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First Timers Guide to Hawaii: Plan Your Trip Like A Pro

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You’ve made the excellent decision to take your first trip to Hawaii. Congratulations! Now it’s time to figure out how to plan your trip. While it can feel daunting because there are so many options to choose from and it’s a BIG vacation, we’ve got you covered. We cover all the need-to-know planning advice for your first trip. After reading this guide, you’ll feel much more confident in planning your dream vacation. 

FAQs About Planning Your First Trip to Hawaii

Have some quick questions about your trip? Get them answered here before we dive into the decisions you need to make.

What island is the best for first-time visitors?

All of the islands offer something a little different and special, so picking the right island for your first trip takes a little research to understand just what is unique to each island. 

Our favorite Hawaiian island to suggest to first-time visitors is Maui. Maui has a bit of something for everyone: from beautiful beaches, excellent snorkeling, a wide range of accommodations, and the best whale watching. We give you our 9 reasons why Maui is the best for first time visitors . 

But it’s not the right island for everyone. Here are some reasons why you might want to pick another island: 

  • Oahu: Head to Oahu if you’re looking for more of a cosmopolitan feel. You’ll find nightlife, museums, and plenty of history.
  • Kauai: Visit Kauai if you’re looking for a quieter trip, a lush landscape (with a bit more rain), and amazing hiking.
  • Big Island: Plan a trip to the Big Island if you’re a volcano enthusiast (Volcanoes National Park is amazing), you want a laid back vibe, or you want to snorkel or dive with manta rays .

Want to see a little more about what makes each island special for first time visitors? We’ve created a video to help you out: 

How much will a trip to Hawaii cost?

Going to Hawaii is not a cheap vacation. While there are ways you can save, food, accommodations, rental cars, and activities are all very expensive. In fact, all four of the main Hawaiian islands rank in the top 10 for most expensive average hotel room cost in the world . Maui hotel rooms are the second most expensive in the world, after the Maldives.

So, a trip is going to be expensive. 

To help you get started calculating your own vacation estimate, we went through the work of calculating the cost of a trip for a family of four. The total for 10 days? $12,000. You can check out the full Hawaii vacation cost calculation as well as places you can save and splurge . 

How many days should you spend on your first trip to Hawaii?

We recommend not rushing any trip to Hawaii, so the more time you can spend, the better! Despite it seeming like an easy domestic trip, it still takes nearly six hours to fly there from the west coast. And you’ll likely have a little jet lag to deal with, as Hawaii is two or three hours behind pacific time (they don’t have daylight savings time so in the winter it’s a 2 hour time difference and in the summer it’s a 3 hour time difference). 

If you plan on visiting one island, we recommend a trip of at least 7 days. This will give you time to get settled, explore, and do some amazing activities, and have downtime to relax. If you plan on visiting two islands, plan for at least 10 days. 

We recommend this itinerary combo as part of our first-time to Hawaii itinerary . 

If you know what island you want to visit, you can dive into more details about exactly how many days you should spend: 

  • How many days do you need on Oahu?
  • How many days do you need on Maui?
  • How many days do you need on Kauai?
  • How many days do you need on the Big Island?

A good rule of thumb is if you start speaking Hawaiian Pidgin , you have stayed too long.

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Do you need to rent a car in Hawaii?

You’ll most likely want to rent a car in Hawaii to maximize how much you can see. If you’re planning a trip to Oahu and you’re staying in Waikiki, there may be days where your rental car is never used. There’s a lot to do within that 2-mile strip! You can save on expensive hotel parking fees by just renting a car on days that you want to explore the rest of the island. Rental car companies have offices in Waikiki which makes it convenient to pick up a car and take it out for the day. 

If you want to get out and explore Oahu without renting a car, you can join a group circle island tour or book your own private island tour . 

There is also a car share company, Drive Hui, that is available in Waikiki.

On the other islands, it’s a bit trickier to go without a car. To see and explore, you’ll probably want to book one. Public transportation isn’t easy and getting a cab or uber can add up and be inconvenient. We love using Discount Hawaii Car Rental to help us get the best price for a rental car on each island.

Is it easy to island hop?

If you’re hoping to visit one or more Hawaiian island on your trip, you’re in luck! Island hopping is easy. While there are no ferries between islands (aside from a ferry between Maui and Lanai), you can fly between the islands using Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, or Mokulele Airlines. 

While the islands in Hawaii are close together and just a quick 30-45 minute flight, your island hopping travel day will still cut into your vacation. Between packing up, the airport process, and checking into accommodations on your new island, this can easily take up half a day of your vacation.

Related read: Get all the details you need to know about island hopping in Hawaii.  

What is the best time of year to go to Hawaii?

There is truly no bad time to visit Hawaii. With temperatures that are warm year-round, you’ll be in tank tops and shorts 12 months out of the year. But while there is no bad time to visit, we think Hawaii is best experienced during the shoulder seasons: in April/May and September/October. That’s when we find the optimal mix of good costs, good weather, and the smallest crowds. 

Let’s dive into that a bit more or see our Best Time to Visit Hawaii article for details.

Weather: 

While we did say that the temperatures are warm year-round, Hawaii does still get rain. And while you are heading to a beach destination, you probably want to minimize your chances of rain. As you can see from the chart below, Hawaii experiences peak rain from November through March. Though to be fair, rain varies on different sides of each island — we are showing average rainfall for one popular visitor destination on each island.

planning a trip to Hawaii

Visiting when there are fewer crowds can make for a more enjoyable vacation. Boat tours aren’t sold out days or weeks in advance and beach parking is much easier to come by.  Trying to find a time when fewer people visit (or the off season) isn’t difficult to do. The Hawaii Tourism Authority does a wonderful job of tracking visitor arrivals to Hawaii . 

From their data, it’s clear that the peak times for crowds are November – January, March,  and June – August. So if you want to visit while there are fewer people on the islands, plan a trip in February, April , May, September, or October. 

