:

  • Once you start fighting, you’ve drawn the line. You’ve established that you’re willing to get hurt, and the other guy has no choice but to oblige. If you run, he can point and laugh. But once you throw the first punch, you’ve left him with no choice. He may be willing to do something extra stupid just to defend his reputation.
  • Don’t expect a fight to be clean. There are no rules in a street fight, and the other guy may have brass knuckles, a knife, or something else. You could be knocked unconscious (or worse) in a split second.
  • Never underestimate your adversary. You may be a big guy, well-trained, and in peak physical condition. But the other guy could be tougher. How much are you willing to risk to find out?
  • A fight that starts off one-on-one doesn’t have to stay that way. In many cases, you will be ganged up on. This isn’t a Van Damme movie–they’re not going to line up to take turns fighting you.
  • If the police get involved (and there’s a good chance they will), who do you think they’ll believe? The locals, or you? Don’t expect your local embassy to come to your rescue.

Finally, isn’t the purpose of your trip ultimately to enjoy life? Why risk ruining it all over something silly?

If you think there’s a chance a fight could start, don’t engage. De-escalate, and walk away. Run if you need to–you’ll live to fight another day.

Caveat: if you’ve got no other way out, then it’s a different situation entirely. When left with no choice, defend yourself. Do not hesitate. If you need a reminder of effective self defense, check out this video on street fighting by Bas Rutten. Don’t get fancy with bicycle kicks–the goal should be to end the confrontation as fast as possible (every second counts). Be an animal, so that everyone else there will think twice before engaging.

Two men sparring in a boxing ring
Want to fight? Save your energy for the boxing ring

#4. Know the local drug laws

I get it–everyone’s situation is different. Maybe you never touch any illicit substances–in which case this point may not apply. But there’s a fair to good chance that you will be offered to partake in drug use during your travels, so it helps to be in the know regarding what can happen.

Drug laws greatly vary by jurisdiction. For example, Many Westerners consider marijuana to be a relatively harmless substance, and are surprised when they find out about the penalties for merely possessing–much less importing–cannabis in a place like Singapore (spoiler: the punishments are severe). In fact, just about all drugs are taken much more seriously in Asia than they are in the West. Wherever you’re going, read up on the law before you get there.

My advice is to be on the right side of the law. If it’s illegal, don’t do it. It’s not worth ruining your entire trip (or risking your life) for a high, no matter how much your mind may be “opened” as a result. It’s one thing to risk doing it in your home country (where you understand all the possibilities)–it’s a whole other matter to roll the dice abroad, where you will have to navigate an entirely different legal system (and that’s if there is a legal system in the first place).

Pro tip: there’s a very good chance that the person selling you drugs is an undercover cop (happens all the time to Full Moon partygoers in Thailand). If you’re busted, they will ask you to pay a fine (a.k.a. a bribe). When faced with the choice of paying a steep fine or taking your chances with the legal system, my advice would be to pay the fine. At the party, it’s just you and the cop; at the police station, a whole lot more people are going to want a piece. When you’ve been convicted of a crime, there’s little that your embassy will be able to do for you.

#5. You don’t have to finish that drink

Alcohol is an important part of many cultures.

The British like to wind down over a pint at the pub. Ireland practically runs on Guinness and Jameson. Vodka gets plenty of Eastern Europeans through the week, and Chinese business deals are often decided over a bottle of rice wine. While the type of alcohol (and quantity imbibed) varies, the concept remains the same–it’s a substance that loosens everyone’s inhibitions, encourages bravado and bonding, and provides plausible deniability for the day after (“oh, I don’t remember a thing!”)

As a male traveler, you may find yourself in situations where drinking is expected. If you’re invited to a party or local wedding, you may feel strong pressure to keep up with the other guys. Just know this: you’re under no obligation to match anyone shot for shot. Decide what your limits are going to be, and stick to them. Decent people everywhere will respect your decision, even if it’s unusual in their culture.

A common example: I often get asked about drinking in Russia. Lots of guys think that they’ll have to down half a bottle of vodka during every night out in Moscow… while the reality is very different. Ironically, it’s the people in countries like Russia that will be most understanding when you declare that you “don’t drink anymore” or “need to watch your intake.” Rather than seeing you as some kind of weakling, they will assume you’ve already had a history of alcohol–and don’t wish to go back to those times.

It’s not a binary decision, either. You could simply make the choice to drink slowly, and pace your intake over the course of the night. Some common tactics are:

  • Sip slowly
  • For every shot you take, drink a glass of water afterwards
  • Dilute the liquor (e.g. with soda water)
  • Don’t mix drinks in one night (“beer before liquor, never been sicker!”)
  • Try to stick to one drink per hour

You don’t have to drink to prove your manliness. Instead, show that you’re a man by sticking to your guns. You may have to weather some lighthearted insults, but you’ll earn their respect.

People cheering with multiple glasses of beer
Drinking is a part of many social functions – just don’t overdo it!

#6. You’re an ambassador now – so act like one!

Our world isn’t one big happy Kumbaya–it’s still very much divided along racial, cultural, and national lines. Don’t expect anywhere to be nearly as diverse, multicultural, and tolerant as your home country. When it comes to jokes and stereotypes in everyday speech, don’t expect nearly the same level of political correctness or restraint.

Whether you like it or not, you’re automatically an “ambassador” of your home country when you’re abroad. You don’t have much control here–the reputation of your home country precedes you, and everything you do will be evaluated against those expectations. You have only choice: to let this fact affect your behavior or not.

On one hand, no one is going to be surprised if you live up to some “traveler” stereotype. Think you’ll be the first Australian to get drunk in Bali? Or the first American to raise his voice at a Parisian waiter? Or the only Chinese guy to leave your trash lying around? Not a chance–there have been thousands before you. (Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not saying everyone from these countries does these things. Just pointing out stereotypes as they exist.)

On the other hand, your visit to this country is an opportunity to change stereotypes–or at least get people to question their preconceived notions about an entire group of people. If you act like an ambassador would–with respect towards others, dignity, and patience–you will be part of the solution. Nothing will change overnight, but the world might just become a little bit more tolerant and open to others.

The choice is yours. I personally enjoy messing with people’s stereotypes, as it completely shatters their programming and world-view. The calm, polite traveler? They’ll never see it coming.

Pro tip: it helps to have an alibi for random people you meet on the trip. Some might not accept “solo traveler” as a sufficient reason for your visit. Many will assume one of two possibilities–business man or sex tourist (and anyone younger than 40 gets quickly bucketed into the latter). It might help to say that you’re a photographer, or visiting local friends. Just a suggestion for those 10-minute interactions (e.g. with a curious cab driver) that would go a lot smoother if they associate you with something positive.

#7. If you want to blend in, don’t wear shorts

Europeans always say that they can “spot an American” instantly–the iconic cargo shorts and white socks are a dead giveaway. Likewise, you’re immediately a gringo (until proven otherwise) in Latin America if you’re in shorts. In many cultures, men rarely wear shorts other than when playing sports.

This “rule” (if you can even call it that) is not universal. There are plenty of ways to look dapper and stylish in shorts. It’s just not typical of men to do so, unless you’re in a particularly fashion-forward place (e.g. Italy).

Stick to dark jeans, or tailored slacks, and you have a greater chance of blending in with the others. Benefits of looking like a local include: not getting ripped off on every quoted price, not being an obvious target for muggings, and so on.

There are lots of other items that could give you the tourist “look”: cargo pants, bright colored backpacks with dangling straps, fanny packs, any kind of hiking accessories, camera backpacks (with large DSLRs in them), t-shirts with the Red Bull logo, worn out sneakers, and so on.

In the end, however, what you wear may not even matter that much–if your physical appearance (skin color, height, etc) is obviously different from that of the locals, they’re gonna know anyway. And they’ll know as soon as you say anything.

#8. BYOC (Bring Your Own Condoms)

Yes, you should bring condoms on your trip. Overly optimistic? Nah, it’s all about being prepared.

Guys waste a lot of time abroad trying to find their favorite brands, or even a size that fits them (e.g. it’s practically impossible to find large condoms in South East Asia). Just bring your own, and you’ll save yourself the headache.

Pro tip: if you’re having sex on your travels, get tested regularly. On a long trip, this means going for an STD test in a local hospital. You don’t have to get home to get a check up–there are proper, modern facilities just about everywhere these days. You could even consider getting a “full checkup” abroad (all the tests and scans), as it may be significantly cheaper than back home.

#9. Don’t bring up politics (or the Pope)

This is actually a common piece of advice that I feel is worth repeating.

Unless someone explicitly brings it up, it’s generally a good idea to avoid “sensitive” conversation topics such as religion, sex, and politics. You simply don’t know who you’re going to offend. Religion, for example, is a big part of many people’s lives–and they won’t take kindly to a foreigner dismissing it as unimportant (or criticizing certain aspects of it). You’re a visitor, not an advisor.

Get deep enough into a conversation, and you’ll often hear locals openly criticizing or trash-talking their own government. While you may feel it’s OK to join the fray, know that your opinion will forever be that of the “outsider”–and it’s very much not OK for outsiders to criticize (“if you don’t like it here, the door is that way”).

I keep it simple–I don’t bring it up until prompted. And if they do ask me, well, they better be prepared to hear my unvarnished opinion!

USA passport on wooden table
Stolen passports can fetch more than $10,000 on the black market. Protect yours!

#10. Protect your passport

Your passport isn’t just a way to keep track of all the places you’ve been. It’s your way in and out of the country–and you must do everything you can to keep it safe and undamaged.

When traveling, I keep my passport in a protective case–and take it out only when absolutely necessary (e.g. at the border). It rarely leaves the hotel room. If I need ID to get into a bar or club, I take my driver’s license. I also try not to bend the passport too much–the last thing I need is for the bio data page strip to be unreadable.

In countries where everyone is required to carry their passport around, I suggest only carrying around a photocopy of the photo page. This way, local police cannot use it as leverage in any way (otherwise, they could just confiscate it based on made-up charges and require you to go on a long adventure to the station and possibly pay a “fine”).

Pro tip: all travelers should travel with a copy of their passport photo page. I bring multiple, as they come in handy at random times (like when applying for a tourist visa abroad). I also keep a scanned copy of this page in a Dropbox folder, ready to be printed out in case I lose my passport and have to apply for a replacement at the local embassy (the whole process usually goes much faster if you can supply them with a photocopy of the original).

#11. Start a journal

Journals (or diaries) aren’t just for teenage girls.

Many travelers and explorers through the ages kept a journal, and I recommend it for anyone on a long adventure. Even if you have a great memory, there will be funny or interesting moments that you’ll eventually forget. If you have a journal, you’ll be able to relive all the good times long after the trip.

A journal doesn’t have to be lengthy, or even comprehensive. Consistency is perhaps the most important thing–a few sentences every 1-2 days is all you need to capture the most important things.

If you don’t want to carry around a notebook and pen everywhere, there are plenty of electronic alternatives. Even an Instagram account could technically suffice–upload a photo a day, and add a few sentences. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the entries accumulate.

Journal on cafe table
Writing down your daily thoughts and experiences can be therapeutic

#12. Call your mother

She misses you, and wants to know where you are. You’re a long way from home, and she’s probably not on Instagram. Call her once in a while!

