6 tips to help you plan your first solo international trip
07 September 2023Last Updated:07 September 2023
Woman travelling in car

So, you've braved Home Affairs to get your passport. You've checked the visa and vaccine requirements for your destination. You’ve planned your outfits, stocked up on sunscreen (or thermals) and even know what podcasts you want to download for the plane…

And yet you can’t help but feel a little nervous about taking this adventure on your own. Deep breaths. Before you skydive into your journey of self-discovery, here are six tips to help ease those jitters.  

Tip #1: Make copies

Passports get lost, tablets get left behind on planes and checked baggage occasionally ends up having its own private vacay in a different city to the one you’re in. If you’ve got copies of all your important documents and info, you’re less likely to have a full-on panic attack if any of the above happens.

Scan and store the following documents securely in the cloud:

  • The info page of your passport
  • Your visa
  • Vaccination certificates required to enter a country you’re visiting
  • Details related to your travel bookings and payments
  • Important phone numbers, like the South African embassy in each country you’re visiting

Now, no matter what happens, you have access to enough info to sort yourself out, pronto.

Tip #2: Get on top of your forex situation

It's normal to feel anxious about money before travelling abroad. Converting your ZAR into
foreign currency (and watching the digits shrink if you’re off to the Global North or Australia) is stressful. Visiting a local bank branch beforehand can be time-consuming. And random stops at forex kiosks en route can cost an arm and a leg.

With the Shyft app, you can buy USD, GBP, EUR and AUD in advance and store it in the app indefinitely. That gives you ample time to scoop up your preferred currency at the cheapest rates before your trip. Plus, you can order up to five physical multicurrency forex cards (delivered to your doorstep within three days), so you always have a back-up in case of an emergency.

What happens if you do actually have an emergency though? A crafty pickpocket on an NYC subway, a dropped wallet during that walking tour in Bali… Life happens and cards get lost. As soon as you realise your Shyft forex card has gone walkies, simply log into the app and disable it. You’ll be prompted to return any remaining balances on the card back to your wallet. Just like that, the lost or stolen card is rendered useless and you can rest easy that nobody can access your money. You can then link one of the backup cards you ordered to the relevant wallet and head out there again to experience the world.

Tip #3: Know what you can and can’t fly with

Airport security abroad is tight. Make it easier on yourself (and everyone behind you in the queue) by getting wise to the rules before your trip.

Liquids in your carry-on are a big one. When flying to most international destinations, your hand luggage typically can’t contain any liquids in bottles that hold more than 100ml. If you don’t want to see your expensive shampoo tossed unceremoniously into the bin next to the bag scanner, rather pack it into your checked bag.

Nothing that could be considered a weapon is allowed on the plane with you either – and yes, that often includes your good tweezers. Many countries also have strict rules about what food you’re allowed to bring in with you, so double-check the rules before you pack three kilos of biltong for your cousin Riekie.

Tip #4: Book and pay in advance

As a solo traveller, it's always good to know where you'll be laying your head. Arriving and winging it (while jet lagged) can lead to disaster. You don’t have to have every detail figured out, but planning and paying for your accommodation and a few activities beforehand actually helps you to be more spontaneous day to day. With the basics covered, you can focus on having fun – rather than trying to find an affordable Airbnb In Barcelona last minute, for example.

Planning ahead can also save you a chunk of cash. You can keep an eye out for good deals on accommodation and transport, and you may benefit from early-booking discounts. Here's another hot tip: if your destination uses USD, EUR, GBP or AUD, load that currency on a Shyft virtual card and use it to pay for your bookings. No expensive conversion from rands. Plus, you can buy your forex when the market’s in your favour, and at the cheapest rates thanks to Shyft. Boom.  

When you’re shopping around for accommodation, cast a wide net. The world may have been obsessed with Airbnb for the past few years, but hotels are making a comeback since the app’s prices have skyrocketed. Looks like travellers are falling back in love with turn-down service and tiny shampoos.

Tip #5: Stay safe

When travelling solo, safety is a priority. As far as possible, plan your arrivals and departures during the day. This way, help desks are still open, and you can figure out where you're going in the sunlight. Even if you’re in a relatively safe city, nobody feels good wandering around, lost in the dark.

Here are a few more first-time solo traveller safety tips:

  • Research your destination. The more you know about the local customs and culture, the more at ease you’ll feel, and the less you’ll stick out like a tourist. 
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language, including how to ask for medical assistance or the police. 
  • Read our tips for keeping your money safe while travelling. 
  • Make sure someone back home knows your itinerary, and that you check in with them regularly. 
  • Consider joining a group tour. 
  • As South Africans, we know about being street-smart. Use those skills abroad.
Tip #6: Have fun

Finally, don't forget to have fun! This is your first solo trip abroad, a magical time of self-discovery and exploration. Drink it all in. Fill up that memory bank (in your brain and on your phone). Learn to say hello in the local language – you never know who you might meet or what treasured memories you’ll get to bring back home.

Need forex for your first adventure? 
Get Shyft
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