Cost: 

Traveling during the shoulder period could mean the difference between getting a hotel room for $800 or getting that same room for $400. Costs fluctuate widely depending on when you’re going. If you want your travel dollars to stretch as far as possible, avoid the summer, spring break period, and the holiday period (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year). 

Related read: This is the worst time to visit Hawaii (we really try to avoid this period if possible!)

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Do you need a travel agent to help you plan your first trip to Hawaii?

We sometimes love enlisting the help of a travel agent for our adventures. But to be honest, we haven’t found great travel agents for Hawaii vacations. Most travel agents don’t specialize in Hawaii (but we do). They have some basic recommendations, but can’t speak in depth about different accommodation options, activity operators, and restaurants. So we don’t recommend using a travel agent and you definitely don’t need one to book your dream vacation. 

If you’re not sure where to start, check out our island guides. They walk you through all the need to know information for each island:

Oahu Guide Maui Guide Big Island Guide Kauai Guide

And if you want even more in-depth information on how to plan your days to sightsee, check out our itineraries :

“I purchased the Kauai itinerary and it is awesome! I had no idea how much work and information you guys really put into it and I am so excited for our trip now!!” – Kayla R.

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Are there any special entry requirements to enter Hawaii?

There are no special requirements to enter Hawaii. If you are coming from outside of the US, you will need to show your passport to enter the USA and Hawaii. If you are traveling from within the US (the mainland) you won’t need to show a passport to enter Hawaii.

Currently, there are no COVID restrictions or entry requirements for Hawaii . 

How far in advance should you plan your trip to Hawaii?

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, the earlier you plan, the better. While there always might be last-minute deals that pop up, they are few and far between. Booking in advance means you can shop around for the best hotel or vacation rental price. 

We suggest planning six months in advance for your trip. You can usually secure great accommodations at a great price and a good rental car price. And a tip: if you book with Discount Hawaii Car Rental , you can always cancel your reservation and rebook if prices drop. 

When you’re planning activities and restaurant reservations, try to make them a couple of months in advance, so you can book exactly what you want. Be sure to check out our favorite tours and activities to help you narrow down your search .

Is a trip to Hawaii worth it? 

Whether a trip is worth it is certainly up to personal preference, but we think a trip to Hawaii is worth it! With year-round good weather and amazing sights, this isn’t an ordinary trip. Whether you’re coming to experience the year-round humpback whale migration, hike to the top of a volcano, snorkel with Manta Rays, or swim in a waterfall, there is truly so much to do here. 

And learning about Hawaiian culture and history makes this so much more than a beautiful beach vacation. 

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First Time to Hawaii Planning Timeline

Now that you’ve gotten some first time to Hawaii FAQs answered, it’s time to dive into booking your trip. Here are the steps to walk through as you’re making your decision:

1. Decide when you’ll go

We love the shoulder season of April/May and September/October for fewer clouds, crows, and cheaper costs. But remember that really anytime is great. So find a time when you can book a long enough chunk of time for your trip and move onto step 2!

2. Decide how long to go for

We meet travelers all the time who are on vacation and frantically trying to figure out how to extend their trip. So if you can swing a few extra days, do it! Plan to spend at least 7 days if you’re visiting one island or at least 10 days if you want to visit two islands. There is so much to see and it’s a long trip out.

3. Choose your island(s)

Now onto the biggest hurdle for most first time visitors: picking the right island for you. This is a big decision and while all of the islands offer something special you need to decide what type of vacation you really want to have. Going to Oahu is going to end up being a very different vacation than a trip to Kauai. 

If you’re struggling to choose an island, see our tips earlier on in the article. 

4. Book your flights

Start your search for flights. All of the major airlines fly to Hawaii, so you should have plenty of options to choose from. The airports (and airport codes) on each island are:

  • Oahu: Honolulu Airport (HNL)
  • Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG) and Kapalua Airport (JHM), used for inter-island trips
  • Island of Hawai’i (Big Island: Hilo International Airport (ITO) and Kona International Airport (KOA)
  • Kauai: Lihue Airport (LIH)

If you’re visiting more than one island, check out our inter-island travel article for tips on how to island hop seamlessly.

Consider being greeted upon arrival with a traditional Hawaii lei greeting. It is a fun way to start your Hawaii vacation.

5. Pick a place to stay

Once you’ve picked an island, there are so many options for accommodations. The first decision to make: do you want a vacation rental or a hotel? There are pros and cons to both options. If you’re planning to eat in a lot, a vacation rental can save you money with a kitchen. But you’re likely going to miss out on a great resort pool. 

Check out all of our pros and cons with our Airbnb vs Hotel article . 

6. Figure out whether you want to rent a car

For most vacations, you will probably want to rent a car. If you’re hoping to see a lot of the island that you visit, a car is necessary. Public transportation options aren’t usually very convenient and getting a cab or uber can add up to be quite expensive. 

The exception to this is Oahu. If you’re staying in Waikiki, there are plenty of things to keep you busy for days in a row so renting a car for your entire trip isn’t necessary. And when you do want to head out and explore, there are car rental options available right from Waikiki. 

When you’re ready to book a car, we recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental . We’ve saved thousands of dollars using them for our car rentals. They work with major carriers and don’t require pre-payment, so it’s a flexible and ideal way to save on your car rental. 

first tour vacation

7. Choose some of your can’t-miss activities

There is truly so much to do on each island, and even if you were staying for a month, you wouldn’t be able to do it all. So making a list is important. 

Are you excited to hike a volcano? Snorkel from a boat? Zipline above a canopy of trees? Get an up-close view of humpback whales?

Our Tours & Activities section will help you find our favorite activities on each island. 

To help you get started our cheat sheets will give you a few of the ca n’t-miss experiences on each island. 

Additional Hawaii resources:

  • 40 Things to Do on Oahu
  • 5 Can’t-Miss Big Island Activities
  • 68 Things to Do on Maui with Kids
  • 21 Things to Do on Lanai

8. Make some fun dinner reservations

If you’re coming during the peak season, getting a few dinner reservations on the books is important. And even if you’re not, if there’s any place you feel like you need to eat, getting your reservation made early ensures you won’t miss out. Our cheat sheets offer some dining recommendations and our itinerary has a Quick Hits section with all of our favorite restaurants . 

