10 Essential Tips for the Solo Traveler - United Hub

10 essential tips for the solo traveler

By Nick Harper

Are you a solo traveler? The sort of person who wants to head out into the world and experience whatever you like, wherever you like, whenever you like? You're not alone.

Research shows a spike in bookings for solo travelers across almost all age groups in recent years — from baby boomers to millennials. More and more of us want the freedom to travel on our own terms, and more and more of us are turning those dreams into reality.

If you're a first-time solo traveler, you'll feel liberated, but before you head out on your first solo journey, here are 10 things you should know.

Woman traveling by herself


1. You'll come back a better person

Of the many benefits of solo travel is that you'll come back a more confident, independent person, regardless of how confident you were when you set out. When you travel in a group, or even just a pair, you're free to fall back on others and let them decide for you. But when you're traveling solo, every decision is ultimately up to you. And with each decision you make, you'll grow as a person.

2. You need to tell people where you're going

While solo travel isn't unsafe, you won't have anyone to watch your back, or your bags. Give yourself, your friends and your family peace of mind by leaving a copy of your itinerary that includes your flight times, accommodations and anything that helps them keep track of your whereabouts. Then, make another list with international emergency lines, U.S. embassy numbers, toll-free and international numbers for your credit card company, travel insurance documents and anything you might need in an emergency. And before you travel, register your trip with the U.S. State Department's STEP program, so that the local embassy or consulate can assist you if they need to.

Two men traveling together in an airport

3. You don't have to go solo all the way

It's very easy to make friends on a solo vacation, should you choose to. Stay in lodges or hostels rather than hotels and you'll share space with like-minded travelers but be prepared: you probably won't have peace and quiet like you would in a hotel room). If you're up for meeting other solo travelers, choose small group or escorted travel, particularly to destinations that are off-the-beaten-path. Expedition cruises and safaris are two other popular options if you're looking for more social experiences.

4. Buddying up can be good for your budget

Two words send shivers down the spines of solo travelers: single supplement. Since hotels charge by the room — not by the number of people using the room — you'll likely be charged the same rate as two people sharing a room if you book alone. . Try to reserve a single room well in advance, but if you can't do that, check any single supplement charges before you book. You can also ask about a roommate option where you sign up to share a room with another solo traveler, saving money and making a friend.

Man traveling through Kuala Lumpur

5. Choose your destination wisely

The world is your oyster but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. A shorter trip somewhere close to home will give you a good idea of how solo travel works. From there you can work up to bigger adventures. London, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne and Bangkok all rank very highlywith solo travelers from the U.S. And there are plenty of great U.S. destinations, like New York, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C., and lots of great options on a smaller scale, like Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Asheville, North Carolina; and Boulder, Colorado. Most of those are big, vibrant, bustling cities with enough to keep you entertained around the clock, and each gives you the chance to meet other travelers or explore on your own.

6. You're free to make it up as you go

Solo trips mean every decision you make is up to you and only affects only you. Want to ride a mule deep into the Grand Canyon? You can. Want to spend three days in the Louvre? That's your call. Want to sleep in until midday? Go for it.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of traveling alone is that you can do what you want whenever you want, and you can change your plans at any time. The freedom to make it up as you go is rare in everyday life and it won't last forever, so embrace it while you can.

Man exploring the Grand Canyon

7. You may encounter and defeat a new phobia

Solomangarephobia is the fear of eating alone in public. The dreaded table for one can be the most difficult and awkward part of solo travel, but it doesn't have to be. Seek out a casual cafe rather than a fancy restaurant. Then find a seat at the bar, on a terrace or in a booth, bring a book or your diary and chat to the restaurant staff. And from time to time, you can avoid the awkwardness completely by ordering room service and eating dinner on your bed.

8. You'll learn more by talking to the locals

Travel guide books and apps are great for gaining a better understanding of a place, but they're never as effective as speaking to the locals. An all-night salsa dancing joint in Havana, a secretive speakeasy in Brooklyn, the hands-down best street food in all of Bangkok — nobody knows the local scene like a local. Smile, attempt to say hello in their language, ask questions and you'll end up with a far better experience — and maybe even a friend for life.

9. You'll need a secret stash of cash

Running out of money a long way from home is never fun, but it's even more of a problem if you're all by yourself. To guard against an unexpected emergency, take a $100 bill and tuck it under the sole of your shoe. You might not need it, but if you do, that little piece of paper might just get you out of a scrape.

10. And you'll need to act appropriately

When you're traveling on your own, a little caution goes a long way. Research which neighborhoods are and aren't safe to roam, particularly alone and after dark. If you get lost, avoid standing around poring over maps like an obvious out-of-towner. If you drink, don't drink too much that you can't easily find your way back home. And as cynical as it might sound, keep an open mind but trust no one. The world is a big and beautiful place, but trust your common sense.

Solotravelerworld.com is an excellent resource to find out more.

