Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Flying Solo: My Experience & Top Tips

Flying Solo Travel Tips

I recently flew on my own for the first time and despite being 25 years old, there was still a little bit of me that felt like Kevin McAllister in Home Alone 2, even more so as I was heading to New York on my own. Despite always enjoying the experience of travelling, mostly because I know that I'm going somewhere exciting, I totally understand why others might find even the notion of attempting to do it on your own scary, stressful or downright unnecessary but I'm happy to report back that it was none of those things, well most of the time but I'll go into that in a minute.

For me the most important thing was taking the stress out of it (even though I did almost miss check-in on the way home when a 45 minute drive to the airport took 2 and a half hours!) but overall, I really enjoyed flying solo. And here is why I thought that, as well as my top tips to make it a pleasant experience instead of something to fear or worry about;

Get used to be overly organised

Having always flown with my family before, I was used to my Dad handling all of the important documents such as passports, boarding passes, ESTAs, travel insurance, etc. Travelling on my own meant that I was responsible for absolutely everything that I needed with me from the important stuff to all my snacks, which I usually offload into my Mum or brother's bags. If your hand luggage or personal item can get a little unorganised, to say the least, I'd definitely recommend investing in a travel document holder. I went for this one from Paperchase but there are lots of different options out there, of which here are a few of my favourites;

Arrive at the airport in plenty of time

Don't chance it and arrive at the airport an hour before your flight takes off. Check what your specific airline advises time-wise. So for example, when flying to the US, they normally ask you to arrive 3 hours in advance (at least Virgin Atlantic, United and Delta do, who I've flown with in the past). Not having to worry about getting caught in traffic or there being huge lines at security and you possibly missing a flight, is one added stress you don't need. Thankfully I had no issues on my flight from Glasgow but it was a different story on the way home and I definitely would have missed my flight had I not followed this rule.

I knew that getting out of Manhattan could be quite problematic, especially as I was going through the Lincoln Tunnel and when I'd ventured out to Woodbury Commons earlier in the week the trip took double the time that had been estimated. I arranged for a car to pick me up 4 hours before my flight, thinking that it would take an hour max. to get to the airport. I couldn't thank myself enough for doing this and for being ready to go that bit earlier that day. As mentioned above, the drive took 2 and a half hours, meaning I was only there with an hour and a half to go and just over 30 minutes until check-in closed. Even though I was cutting it pretty fine and didn't have enough time to go grab food at another terminal like I had planned, I made it and could relax when I got there. Always make sure to leave a time allowance for traffic or possible crashes, if you're travelling by car or know exactly when your train, for example, will arrive.

Book into an airport lounge

For some reason, I always thought that you had to be a millionaire or be flying first class to gain access to the airport lounges. That couldn't be further from the truth. If you've got several hours to wait before your flight, have a long layover or have arrived at the airport early, as advised, why not book into an airport lounge. It's definitely a treat yo' self moment but it can start off your holiday on the right foot and if you're prone to visiting a restaurant or stocking up on food and drink before you fly, it might be wise to pay that bit extra to access a lounge instead. As far as I can tell, most lounges offer complimentary food, drink, wifi, television access and lots of space to chill out and get comfortable before your flight. I'll definitely be booking myself into one on my next solo trip!

Do a walk through of your journey/connecting transportation

As this was my first time visiting New York and I had planned on getting public transport into the city from Newark, I found it extremely helpful to watch a few YouTube videos on how to make that very journey. I had to buy my train ticket from a ticket machine, take the Air Train, then take a New Jersey Transit train (not an AmTrak train, which also ran at the same time) to Penn Station, where I then had to get a taxi to my hotel. As a result of watching the videos, I knew exactly where I was going, which signs to follow and even had fellow travellers asking for my advice, despite being a first timer.

Solo Travel New York Tips

Ask for help if you need it

If you're travelling hand luggage only, like I was, or have a ridiculously heavy cabin bag or case, don't struggle to lift it up into the overhead bins on the plane and pull something or hurt yourself. Simply ask for some help from a fellow traveller or a steward. I basically have no upper body strength and was taking a cabin bag heavier than the checked bag I brought home, so there was no way I could do it on my own. As I found when it came to travelling solo in general, people are always happy to help, especially if you're struggling or in need of help. The same goes for if you're not sure if you're going the right way or if you feel anxious or lost.

Download things to keep you entertained, just in case

Even though I knew that I was going to be on a flight with seatback entertainment and plenty of movies, TV shows and music to choose from, I still decided to download a couple of episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from Netflix onto my phone. This is a feature that I only recently discovered but it allowed me to download shows to watch when I wasn't connected to WiFi, which is such a game changer of an idea. On my first flight I had the luck of being sat in a seat with a broken earphone socket and had there not been alternative seats I would have likely been stuck there without anything to keep me entertained. I did get a nice little upgrade to premium economy in the process though so it wasn't a total loss or a bad start to my trip, like it could have been.

Chance your arm at the check in desk

Speaking of upgrades, on my flight home I noticed that quite a few seats were showing as empty on the seat map at our gate. I decided to chance my arm and ask if it would be possible to change seats from the middle seat that I had originally been assigned to an aisle seat. The man behind the desk was more than happy to accomodate and switched my seat in seconds. As a solo traveller there's definitely more opportunity to try this kind of tactic, as it will be easier for them to move one person rather than a couple or whole family. You can imagine how absolutely over the moon I was when I sat in my new aisle seat only to find out that I had the whole row to myself! It definitely pays to ask, as my Mum would say; 'if you don't ask, you don't get'.

So there was my first experience of flying alone. It definitely had it's ups and downs but overall I would 100% do it again. I'm already planning where to visit next.

Have you ever flown on your own or travelled solo? What was your experience like? And would you like to see more blog posts on my solo travel experience, like how to get photos taken of yourself and how not to feel too lonely, for example?


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