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I've taken 7 solo city trips across the US in the past 2 years — here are my 8 tips for traveling alone

I've taken 7 solo city trips across the US in the past 2 years — here are my 8 tips for traveling alone
  • In the past two years, I've taken trips to Nashville, New York City, and Washington, DC.

  • During these trips, I've had to remember to be organized and pack efficiently.

  • I've learned the best way to get the local secrets is through talking to business owners.

I've always loved traveling, and now I love traveling on my own terms.

Rachel Bernstein holds a cup of coffee.
The author on her DC trip.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to take yearly vacations with my family, but in my final year of college, I decided to make travel more of a priority. After graduating, I had friends and family all over the world, so I decided to visit them.

I started out with weekend road trips from my home in Los Angeles to San Diego, before embarking on a weeklong trip to New York City. Then came trips to Nashville and Washington, DC. While I was initially hesitant to travel alone — and a little lonely while on the trips — they taught me to enjoy my own company. I've learned that I like Brooklyn better than Manhattan, and I've also learned about my own confidence.

After taking trips across the United States on my own, here are my top tips.

When traveling solo, you're a one-man band, so you need to be as organized as possible.

Southwest planes ready to depart at Dallas Love Field.
A view of the Dallas Love Field airport.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

You've likely heard this one before, but it bears repeating: Be organized! Make sure you know what time your flight is taking off, how you're getting to the airport, double-check you have your passport, and know where your hotel or Airbnb is located.

I've learned about being on top of every detail the hard way: I've made the mistake of thinking I was flying out on one airline carrier and it ended up being another. I've had to sit on my suitcase to make it shut — a mistake that I could have avoided if I had been more organized and made a list.

When traveling solo, you're on your own, with no one to remind you where to be or how to get there. So you'd better be prepared.

Pack a hands-free bag, preferably one with lots of pockets.

The author in the hotel hallway taking a photo in the mirror.
The author at her DC hotel with her Lululemon Belt bag.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

Since I'm constantly on the move while traveling, my purse choice needs to be carefully weighed. I've opted for the Gen-Z favorite, a fanny pack, and sling it across my chest as I stride through cities.

Though I originally thought it was ridiculous to even consider getting the internet-famous Lululemon Everywhere Belt Bag, it turns out its worth its weight in gold. It has just enough pockets to store hotel keys, a small wallet, an AirPods case, my phone, random museum maps, and more. But if that's not your style, the Insider Reviews team has other recommendations.

I also feel comfortable with a fanny pack on crowded metros, more so than a crossbody bag or tote.

And if you can make it work, just bring a carry-on.

Tabby cat inside of an Amazon suitcase
The author's cat in her AmazonBasics bag.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

Of course, if you're traveling solo, a carry-on bag means you have to carry everything that you need. But committing to a carry-on will encourage you to pack lighter, and you might realize that you actually need far less than you originally thought.

Traveling lighter is far more convenient when you don't have a helping hand. Recently, I took an Amtrak to Penn Station in New York City. I disembarked and found myself staring down a huge set of stairs with my backpack and suitcase. I had to somehow get up the stairs without falling on my face. I had never been more grateful to have a relatively small carry-on.

In addition, not checking a bag for my solo trips has saved me time and frustration.

I would recommend finding a good carry-on — I've had my AmazonBasics suitcase, which fits at least six days' worth of clothes, for at least seven years and it has paid for itself time and time again.

Pretend you're not shy and start a conversation with a business owner.

The author in front of the Manhattan bridge.
The author and a view of the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO, Brooklyn.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

Although I initially might be a little scared to talk to someone new, I've learned through experience that I often reap a greater benefit — such as tips for where to eat or for an upcoming event — if I just go for it. Talking to someone alleviates the lonely feeling you might experience while traveling alone. Plus, you might get a great recommendation.

From my trips, I've learned the best way to get the inside scoop on local favorites is to talk to shop owners. I'll go into a cycling shop or an independent bookstore and each time, they are, without fail, some of the most meaningful interactions of my trips. (Standouts include Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois, and Mad Dogs & Englishmen in Carmel-By-the-Sea, California.)

Often, they're excited to meet you as well. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I've met multiple service workers who are eager to share their own memories of my city.

Make a plan, but allow yourself to be spontaneous, too.

A photo taken at the Marc Chagall exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Marc Chagall exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

While visiting a new city, I tend to front-load my agenda for the morning hours. This means getting up early, even on a time change, and touring the city before nighttime sets in and I make my way back to the hotel.

Although I make plans for how long I'm going to walk, and where I think I'll take public transport, I often let myself wander, especially in parts of the city where there's a lot to see and do.

For example, on a recent trip to Washington, DC, I planned to visit the National Mall and eventually take a ferry down to Alexandria, Virginia. Instead, I found myself exploring Chinatown and passing by the Ford's Theatre on my way back to the hotel.

As a Type-A personality, I am a massive advocate for making a plan, but I've learned to factor in the more beautiful unexpected moments, as well.

You'll make mistakes, so the best thing you can do it to learn from them.

D.C.'s Union Station from the Amtrak Window
The author's view of DC's Union Station from the Amtrak.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

While in DC, I asked the front desk manager at my hotel how much time I should budget for making my 9:15 a.m. Amtrak train, and he told me to get to Union Station three hours early. So I did ... and promptly regretted it. Nothing was open and my gate number didn't even show up on the departures board until 10 minutes before the train was due to leave. I spent the three hours exploring the station and watching the morning light shine above the Capitol building a couple of streets down. Once on the Amtrak, I finally acknowledged my travel mishap.

It's now a favorite travel story of mine and one that amuses my more train-literate friends, but I did learn something from it: to do my research.

There are few trips that go off without a hitch. Maybe you'll miss the show, maybe you'll screw up the time, maybe the train leaves without you. The important thing is being able to adapt.

Use the solo trip to take advantage of the attractions you like best, without having to worry about anyone else.

The author with the Washington monument in the distance.
The author and the Washington monument.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

As a former history major, I'm not everyone's ideal travel companion. I like to check out museums, historical sites, and bookstores and tick off every single presidential library I can. So, I tend to use a solo trip to make sure the only person I'm annoying is myself.

On a recent trip to DC, I visited five museums in one day and went to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Virginia. I did it all without grossly overestimating a family member's or friend's interest in any given niche subject.

While traveling alone, do what you enjoy and work at your own pace. The only person that you need to impress here is yourself.

It might be scary, but it's always worth it to be bold.

The author in front of a waterfront.
The author on the last day of her New York trip.Rachel Bernstein/ Insider

I am not frequently fearless. I don't face my fears and go on dance floors or zip lines. However, when I'm traveling solo, I'm suddenly bolder than ever.

I tell myself that I'm making friends when on a trip and go up to someone to ask a question. I tell myself that most people in hospitality or customer service are doing their jobs in answering a question that you ask. And I've learned you get so much more simply by asking for help. Strangers have helped me lift my bags or helped me identify the best places to go. In my experience traveling solo to cities across the US, it really is the best way to see how good most people are.

I return home ready to be back in my own bed but also sorely missing the kindness of the strangers I met.

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