And wherever you choose to travel, begin your solo trip by booking your flights via united.com or the United mobile app.

Steps toward the sky

By Rachel Landgraf , February 18, 2020

Carole Cary-Hopson, Newark Liberty International Airport Boeing 737 First Officer, remembers how it felt piloting her first United flight.

"Shivers" she recalled. "I felt as if this is what dreams are made of. Every single time I come to work, I feel that way."

"That way" was 14 years in the making for Carole. "What dreams are made of" dates back to her childhood in Pennsylvania and frequently visiting her grandma's home in south Jersey that was right by the Philadelphia airport.

Pictured: Carole Cary-Hopson

"We would go and lie in the grass by the airport and note the colors of the planes coming in and leaving, how many would come through at a time; we made graphs," said Carole. "I was fascinated by it."

As Carole grew up, she held on to that fascination, but an undergrad and master's degree later, she found herself successfully climbing her way up the corporate ladder, from the NFL to Footlocker. As her duties and roles continued to evolve and grow, Carole observed that she was always on an airplane. In fact, it was on a work trip where that observation and her life-long fascination came full circle.

"I was on a KLM flight and the pilot noticed me looking around and observing everything," she said. "So, he offered me the jumpseat and proceeded to teach me everything across the North Atlantic trip. It was then and there I realized, 'I can do this.' It all came together in my head."

Not long after that flight, Carole went on a date with a man who she now proudly calls her husband.

"I told him on that date, 'I have something to tell you and if you laugh at me about it, I'll never see you again,'" said Carole. Carole proceeded to tell him about her dream of becoming a pilot. A few weeks after that date, he handed her gift certificates to attend a flight school right outside of Manhattan.

From there, Carole moved roles in her corporate career once more, taking a job with L'Oreal where she socked away her paychecks to save up for flight school. In the meantime, she began to network in the aviation world, attending events through Women in Aviation and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). It was there she met her mentors, one being American Airlines Captain Jenny Beatty who handed her a mug of Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African-American and Native-American descent to hold a pilot's license.

"I stood on that crowded convention floor with Jenny and Bessie at that time and just bawled," said Carole. "I kept asking myself how I could be an Ivy League graduate and had never heard of her. At that moment, I wanted to do something with her story."

Thus, along with training, becoming a pilot and raising a family, Carole began writing a historical fiction book on Bessie, a woman who had to go to France to learn how to fly because no one would teach her in the U.S. Today, the book is near completion and once finished, 25% of the proceeds will go toward the Lt. Colonel Luke Weathers Flight Academy, an organization within OBAP that aims to grow and diversify the future pilot pipeline.

Carole pictured with a group of young women

"I hope Bessie is smiling down and has forgiven me for taking so long on writing this book," said Carole. "She continues to provide me with guidance and being an example of determination. I know she would tell me to keep going and to not even dare to stop."

Well, as if Bessie already doesn't know, stopping doesn't seem to be in Carole's vocabulary.

"When you have a goal, there are a series of definitive steps," said Carole. "Each one is important and sometimes, they take many years to reach. But each one of those goals I had in the past were steps that got me to flying."

And Carole's next step?

"Continue to fly and finish Bessie's book," said Carole. "And once the book is finished, the goal is a movie and then sending 100 black women to flight school. With the numbers being only 1-2% African-American's flying, we need to fix that, and I intend to!"

Finding our heart in Peru

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague , February 14, 2020

Sisters and United MileagePlus® Premier® 1k members, Kelsey and Courtney Montague, are constantly traveling to create street art pieces for communities around the world. This year they teamed up with us to travel to Peru to explore the beautiful country, and to create a custom mural for a very special group of young women participating in the Peruvian Hearts program. Peruvian Hearts, now part of our Miles on a Mission program, works to support female leaders with access to education, counseling and peer support

Finding tranquility at Machu Picchu

As we hiked up the ancient steps of Machu Picchu, we were surrounded by Incan merchants, servants and townsfolk climbing the stairs to start their day. As foreigners not used to hiking at 7,9000 feet, the locals sprinted by us as we struggled up the steep steps, with the lush rainforest behind us and ancient city just beyond. But even with burning legs and straining lungs, it's likely anyone's breath would be taken away (as ours was) once they reached the clearing above this sprawling city in the clouds. All thoughts of the slightly tortuous route we took to this dazzling ancient city were forgotten the second we laid eyes on this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Along with my sister Kelsey, our Dad and our friend Clay felt the power and mystery when we all arrived at the vantage point over the city of Machu Picchu. The day before we had traveled all day from Denver flying in United's stunning United Polaris®. We slept fully flat on two excellent flights, curled up on down pillows and wrapped in Saks Fifth Avenue comforters. We slept soundly after feasting on steak and chocolate sundaes and spent a layover chatting with bartender, Steven, as he made us cosmos at the United Polaris lounge in Houston. It was wonderful, but the best part? Arriving in Peru so rested and relaxed we were able to completely savor this moment at Machu Picchu. A moment only made sweeter when our Dad turned to us and thanked us for taking him on the trip of a lifetime and giving him the opportunity to see a place he never thought he'd get to visit.