* * *

Well, that’s it for now! I’ll try to keep this list updated if/when I think of more. As always, please feel free to leave a comment.

For more useful tips, check out our article on how solo travelers can save money.


PS. If any solo-travelin’ ladies are reading this: I’d love to hear from the other side, too! If anyone is interested in writing a guest post from a woman’s perspective, please don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll make it happen.

15 Great Destinations For First Time Solo Travelers

OK, so you’ve decided you want to go on a solo adventure. But where to?

There are almost 200 countries in the world, each with something unique to offer. Seasoned travelers might say that anywhere is a good travel destination, provided you have your wits about you, the budget to keep going, and an open mind.

However, we believe that some places are much better suited for solo travel than others. Factors include: safety, ease of getting around (e.g. public transportation), density of attractions, ease of meeting other travelers, available resources, traveler infrastructure, and more.

With all this in mind, we’ve narrowed it down to a list of 15 trip ideas for solo travelers – for both first-time travelers and more experienced adventurers alike!

Note: we feel that these are great for all genders. Given the (relatively) high level of safety for travelers in these 15 places, this article could just as easily have been titled 15 Destinations for Female Solo Travelers. Of course, no place is 100% safe–so common sense should still be applied!

Bird's-eye view of white temple surround by trees in Northern Thailand
Thailand isn’t just beaches and islands. Go up north for a different side of the country! (Pictured: Doi Inthanon)

#1. Thailand

Thailand is South East Asia on “easy” mode. More than 35 million people visit the country annually, and the Thais have got it all worked it out – from hotels, flights/transport, and endless tour activities. Tourist infrastructure is well developed, and most Thais by now speak at least a few words of English. It’s safe, cheap (by Western standards), and often sunny – what more could you ask for in a destination?

As a bonus, Thailand is serviced by a multitude of air routes – and affordable flight deals are easy to find.

Example solo itinerary: Phuket ‚Üí day trip on a boat to outlying islands ‚Üí back to Phuket ‚Üí ferry to Ko Lanta, more snorkeling and relaxation ‚Üí Krabi ‚Üí back to Phuket ‚Üí fly to Bangkok, spend 2-3 days there ‚Üí fly to Chiang Mai, explore for 2-3 days ‚Üí minibus to Pai, stay overnight ‚Üí back to Chiang Mai ‚Üí fly back home!

Pro tip: never, ever make fun of the King. Oh, and please don’t have your photo taken with sedated tigers (their treatment is decidedly not #awesome).

Another pro tip: most ATMs will charge you 200 BHT (~6 usd) just to withdraw each time. Get a debit card that refunds withdrawal fees, or bring cash to exchange.

Koala sleeping on a branch in Australia
A koala in his natural state (at the Kuranda Koala Gardens)

#2. Australia

Aside from being quite an expensive place to visit, Australia is very travel-friendly. While a proper exploration of the country could take months (and perhaps best done in an RV/camper van), a quick solo adventure is logistically easy to pull off. Just be sure to book your accommodation in advance, as hotels are very pricy and hostels fill up fast!

Example solo itinerary: Fly into Perth (3 days there) ‚Üí fly to Melbourne (4 days there, including day trip along Great Ocean Road) ‚Üí fly to Sydney (4 days there, including 2 nights in Katoomba to explore the Blue Mountains) ‚Üí Cairns (4 days there, including rainforest tours and a day spent lamenting the dying Great Barrier Reef).

Pro tip: Australians have a very direct sense of humor – don’t take it personally!

Sunset cityscape of Florence, Italy
Pop open a bottle of vino and enjoy the sunset over Florence, Italy

#3. Italy

The biggest danger in Italy? Falling in love with the place!

It’s a perfect country to explore at your own pace, taking in the culture, history, and amazing cuisine. A must-visit for any history buffs, and a great place to link up with other travelers.

Example solo itinerary (mostly train journeys): fly into Rome ‚Üí explore Rome & The Vatican ‚Üí Naples/Pompei/Salerno ‚Üí Florence ‚Üí Bologna ‚Üí Venice ‚Üí Milan ‚Üí Genoa ‚Üí back to Rome
(Optional: Amalfi Coast, but perhaps best saved for the honeymoon!)

Pro tip: the most useful website for finding European train/bus tickets is loco2. For train itineraries and journeys specifically, Seat61 is a treasure trove of info (has info for all over the world).

Close-up of paella dish
Paella is a traditional – and very delicious – Valencian rice dish

#4. Spain

If you’re worried about traveling to Spain, just know that thousands of new retirees move there every year to enjoy a calmer way of life. While the big cities are not nearly as despacito as you might imagine, Spain makes for an easy trip even if you can barely say Ola!

As everywhere else in Western Europe, the backpacker/hostel culture is very well developed and you’ll find no shortage of affordable accommodations anywhere you go. The country has a great train system, and you’ll be spoiled by the high speed connections between cities.

Example solo itinerary: fly into Barcelona (3 days there) → Valencia (2 days) → fly to Malaga or Seville → explore Andalusia (including Granada, Córdoba, Ronda → make your way to Madrid (4 days there, including a day trip to Toledo) → fly back home!

Pro tip: take advantage of the delicious and filling set lunch menus available at almost any restaurant (menu del dia). For ~10 Euros, you’ll leave satisfied and full. And yes, dessert is included!

View of the Porto promenade and old town
The charming coastal city of Porto, a short train ride from Lisbon

#5. Portugal

An underrated destination in Western Europe, Portugal is (finally) getting the traveler attention it deserves. Makes for an easy week-long trip by itself, or as the other half of a Spain/Portugal combo adventure.

Example solo itinerary: fly into Lisbon (3-4 days there) ‚Üí full day trip to Sintra ‚Üí up to Porto (2-3 days there) ‚Üí back to Lisbon and home (or onwards!)

Pro tip: try to get a hotel or Airbnb in Lisbon’s historic Alfama district. You’ll be hearing beautiful (and somber) Fado music every night for free… while tourists will be overpaying to eat at the restaurants where the musicians perform!

Beachgoers on a summer day in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Summer is Coming – and Dubrovnik awaits all

#6. Croatia

Beautiful people, crystal blue waters, and a city that served as the filming location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones – it’s no wonder that Croatia has quickly become a mainstream travel destination.

As a bonus, the country is a more affordable place to visit (compared to places Zlike Italy, France, or Germany). Unless you’re going there to spend thousands of dollars for a few days of Yacht Week, you won’t be breaking the bank.

Example solo itinerary: Fly into Zagreb (2-3 days there) ‚Üí Zadar (by way of Plitvice Lakes) ‚Üí Explore Zadar for a few days, with day trips to Dugi Otok and Nin ‚Üí head to Split (with a stop at Krka National Park) ‚Üí Hvar ‚Üí Dubrovnik

See this blog – these guys have done a great job of outlining an excellent itinerary for Croatia.

4 yellow houses in a unique architectural style in the Netherlands
The Dutch are known for their wacky and experimental designs

#7. Bene(lux)

Quick recap: “Benelux” refers to the political and economic union of Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. And we say (lux) because Luxembourg is a strictly optional part of this suggested itinerary.

Excellent train connections make exploring this part of Western Europe an absolute breeze. While all three countries combined are just half the size of New York (state), there’s a lot there to explore. As a bonus, Amsterdam is an excellent hub for air travel and affordable tickets are often available in and out of Schiphol.

Example solo itinerary: Fly into Amsterdam ‚Üí Explore Amsterdam for a few days (with day trip to Haarlem) ‚Üí Rotterdam (because Holland is not just about Amsterdam!) ‚Üí Antwerp ‚Üí Brussels (1 day max) ‚Üí Ghent ‚Üí Day trip to Bruges ‚Üí Back to Brussels ‚Üí Onwards (home? to Paris? to Cologne?)

Pro tip: don’t spend too much time in Brussels. Instead, take advantage of Belgium’s affordable local trains and check out Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.

Man walking by a graffiti design on the Berlin Wall
Large chunks of the Berlin Wall feature graffiti artwork

#8. Berlin

There are just a handful of cities that defined the course of Western civilization in the 20th century – and Berlin is right up there. Almost anywhere you go, there will be evidence of what happened… and who it happened to. The city itself is almost one big open air museum – where are are you going to see Checkpoint Charlie, the Iron Curtain (East/West wall), and Holocaust Memorial all in one day?

Berlin is perfect for a solo traveler. Cheap hostels abound, and you could technically sustain yourself on 2 Euro doner kebabs and free* walking tours for a whole week (and still not run out of things to do).

And in case you haven’t heard by now, Berlin is also the nightclub/trance capital of Western Europe – this is a city that knows how to party. With its (comparatively) low cost of living, Berlin continues to attract artists, hipsters, and – most recently – young tech startup founders.

Example solo itinerary: fly into Berlin and spend a week exploring it! Make sure you take a day trip to Postdam, and don’t forget to check out some cool museums in the city (including the Technology Museum and the Museum der Charit√© – a fascinating museum of medical history and procedures). With cheap flights and a ton of train connections, you could either return home or continue your adventure to anywhere in Europe.

Pro tip: read our Berlin city guide for all the essential info, including how to get past those high-maintenance Berlin club bouncers!

*Please tip your walking tour guides!

Sunset skyline of Hong Kong and Kowloon from Victoria Peak
Hong Kong is a perfect place to kick off your first Asia trip (Pictured: view from Victoria Peak)

#9. Hong Kong

OK, so we don’t recommend flying 10+ hours to Asia just to see Hong Kong. But if you’re going to make a stopover as part of a longer trip, this might just be the perfect place to do it. Warning: accommodations in Hong Kong are expensive!

HK is a perfect destination for solo travelers – it’s extremely safe, there are English signs everywhere (most people at least speak basic English), and the public transport system is one of the best in the world. Photographers will love this place (it’s highly #instagrammable), foodies will be in heaven, and even outdoorsy folks will be pleasantly surprised (there are 100s of km of pristine hiking trails, both on Hong Kong Island and a short ferry ride away on the outlying islands).

If you’re going to make a stop in Hong Kong, make sure you read our Essential Solo Travel Guide to HK first! It’s got everything you need to create a great travel itinerary. 3-4 days is a perfect amount of time.

Pro tip: for a good “bang for the buck” accommodation plan, find a room in an Airbnb somewhere on the West side of Hong Kong Island (e.g. Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun, HKU, or Kennedy Town). This way, you’re still on the main metro (MTR) line, but not paying ridiculous business hotel prices.

#10. Bali

Hah! Thought you wouldn’t see Bali on this list? So did we, until we gave it some thought.

On one hand, Bali is a bit of a “played out” travel destination. It seems everyone and their mothers has already been there, done that, and got the yoga mat to prove it. But there’s a reason why Bali is such a popular destination: there really is a lot to do there – you just have to get out of Kuta (the city where you first land).

Bali is a huge island, so it helps to know what you want. Want to catch waves and hang out with the surfers? Make a beeline for Canggu. Just want to relax and party on the beach? North Kuta is great for that. Interested in the whole Eat, Pray, Love experience – with artisanal coffee and daily Warrior II? Ubud is your place. Looking for some great scuba? You’ll want to see Bali and hop over to Lombok ASAP, then.