9. Get packing

You don’t need to bring much with you on your beach vacation. But make sure you have the essentials by using our packing list. Yes, you’ll want to pack reef-safe sunscreen and a jacket!

Check out our full packing list here . 

And our favorite item to pack? Our itineraries ! They make your trip planning and experience so much easier. With excursion days to take you around the island and a list of our favorite restaurants and beaches, this is one thing you’ll definitely want with you. 

“I can’t tell you how much we have appreciated your effort with the guidebook.  We saw things this past week we would never have known to look for.  These hidden gems were amazing from the black sand beach all the way up to Pololu lookout and all the small shops along the way.  We leave tomorrow and I wanted to say how much we used and enjoyed your book.  Thank you so much.” – Chris P.

First-Time Visitors Tips While in Hawaii

Once you’ve made it to Hawaii (hooray!) we have some tips to help make your time in the islands even more memorable. 

Understand the geography

While getting to know the geography of the islands might seem a little ridiculous for your vacation, it’s important because it will affect the weather you experience and what you do while on vacation. 

The main thing to know is that each island has a windward and a leeward side. The windward side of each island faces the tradewinds. You’ll get more rain and wind, but you’ll also get lush landscapes (thanks to all of that rain!). On Maui, Hana is a famous spot on the windward side. The landscape is lush and the waterfalls are beautiful. But it also rains a lot and the ocean currents are very strong. 

first tour vacation

The leeward side of each island is more protected from the wind and rain and you will have drier, sunnier weather. Most of the famously beautiful beaches you plan on visiting are located on the leeward side of the island.

For example, on Maui, the leeward side of the island includes some great beaches, like Wailea Beach and Ka’anapali Beach. 

When you understand the island’s geography, you can better prepare for what to expect. If you’re looking for a lush, jungle experience, with waterfalls and greenery head east to the windward side. If you’re looking to beat the rain and get some sun, the west or leeward side is your best bet.

Get out and explore

The beaches in Hawaii are incredible. But there’s a lot more to explore on each of the islands. Some things you might want to add to your list include:

  • Night snorkeling or diving with Manta Rays on the Big Island
  • Seeing the sunrise or sunset from Haleakala Crater on Maui
  • Watching the big wave surfers on the north shore of Oahu
  • Viewing the stunning cliffs of the NaPali coast on Kauai
  • Hanging out with humpback whales during their annual migration to Hawaii

This was just a taste, but there is so much more. If you want to view the highlights of each island, check out our cheat sheets .

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They’re designed to make kicking off your trip planning even easier. Grab them for free and start planning !

Try the local food

One of the treats about visiting a new place is the opportunity to try new, local foods that you might not eat back home. There are a few things you should consider trying while you’re here:

  • Fresh, locally caught fish: If you’re a seafood fan, don’t miss out on the fresh fish. You can enjoy it at either a restaurant or from a fish market. You’ll see options like Mahi Mahi, Ono, Opah, Ahi, and more.
  • Locally grown produce: Enjoy dragon fruit, coconut, lilikoi, pineapples, locally produced honey and more. We love doing farm tours, but if that’s not part of your vacation itinerary, try a farm-to-table restaurant. You’ll get to sample some island flavors while supporting the agriculture industry here.
  • Traditional Hawaiian food: You don’t need to go to a luau to sample some traditional Hawaiian dishes. Look for dishes like poi (taro that has been pounded into a paste), laulau (meat wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), kalua pig (slow-roasted pork cooked in an underground oven), and poke (diced, raw fish that is wonderfully flavored). If you are looking to try traditional Hawaiian food at a luau, check out our list of the best luaus in Hawaii . 
  • Shave ice: Not shaved ice. You may think that this is like a snowcone, but it couldn’t be further from it. Soft fluffy ice shavings that are flavored with different syrups and creative flavor combinations. You might also have the add-on of fruit and ice cream. It’s so, so good. Don’t forget to check out our five favorite shave ice spots on Kauai . 

Snorkel (safely!)

Living here, we love spending our days in the ocean. There is nothing like diving into the warm, tropical waters and being greeted by colorful fish, turtles, octopi, and more. But if it’s your first time snorkeling in Hawaii, there are some essential details you should know.

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Understand safety risks

Snorkeling may look easy, but water conditions, physical conditions, and more come into play. It’s not always as safe as it looks — drowning is the number one cause of visitor death in Hawaii . Before you go out, review the safety tips to make sure you’re doing what you can to keep yourself safe.

There are a couple ways to check the ocean conditions daily. You can check Hawaii Beach Safety for daily ocean conditions for select beaches on all four main islands. 

If you’re headed to Maui, we love the daily Snorkel Reports from the Snorkel Store. It helps us to see what areas have the best snorkeling conditions for the day and also gives us warnings about large swells that are coming in and affecting safety and visibility. 

Use good gear

Hear me out on this one. You’ll find a number of blogs telling you to pick up a cheap set of fins and a mask from an ABC store or Target once you arrive. There are a few reasons we don’t suggest that.

First, safety. Well fitting gear (fins that stay on and a mask that doesn’t leak) is important to keep you safe.

Second, it’s a significantly more enjoyable experience to snorkel in gear that fits well and is easy to use. This was apparent when we were trying to teach our preschooler to snorkel. The cheap gear didn’t cut it but once we got him in a good mask, he was off!

Third, buying cheap gear just adds to the already full landfill here.

That’s not to say you need to shell out and buy expensive gear. If you plan to snorkel many times, even after this trip to Hawaii, it’s worth it to buy good snorkeling gear. We have sets listed on our recommendations page .

Otherwise, renting snorkeling gear is a great option. The shop staff can help you find gear that is the right fit for you. And if you find that it doesn’t work right, pop in and switch it out for a different rental set.

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Go to the best places

All snorkeling spots are not created equal. Some spots on the island naturally have a more vibrant reef and are home to more fish and sea life. Other spots may be more affected by ocean swells at various times of the year.

