Then figure out, what kind of traveller are you? Do you prefer solo or travelling with a friend? No desire to spend hours planning your trip? Opt for an organized tour such as “G Adventure”. Groups are small so you don't get that field trip vibe. I booked a tour to Cuba a few years ago and spent 10 days discovering the west part of the island. Everything was organized, from accommodation and transportation to recommended optional activities. The company allows travellers to choose from over 100 destinations and several travel styles (e.g. classic, national geographic, family, activities tours). They also have ongoing “last-minute deals”. You are in for a memorable trip and new friendships.
Organized tour or not, you will most likely need to book a flight. You can choose to spend hours monitoring prices; or you can subscribe to one of the search engines, that crawl through countless airfare sites, with the promise you will “never pay full price for a flight again”. For the second time this year, I have managed to score deals on trips overseas. I subscribed to “Next Departure” over a year ago to receive weekly notifications on unbeatable flights. Paris for less than $450 and soon “Number 5” on my list: “the land of the rising sun”. Japan had been on both my and a friend’s wish-list for some time. One email notification and a few clicks later, our trip to Japan was secured. A 15-day trip during the holiday season for $723 – money well spent!
If you like to make your own plans, your next step will most likely be crafting your itinerary. Travel books are great but tend to be expensive and can be outdated. I usually gather all my information through travel blogs. Most of them are free or inexpensive, and provide great details. Travellers are thorough and love to narrate their best adventures and experiences with candour. “Go travel and Talk” is the new kid on the block. Created by a community of solo travellers, the blog provides superb detailed travel guides and often includes destinations off the beaten path while encouraging travellers to make a positive impact.
Now for the roof over your head. Think you know the typical type of accommodation like hostels, that cater to younger solo travellers? Well think again. For the past few years, the business of hostels has evolved and they have now started to welcome tourists from all demographics, family types and budgets. I shared a glass of vino with a 60+ American woman in my hostel in Ushuaia and was envious of the delicious meal being cooked by the German family in Boquete Panama. Most hostels offer private rooms at unbeatable prices. Surrounded by experienced travellers eager to narrate their personal experiences, you will get their best suggestions over the communal breakfast. “Hostelword” is my go-to site for most of my bookings. For solo travellers, the best budget-friendly hostels are found off the Internet, on the spot.
It is understandable that with limited time we want to make the most of our trip by booking activities in advance using Trip Advisor for example. AirBnB has recently started to provide “experiences” as part of their offering. The platform is great -- efficient and reliable – but tends to be a bit pricey. Groupon is also a great resource. Unless you plan on doing the Inca Trail in Peru that demands months of planning, opt to book your activities on the spot simply by asking around. Travel-focused Facebook groups are always full of updates on activities. I befriended the owner of the “Bocas Stand up paddle club” and joined the weekly Carenero Island expedition that morning. My only expense? Renting the board.
The optimum way of gathering information is the walking tour. “Freetour” offers over 100 tours with local guides in most major cities. It operates by donation. I kick-start all my trips with a tour. The local guides provide historical facts, stories and best recommendations on traditional food, places to see and things to do, often off the beaten track. After doing the free tour in Buenos Aires that morning, I organized my weekend around my guide’s suggestions. Her best tip was to try her favourite “Parilla” (grill) restaurant. I showed up at 10:30 PM; Yes, Argentinians eat supra late. I believe I was the only tourist in a restaurant full of locals. I enjoyed a nice affordable meal and exchanged a few words with the good eater seated beside me.
Now that we are on the subject of food, my best advice is to look for local restaurants off the main, busy tourist-oriented streets. The food will be equally delicious and your wallet won't be upset. In Bocas del Toros, I was eager to try a lobster meal. Most menus of well-established restaurants offered the meal for $20-$30 USD; but, I could inhale the distinct smell of fried plantains and the simmering Caribbean sauce coming from a tiny restaurant beside the main square. The owner-chefs – two women -- fed me two nights in a row for $10 and it was divine.
Just landed in an international airport? Why not share a ride with another fellow traveller? Most people are heading downtown anyways. In the city, I often use public transportation or Uber if the platform is established in the country. Yes, I have also hitchhiked a couple of times and I loved it. I am a committed walker, logging an average of 15 kilometres a day during my travels. I also have zero sense of direction. Consequently, I rely on apps like Google Maps and Mapsme. I particularly enjoy Mapsme as it provides detailed offline maps and sights to explore close to you. I also keep track of the places I have been to as well as destinations I want to explore next.
My final tip: Cross off the recently visited country and add a new destination. Go and repeat.
Delphine Wapoutou is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer. Uprooting herself from her home in Paris, France she moved to Toronto, Canada in 2012. Delphine caught the travel bug at the age of 15 when she left France for the first time to explore the Greek islands. She has since travelled to many different countries in Asia, Europe, Central America, and South America. Delphine has been writing travel guides and short stories for a community travel blog. She writes informative articles and life stories providing an entertaining read with a hint of humour. Delphine’s extended travels, her positive outlook on life, and heterogen hobbies have allowed her to live unique experiences and have given her a broad base from which to approach many topics and destinations.