This is a great place for newbies to build some real travel skills – all the basic stuff (e.g. asking for directions, buying a SIM card, arranging for private transport) is just a hair less predictable than somewhere like Thailand. And it seems the farther you get out of Kuta, the more interesting stuff you’re going to find. There’s a lot to explore here – and lots of “insider” info that you’ll only get by talking to other travelers or semi-permanent residents on the island.

For more info, check out our Essential Solo Guide to Bali.

Pro tip: while you can use Uber on Bali (I did it all the time), you have to be discreet about it as Uber is technically not allowed on the island. If there’s a taxi or police nearby, your Uber driver might keep circling until the coast is clear (to pick you up). Other transport options – aside from the local taxis – include Grab, GoJek, and BlueBird.

A farmhouse between two valleys (Ninh Binh, Vietnam)
A farmhouse between two valleys (Ninh Binh, Vietnam)

#11. Vietnam

A popular phrase travelers use to describe their trip Vietnam: “It’s like visiting China… ten years ago.”¬†

While the memories of war still linger, the people of Vietnam are definitely not living in the past – this is one of the fastest growing economies of Asia (and it shows). Wherever you go, big changes are happening here: from soaring office towers in Saigon, to miles of beachfront resort developments near Da Nang, to hundreds of new factories popping up all over (ready to export to the rest of the world). Everyone is on the move in Vietnam, and business is booming!

Even with rapid economic growth, Vietnam continues to be an affordable travel destination. Decent hotel rooms in Hanoi can be had for as low as 15 USD/night, and a bowl of delicious street-side pho noodle soup is just 1-2 dollars. Even a SIM card (with a month of LTE data) will only set you back $5 or so.

Example solo itinerary:¬†before your trip, check weather reports for the 3 major cities (HCMC, Da Nang, and Hanoi). Depending on the season, it could be very rainy in the South and perfectly clear in the North (or vice versa). This will affect which direction you travel in as you explore Vietnam. For example, you could start in Hanoi (with day trip to Ha Long Bay ‚Üí bus north to Sapa (spend 1-2 nights here and enjoy the hiking and views) ‚Üí back to Hanoi ‚Üí fly to Da Nang (or ride a scooter down if you’re feeling brave) ‚Üí take train up to Hue (2 nights here) ‚Üí back to Da Nang by bus ‚Üí Hoi An (1-2 nights here) ‚Üí back to Da Nang ‚Üí fly to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and explore the city for a few days ‚Üí (optional) continue onwards to Cambodia

Pro tip: people of (most) nationalities will need to obtain a tourist visa for Vietnam prior to arrival. It can usually be all done online – there are many agencies that offer this service, ranging from excellent to dubious. We recommend just sticking with the official government e-visa service. If you want to stay longer than 30 days, you’ll need to get the traditional tourist visa.

Interior shot of Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia
Exploring the wonderful and enormous Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia

#12. Cambodia

Sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodia is another popular destination on the so-called Banana Pancake Trail in South East Asia. Cambodia is affordable, tourist-friendly, and makes for a perfect solo adventure – especially when combined with a neighboring country.

If you’re coming from abroad, you’ll probably enter the country via one of two cities: Siem Reap or Phnom Penh (the capital). Just as well, because these happen to be the two must-visit places: Siem Reap for its proximity to the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex, and Phnom Penh for witnessing not only the rapid economic rise Cambodia, but also to learn about and reflect on the horrors of the country’s recent past under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Example solo itinerary: Phnom Penh (2 nights) ‚Üí Explore the city, making sure to take a day trip to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center ‚Üí Siem Reap (wake super up early for the Angkor Wat visit, it’s worth it) ‚Üí fly home (or continue to Bangkok!) Optional: Sihanoukville + islands, Kampot, and Battambang

Pro tip: the best bus companies to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice versa) are Giant Ibis and Mekong Express. Probably best to just stick to those.

Fushimi Inari Shrine path in Kyoto, Japan
Fushimi Inari Shrine path in Kyoto, Japan

#13. Japan

While Japan has been exporting its culture for decades, no amount of movies, TV, anime, or Pokemon play-throughs will prepare one for the real thing. If you can afford it, this is simply a must-visit country – the history, architecture, cuisine, nature, infrastructure, and unique culture will amaze all but the most jaded of travelers.

For travelers, Japan is the safest country on our list (and of the safest in the world). As long as you don’t go out of your way to start trouble, it’s unlikely that anything bad will happen to you there. It’s also next to impossible to be ripped off in Japan – in almost every case, you will pay the exact same price as locals do.

Example solo itinerary: fly into Tokyo ‚Üí spend 3-4 days exploring Tokyo’s neighborhoods, temples, and gardens (with a day trip up north to Nikko) ‚Üí Optional: climb Mt. Fuji (summertime only) and come back to Tokyo in the same day ‚Üí Hakone (stay at a hot spring hotel or hostel overnight) ‚Üí train to Kyoto (1-2 nights here) ‚Üí train to Osaka ‚Üí With Osaka as your base, make day trips to Kobe, Himeji, and Nara ‚Üí done! (or continue south to Hiroshima)

Optional add-ons: Japan is not just the mainland. If you really want to get a good sense of the country, make sure to visit Sapporo (and surrounding cities) in the North, as well as the sun-kissed beaches of Okinawa (in the South).

Pro tip: if you’re looking for a truly unique experience in Japan, take the bullet train down to Kagoshima and board the ferry (or turbo jet) to Yakushima. This is a beautiful island, known for its unique animal species (deer, monkey) and ancient cedars (some over 2,000 years old). A great resource for visiting Yakushima is Yaku Monkey.

Panorama of Prague's Old Town
Panorama of Prague’s Old Town (Czech Republic)

#14. Central Europe

OK, so “Central Europe” sounds a bit vague.

To be specific: the idea is to hit up all the most interesting cities of the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary. It’s a great way to get off the (very beaten) tourist trail of Western Europe and experience something East of Germany for a change. There’s so much variety of culture, history, and cuisine all packed in a relatively tiny geographical area – from the fairy tale architecture of Prague to the thermal baths of Budapest.

This is a great option for newbie solo travelers, as all our recommended cities are quite safe, offer plenty of affordable hostel accommodation, and are connected via cheap and plentiful transport options (train, bus, car share, etc.)

Example solo itinerary (remember, all of these can be done backwards too): Prague ‚Üí bus to Brno ‚Üí Vienna ‚Üí Graz ‚Üí Optional: visit Ljubljana (Slovenia), and continue on to Zagreb (Croatia) ‚Üí Budapest, Hungary (spend at least a few days here)

Pro tip: to quickly see all transportation options within Europe, try Rome2Rio

Sunrise shot of Machu Picchu, Peru
For the best views of Machu Picchu (Peru), get there really, really early

#15. Peru to Chile (Gringo Trail)

What kind of a destination list would this be without at least one location from the New World?

Latin America (everything from Mexico down to the southern tip of Argentina) is daunting to new travelers for a variety of reasons. First, it’s far away for many – requiring expensive airfare or 40+ hour journeys with multiple connections. Then there’s the language barrier: you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t speak any Spanish or Portuguese. Finally, there’s the looming question of safety.

With that said, there are definitely “easier” countries to visit on the continent. For first-time (or less experienced) travelers, we recommend starting with the tried and true destinations on the so-called Gringo Trail. There are all backpacker-friendly, and offer plenty of accommodation options (along with affordable activities/tours and just enough of a hospitality industry that you’ll eventually find someone that speaks good English).

Example solo itinerary (loose suggestions): fly into Lima (Peru) ‚Üí spend a day or two in Lima (not too long here) ‚Üí Optional: take a desert / sandboarding / off-road jeep day tour from Lima ‚Üí Cusco ‚Üí Explore Cusco for a couple of days to acclimatize to the altitude ‚Üí Book a tour locally in Cusco to hire the Salkantay or Inca Trail to Machu Picchu ‚Üí fly to La Paz (Bolivia) ‚Üí Optional: Death Road biking tour day trip (dangerous!) ‚Üí bus to Uyuni ‚Üí Salt flats jeep tour to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) ‚Üí Spend a few days in San Pedro, exploring local rock formations and stargazing at night ‚Üí fly or bus down to Santiago ‚Üí back home! (Optional: visit Easter Island via plane from Santiago)

Also, just in case you haven’t heard: learning Spanish is key! Every¬†hour you spend learning basic Spanish phrases is going to translate to considerably more enjoyment while visiting South America. For free lessons, head over to Duolingo and make an account.

Pro tip: some of you may be tempted to try ayahuasca¬†(or other similar substances) while backpacking in South America. Please understand the possible side-effects prior to going in, and don’t take unnecessary risks. If you’re going to do it, it would be wise to go with a travel buddy so you can look out for one another.

(The full “Gringo Trail” includes many more countries, encompassing almost all of Latin America)


And there you have it: 15 great destination ideas for your next solo travel adventure!

(If you’re traveling within to the United States, make sure you see our recommendations for the Best Solo Destinations in the USA).

PS. Apologies if your favorite location didn’t make the list (we are aware of what was left out). If there’s interest, we’ll release a list of destinations for more experienced travelers.

The 8 Best Places To Travel Solo in the United States

Traveling in the U.S. is a bit different than Europe, Asia – or anywhere else really.

First, there’s the issue of distance. It’s a massive country, so you have to budget considerably more time spent in transit.

Secondly, transportation options are limited. While there are certainly a few train journeys available, it’s not at all like Europe – there’s no high speed rail, and not all major cities are connected (there’s no train from LA to Vegas, for example). If you’re not willing to rough it out on buses, you’ll have to book some flights (and there are no budget airlines here). As any American surely knows, the USA was designed to be traversed by automobile – and driving thousands of miles by yourself isn’t particularly fun (or safe).

Finally, there’s cost. Unless you’re visiting from Scandinavia, you’re in for some sticker shock. Cheap hostels? Forget it. Student discounts? Yeah… maybe for high schoolers. The dollar is strong, and the US is an expensive place to vacation!

With all these factors in mind, we have narrowed it down to 8 destinations (spoiler: they are all big cities) that make for a great solo travel experience in the United States. For each place, we’ll break down our reasons why.

[Note: please read the addendum at the end of this article before you crucify us for not including a place you had in mind.]

#1. New York City

No surprises here – NYC is a must visit, whether you’re coming from Milwaukee or Madagascar. You really, truly don’t need any travel companions for New York – the city has enough in store for you already.

It’s the #1 city on our list for a few reasons:

  • The energy. New Yorkers live to “work hard and play hard” – and this mantra affects how everything works in The City. Restaurants are open late, and bars close later than anywhere else in the US (last call is 4 AM). Food delivery services work late into the night, and fleets of taxicabs stand at the ready – everyone’s always going somewhere. Also: is there any other city in the world with a subway system that runs 24/7? (Spoiler: only the #2 city on our list).
  • The sheer variety of things to do and see. From world-class museums (The Met, MoMA, Guggenheim), Broadways shows, West Village comedy clubs, legendary cocktail bars, ethnic enclaves and sprawling urban parks, NYC gives you a lot to choose from. You can easily fill up 4-5 days of nonstop exploration, which already justifies the cost of an expensive plane ticket to get here.
  • The diversity¬†of its residents (and visitors). Walk around long enough and you’ll hear every major language spoken. Historically, this was the world’s entry point into the U.S. – and many chose to settle here and make NYC their home. While even first-generation immigrants are typically proud to declare themselves American, they still retain elements of their home culture (most notably, the delicious cuisines).