On our guide pages we list out the best snorkeling spots on each island. You’ll want to check these pages out before hopping in the water:

Oahu Travel Guide Maui Travel Guide Big Island Travel Guide Kauai Travel Guide

And if you’re looking for the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii by month , we have you covered.

Take a snorkeling tour

While we love snorkeling from the beach and we do it often, going on a snorkeling tour is a really special experience. On a good snorkeling tour, you’ll learn about the ocean, the sea life, and be taken to some cool spots that aren’t easily accessible from the beach. Plus, you’ll be able to see the islands from the water, giving you a different perspective and appreciation for their beauty.

We have a full list of our favorite activity providers and tours on each island, but here are a few that are incredibly special:

  • Molokini Sunrise Snorkel with Kai Kanani : beat the crowds to Molokini with this special sunrise snorkeling tour leaving directly from the beach in Makena/Wailea.
  • Na Pali Coast Snorkeling with Holo Holo Charters : Cruise up the coast of Kaua’i and off the island of Niihau for a full day of snorkeling.
  • Power Raft snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay with Captain Zodiac : Head to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument for the best snorkeling on the island.

Only use reef-safe sunscreen

Before you throw your favorite brand of sunscreen into your bag, stop. Hawaii has rules in place to help protect the reef and sea life that are so important. One of those rules is around the type of sunscreen you can use. Sunscreens containing chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate are no longer sold in Hawaii. These chemicals have been found to contribute to coral reef bleaching.

You can check out a full list of our favorite reef-safe sunscreens and make sure you’re only using legal sunscreen in Hawaii.

Understand the rules protecting sea life

When you’re snorkeling and enjoying the crystal clear water, it’s important to keep in mind that you want to make as little impact on sea life as possible. Stay at least 10 feet away from turtles while snorkeling. You’re required to stay at least 50 feet away from Monk Seals. And if you see spinner dolphins, you’ll need to give them 50 yards of space.

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Learn about the culture

Hawaii is a unique US state for many reasons but one thing that is important to understand is that Hawaii had a long and rich history before becoming part of the US. Learning a little about the culture and the history will enhance your stay and give you new appreciation for these amazing islands.

There are plenty of ways to learn more about Hawai’i while you’re here. Consider visiting museums. On Oahu we love visiting the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace.

You can also visit heritage sites like Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island. You can find a list of heritage sites to visit on the Hawaii Tourism Authority website .

Let us Help you Visit Hawaii for the First Time

We’ve helped thousands of people plan and experience their best vacation to Hawaii. Make your trip planning that much easier and let us help you have the trip you’ve been dreaming about. 

“My husband and I recently took our very first trip to Hawaii (and first trip without our 3 young children) to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We stayed in Maui and used your Maui Classic Itinerary. It made planning our trip so easy! We never had to worry about driving directions, finding bathrooms or parking lots, where we were going to eat a meal, the best spots to spend our day, or even details like when to leave to make the Haleakala sunrise and what trails to hit afterwards. Every single day of our trip was just about perfect, and your guide was a big determining factor for that. We even used it up until the last hour of our trip to find a good beach and great food in Paia Town before we had to be at the airport! So we just wanted to say THANK YOU for helping make this a very special trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives!” – Adam and Alyssa

Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary

Maui wayfinder itinerary, kauai wayfinder itinerary.

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Cruising Hawaii Guide

Big island wayfinder itinerary.

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I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We have lived on Maui and Oahu and continue to travel, experience, and learn about the Hawaiian Islands. We travel with our kids, Henry and Edith. I am a planner! I love to plan trips from the mainland and island-hopping adventures, excursion days, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time in Hawai'i on a SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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First time visitors’ guide to Hawaii

So, you’ve decided to book a Hawaii vacation. That’s exciting! Now you’re wondering where to start your travel planning. Well, you’ve found the right spot for tried-and-true advice to begin planning your perfect Hawaii vacation. By using this first time visitors’ guide, you’ll take the stress out of planning your first Hawaii vacation.

Before we dive into the good stuff, it’s a good idea to briefly let you know a little about us. At Go Visit Hawaii, we completely understand all the challenges of planning a Hawaii vacation, because we are travelers to Hawaii just like you. We fell in love with Hawaii in 2003 and have visited Hawaii dozens of times since then. Through our many trips we’ve become expert Hawaii travelers. We’ve even been referenced by USA Today and other prominent media outlets for our Hawaii expertise several times.

We’re not travel agents and we’re not trying to sneakily sell you anything. We write the very same unbiased advice at Go Visit Hawaii that we would give to our closest friends and family!

We’ve organized this guide based on the stages of planning — from “Help! I have no idea where to start,” to “I’m ready to pack my bags for Hawaii!”

Advice for choosing when, where and how much money to budget:

The first articles you should read are:

– How to pick the best Hawaiian Island(s) for your vacation . This article provides lots of resources to help you find the Hawaiian island(s) that best fits what you’re looking for in a Hawaii vacation. (Pssst: If you have a difficult time choosing, just go to Maui. Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Maui seems to always win more awards from the travel magazines and surveys. It’s a crowd pleaser.)

– Determine how many islands you will visit – When time is limited, you need to make the most of your stay. In our “how many islands” article we provide advice on how many islands you should consider visiting based on your available vacation days.

– Best time to visit Hawaii – Anytime is a good time to visit Hawaii, but some months are better than others for sunny weather, cheaper prices and low crowds. In this article, you’ll be able to quickly pick the ideal time to go to Hawaii that fits into your vacation schedule.

– How much money do you need to budget for a Hawaii vacation?  How much will a trip to Hawaii cost you? This article will help you quickly calculate your own budget for traveling to Hawaii.

Advice for choosing the best flights to and around Hawaii:

We’ve got three great articles to help you get to and around Hawaii with ease.

– How to choose the best airport for your Hawaii destination  – Most of Hawaii’s islands have more than one airport. This guide gives you advice on how to choose the best airport for your flights based on your island destination.