We explore the ruins with the wide eyes of children, enjoying every view and savoring every piece of information from our guide. Llamas 'own' the ruins and gently nudge tourists aside as they scamper between buildings to their favorite pasture. The terraces on the outskirts of the town were used to prevent soil erosion and to farm maize and beans. Condors soar above our heads, their keen eyes hunting for chinchillas tucked into the terrace rock walls.

Incan community members that lived or worked in Machu Picchu must have felt the same way we felt the first time they came across this thriving metropolis, situated on top of a mountain. Incan urban planners neatly organized centers for astrological studies, religious ceremonies, sports, commerce and farming. The buildings were built from granite and limestone, likely from a quarry located on the same mountaintop. Some buildings were so finely constructed scientists still don't quite know how the Incans did it.

At the end of the tour we come to the sacred rock — a perfect, flat replica of the Yanantin mountain behind it. Some mystical members of society believe that touching the rock transmits tremendous power. I won't lie that I quietly let my fingers graze the stone as a I walked by. Did I feel a sudden power rush? No. But did I leave Machu Picchu filled with a sense of wonder and a reaffirmed belief that anything is possible? Yes.

Partnering with Peruvian Hearts

The next morning, we awoke ready to tackle the most meaningful part of our trip to Peru — working with Peruvian Hearts.

Peruvian Hearts works to support women by giving them access to education, counseling and peer support. They are currently working with 32 talented, bright young women who they have hand-picked from secondary institutions across Cusco. They focus on supporting brilliant engineers, psychologists, teachers, scientists and doctors. These are the future female leaders that will change their communities, their country and the world for the better.

When we arrive to meet these scholars, they cheer, and each young woman gives Kelsey and me a hug. Overwhelmed, we both begin to cry. We are so grateful for our job as a traveling street art team, but we are on the road so much we are often very lonely. We can't remember the last time we received so many hugs or saw so many bright smiles.

When we arrive to the Peruvian Hearts headquarters a number of the young women tell us how they found Peruvian Hearts. Aldi, a brilliant engineer in training, was asked to join this special organization because she was first in her class in secondary school. She grew up in tough financial circumstances — her mother is ill and unable to work, and her father works in construction. As the only person in her family who has attended university, she is the primary hope of her family. Tears stream down her face as she describes how tough it has been for her family to survive. So many of these young women tell similar stories and carry the weight of their entire family's future squarely and proudly on their shoulders.

These stories reaffirm the reason Kelsey and I decided to join forces with United — we hope to make that weight on their shoulders a little lighter. As we worked on the mock-up for the mural to commemorate Peruvian Hearts, United decided to help in another way by including Peruvian Hearts in their new Miles on a Mission program. A first of its kind program, United MileagePlus members can now donate their miles to nonprofits they care about. Miles that will help young women like Aldi attend conferences in the United States or study abroad in Mexico.

Other women will be able to travel more freely between their studies in Lima and their families in Cusco. The young scholars were so excited to now be part of the United family and to have access to the connections a major airline can bring.

After an ideation period Kelsey decided to create a large-scale heart flock mural with 32 hearts on one side to represent the young women in the program and 32 hearts on the other side to represent those to come. Over two days we painted the piece and filled it with items that represent Peru (a llama, a condor, Peru's national flower and butterflies), Peruvian Hearts (pencils, books, and a shooting star) and a United airplane. As we worked on the piece the ladies sang, danced and told us their dreams. Dreams to travel, learn new languages, start meaningful careers and change their communities for the better.

When we finished the piece — two massive streams of hearts that appear to be coming from the person standing in the middle of the mural — the girls came to thank us. With cheers, hugs and kisses they explained how proud they were that this mural was for them and how it would continue to lift them up as they work hard to improve their circumstances.

At the end of this project Kelsey and I felt so blessed to be connected to such a wonderful group of women. At that moment we realized that is what art and travel should be about. Art and travel should connect us to each other as humans and to something deeper within ourselves — a desire to lift each other up.

Visit United's Miles on a Mission program to support Peruvian Hearts .

We suspend travel to China and Hong Kong

By The Hub team

February 12, 2020

As we continue to evaluate our operation between our U.S. airport hub locations and Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai as well as Hong Kong, we have decided to extend the suspension of those flights until April 24. We will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate our schedule as we remain in close contact with the CDC and other public health experts around the globe.

We suspend travel to Hong Kong

February 4, 2020

In response to the continued drop in demand, we are suspending travel to Hong Kong beginning February 8 until February 20. Our last flights will depart San Francisco on February 5 (flight 877 and flight 869) and the last returning flight will depart Hong Kong on February 7 (flight 862).

Please check united.com for important travel information as well as current travel waivers.

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