It’s particularly good for solo travelers due to ease of getting around. Lower Manhattan is downright walkable, and the other boroughs are just a subway (metro) ride away. Even when you’re completely out of energy, distances within NYC are short enough that a quick Uber or Lyft ride won’t break the bank.

As cheesy as it is to say, there’s no place like it. If for no other reason, go because it’s the one city that Americans love to hate. It simply exerts too much national (and global) influence to be ignored.

Finally, the city’s air, rail, and bus connections make it a perfect hub to continue your journey. For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our New York city guide.

What to watch on the way there: Woody Allen’s Manhattan

Manhattan skyline (seen through the Brooklyn Bridge)
The Manhattan skyline (seen through the Brooklyn Bridge)

#2. Chicago

Perpetually in New York’s shadow, Chicago has long been nicknamed the “Second City” – and here it is yet again, at #2 on our list.

Visiting Chicago is key to truly understanding America – it’s an economic and cultural powerhouse, and is arguably the dominant influence in the Midwest.

Take a short cruise (or stroll) down the river and you’ll quickly see what the hype is all about. Chicago’s varied and numerous skyscrapers are a testament to the city’s rapid growth, all the way from the mid 19th century to the late 20th. You’ll see many styles and schools of architecture represented – from Colonial and Queen Anne all the way to Art Deco and Postmodern (and everything in between). The city continues to attract and inspire architects and engineers.

Downtown Chicago is very walkable, and is perfect for exploring solo. In the evenings, catch a comedy show at The Second City – or relax with a cocktail and listen to world-class jazz at The Green Mill.

Finally, don’t be surprised if people strike up a conversation – the Midwest is known for its friendly, down-to-earth folks – and Chicago is no exception.

Pro tip: on a clear day, you owe it to yourself to take the elevator to the Skydeck on the 103rd of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). You’ll be able to see four different states!

For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Chicago city guide.

What to watch on the way there: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Aerial shot of Chicago river
Chicago: an architect’s dream destination

#3. Washington D.C.

While the USA may be a young country, it’s still the world’s longest surviving democracy – and D.C. is where the nexus of political power lies. It’s the nation’s capital, and offers plenty to the curious solo traveler.

The centerpieces of the city are its expansive and varied museums: from the Smithsonian (incl. the National Air and Space, Natural History, American History, American Art museums), to the more modern Newseum and International Spy Museum, there’s something for everyone. And with so many great museums to choose from, it’s doubtful that any two people in a group will want to spend the exact amount of time in each one – solo is truly the way to go here!

And we haven’t even gotten to the nation’s democratic institutions – The White House, United States Capitol, and all related monuments and memorials (including the iconic Washington Monument).

What the city lacks in nightlife and pizazz, it more than makes up for in cultural diversity. There’s a plethora of cuisines available all over the city – you might just find yourself sharing an Indian restaurant table with Japanese diplomats!

For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Washington DC city guide.

What to watch on the way there: House of Cards

Street shot of Washington DC with Capitol Building in background
The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

#4. Los Angeles

Now, we swing over all the way to the other coast – to the TV and movie capital of the world.

Some may find it surprising that L.A. is even on this list. Known for its notorious traffic jams and commute times, Los Angeles doesn’t seem like a place that a solo traveler should attempt to conquer.

These days, however, it’s entirely possible to have a great time in LA without a car. There’s a lot you can get to with just the Metro light rail and bus (link to system map), and anything else could potentially be reached with an Uber/Lyft ride. Bonus: you won’t have to think about finding parking for the entire trip.

From people-watching in Santa Monica and Venice, to finding your favorite actor’s star on the Walk of Fame (let’s face it, you’re going to go there), all the way to hiking to the Hollywood sign and seeing how the sausage is made at the Universal Studios – don’t be surprised if you can easily fill up a 3-4 day itinerary just in LA alone.

Pro tip: the city’s downtown has undergone a complete revitalization, and is an increasingly popular place to eat, drink, and party. Make sure you swing by Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Arts District to take full advantage. For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Los Angeles city guide.

What to watch on the way there: La La Land, Straight Outta Compton, Get Shorty

Skyscrapers in Los Angeles downtown
Can you feel that California sunshine? (LA’s downtown core)

#5. San Francisco

Ask Europeans what their favorite U.S. city is, and you’ll hear “San Fran” 90% of the time (pro tip: don’t actually call it “San Fran” in front of the locals).

It’s easy to fall in love with SF. It’s a tiny, walkable city – stuffed to the brim with great restaurants, hip bars, and hipper boutiques and cafes. To top it off, the natural setting could hardly be more perfect – the Pacific Ocean and forested Marin Headlands border the city to the west and north, respectively. And don’t worry about missing all the action, either: you’ll have plenty of opportunities to marvel at the city’s surroundings while walking up and down the numerous hills.

It’s hard to find another city in the US where your surroundings can chance so quickly. Walk 5 minutes in any direction from Union Square and you’ll find four very different areas: modern skyscrapers and condos to the South in SOMA, a farmer’s market and Ferry Building to the East (Embarcadero), America’s largest Chinatown to the North, or the eclectic Polk Street to the West. This pattern seems to repeat itself wherever you are in the city. Some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore include North Beach, The Mission, and Hayes Valley.

Note: San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the world, both to live and visit (more so than even NYC). If your visit coincides with a major tech industry conference, you may be completely out of luck when trying to find hotel rooms or AirBnbs (or even hostels). Book your accommodation as far in advance as you can for this city!

For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our San Francisco city guide.

What to watch on the way there: Silicon Valley (TV show)

Wide shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Fun fact: The Golden Gate Bridge is not red – it’s “International Orange”

#6. Boston

Even more so than D.C., Boston is a city that will appeal to all the history buffs out there.

Originally founded in 1630 by Puritan colonists from England, Boston long served as the de facto political, financial, religious, and commercial capital of New England. We’re not going to spoil what happened next – it’s best to go and relive what you can through historic walks in the city’s charming center (an area arguably more suited to carriages than cars).

Today, Boston stands as a hub of cutting edge technology and education (Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts are all here). It is also home to a sizable Irish-American community, and is very popular for this reason with visitors from Ireland.

It’s small, charming, and very walkable – perfect for a 2-3 day solo jaunt. Just don’t come back before trying a pint of draught Guinness at a traditional Irish Bar (especially if you’re in town for St. Patrick’s day!) As the home of the Red Sox, it’s probably the place to watch a baseball game if you haven’t experienced one already. For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Boston city guide.

What to watch on the way there: Good Will Hunting

Acorn Street in Boston, Massachusetts
A leisurely stroll down Boston’s Acorn Street

#7. Philadelphia

Next up is none other than Philly, one of the nation’s oldest cities – and one with a tumultuous past.

Much like Boston and D.C., this is a place with considerable historical significance – the city’s Independence Hall was the original signing site of the Declaration of Independence & constitution. The Liberty Bell (and entire National Park surrounding it) is a literal symbol of American freedom.

The best part? All the sights are very closely packed together, making Philly one of the easiest places to visit. Start at Fairmount Park, and you’ll hit all sorts of fascinating venues by walking east: the Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia Zoo, Eastern State Penitentiary, Rodin Museum, Franklin Institute, and more. You’ll be practically surviving on historical facts and cheese steaks!

For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Philadelphia city guide.

What to watch on the way there: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia’s City Hall was officially opened in 1901

#8. The Pacific Northwest

To round off our list, we’ve got something completely different.

Leave all the hustle and bustle behind and head to America’s introvert mecca – the scenic Pacific Northwest. Defined by its two major population hubs (Portland and Seattle), the region has its own distinct culture – perhaps more closely resembling that of Canada’s British Columbia (to the immediate North).

In Portland, you’ll be hot on the trail of a fascinating persona: the modern American hipster. Don’t quite have your full sleeve tattoos done? No problem: the city’s residents are extremely liberal and generally welcome everyone (except for those pesky Californians, of course). Don’t miss: the Japanese Garden, Rose Test Garden, Powell’s City of Books, and a drink in the hip Pearl District.

Further north in Seattle, you’ll be treated to some of the freshest seafood in the country (and unsurprisingly, world-class sushi to boot). Have a drink in the world’s first ever Starbucks, then use all that energy to hike to the Washington Park Botanic Gardens. If you’re itching to get deeper into the woods, Cougar Mountain and Tiger Mountain are not too far away. Finally: in case you’re wondering about the 420 situation, here’s everything you need to know.

For a full breakdown of essential solo travel info, check out our Portland and Seattle city guides.

What to watch on the way there: Portlandia

Boat moving along Puget Sound near Seattle
Seattle’s Puget Sound – adventure lies ahead!

“You must be joking. Why was X not included?”

Look, we hear you. There is much, more to see in the US.

For one, we didn’t even mention any of the amazing National Parks (Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc). Hawaii? Alaska? Not on the list. And what about sunny Florida, or sinful Las Vegas, or soulful New Orleans?

There’s no reason why a solo adventurer can’t see – or enjoy – the rest of the country. It’s just that most people will probably get a bigger kick out of seeing the rest of America in a group. It’s a lot more fun to go with someone else on a long road trip through a National Park, for example (and to split gas money!)

One great approach is to tackle the rest of the sights with the friends you meet along the way.


If you’ve made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.

PS. Don’t forget to check out our quick guide to packing for solo travel.

Bluffworks Tailored Chinos – The Perfect Pants For Traveling?

My search for the “perfect” pair of travel pants is over.

A few months ago, Bluffworks sent me a pair of their new Tailored Chinos to review. Now that I’ve had a chance to truly test them out, here are my conclusions:

  • It must have taken a lot of experimentation, but Bluffworks has truly created the “goldilocks” travel pants: comfortable (but not “technical”), stylish (but not flashy), and versatile (to go with any outfit). In other words, they are just right for 99% of travel scenarios.
  • If your style of travel is like mine (i.e. most of the time I’m in cities, with only the occasional hike), you might as well look no further and just get these in your size.
  • They are not as thick as denim, so if you’re looking for a travel solution for colder climates you’ll still have to layer these with leggings when it drops below 5 Celsius or so. Otherwise, they are perfect for warm/hot climates.

Here’s what they look like:

Bluffworks Tailored Chinos, front and back view
Bluffworks Tailored Chinos, front and back view (color: Navy).

At first glance, they look like your typical tailored chinos – which is a good thing. This means that they can be dressed “up” or “down” easily, and look just fine when paired with more formal footwear (e.g. lace-ups). This is contrast to a lot of other “travel” pants on the market, which often err on the side of technical features while neglecting style.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t need my travel pants to look good on the trail. But it helps that I can just dust them off, put on a button down and suddenly be ready for meeting in a nice restaurant or lounge. If you’re a fan of “one bag” (minimalist) type travel, you should seriously consider the Tailored Chinos.

