In 2015 I had the opportunity to do some traveling. Even though I’d dreamed of travel… I didn’t go. I did not have a travel companion and was afraid to go by myself, so I stayed homw. Fast forward 2 years and a cross-country move, and in 2017 I found my bravery increasing in all sorts of adventures: so I decided to take the plunge.
My first solo trip was a medium length sojourn to Italy, Croatia, Bosnia. I’ve written extensively about that trip in other posts, but as I find myself, this year, planning an even longer adventure to celebrate finishing graduate school, I’ve been thinking about the resources, ideas, and products that were the most useful to me while solo traveling abroad.
Since a few of these original ideas not written about on other travel sites, I thought I would give you the rundown of a few of the unique products and practices I use when I’m on the road as a solo female traveler.
1. Turkish Towel
Less than $20 and a workhorse on the road, this towel/sheet/blanket/clothing is a must. I’m a minimalist packer. It is important to me to cover a lot of ground in my travels, rather than plant in one location, so I pack a bag that accommodates that convention – only the essentials. I will never travel without the Turkish towel – this extra large, extra thin cotton fabric sheet is a bit like a cross between a bedsheet and a towel. Thin, absorbent, and about the size of a beach towel, I regulary use this towel 6 different ways in a single day of travel:
1. Beach towel
3. A cover-up for when I’m visiting religious sites
4. Lumbar or neck support (*perfect* size when rolled)
5. A towel – usually softer and more full-body accommodating than my lodging’s towels
6. Depending on your body shape, you may be able to style it as a skirt, top, or scarf.
Listen, 2,500 Amazon reviews don’t lie.
Activated charcoal is the first and least invasive ER treatment when a person has ingested poison. While I don’t expect to be poisoned on the road, I keep these pills close because they are the closest thing out there to a food poisoning remedy– with no prescription and no side effects. Activated charcoal is an inert substance that binds to gas, chemicals, and- some research suggests- even bacteria or viral culprits. (Just don’t take charcoal within an hour of prescription medications because it may absorb and neutralize them).
Charcoal capsules are very inexpensive, tiny, and indispensable on the road. If I feel the faintest rumbling of travelers upset stomach, I pop three or four of these and – knock on wood – each time I have felt okay again within a half hour.
Packed inside a first aid kit, activated charcoal capsules take up very little room. I like to package them in sealed and well-labeled bags and have never had an issue with security clearance.
3. Lanyards and 4. Carabiners
Lanyards and Carabiners are two essentials in my travel kit – I can’t imagine travel without them! I pack 3-4 brightly colored lanyards and use them to keep track of many easily lost thing – like hotel keys and my wallet.
Lanyards are like tying an anchor flag on your easily lost belongings – they are infinitely easier to find and fish out of a bag when you need them. (And since returning to the hotel at night is a high-risk time for a female solo traveler, making my keys easy to find is a safety must)
A lanyard can also be used to link my wallet to my body or bag– so my wallet can’t get accidentally left behind or pickpocketed by anyone other than a pickpocket committed to a more-than-average amount of fiddling.
A carabiner and a lanyard are an easy way to anchor my belongings. I’m convinced that avoiding theft is 30% luck and 70% of preventing theft is in making myself an inconvenient target – so when I’m sketching in a café, or snoozing on a train, I try to remember to ALWAYS tie my bag to something static, preventing snatch-and-run theft.
Lanyards also work great for trains, planes, and buses where luggage is handled by baggage handlers. When my solid black bags leave my possession, I clip brightly colored lanyards on the outside so my bag is distinctive from other black bags and is immediately recognizable.
5. Flip-Latch Pill Containers
Able to organize 2-3 weeks of medication in a palm-sized container that folds in a way that totally prevents spilling, this flip-fold pill container has been with me – at home and abroad- every day for the past 5 years.
Navigating pharmacies abroad is tricky at best and dangerous at worse. Because I’m ok with adventure in just about every area except pharmaceuticals, I try to carry a small assortment of over the counter medications. This flip-fold pill container has been 100X more useful than pill storage options that can accidentally come open or require significant fiddling to open.
6. Personal Security Alarms
Enjoying a trip means resting well at night, and resting well in sometimes questionable lodging means being able to calm my brain’s travel-induced hypervigalence. For me, a small investment in personal safety goes a long way towards better rest and, thus, an overall better travel expereince. I use two types of personal security devices:
Sound Grenade – This device emits a defeaning squeal if pulled apart, so to sooth my mind before bed, I usually place it (tethered to a lanyard) around the headboard or connected to something on a night table- so sounding an alarm is as easy as grabbing and pulling.
Portable Door Alarm – THIS is the alarm that has made many nights of sleep in questionable lodgings possible. Extremely adaptable to all sorts of weird and unusual door configurations, this alarm (pictured below) is inserted between door and frame and emits a siren if the door opens before it is disarmed.
5. Phone Case with Wrist Strap
I will. 👏 not. 👏 travel. 👏 without a phone case that accommodates an adjustable wrist strap!
This $4 wrist strap is everything: freedom to get the perfect photo angle by holding your phone out over water, peace of mind on public transit knowing the weight on your wrist means your phone is secure, and protection from snatch-and-grab theft while you are cluelessly navigating your way through an unfamiliar neighborhood.
You might need to upgrade your phone case in order to get a wrist strap connection point but that’s not a bad idea anyway. Waterproof and drop-proof usually include an anchor for wrist strap attachment, lifeproof cases definitely do as of the publication of this post.)
6. Battery Backup
Traveling with the freedom of Google Fi means I’m constantly navigating, renavigating, and photographically draining my phone’s battery. During long days, this risks running a battery down, so I usually take two small battery packs with me when I travel. I prefer two smaller chargers over one giant one for the sake of weight- I leave one in my lodging to charge while I’m adventuring with the second.
9. Single Packs
When I owned a tack store in my 20’s, we developed a tiny kit for competitors containing single-packs of all the things you “probably don’t need but might wish you had.” Solo travel has many things that fall into this category and while you can’t bring a travel-sized-bottle of everything, for some items a single-pack equivalent is the solution. Website minimus.biz specializes in sourcing single-packs. A small pouch filled with tiny, securely sealed and labeled single-use products has brought a lot of comforts and saved me time and money!
10. Sleep Stuff
No matter how light I’m packing, my sleep essentials make it in. Read more about my sleep kit and how to make your own. It’s (almost) guaranteed to work even in a loud shared hostel room.
11. DIY Hair Removal Strips
A tough part of female solo travel is missing the rhythms of beauty rituals. Many beauty rituals can be done on the road or simply skipped until your return, but for me a few are essential: like removing unwanted hair before it’s noticeable. That’s why I created instructions for making your own travel-friendly wax strips.
12. Travel Art Supplies
Solo travel is a time for experimenting, so even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, consider taking a few small art supplies. Sketches or watercolors are a way to mindfully study your surroundings and experience travel with even more senses. When dining at restaurants, a time that can be challenging for many solo international travelers, watercoloring the day’s sketches- or making new ones- is a great way to enjoy a long dinner with less self consciousness. I put together a list of my favorite supplies for a travel art journal over on my art website.