– Strategies for finding the lowest airfare to Hawaii — This article provides advice on how to find the best Hawaii flight cost and options for you.

– Guide to Hawaii inter-island travel — This article helps you to easily navigate how to island hop in Hawaii.

Advice for choosing where to stay, dine and play:

After you’ve gone through the process of picking the Hawaiian island(s) for your vacation, where do you stay, what do you need to know and how will you get the most out of your vacation? The following pages should help you answer those important questions.

Our island guides are designed to be a great starting point to help you plan where to stay, what to do and where to dine. Follow these links to each individual Hawaiian island guides:

– Oahu vacation guide

– Maui vacation guide

– Kauai vacation guide

– Hawaii, the Big Island vacation guide

Need a Hawaii vacation itinerary that includes all the must-see and do attractions and activities? See our page with what we believe are the very best Hawaii vacation itineraries .

Regarding selecting your accommodations, see our article: How to choose the best Hawaii hotel, condo or villa .

We love helping readers stretch their Hawaii vacation budget to get the most out of their stay. Here’s our popular series of Hawaii vacation money saving articles:

–  How to save money on your Hawaii accommodation

– How to save money on tours and activities

– How to save money on dining in Hawaii

– How to save money on a Hawaii rental car

Things to know before you go to Hawaii:

– What to pack for a Hawaii vacation  — With this packing checklist, you’ll be prepared for all the fun and adventures you’ll enjoy in Hawaii.

– How to be comfortable on the long flight(s) to Hawaii .

– Hawaii vacation safety tips

– Hawaii weather — This page provides information on weather patterns as well as the upcoming Hawaii weather forecast. On the topic of weather, lots of people have questions and concerns about rain, be sure and read these FAQs about rain on your Hawaii vacation .

– Hawaii vacation etiquette  — This article covers all you need to know for being a polite first-time visitor to Hawaii.

– Most surprising things about visiting Hawaii — This article helps you to be prepared for what you may encounter as a first time Hawaii visitor.

– Hawaiian words to know for your vacation

We hope this guide to your first time visiting Hawaii will be useful. We’ve written over 3,000 articles here at Go Visit Hawaii, so if you don’t see what you’re looking for, use the search box at the top of the page.

Sign up for our free email newsletters that are issued two to three times per week to keep up to date with Hawaii deals, travel news and tips. Use this link to enter your email address.

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Days to Come

Travelling Without a Passport

first tour vacation

Best First Vacations for Couples

first tour vacation

Oh, to be in love and travel with your partner – it’s an exciting time! From choosing a destination to boarding the flight together, everything about travelling as a couple is exciting. Or at least it should be. To make sure your first vacation as a couple goes off without a hitch, there are some things you should consider before takeoff.

Where can you go that you’ll both enjoy? Do you want to relax or explore? What kinds of things should you do when you get there? Fear not… There are tons of questions to think about, but luckily for you, some destinations are tailor-made for couples, especially if it’s your first time travelling together! So skip the stress and opt for one of these epic first-time vacation destinations for couples:

first tour vacation

Perfect first-time holiday destinations for couples

1. california.

Surfing, wine tasting, exploring the Hollywood Hills – California is a no brainer for first time couple travel. The variety of sites, activities, and accommodations are endless, from spending one night in a beach cabin to another in a San Fran skyrise. There are beaches, national parks, hiking trails, vineyards, and even Disneyland to keep the pair of you occupied. Whether your road tripping or staying in one area, California has all the working parts to be the best vacation ever.

10 Best California Couples Tours & Vacations

For couples who tend to lean towards the adventurous side, Iceland was made for you. From hot springs to volcanoes, the forever changing and seemingly otherworldly landscapes of Iceland will keep you captivated your entire trip. Spend the morning bathing in the steamy Blue Lagoon and your night cuddling under the Northern Lights – no matter what itinerary you go for, Iceland is one place the two of you may never want to leave.

10 Best Iceland Couples Tours & Vacations

Italy is home to some of the world’s best food, most beautiful coastlines, and romantic drives you’ll ever come across. Book your flights and be prepared to indulge in every Italian cliche, from red wine to gondola rides to gelato under the shadow of ancient ruins. While Paris is typically considered the city of romance, a tour through Italy will quickly change your mind, making it the perfect destination for lovebirds planning their first vacation together.

10 Best Italy Couples Tours & Vacations

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4. Costa Rica

For any couples with an outdoor bucket list that’s ten miles long, chances are you’ll be able to cross off at least ten things after a vacation to Costa Rica. There’s whitewater rafting, fishing, snorkelling, zip lining, and just about every other adventure activity you could imagine. And when you’re tired, treat yourself to a colourful drink and lounge on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For couples that love to work hard and play hard, Costa Rica is the destination with both of your names stamped on it.

10 Best Costa Rica Couples Tours & Vacations

5. European river cruises

One of the best first-time trips you and your partner could ever go on is a river cruise through Europe. If you’re thinking, “But aren’t river cruises boring?”, we’re delighted to say you’ve been misinformed . These days, river cruises offer something for everyone, from onboard morning yoga to guided (or unguided) tours through Europe’s most treasured cities. It’s hassle-free, romantic, and a great way to see multiple cities during one trip. The food is great, the sites are breathtaking, and you’ll have one of the easiest planning experiences because it’s all taken care of for you!

10 Best River Cruises for Couples in Europe

6. Scotland

first tour vacation

Scotland is one destination that always seems to blow couples away with its history, culture, and untouched wilderness. Slip on your hiking shoes and explore century-old castles or grab the camera and capture the beauty of the Isle of Skye – whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. The local pubs have the most delicious beer and the music will lift even the most rhythmically challenged off their feet. So, for any couples looking for a beautifully wild adventure, a vacation in Scotland is your best bet.

10 Best Scotland Couples Tours & Vacations

Bali is the ultimate destination for any couples who want to relax on some of the dreamiest beaches during their first vacation together. This is one destination that promises relaxation, white sand beaches and days spent swimming in water so clear it almost doesn’t seem real. Your Instagram will be filled with beautiful beach shots, so pack your most stylish bathing suit and prepare for a week of some seriously romantic R&R.