Note: I specifically asked for the Navy color, which I believe to be one of the most versatile for any kind of men’s pants. Otherwise, these are available in four other colors: Charcoal (grey), Stone (light grey), Khaki, and Harvest Gold.

Materials and feel

The pants are made from 100% polyester, and the pockets are 80% polyester / 20% cotton. From the outside, the fabrics feel like your typical synthetic technical pant. Most importantly, they feel very comfortable – and I’ve been happy to lounge around them for hours on end.

I must have got the sizing just right (I’m 5’11, 170 lbs and wearing the 32 waist size) –¬† they sit very nicely on my waist, while offering enough stretch and flexibility. Bottom line: these are comfortable enough to jog in, and I would not hesitate to ski or hike in them either.

They are lightweight, at 5.3 oz/yard (compare to jeans, which are typically 12-15 oz/yard). This makes them perfect for hotter climates (e.g. South East Asia), where breathability is key. I spent a good chunk of this winter in Canada, so I had to pair these with some warm merino leggings when going outside.

According to my primitive luggage scale (accuracy not guaranteed), they weigh ~400 grams (0.88 lbs). Made in China.

How they fit

In short, they fit like your favorite pair of … tailored chinos (this is what Bluffworks was going for, after all). More than anything, it feels like I’m wearing pants that could be worn to a West Coast job interview – just formal enough to not get a second look from judging eyes.

Now for some “guy” talk: not to worry, these offer ample “freedom” down there. As a bonus, they do a decent job of “accentuating” your posterior, so to speak.

My only nitpick: I would have preferred the leg opening to be a tad smaller – maybe by 0.5” – but perhaps that would be too “fashion forward.” Personal preference, really. From a pure style perspective, I think these pants look much better worn with lace-ups and boots (of any kind) than with running shoes or sneakers.

Bluffworks Tailored Chinos front and back pockets
Pockets galore! Inside out views showing front (top) and back (bottom) pockets

Pockets and other features

First of all, there are a lot of pockets. Two back pockets (one zippered), two front pockets (each with their own, separate zippered deeper compartment), and one special back pocket that allows you to sit down without sitting on top of your phone (it’s just big enough for an iPhone 6/7/8). There’s no shortage of places to stash your valuables (e.g. passport, cash when on the go), safely out of reach of pickpockets. As someone who quite OCD about these things when traveling, I appreciate the various compartments they’ve included here.

Note: the separate zippered “deeper” compartments on each front pocket are sizable, and would fit any smartphone on the market (as well as things like passports, boarding passes, etc.)

Water resistance: outstanding. I’ve walked with these in the rain (and snow), and they simply refuse to let water through. As a bonus, they dry very fast (within 15-20 minutes) of being indoors after rain. With that said, I haven’t yet tried them in a proper Asian monsoon – but I’m guessing they would stand up to the challenge (we’ll find out).

How they compare to other pants

If you’re a traveler, it’s important to consider all the options first – after all, it’s not like you can bring 5 different pairs of pants with you (I mean, you could – but you really don’t want to).

Here’s how the Tailored Chinos compare to a couple other options:

Bluffworks Chinos vs. Jeans: while there’s nothing that will take a true beating like heavy denim, there’s simply no comparison when it comes to comfort and water resistance. In heavy rain, your jeans (and anything underneath) will get absolutely soaked – while the Bluffworks will be fine. The chinos are lighter, and will pack into a much more compact size (important for minimalist travel).

Bluffworks Chinos vs. Outlier New OGs: this one is tougher, but for me the Bluffworks still win out. While the OGs are a bit comfier and allow for more stretch/mobility, they also look closer to “technical” hiking pants than the Bluffworks. For some reason, the OGs look a bit blotchy after they get wet from rain. If your entire trip is going to be boulder hopping and scaling walls, by all means go for the Outliers. For an urban adventure, however, go with the Tailored Chinos and don’t look back.

Conclusion

In the last few years there has been an explosion of new travel gear – with every brand promising to change (and improve) the way we travel. While all these claims should be taken with a grain of salt, I can confirm that Bluffworks really is changing the game.

If you’re looking for a great travel pant that hits the sweet spot of versatility, style, and features – the Bluffworks Tailored Chinos are it.

Thanks for reading – and safe travels!

Highly Recommended 


The Tailored Chinos are available for $125 on the Bluffworks website (they offer Free shipping and returns for US customers).

Tortuga’s Setout Laptop Backpack: The Perfect Minimalist Travel Bag For Nomads?

As someone that exclusively travels with a single carry-on, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect “one bag” solution that can fit everything for a trip with no set end date.

I’ll cut to the chase: the Setout Laptop Backpack from Tortuga is pretty much perfect for my needs. And if you’re looking for an ultralight nomad travel solution, it might work for you, too.

Read on, and I’ll explain why.

(Note: this is about the Setout Laptop Backpack, not the Setout Divide or Setout Backpack)

“Is it the right size and weight?”

First of all, please note that this bag is not specifically designed for minimalist “one bag” types like me. Instead, it’s described as a “versatile secondary bag” on Tortuga’s website, to accompany a duffle bag or rolling luggage.

Indeed, Tortuga has an assortment of proper Travel Backpacks to choose from for those that need the space (~35-45L) and additional features (e.g. hip belts). And for the vast majority of travelers, one of those would be the most sensible choice.

If you’re into minimalist travel, however, the Setout Laptop Backpack is just the right size. Here are the basic stats:

  • Volume: 25 Liters
  • Dimensions:¬†18.5‚ÄĚ x 12‚ÄĚ x 6.75‚ÄĚ (47 x 30 x 17 cm)
  • Weight: 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg)

Bottom line: the bag is compact (well within most airline carry-on size restrictions), lightweight, and spacious. Even though “25 Liters” doesn’t sound like much, I find that I can fit quite a lot into the pack. I also like to keep my total loadout under 8kg, and this backpack makes it easy to do so.

Overview of pockets and compartments

First of all, I recommend watching Tortuga’s intro video to the bag:

Right away, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the bag’s design.

Some of the features that immediately stand out:

  • The “quick access” pocket on the very front of the bag. Perfect for stashing headphones, boarding passes, or even dumping everything from your pockets into right before you go through airport security. About the height of a regular-sized Kindle.
  • The handy water bottle pocket on the side. While it’s great for holding my 1L Nalgene, I can see others potentially using it for something like a compact umbrella or small tripod. If not needed, it zips flat and doesn’t protrude from the bag (very sleek!)
  • Hideaway straps: while I don’t foresee myself making use of this feature very often, it’s nice to know that it’s there for unforeseen circumstances. As a bonus, the space reserved for hiding the straps could be used a separate area for stashing a light jacket or sweater (bonus: more cushion for your back!)
  • Strong, lockable zippers. Tortuga didn’t skimp on the zippers (yes, they are YKK!) Zippers are usually the first point of failure, and I’m confident that these ones will last. All three of the compartments are lockable, something that’s practically unheard of on a daypack.
  • Bright interior lining. Helpful for finding stuff quickly inside the bag.

There are three primary compartments:

  1. Front “organization” section:¬†contains¬†many¬†small pockets for pens, gadgets, business cards, and the like. Also contains a key clip and a zipped compartment (great place to put passport/ID).
  2. Main compartment: opens flat to reveal a cavernous main area. I had no trouble fitting in 5 t-shirts, 4 pairs of boxers, 4 pairs of socks, a pair of shorts, merino leggings/longsleeve/gloves, sunglasses case, and a compact camera wrapped up in its own case. On the opposite side, there are two large mesh pockets (I use these for my portable backup hard drive and random cables/adapters).
  3. Back laptop/tablet compartment: the raised laptop sleeve is a great fit for my 2015 15” Macbook Pro, while the mesh zipped pocket works well as a catch-all for chargers, dongles, and a small wireless mouse. There’s also space for a 9.7” tablet in a separate pocket.

As you can tell, there are a lot of separate pockets and compartments. Aside from a couple small packing cubes for my clothing, I find that I can leave any other small cases or organizers at home.

Clockwise from top left: (1) the back of the bag, (2) laptop pocket, (3) strap attachment hook, (4) outside stash pocket, (5) inside the cavernous front organization compartment, (6) 1L Nalgene in bottle pocket

Pros and Cons for Minimalist Travel

Here’s a quick rundown of everything I really like about the bag:

  • It’s comfortable. While I don’t like to dwell too long on comfort and fit (everyone is going to feel differently about the bag and you gotta try it on before coming to any conclusions), the bag feels great on me fully loaded. The straps are padded and comfortable, contoured nicely to the body. As a bonus, there’s a small chest strap that to redistribute the weight for longer walks.
  • It looks cool. Aside from a small turtle shell logo on the front, there’s no visible branding or lettering. The color is a dark grey and hides dust/scratches very well. Most importantly, the bag doesn’t stand out as a “travel bag”‚ÄĒinstead of a backpacker, I simply look like a style conscious local hipster commuting to work (and that’s a good thing).
  • It fits all my stuff¬†(with room to spare). The main compartment has enough space for all the clothing and toiletries I may need for a week of travel (which to me is the same as for a year of travel, as I typically do laundry every 7-10 days on the road). Could I go even smaller? Possibly. But I do enjoy and value the available space, and my advice is always to have 10-15% empty in case you need it.
  • The laptop compartment. Nothing much to add really‚ÄĒit’s perfectly executed. My Macbook Pro fits in nicely, and is elevated by an inch or so off the ground at all times. Access is quick, and the laptop thankfully¬†does not come into contact with the metal zippers as I pull it out (you’ll be surprised how often that’s the case these days).
  • There’s no hip belt. I’m glad this was left out, as there is simply no need for a waist belt on a bag of this size.
  • It’s solidly built. More than anything, the bag feels like a quality product. There’s no loose stitching, and all the handles are very sturdy. If anything, the bag is over-engineered‚ÄĒI don’t see how it’s going to fail (will update this review if anything does happen).

And possible changes/improvements:

  • Removal of the “hideaway strap” and “luggage handle pass through sleeve” features (OK, I’m really nitpicking here). From a selfish point of view, I don’t see myself using these features often, if ever. Most minimalist traveler would have no need for a roller bag, and there’s no way I’m ever trusting anyone to gate-check this bag (a situation that would call for stowing the straps). For me, these features simply add to the complexity (and weight) of the bag. And if you’re the kind of person that palpitates at the sight of an airline employee wielding a portable luggage scale, you know that every gram counts.
  • Some kind of solution to the “TSA liquids” problem. Getting into bag nerd territory here. OK, so if you have a bunch of liquids (e.g. shampoo, sunscreen) you almost always have to remove them from the bag during airport security. Naturally, you don’t want to keep the liquids in the main compartment, because that would be really annoying to open every time. My workaround is to stash them all at the bottom of the front organizer pocket‚ÄĒwhich actually holds much more than expected. It’s not elegant, but it does the job. If there’s a better way, I trust the boffins at Tortuga to figure it out!
All packed up (left). Inside the main compartment (right). Total weight: 7.4 kg!

Final Thoughts

Even though this bag wasn’t specifically made for one bag travel, it’s the one that stands out most to me in Tortuga’s lineup. I’m glad they carried over their design ethos and features from the larger bags into this one‚ÄĒyou get all the benefits of modern travel bag design without the weight and bulk.

