I love a good city trip, and living in Europe, it’s super easy to pop over to another city or even country for the weekend. City trips are a great way to spend a few days in a new place, visiting museums, exploring the city, partying, and trying delicious food. A bit of culture, a bit of cuisine, and a whole lot of fun!
City trips are especially great for solo travelers. You don’t have to worry about getting lonely as you’ll be way too busy having a great time. You don’t have to worry about getting lost, because cities are generally easy to navigate. And a short trip like that can definitely be done on a budget!
Planning a solo trip might seem like a lot of work, but it’s easier than you think. All you have to do is follow my easy steps, and you’ll be traveling alone in no time. Here’s how to plan a solo city trip:
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Setting a budget
One of the great things about short city trips, is that they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Cities tend to be well-connected, so you’ll likely find an affordable flight or train to take you. You also have lots of options for accommodation in different price categories and loads of free activities. Walking around a city doesn’t cost a thing!
If you live in Europe, like me, you’ll be able to go on a city trip for as little as 100-200 euro. Look at your finances and decide how much you can spend on your trip. Make sure to budget for 4 main expenses: transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. You can decide for yourself, which you’d like to spend the most money on. Bus vs first class flight, hostel vs luxury hotel, street food vs Michelin star restaurant and free museums vs private tours.
The beauty of a solo trip is that you can tailor it completely to your own preferences. You decide how much you spend and on what. Personally, I like budget backpacking and the challenge of planning the cheapest trip possible. But you can make it as expensive and luxurious as you want, treat yourself!
Choosing your destination
Next up, you have to decide where you want to go on your solo city trip. Maybe you have a long list of places you’re dying to visit, maybe you just have itchy feet and no destination in mind.
Think about the kind of trip you want to go on. Do you love to party? Or are you really into art? Is there a specific monument or sight you’ve been dying to see? Or a particular event you want to attend? Snow or sunshine?
Once I’ve settled on a few criteria, I usually go looking for inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram. What beautiful places are out there that I’d like to see? Don’t forget to look at a good old map for options that might be easy to get to. I prefer to spend under 4 hours traveling for a city trip.
I recommend narrowing it down to a few options, like a top 5, and then move on to step 3 to make your final decision.
Booking your transportation
To be honest, my biggest deciding factor in picking a destination is money. If I can find a good deal on a flight, bus or train to somewhere, that’s probably where I end up going. I recommend using sites like Kayak and Skyscanner to look for flights to anywhere based on the date and budget. You can even look for the entire month!
Tip: I like to plan my city trips around bank holidays so you can make a long weekend out of it. And if you go Fri-Sun or Sat-Mon, you only need to take a single vacation day.
But a great city trip doesn’t require flying to a faraway place. For a more sustainable option, look at train and bus deals. Omio is a great resource in trip planning and I love traveling by Flixbus in Europe. Or make it a road trip to a city nearby.
Key for any solo trip is picking flights, trains or buses that aren’t just cheap, but also have good departure and arrival times. I try to always arrive somewhere new while it’s still light out, that simply feels safer when traveling alone. For a short city trip, I would recommend arriving as early as possible and leaving as late as possible to maximize your vacation time.
Booking your accommodation
Now that the dates and destination are settled, it’s time to look at where you’ll stay. Here, budget comes into play again.
If you’re a budget backpacker like me, hostels are a great option. They’re affordable and social, which is perfect for solo travelers. I often use Hostelworld to look for hostels, but always try to book directly with the accommodation to support them. For an ever lower budget option, try Couchsurfing!
No matter your budget, there are a few things to keep in mind when booking accommodation for a city trip:
- Location, location, location. On a city trip, it’s important to stay somewhere central and well-connected, so you don’t lose precious time in transit. Pick a hostel or hotel near a metro, train, or bus stop or within walking distance of the main sights. Staying just outside the city center is usually more affordable.
- Breakfast. Save yourself some money and effort by choosing accommodation that has breakfast included. Unless you’re a major foodie and want to try out all the local cafés and breakfast spots.
- Comfort. One of the reason I prefer hostels for city trips is that I know I’ll spend all my time outside, exploring. If I’m only there to sleep, space and comfort aren’t super important to me, but they might be to you.
- Safety. This is an especially big concern for women that travel solo. Do a bit of research about which parts of town to avoid and choose accommodation that looks clean and well-kept with a good door policy or 24-hour reception. Opt for a female only dorm in a hostel, if that’s something you’re concerned about.
- Reviews. This is the number one thing that will help you pick the right place to stay. Read what others had to say about the accommodation and if that lines up with your own preferences.
Building an itinerary
The next step in planning a solo city trip is building your itinerary. Now, I normally don’t plan much for my vacations. I prefer to go with the flow rather than having a completely set schedule. But for short trips like city trips, I like to be a bit more prepared. Since you don’t have as much time, it would be a shame to miss out on something great.
The first thing I look for is a free walking tour. I do them on every solo trip, and they’re my favorite way to explore a new place. Free walking tours operate on tips, so the guides are extra motivated to make it the fun and informative. And they give you a chance to meet some other travelers. I’ve often gone for lunch or a drink with people I met during a free walking tour.