10 Best Bali Couples Tours & Vacations

Tips for a successful first vacation

Planning your first trip with your significant other may seem like a bit of a challenge, but it’s exciting nonetheless. You’ll make memories and share experiences together you can’t create any other way, so don’t be nervous. Follow these tips to ensure everything goes according to plan:

1. Consider your lifestyle and interests

There’s no point travelling somewhere if once you arrive there’s little that will interest you both as a couple. So if hiking isn’t your thing but you both love food, consider a trip that focuses on experiencing epic cuisine and leaves out the strenuous activity. Travel according to what interests you both.

2. Discuss the budget beforehand

Save yourself any arguments or confusion and discuss the budget of the trip before making any bookings. Far too often couples sign up for a vacation and then realize it’s going to go way over budget. And don’t be discouraged if your budget is small, there are tons of places to go and experiences to be had that won’t break the bank.

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3. Buy travel insurance

This seems like a no brainer, but travelling without any insurance can create some serious problems should one of you need medical attention, something is stolen, or you need to cancel the trip. Having insurance ensures everything is covered if something does go wrong.

4. Watch out for tiredness and hangriness

Being tired or hungry can totally change someone’s personality, so keep an eye on whether or not your partner is suffering from either of these ailments. Getting enough sleep and being well fed ensures everyone is happy and enjoys themselves.

5. Learn to laugh

You’re on vacation! Make light of each other’s annoying habits and be supportive when plans inevitably change. There’s nothing worse than one partner feeling like the other is unhappy, so when in doubt: stay positive and keep a light-hearted perspective on things.

Travelling as a couple is everything: rewarding, challenging, exciting, aggravating and romantic. Exploring somewhere new together is an invaluable way of strengthening the bond you share. So don’t be afraid to take the leap – start planning your first vacation together and don’t look back!

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Jesse Warner

Jesse is a blogger and content creator who loves travel, the outdoors, and her dog, Molly. When she isn't planning her next trip, she can be found watching Netflix documentaries, enjoying time by the water, or eating soft-serve ice cream. Follow her on Instagram , Facebook , or check out her blog .

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Your First Couple’s Vacation: A Dozen Destinations to Consider

A successful and enjoyable first couple’s vacation starts with choosing the right destination, and we’ve got a dozen for you to choose from.

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A couple’s vacation is a completely different experience than traveling alone or with friends. The old adage says that if you can survive a road trip with each other, you may just have a shot—and there’s some truth to that! There is an art to traveling with a partner, and ensuring that you have a successful and enjoyable first couple’s vacation starts with choosing the right destination!

Where should you go? What kind of trip works best for your first time traveling together? That’s where we come in. Grab a comfy spot—we’re here to answer those questions and more, and we’ve compiled a list of 12 of the best romantic getaways and adventure destinations!

Bond over a scavenger hunt !

Did you know that Let’s Roam has created hundreds of scavenger hunts and indoor adventures for couples, families, and friends? Whether you’re exploring a city abroad or staying close to home, there’s a perfect experience for you! From haunted history tours to bar crawls , you’ll find something to do whenever you have the Let’s Roam app in hand!

Criteria for the Perfect First Couple’s Vacation

No trip is going to be perfect for every couple. We are all individuals and enjoy different things, and every love is unique. That’s why we have included all kinds of travel experiences on this list. However, there are a few travel tips to consider in a first trip destination to help ensure smooth travel, minimal stress, and plenty of fun!

1. Choose something short and close to home.

When traveling with a new partner, there is a lot of uncertainty. You don’t really know how this is going to go. Travel can be really stressful, and that is expounded the bigger and more complex the trip is.

If you are on a plane for 12 hours, you arrive exhausted. You have jet lag and feel like poop. You then have to rent a car and drive in a foreign country, which will test even the strongest of marriages for that first 30 minutes. You might not speak the language, and you likely won’t have cell service for a bit, and Google Maps will fail you. Big, international travel is full of these little inconveniences that can really add up. Then, heaven forbid, if you break up, you are stuck far from home, with someone who is likely the last person you want to be around.

To avoid all this mess, keep your first trip within a few hours of home, and limit it to a few days at most. Short flights are cheaper, should you have to retreat, and you will likely feel more at ease through the trip. Limiting the trip to a few days will be long enough to know if it is going to work, and not too long to get sick of each other.

Pro Tip: You could also choose somewhere that you have been before. Familiarity decreases the stress level immensely.

2. Choose a place where you can enjoy some downtime.

Your new relationship needs some alone time to mature. Sure, Las Vegas and New York are amazing, but you don’t want to be surrounded by tourists and crowds the entire time. Pick a place that gives you the option of seclusion for at least part of your trip. Plan activities sparingly. You can always add more if you get bored, but if you have pre-booked a packed itinerary, and your partner hates it, then you are kind of stuck.

3. Choose somewhere that fits both your travel styles.

You may find that your partner exhibits a very different travel style than you. That isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean you can’t travel successfully together. You both will need to make compromises, but that is the nature of a relationship anyway, so it’s good practice.

Talk with your significant other before you start trip planning. Compare notes on how you travel. Do you stay in hostels or all-inclusive resorts? Do you generally eat at restaurants, buy groceries at local stores, or brave all the street food? Do you enjoy a packed itinerary, or are you looking for some downtime? Do you prefer budget public transit, or are you more of a private shuttle traveler? All good information to discuss before you’re on the road together! Collect your answers and look for a place where you can both be comfortable.

4. Choose a destination with easy amenities.

Even if your destination is close to home, some places are just harder to travel that others. Choose a destination that doesn’t stretch your travel chops too much for your first trip together! Battling language barriers, huge crowds, hot weather, difficult transit, too many location changes, or even hard-to-handle foods can really produce an unpleasant experience. This is especially true if you are not both avid travelers. For your first vacation as a couple, keep it simple!