A great bag, and as of 2019 it’s my travel bag of choice. It’s available for $125 through Tortuga’s website.

Well done, Tortuga!

Highly Recommended 

(Note: Tortuga Backpacks sent me this bag as a sample to try out)

The “Minimum Viable Nomad” Loadout: A 20 Liter Packing List For Warmer Climates

Could you travel indefinitely with just a 20 Liter backpack? 

I bet you could‚ÄĒand in this post, I’ll do my best to show you how.

A bit of background: I’ve been doing the “digital nomad” thing for just over 2 years now, and my approach to travel/packing/productivity has changed considerably. Last year, I wrote a post about how to travel the world full-time with just a 30 Liter pack. A few people found it interesting, so I decided to write a follow-up with my latest packing list. I’ve since ditched the 30L pack in favor of a 20L daypack, which suits my needs just fine.

I get (and see) questions all the time about gear and clothing for long-term backpacking and/or being a remote worker. In some cases, people do require specialized solutions (e.g. for bringing expensive photography gear, drones, musical instruments, etc).

In the vast majority of cases, however, people are just looking for advice on how to get through a 3-6 month trawl through South East Asia or South America without developing lower back problems. Take it from someone who’s been at it for a while: you truly don’t need much to travel full-time¬†in hot climates.

Behold, the “Minimal Viable Nomad” load-out:

The Filson Journeyman backpack and everything that goes into it
The Filson Journeyman backpack and everything that goes into it

This is everything I would bring to Chiang Mai. Or Bali. Or Medellin. Or anywhere else (as long as the temperature isn’t going to drop below 20C too often).

The backpack itself

  • The pack itself is a Filson Journeyman Backpack (in black). This was purchased a few years ago‚ÄĒback when I was working in an office, and when spending $395 on a daypack seemed perfectly normal. If you’re doing regular travel, there’s really no need to spend anywhere close to this amount on a backpack. There are many 20-25L packs that would do the job just fine (check out the Distilled Gear List on this blog).
  • What I like:¬†the Filson¬†pack is built like a tank. Large, high quality zippers. Strong stitching. A water resistant exterior (it kept all contents dry in heavy monsoon rain). Wide, comfortable straps. It also doesn’t hurt that it looks really, really good‚ÄĒa very clean, timeless design without any distracting hip or chest straps.
  • What could be improved:¬†the laptop compartment isn’t raised, so I typically keep some socks at the bottom of the bag to create a cushion from the bottom of the bag (in any case, a laptop sleeve is recommended). Also, there’s not much air flow between the pack and my back‚ÄĒgoing for a multi-day hike with this thing could be unpleasant.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the Journeyman. It’s sturdy enough to last years on the road, but also hipster enough to make me look like a local (i.e. not an obvious “traveler”). Most importantly, it has allowed me to reach the next step in the “one bag” process: full-time travel with just a daypack.

If all you have is a daypack, many travel “annoyances” suddenly no longer apply to you:

  • No need to check a bag (ever).¬†Even the most aggressive of airport gate staff simply wave you through‚ÄĒno one is going to bother weighing your pack to make sure it’s under 7kg (except Jetstar Australia, of course, the absolute madmen).
  • No need to rush onto a plane/bus early to claim valuable overhead space. In a pinch, the bag slides neatly under the seat in front of you
  • No need to spend 1-2 hours upon arrival checking in to your hotel/Airbnb just to drop off a big piece of luggage. With a daypack, you can go straight into a city and start exploring
  • No need to bring a “separate” daypack

What goes in the backpack

Clothing:

  • 5 regular t-shirts. I’ve been a fan of American Apparel’s basic cotton tees and Uniqlo’s¬†HEATTECH line for a while now (I’ve moved on from Uniqlo’s Airism tees, don’t like the texture and they rip too fast).
  • 7 pairs of Uniqlo Airism boxer briefs. Very comfortable and cheap. Someday I plan to upgrade to all-merino stuff, but I’m in no rush to do so.
  • A few pairs of socks (mostly ankle socks, with one pair of longer socks).¬†I’m a big fan of Darn Tough socks.
  • 1 pair of Outlier New Way shorts. I wear these 90% of the time‚ÄĒthey look great and dry in minutes. These double as my swim trunks (I find that I don’t actually swim that often while traveling, so a separate pair of trunks would be recommended if you’re into daily swims).
  • A small micro-towel that works great in a pinch.
  • 1 Eagle Creek half-cube that stores the boxers, socks, and micro-towel.
  • Flip-flops¬†(you’ll inevitably give in and start wearing flip-flops, regardless of how hard you try and maintain the fashion sense of your previous life)

Electronics:

  • Macbook Air 13” as a general purpose machine. I’ve since replaced mine in favor of a 15” Macbook Pro for photo editing, but the majority of people will be just fine with a 13” (or smaller) machine. While the Air’s screen is definitely outdated by today’s standards, it’s still one tough machine‚ÄĒand would suit most people just fine.¬†Don’t go overboard on the computer purchase: just buy what you need to get your work done.
  • Computer accessories: laptop charger, cheap Logitech mouse, Universal USB adapter, and G-Drive 1TB USB drive for offline backups.
  • Earphones. I can vouch for the Shure SE215’s as a good compromise between price and audio quality (don’t have any experience with the newer, wireless variant of these).

Everything else:

  • Nalgene 500mL water bottle. Great for the impromptu day hike, or for sneaking vodka into otherwise proper venues (I kid, I kid).
  • Small toiletry bag with the essentials (toothbrush, clippers, a few bandaids, razors, and so on)
  • Obligatory Field Notes notebook and pen (notebook remains mostly empty‚ÄĒprimary use is for gear shoots like these).
  • Sunglasses in¬†their own case. Mine are by Oliver Peoples,¬†so I’m always paranoid about losing/breaking them. I used to bring eyeglasses too, but I ditched them because my prescription isn’t that strong to begin with (also, everyone looks¬†prettier at -0.5).
  • Small combination padlock for hostel/station lockers.

What I wear on me

  • Levi’s jeans. Yes, these should be replaced with something more sensible for travel. But I still like how versatile and tough denim is, so I continue to travel with a pair of jeans.
  • Leather belt (by Tanner Goods).¬†It’s tough as nails, ages beautifully, and I get to show it off every time I’m asked to remove it¬†when going through airport security.
  • Pair of regular New Balance sneakers. Again, these aren’t really “travel” shoes and it doesn’t really matter to me. If you expect to be doing regular exercise, hiking, or trail running, I would recommend picking up a pair of Merrells instead.
  • Smartphone. Not really optional these days, and some people opt to travel with multiple. I like my iPhone 6S‚ÄĒit’s good enough for anything I need to do with a phone. The camera is great.

That’s everything, and it all fits nicely into the Journeyman. Here’s a picture with everything packed for a travel day:

All packed up and ready to go
All packed up and ready to go

Just to drive the point home, here’s a list of notable stuff I don’t bring with me:

  • No long-sleeved shirts (or jackets). It simply doesn’t get cold enough in most popular nomad destinations.
  • No rain jacket or umbrella. I typically buy a small umbrella at 7/11 if things get gnarly. Otherwise, it’s too hot (even with the rain) to justify a rain jacket. I’m aware that there are some very lightweight ones on the market.
  • No dress shirts or slacks. Stopped caring, will show up in nice restaurants with jeans, sneakers and a slim v-neck tee instead.
  • No flashlight, headlamp, multi-tool, or other common “EDC” items. Smartphone light suffices for the most part. If I’m going on a long hike, I’ll just buy one for that purpose and then donate it.
  • No separate digital camera. Smartphone cameras are “good enough” these days. If I expect to do a lot of photography, I’ll bring my Ricoh GR with portable travel tripod (it fits into the Journeyman just fine, on top of everything else already mentioned)

Could you travel with just a 20L backpack? Perhaps you already do (shout out to everyone in the “one bag” community). But in case you haven’t tried it, I urge you to give it a shot‚ÄĒ”liberating” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of traveling this light.

How low can you go?

A Distilled One-Bag Travel Gear List: The Best Products for Indefinite International Travel

It’s 2019.

There has never been an easier time to travel internationally with just one or two¬†bags — a variety of products and services are available to make the experience as smooth as possible.

At the same time, we are now completely overwhelmed with choices for clothing, electronics, and accessories. There are many great companies out there, each routinely pumping out new, enticing stuff to buy. Lighter backpacks. Softer merino. Faster smartphones. Sharper lenses. For anyone researching this stuff for the first time, it can be overwhelming.

The goal of this post is to help you make smart purchasing decisions as you put together your own one-bag packing list. It will be updated on a regular basis.

Rules for all products that will appear on this page:

  • The product¬†must be available today (no pre-release stuff, no discontinued inventory).
  • It must be available for purchase online.
  • The cost must be within reason¬†(i.e. $300 backpacks are OK, but $9000 diamond-plated smartphones are not).

For most¬†product categories,¬†both premium¬†and budget¬†alternatives will be presented. Where possible, there will be direct product links (either to Amazon or to the manufacturer’s website). All prices in US Dollars.

It’s worth noting that this is not a full shopping list for one-bag travel, but rather a list of options — so please don’t go crazy and buy everything on here!

Ladies!¬†My apologies, as this list is very light (heh) on women’s clothing. I’m working on amending this — in the meantime, if you have gear suggestions, send them my way. A couple brands to check out in the meantime: Pivotte and The Willary.


Backpacks

Disclaimer: this is going to be a controversial category no matter what — people can get quite emotional about their choice of pack! The idea here (and for all the other categories) is to present¬†the most sensible choices that have no major weaknesses. This category is divided¬†into sections based on carrying capacity.

If you’d like a personal recommendation based on your unique needs and packing requirements, I recommend¬†asking over at /r/onebag.¬†

Maximum carry-on size (i.e. roller bag replacement, 30 Liters or more):

All-purpose: Minaal Carry On 2.0 Bag ($299) or Aer Travel Pack ($220)

Photography: F-Stop Loka UL ($209)

Outdoors/hiking: Kelty Redwing 44 ($106) or anything from a reputable outdoor backpack brand (e.g. Osprey, Deuter) that fits you well —¬†if you’re going to carry it long distances, try it¬†before buying!

* * *

Typical One-bag travel load-outs (approximately 20 to 30 Liters):

All-purpose: Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200) or Thule Subterra 23L ($120)

Minimal travel: Tortuga Setout Backpack ($125, read our review)

Outdoors/hiking: Deuter Futura 28 ($175)

* * *

Light load-outs (approximately 15 to 20 Liters):

All purpose: Tom Bihn Synapse 19 ($200) or Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack ($85)

* * *

Ultralight load-outs (smaller than 15 Liters):

If you have managed to get your travel gear down to this level, you probably already know what works best for you.

You could even travel with a small dry bag. Or a grocery bag. Or a hydration pack from Osprey, like this Raptor 10 ($130). 


Daypacks

Ideally, these are as packable as possible (so you can store them in the larger bag on your big travel days).