Aside from walking tours, I love visiting local museums and just wander around seeing the sights. I find that travel blogs are a great resource for finding worthwhile activities in your destination. While Tripadvisor is great for the main attractions, local blogs usually tell you more about off the beaten path experiences.
When planning a solo city trip I usually pick a couple of things that are “must see” and a few things that are “would like to see”. I’m not too fussed about hitting everything, but prefer to leave ample space for spontaneity. I love to just wander around, get a little lost and soak up the atmosphere, rather than rushing to the next activity on my itinerary. You never know who you might meet during your trip and what opportunities for new adventures might present themselves.
Finding places to eat
Food is a big part of my life and my travels. When I’m not eating, I’m thinking about eating. I find that food is such a great way of exploring new cultures. Local cuisine is a reflection of local life, culture and history.
I’ve been following a mostly plant-based diet for several years now, and I think it’s an important part of sustainable travel. Cities are generally pretty vegan friendly and offer more options for people with dietary restrictions of all kinds. I’ve been able to find great vegan versions of traditional local dishes in almost every big city I’ve visited.
I never plan out specific meals when I travel, but I do like to do a little research and have a few options saved. I mostly use travel blogs and Google to find a few places that cater to my diet and save pins on Google Maps. But locals are always the best source. Ask at reception, fellow travelers, tour guides and anyone you meet for restaurant recommendations. They know where it’s good! And I recommend doing a food tour and hitting a local farmers market.
Preparing for your trip
Now that everything is settled and booked, all that’s left to do is wait for your trip. I always get a little rush of excitement when I go over my travel plans one more time and check that everything is done. It turns preparing for a trip into a fun time, rather than a tedious chore. One of my favorite words in Dutch is “voorpret“, which describes the feeling of excitement you feel before an event, when you can hardly wait. I feel it during the whole process of planning my trips and dreaming about what it will be like.
I know myself, and I know I need to write everything down and save things right away so I don’t forget them. So to save yourself stress, I recommend writing down and saving all important information and documents for your trip right away. Like boarding passes, booking confirmations, and itinerary ideas. I’m old school and use a paper bullet journal, but some people prefer to use trip planning apps. I also have a shared Dropbox folder with my mother which contains copies of my passport and insurance information in case of an accident.
Before your trip, make sure to do the following:
- Inform friends and/or family of your trip
- Have your travel documents in order (renew passport or ID if necessary)
- Inform bank and credit card of upcoming trip
- Get health insurance (unless you have year round insurance like me) and save an online copy
- Check in online for flights
- Download airline, train or bus app for easy access to boarding passes and tickets
- Research how to get from the airport or station to your accommodation
- Save a screenshot and online copy of booking confirmations
- Save the address of your accommodation on Google Maps
- Download an offline map of the destination on Maps.me or Google Maps
- Save major sights you want to see and places you want to eat on Google Maps
- Write a packing list
- Make sure you have all the travel essentials on said list
- Download a Spotify play-list, podcasts, audio-books, e-books, and Netflix episodes
- Practice basic words and phrases in the local language (essential for being a responsible traveler)
- Download the language of your destination in the Google Translate app
- Do some research on local custom and culture to avoid any faux pas
- Get a bit of cash in the local currency (then hit up an ATM once you arrive, this is usually more cost-efficient)
Packing your bag
Before you leave on your solo city trip, you have to pack your bag. I always recommend packing light for various reasons:
- Save money on luggage fees
- Less weight = less fuel = less CO2
- You’ll be more mobile and comfortable if you’re not lugging around a huge suitcase
- Fewer bags to keep an eye on, means you’re less likely to be pickpocketed or robbed
- Less stress in picking out your outfits
For a short city trip, a carry on or even a simple backpack should do. I love my Osprey Fairview 40L, it’s perfect for short and long trips. Think clearly and pragmatically about what you need to bring. How many outfits will you realistically need? Are towels provided at your accommodation? What shoes will you need?
For a city trip, I recommend bringing comfortable shoes like sneakers or sandals to walk around in and one pair of cute flats, sandals, or comfortable heels for going out. Depending on the weather and time of year, you might want to swap sneakers for boots.
Clothing wise, you’ll need a travel outfit for during transit (something comfortable like leggings), one outfit a day and one cute nighttime outfit. It’s always good to bring things that mix & match, so you multiply your options. Depending on the destination, a swimsuit is always good to have on hand.
Other than that, I recommend bringing a book or two. Reading is a great way to pass time on solo trips when you’re in transit, at dinner, or simply relaxing in a park. Pop one in your bag when you’re heading out to explore for the day, as well as a reusable water bottle, and a portable charger. I recommend using a small backpack, a cross body bag or a hip bag to keep your valuables safe from pickpockets.
I hope this post has gotten you excited about your first solo city trip. These steps should help you plan the perfect adventure, wherever you decide to go. If you have any additional tips for solo travelers, feel free to leave them in the comments.
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