5. Choose somewhere on both your wish lists.

You want your premier travel experience to be one that you both remember fondly! Your best bet is to choose a destination that both of you have been dreaming of. Since you likely will have activities on your list already, it also makes for easier trip planning!

The Perfect Travel Destinations for Your First Couple Trip

1. an all-inclusive resort in the dominican republic.

The greener half of the island of Hispaniola is popular with honeymooners and beach bums. The Dominican excels at making vacation easy! Its beaches are stunning. The locals are super-friendly. Most everyone speaks English in the tourist areas, and the DR’s laid-back vibe is perfect for the first vacation as a couple. Plus, the Dominican is one of the most budget-friendly places to experience an all-inclusive trip.

If you don’t mind splurging a bit, check in to Tortuga Bay in Punta Cana . There are plenty of beautiful resorts in the area, but Tortuga sits in the center of a 1,500-acre nature reserve, so it isn’t hemmed by other resorts on all sides. It feels secluded, and it was designed by the late Oscar de la Renta to fit into the surroundings, unlike some others. The amenities are top-notch. It’s not the cheapest resort on the island, and an ocean-view suite will cost you around $6,000 for the week, but you will want for nothing. For a cheaper option, if you don’t mind being in the middle of the action, Iberostar Grand Bavaro provides beautiful suites and all the amenities for around $3,000 per week.

2. Adventure in Nearest National Park

The United States is filled with incredible national parks. From the soaring peaks of Olympic NP to the swampy bayous of the Everglades, every portion of The States has something to show off. Choose the national park that is nearest to you and spend a couple of days getting to know each other, surrounded by the beauty of nature.

We wouldn’t suggest doing super long hikes or camping in the backcountry. Getting lost in the wilderness might be a bit too much for your first trip together. Instead, find a nice cabin or hotel room just outside the park and enjoy a couple of days of adventuring. Take a couple of day hikes. Go on a guided wildlife tour. Enjoy sunsets in your hot tub, and spend your evenings under starry skies.

3. A Wellness Retreat in Topanga, California

What could be more relaxing than an entire vacation dedicated to your well-being? Wellness travel is trending at the moment, and fantastic retreat complexes dedicated to all manner of spiritual, mental, and physical health are popping up all over the world, and we can’t think of a better first trip together.

For a well-rounded, minimalist retreat, head for the hill of California and book a spot in Katie Sadler’s Impact Retreat. Not only is the modern facility stunning, but Katie is a no-mess, no-fuss instructor that digs deep and covers it all! Her program includes nutrition consults, fitness routines, spiritual wellbeing, and even fashion consultations. Doing the program together will be an incredible bonding experience, and you will certainly get to know each other on a far more intimate level.

For more information on this style of travel, check out our guide “Wellness Travel and What It Can Do for You.”

4. Romance in Tulum

Tulum is the perfect Caribbean destination for a romantic getaway. Not only does it have some of Mexico’s most pristine and curated beachfront, but the small boutique hotel vibe is just what the relationship doctor ordered. While not very authentic, Tulum is adorable! You can wander the town on rented bikes, take a day trip to swim in one of the cenotes, visit the incredible Mayan ruins, eat at some of the cutest eateries on earth, and just enjoy that Caribbean life.

The flight to Cancun is usually pretty budget-friendly and short. You will need to secure transport to and from Tulum, which can be on the local shuttle, or you can arrange a private shuttle to pick you up at the airport through your hotel. Tulum is loaded with gorgeous boutique hotels in several price ranges. We do recommend that for a romantic getaway you stay in the “hotel zone” on the beach and not in the center of Tulum.

5. The Full Package in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a charming Spanish-Colonial city just a 20-minute Uber from the capital of Guatemala City. It’s a gorgeous little town with loads of tourist activities and romantic ruins around every corner. Antigua is hemmed in by three volcanoes and features panoramic views in all directions. The cobblestone streets are perfect for hand-in-hand strolling. There is a fun chocolate factory to explore and several traditional cooking classes. There are also plenty of options for food of all kinds and several great bars for an evening drink.

Antigua is also a wonderland for adventure lovers. It is one of the best places on earth to hike an active volcano, is in close proximity to watersports on Lake Atitlan, and guided adventure activities are available all throughout the city for great prices!

6. Lazy Days in Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is oozing with Southern charm and romance. Giant live oaks, dripping in Spanish moss, and Antebellum mansions around every turn. It’s a beautiful city with tons of green areas and parks and lots of walking paths. Stroll along the waterfront at sunset. Take a characteristic trolley tour. Enjoy some Southern cooking and craft beer. Shop, dine, and dance on River Street and peruse the local art in Savannah City Market. If you need a bit of a thrill, take your love on a haunted scavenger hunt with Let’s Roam!

Savannah is a stunner, and her laid-back vibe is a great option for a short romantic getaway. Book a suite in the Kehoe House , one of Savannah’s top-rated bed and breakfasts! This gorgeous mansion from 1892 has the perfect location on Columbia Square, in historic Savannah, and they pride themselves on providing the perfect atmosphere for romance.

7. Quiet Time in a Mountain Retreat

There is nothing more relaxing and good for the soul than crisp mountain air! If you and your new partner want to do some rejuvenating, you don’t have to go extreme. Book a cabin retreat in the closest mountain range, and spend a few days in nature. Whether that is the Sierra Nevadas out west, the Ozarks in the Midwest, or the Blue Mountains of the South, you are sure to find the nature is stunning, the atmosphere is relaxing, and hopefully, the company is good too!

Check out this gorgeous lake retreat just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee!

8. A Cultural Experience in Puerto Rico

If you are looking for an international experience without going too far, or if one of you doesn’t have a passport, then look no further than San Juan, Puerto Rico. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, PR has all the amenities you are used to, but with that Caribbean flair.