Best all-rounder: REI Flash 18 ($40)

Lightest possible (not recommended for heavy loads): Matador Freerain 24 ($60, waterproof main compartment) or Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil ($32)

For photography: Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover 25i ($45) or Mirrorless Mover 20 ($55)


Clothing: Tops

Button-downs (linen for hot climates): Wool & Prince Button-Down Oxford ($128) or Uniqlo Premium Linen Long Sleeve Shirt ($30)

Button-downs (cotton for less wrinkling): Gitman Brothers Oxfords ($165) or Lands’ End Hyde Park Oxford ($50). For more versatile combinations, I recommend traveling¬†with either blue or white button-downs.

Merino Wool Tees: Outlier Ultrafine Merino T-Shirt ($110) or Woolly Short Sleeve Tee ($40-60)

Cotton Tees: American Apparel 50/50 Crewneck ($18), Fruit of the Loom Short Sleeve Tee ($5), or Next Level Apparel Fitted Tee ($2)

Sweater: Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Sweater ($40)

Blazer: Bluffworks Blazer ($295) or Haggar InMotion Blazer ($175)


Clothing: Bottoms

Versatile trousers: Bluffworks Tailored Chinos ($125) or Outlier Slim Dungarees ($198).

Active pants: Prana Brion Pant ($75)

Shorts (can double as swim trunks): Outlier New Way Shorts ($125) or Myles Apparel Everyday Short ($58)

Board shorts: Patagonia Men’s Stretch All-Wear Hybrid Shorts ($69)


Clothing: Outerwear

Packable down jackets: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer ($325, 800-fill), Montbell Plasma 1000 ($269, 1000-fill) or Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket ($70, 640-fill)

Down jacket for even colder weather: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down ($379, 1000-fill)

Rain jacket: Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II ($159),¬†Marmot PreCip Jacket ($100), or Frogg Toggs Ultra Light Rain Jacket ($14+)


Clothing: Basics

Undershirts: Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Crewe ($70) or Uniqlo Airism Mesh Crewneck ($10)

Leggings: Icebreaker Anatomica Leggings ($80)

Boxers: Icebreaker Anatomica Boxers ($25-50) or Uniqlo Airism Men’s Boxer Briefs ($10)

Socks: Darn Tough Hiker socks ($20¬†— look for sales on these)


Travel Footwear

All-purpose (versatility for both urban and wilderness): Vivobarefoot Gobi II Desert Boot ($150)

Mostly urban: Men’s and Women’s Allbirds¬†Wool Runners ($95) or the sneakers you already have (free)

(Trail) running: New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail ($140) or Merrell Trail Glove 4 ($100)

Sandals: Xeroshoes Cloud Barefoot Sandal ($50, Women’s version also available)

Flip-flops: Havaianas ($18+, women’s version available too)


Electronics

Laptop: Apple Macbook Air 13 Retina ($1200) or or Dell XPS 13 ($900)

Netbook: Samsung Chromebook ($200)

e-Reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite waterproof version ($150)

Smartphone (must be water resistant, quad-band and carrier unlocked):

  • iPhone:¬†any of them are fine, from iPhone 6S and SE onwards
  • Android: almost any phone is OK. Motorola Moto G offers great value, while Google’s Pixel line has amazing computational photography features.
  • The smartphone you already have (free)

Battery pack (for recharging electronics): Anker PowerCore 26800 ($130) or Anker Astro E1 ($25, ultraportable)

Earphones: Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi ($60) or Bose QuietComfort 20 ($250)

Universal Adapter: something cheap on Amazon ($10-15)

Action camera: GoPro HERO7 Silver ($300) or YI 4K Action Camera ($105, with waterproof case)

Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2 ($1400, shoots 4K) or DJI Spark ($400, max 1080p but more portable)

Highly rated compact cameras (that easily out-resolve any smartphone):

For budget versions, check used gear and previous generations of the above cameras.


Popular Travel Accessories

Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm ($50, weather-proof)

Water Bottle: Hydro Flask ($40, preserves temperature) or Vapur Element ($14, collapsible)

Luggage locks: Abus 64TI/30 ($8, uses key) or Master Lock 647D ($6, combination)

Ear plugs: Hearos High Fidelity Ear Plugs ($14)

Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Folding Wayfarers ($150), or buy them at the beach ($5)

Travel towel: make your own linen towel or get it custom-made on Etsy ($10+). For non-linen, the Personal Packtowl ($6+, Polyester/Nylon mix) does the job.


Everything Else (Nice-to-haves)

Playing cards: KOVOT waterproof playing cards ($9)

Multi-function headwear: Merino Wool Buff ($28)

Travel friendly Multi-tool: Nite Ize DoohicKey ($5)

Spork: Light My Fire LMF Titanium Spork ($15)

Umbrella: Repel Windproof Travel Umbrella ($28) or buy a cheap one at your destination and leave it there ($5)

Packing cubes: Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes ($10+, many sizes and combinations available)


Am I missing anything? Is there something that should be taken off?

This list is always open to review and modification. If you feel that a certain product belongs in place of an existing one, leave a comment below and we can all discuss it.

Also: this post on LighterPack goes into detail about real ultralight travel (includes info on camping gear, tents, etc)

All recommendations on this page are either based on personal experience, second-hand accounts, and/or hundreds of hours spent perusing travel gear blogs and watching video reviews. Last updated: April 2019

Traveling The World With a 30L Backpack: A Review of the SLICKS System As A One-Bag Travel Solution

Some context: I’m currently 15 months into a round-the-world adventure. Having already explored¬†15 countries across four continents, I feel it’s about time to do a review of the gear I carry with me. Many have asked me to review individual pieces of gear, and this post is designed to do just that. Let’s do this!

The short version: Everything I travel with fits into one backpack — a 30-Liter SLICKS TRIP (Black)¬†backpack, pictured above and below. I also carry a 13-Liter Osprey Daylite daypack, which fits neatly inside¬†the SLICKS pack when I’m moving long distances. The total weight is 9.5kg (21 lbs), give or take a few grams. I have used this gear to traverse both urban and (very) remote environments, and the clothing I carry is sufficient for temperatures as low as -10C (14F in Freedom Units). With the way I travel, I do laundry every week or so.

Here’s¬†the SLICKS backpack and everything that fits into it (click on the image to see a larger version):

2017 Loadout for One Bag Travel
The SLICKS 30L backpack (center) and everything I manage to stuff into it

The long version: below is a brief review of the SLICKS pack itself and a quick breakdown of everything that I pack inside it.

The pack itself

If you’ve read/seen other reviews¬†of the SLICKS backpack, you probably already know that it isn’t designed for year-long journeys. In fact, it was designed for 1-2 day¬†business trips — and the included accessories (hanging toiletry kit,¬†dress shirt cover, and “Tripcover” organizational pouch) serve as a constant reminder of that.

Needless to say, I have pushed this¬†bag far and beyond what it is expected to do — and have crammed more much into it than¬†the bag designers intended.

What I liked about using this backpack for full time travel:

  • There’s a lot¬†of built-in organization in the SLICKS pack, so much so that it renders “packing cubes” pointless. The “Tripcover” itself — an insert with two medium-size compartments — serves as a sufficient organizational pouch for most of what I carry. Given the sheer amount of pockets and compartments, I opted to leave behind the SLICKS toiletry kit and shirt protector (both have their uses, but would have taken up too much space).
  • The pack is built of solid, sturdy materials. It has held up very well, despite being straight up abused on the trip. This bag has been manhandled by baggage handlers (I’ve had to check it in a couple times on low cost airlines), thrown on top of a jeep in the desert for days at a time, and has been carried long distances across cities. The zippers still look (and feel) like new, and the only damage to the pack is a tiny adjustment strap (which tore from the main backpack strap it was connected to). More on this below.
  • It has a compact, sleek footprint.¬†It fits easily (with room to spare) in any aircraft compartment, and (with some finagling) can be stuffed into overhead shelves on long-distance buses.
  • It’s comfortable to carry. The straps (and back) are padded, and there are built-in waist and hip straps to help you balance the load. I’m almost exactly 6 feet tall, and this pack fits perfectly on my back. Although I haven’t needed to, I’d be OK with carrying this backpack — fully loaded — for 20km or more.
  • There are many well though-out features. The small and lightweight laundry bag, for example, has been supremely useful for storing dirty (and smelly) clothing until the next wash-and-fold laundry stop. At the front of the bag, there’s a cavernous compartment which is great for throwing larger items that may need to be accessed quickly (e.g. a zip loc bag of liquids,¬†flip-flops, sunglasses). Finally, there’s a quick access pocket on the side for frequently-used smaller objects — pens, small notebooks, earphones, earplugs, and the like. On the inside of the bag, there are a multitude of discreet pockets that are ideal for storing cash, passports, and other valuables — this is perfect for paranoid types like me.
  • Finally, the bag is has a clamshell design — it opens flat, briefcase style (this makes it easier to organize and put in/remove stuff). Whoever designed the bag has clearly traveled extensively.

What could be better:

  • The bag is heavy. Lifted straight from the official site: pack 1,390 grams, Tripcover 285 g, Shirtcover 216 g, Laundrybag 18 g, Washbag 133 g, Raincover 94 g. Put all that together and we’re already at 2.14 kg (4.7 lbs) for the bag alone. Even by ditching the Washbag and Shirtcover, I’m still at 1.8 kg. This makes¬†things tricky if your goal is to hit the magic 7 kg mark, which is the point at which I think¬†you go from merely minimalist to ultralight.¬†¬†At 7 kilograms (15.5 lbs), you’ll be impressing all but the most grumpy of airline check-in staff.
  • Part of the bulkiness of this bag comes from the multitude of straps, clicks, and compartments. As other reviewers have noted, there may simply be¬†too much¬†compartmentalization. Case in point: to get to my camera — located in one of the compartments of the Tripcover — I have to first unclip both of the bag’s compression straps, unzip the bag to open it up, unclip the compression strap on the bottom Tripcover pocket, and then unzip the pocket itself. Is all that really necessary for a theoretical pack weight of at most 10 kilos? I’d argue it isn’t. I mentioned above that there was a small adjustment strap that tore — and it had precisely zero effect on my usage (in fact, it makes me want to cut the other one off for symmetry’s sake). With all the bits, bobs, and layers of material, you’d think I was transporting goods from the House of Faberg√©.
  • When the bag is full, it becomes hard to remove items from it for quick access. At full capacity, the laptop compartment gets quite tight — and I feel bad for the Macbook that needs to be violently stuffed into it following a baggage scan at the airport. Note: this is really no one’s fault but my own, as I am (admittedly) “overclocking” this backpack.

Other observations about the pack:

  • There’s a rain-cover built into the bag. It’s pretty slick (heh), and fits neatly into its own dedicated pocket. In 15 months of travel, I have never used it. The pocket it’s in, however, is a really cool one — it’s disguised well, and could hypothetically be used to hide a decent amount of cash (or a thumb drive containing plans for world domination). I call it the KGB pocket.
  • There’s a hip strap built in, which neatly hides away into the sides of the bag. Just as well, as I have never used it. The waist strap is also of questionable utility, although I clip it in sometimes just because it’s there. Unless you’re literally smuggling gold bullion, it would be difficult to stuff enough mass into this thing to justify much in load distribution. I’ve never carried it on my back for more than 10 km a day, however, so I guess¬†these features make sense. Now that I think about it, the waist strap could be useful for balance (if you’re turning sharp corners on the getaway motorbike).
  • I have gotten a few comments on the bag — people find that it looks cool¬†and/or unique. It certainly stands out in a sea of typical “backpacker” packs. When I¬†pass¬†through the “nothing to declare” corridor of Arrivals¬†in a new country carrying only the SLICKS bag and a stern expression, I get curious¬†looks from Customs. “Is that¬†really everything?”¬†is a question I’ve already heard a few times.
  • It’s not a cheap bag. At the regular price of 329 Francs, the bag comes to almost $350 USD. These days, that amount of money goes a long way in the travel pack department — anyone planning a long trip would be spoiled for choice with a backpack budget like that. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few packs that could may¬†well work better than this one for the purposes of one-bag travel (although I haven’t personally tested them).Full disclosure: I was sent this bag by SLICKS to try out¬†in exchange for an honest opinion (although there was never any expectation about using it for 15+ months as a RTW solution).

TL;DR: I have managed to use a 30L backpack designed for 2 day business trips for a trip going on 15 months. Could it have been easier with another bag? Probably. But things worked out just fine, and the SLICKS bag has held up admirably.

2.) What goes in the pack

  • An Osprey Daylite (13L) daypack. This is a great little pack for walking around town — or much more. There’s plenty of space and organization for your daily items, and a handy outside compartment at the back that fits a hydration bladder (or two bottles of wine, in a pinch).When I need to get work done at a cafe or coworking space, the pack easily fits a 13” laptop, camera, mini tripod, sweater — with plenty of room to spare for a pack lunch or surprise grocery purchases on the way back home.It’s worth noting that I have well and truly abused this thing — and it’s holding up well after 4+ years of use. Kudos to Osprey for this level of build quality.
    The lowdown: this is a great daypack, but I think there are better options out there. For one, the side pockets aren’t deep or sturdy enough to reliably carry water bottles. Additionally, the backpack straps are connected at the top — and this bit has a habit of digging into my neck when the pack sits high on the back. With all that said, I’ll continue to use the pack until it finally gives up (or until I meet someone that could use it as a donation).[OK, so I guess the presence of a daypack means that¬†this isn’t technically a one-bag travel solution. In my defence, however, the daypack goes inside the main bag on “travel” (e.g. flight) days. When I’m relocating, I’m still just carrying one bag.]¬†
  • Macbook Air 13” laptop (mid-2011 model). While the¬†laptop debate continues to rage on in the traveler and remote worker communities, I have found the Macbook Air (mostly) sufficient for everything I need to get done.While this is an older model (ancient, in “computer”¬†years), it can still handle basic computing tasks — as well as editing RAW files in Photoshop and full-stack web development. I have gotten a ridiculous amount of mileage out of it, and I expect it to keep trucking along.
    The lowdown: while the¬†Macbook Air 13” was arguably¬†the¬†ultimate¬†travel companion as of 2012 or so, there are undeniably better choices out there. My machine is certainly showing its age. Once this thing dies (or I offload it to someone else), I plan to upgrade to either a Macbook 12” Retina 2017 (m3) or Macbook Pro 13” Retina (also 2017). An argument could be made for either — and the choice isn’t easy for someone that does a lot of traveling while simultaneously shooting RAW and dabbling in video editing.Accessories I bring with the laptop: standard¬†Apple charger, extension cord¬†(rarely used), and a basic Logitech USB mouse.
  • A Ricoh GR camera (first edition). This is a fixed lens (28mm equivalent) compact with a 16 megapixel APS-C sized sensor.
    While this camera is somewhat of a legend among street photographers, it has also found a place in many travelers’ packs — and for good reason. The lens, although fixed at 28mm, is one of the sharpest out there. The ergonomics of the camera, refined over multiple generations in the film photography era, are nothing short of genius — the Ricoh GR can be effectively used one-handed. It¬†features a full set of manual controls, a built-in ND filter, and a host of other features that make it a¬†photographer’s camera (as pretentious as that sounds).
    The lowdown: I have been more than satisfied with the shots I have taken with the GR, and it has done wonders for my progress as a student of photography. With that said, I increasingly feel limited by the lack of reach — as well as with the sub-par low light performance. On top of these minor frustrations, my Ricoh GR has unfortunately attracted some sensor dust (despite being handled with care and stored 100% of the time in a camera pouch). If you’re shooting street scenes, the¬†GR (now on the 2nd iteration) perhaps still offers the best price:performance ratio of fixed lens compacts. For the traveler, however, there are better options. I’m investigating a few options as a replacement/upgrade, and the most likely candidate is now¬†the Panasonic GX85 with 12-32mm kit lens.
    While I hate traveling with DSLRs, I do miss the possibilities they afford (a dream setup would probably consist of a Nikon D750 with 24-120 f/4, Rokinon 14mm, and a 50mm 1.8g). 
    Accessories I bring with the camera: small Lowepro camera pouch, and a tiny¬†Manfrotto Table-top tripod. A few words on the tripod: it does the job, although I would hesitate to put anything heavier than a compact on it. Range of motion somewhat limited (don’t try to do astrophotography or portrait-orientation shots with this thing).
  • Universal USB Travel Adapter. This is probably the most used item in my bag — it simply fits every plug I’ve come across. Mine is by Tumi (I got it as a gift), but there are plenty of affordable options out there. Whatever you do, make sure you have one of these. One USB port is great, two or more would be even better. A great feature of my adapter is a small LED light to indicate presence of electricity¬†— useful for identifying the¬†one¬†outlet in your budget hotel room that actually supplies current.
  • Sunglasses and prescription¬†glasses, in separate cases. In my case, both are by Oliver Peoples (complete overkill, from my hipster days).
  • Two smartphones: Apple iPhone 5 and Motorola Moto G (as a backup), both unlocked. These do the job, although having two phones is probably overkill. The iPhone 5’s camera now feels outdated, and I plan to upgrade to a 6 or newer model. Silver lining: once the iPhone 5 comes out, no one wants to mug me.As an accessory for the phones, I have¬†one of those cheap transparent plastic neck pouches. While this is useful¬†for surviving festivals such as Thailand’s Songkran, it’s not really necessary and I’ll give it away at the first opportunity.
  • Two manila folders of… important papers. (Shout out to Chase Reeves: business papers, man). Also, a couple of notebooks and a pen. Always carry a pen.
  • A passport¬†wallet¬†for my passports, ID cards, vaccination cards, scuba certification card, etc. I use a basic one that I got for free from Black’s photography years ago, and it has held up pretty well. Goes on the inside front pocket of the SLICKS bag (but don’t tell anyone that!) There are probably better/fancier ones out there with carbon fiber materials and RFID protectors or whatever, but I don’t think they are necessary.
  • Toiletries, most of which go in a small REI shower bag (orange in the pic). Liquids go in a separate Ziploc bag for quickly placating baggage inspectors.
  • A small pouch that contains random bits and bobs such as earphones, earplugs, USB drives.
  • Wallet
  • Wristwatch¬†
  • Tiny¬†REI microfiber towel. Takes up almost no space, but has proven itself useful on impromptu snorkeling expeditions and the like. While everyone is waiting to dry off in the sun, I deploy this thing and dry myself in seconds. The towel itself dries in just 15 minutes. This was a purchase from the days when I gave way too much thought to gear — but one that I don’t regret.
  • Clothes
    Let’s get this¬†out of the way immediately: I travel with only the bare necessities: five cotton t-shirts, one Uniqlo airism tee (started with 3, lost one and ripped the other one), one pair of Outlier New Way shorts (that double as swimming trunks), a pair of Levi’s jeans, a cheap “mid-layer” fleece, and a Montbell windbreaker. As far as basics go, I have four pairs of socks and seven pairs of Uniqlo airism underwear. That’s it (really).
    Story time: I¬†once went to Tokyo (’twas my first time in Japan), and thought it necessary to bring some fancy threads to fit in. I packed my classy Alden lace-ups, tailored slacks and dress shirts. This ended up being counter-productive, as I didn’t actually out-dress anyone there and was thus mistaken for an English Teacher (nothing against you guys, really). That was the last straw, and also the point at which I truly ran out of fucks.I realized there’s no point half-assing the formalwear: either go full James Bond, or leave the fancy stuff at home. Now, I’ll brazenly enter clubs with my beat-up Nike trainers, jeans, and a cotton tee. No ties, no collars, and certainly no cuff-links.
    Here’s the thing: you don’t need expensive clothing to travel with. You could very well spend $200 on fancy “merino wool” shirts¬†— spun from the wool of a baby llama — only to find that they’ve developed rips a month into the trip (or worse, got mistakenly swapped for some dude’s Gap tee at a $1/kilo wash and fold in Saigon). My advice is to try traveling with what you have already — save your cash for bungee jumps and scuba dives.Clothing that I picked up along the way, and will readily give away if presented the chance: wool gloves, thermal socks, and a sun hat.
  • Flip-flops. Picked these up in Bali for a few dollars, and have kept them around since. Great for beach days, or¬†for navigating surfaces of¬†questionable hygiene. Travel long enough, and you’ll discover how useful these (or sandals) are.

And that’s everything! Here’s a picture of everything packed up and ready to go (only my shoes, a pair of Nike trainers, are missing):

One Bag Full Loadout

Concluding thoughts (and advice):

Traveling with only a 30 Liter size carry-on backpack has been immensely liberating, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.¬†Aside from the obvious benefits (both hands free, not having to check the bag for air travel), this setup lets me focus on what’s most important: seeing the places I want to see, in the manner that I’d like and unburdened by¬†stuff.¬†At this¬†point, all that remains is shedding the emotional baggage…

If you haven’t tried this style of “minimalist” one-bag travel, I urge you to give it a shot. Some advice for those just getting started:

  • The first step is to shed the classic suitcase (roller). At this point, your first instinct may be to go with a backpack featuring the “maximum allowed” carry-on dimensions (typically at 45 Liters of capacity). Please try to resist this urge, as large backpacks only beg to be stuffed with things you won’t actually use.
  • For the vast majority¬†of travelers, I would suggest aiming for a total backpack¬†load-out of 25 to 30 Liters (not a typo). This gives you plenty of room for anything you might need, as well for specialty items that are unique to your interests/needs. Aim for a weight under 10kg, and go down from there.
  • If you’re only traveling to tropical climates, you really don’t need much. In fact, I plan to spend extensive time in South East Asia next year with only a 18L backpack. While it¬†can be done with even less than that, I still plan to bring all my electronics. If/when I pull this off, I’ll make sure to write about it.
  • Don’t spend money on fancy travel stuff until you have proven it’s usefulness. As a general rule, no individual piece of clothing should cost more than $100 (I would personally draw the line at $50).
  • By and large, traveling these days is easy. It’s actually a challenge to get off the beaten path. Most travel equipment more than suffices, and there’s no need to chase after the last 10% in performance (unless the money is really burning a hole in your pocket).
  • As cheesy as it sounds, the¬†most useful thing you could bring is simply more money. Also — and it’s worth saying again — bring backup debit and credit cards (you don’t want to be stranded without cash in a faraway land). If you need to buy clothing, you can¬†do that just about anywhere.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment on this post (or send me an email directly: contact at sologuides dot com).

Buen viaje!