Puerto Rico provides everything you need for a few days of romance and adventure! The food is tasty! San Juan is full of historical forts and gorgeous architecture. The beaches are gorgeous. The resorts are very comfortable, and there are a plethora of more budget-friendly condos available. The nearby El-Yunque rainforest provides the perfect day trip for ziplining through the rainforest and splashing in waterfalls. The island is a wonderful combination of romantic sunsets, a vibrant culture, lazy beach days, and tons of adventure activities! Plus, it is a short trip and an easy travel destination in all aspects.

Here are our votes for “ The Top 12 Most Unforgettable Airbnbs in Puerto Rico ”!

9. An Easy Escape to Cozumel

The little island just off Cancun, on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, is just about the most perfect first trip destination we can think of. It’s easy to get to, provides budget accommodations, and has plenty to keep you busy while intermingling plenty of romantic walks on the beach. Cozumel has long been a destination for those learning to scuba dive. You can easily take a course together if you are both interested in learning. There are dives ranging from the most basic to extremely advanced, and it is one of the most interesting and varied underwater landscapes on this side of the globe.

Cozumel also has wonderful boutique hotels lining its harbor side, and some of the most stunning wild beaches on earth, on the east side of the island. If you want to keep it purely touristy, then stay along the coast. For a more intimate and traditional experience, you will find local bars and restaurants all over the interior of the island. Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is a wonderful day trip where you can visit a historic lighthouse, hang out on gorgeous El Cielo beach, take a crocodile tour through the mangrove forest, and learn all about the local varieties of tequila!

10. Stunning Landscapes in Otherworldly Utah

Utah is one of the most beautiful locations in the United States. Boasting five national parks, interesting cities, otherworldly, red-desert landscapes, and America’s saltiest body of water, Utah is the quintessential getaway for an active couple!

Spend a day exploring the weird and wonderful Salt Lake City. Take a ride over The Great Salt Lake and peruse Antelope Island, where you can see wild bison herds and float in the lake. Then, wander through the thousands of natural rock arches in Arches National Park. Hike the Narrows in Zion National Park, and meander through the delightful hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. If you love outdoor adventure, then you really can’t beat a few days exploring Utah.

For a little help with our planning, check out “Your A to Z Guide to Visiting Zion National Park.”

11. Fall Foliage in Vermont

Vermont is world-famous for its fall foliage, and it’s about that time of year that your social media will be bombarded with quaint Vermont farms doused in yellows, oranges, and reds. A leaf-peeping road trip sounds pretty romantic to us!

Take a tour of a local cheese farm. Visit the covered bridges of Bennington County. Experience a farm-to-table meal Cloudland Farm , in the cute town of Woodstock. Mount Tom, Mount Peg, and Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield all offer wonderful hiking trails, especially in the fall! Hike all morning, and then reward yourself with local cheese and craft beer. For a fantastic brewery experience, check out the masters at The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe! They have an informative guided tour, a super fun beer garden, and a hearty beer menu. You could really spend a full day at The Alchemist.

For more fall foliage tour ideas, here’s our list of “The Best Places to Travel in Fall for Incredible Views and Adventures.”

12. Hammock Life in Key West

Back to the beach we go, and this time, we head to the most Southern point of the Continental United States, the glorious Key West. Stroll vibrant Duvall street and hop in and out of its numerous bars and cafes. Enjoy a margarita at the iconic Green Parrot Bar . Waste your days away in a hammock by the crystal clear water, or try your hand at Snuba (a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling). Every afternoon in Key West, you are required to partake in a giant slice of Key Lime Pie and a pile of conch fritters, and your evenings will be filled with bar crawls and drag shows.

To see all the best sites Key West has to offer, join us on an app-guided scavenger hunt! Our “Beauty at the End of America” hunt introduces you to Old City Hall, Duval Street, and Whitehead Street filling you in on all the insider details and hidden gems! You will compete with your partner in trivia and funny photo challenges all along the way, which is sure to produce some keepers for the scrapbook!

You’re ready to roam!

That rounds out our top 12 best vacation destinations for your first couple’s vacation. The world is a big, beautiful place, and there are countless destinations to explore, but remember, for your first trip, keep it simple! Choose something easy where you can both relax, get to know each other in a laid-back environment, and have a good mix of downtime and fun activities.

So, which trip are you going to take? We are dying to know! Drop it in the comments so we can all be jealous.

For more tips on how to travel successfully with your significant other, take a look at “ How to Travel as a Couple ,” our comprehensive guide to surviving a trip together as a couple. Our resident full-time travel couple has packed it with all their best tips and tricks for enjoying stress-free travel with your boo!

Frequently Asked Questions

First vacations together are a big deal, so you want to choose the perfect destination! Puerto Rico, Tulum, and a road trip through Utah are perfect first couple’s vacation ideas!

The success of your first “baecation” hinges on choosing the right location. Choose a first couple’s vacation destination that’s easy to get to and simple to travel in like Key West, Cozumel, or Tulum.

Popular couple’s vacation activities include taking a local class, going on a city scavenger hunt , and doing something active together like ziplining or snorkeling.

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The best international trips for first time travelers

It’s a big world, and just thinking about traveling overseas for the first time can be intimidating for anyone. But it doesn’t have to be. If trip planning, language barriers, long flights, or exchange rates are holding you back, we’ve got tips for traveling internationally for the first time. Plus, our experts know the best place to travel outside the U.S., and we'll be with you every step of the way on our guided international tours . It’s time to leave your worries behind and get ready for the best international vacation of your life!

Two photos, one of Travelers singing in a bar in Ireland, the other of the face of Big Ben in London, England

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The Ultimate Japan Itinerary for First-Timers: From 1 to 3 Weeks

A towering, colorful pagoda in the foreground with beautiful Mount Fuji in the distance in Japan

I’ve yet to meet a traveler who didn’t love their time in Japan . It’s just one of those countries that everyone loves. How can you not? The food is carefully crafted and delicious; the history and culture are both rich and long; the landscape breathtaking; and the people super friendly and polite.

Japan remains one of my favorite countries. No matter how long I visit, it’s never enough. I always leave wanting more.

But the country always seems forbidding to many travelers. It definitely still has that “exotic” stereotype that makes people think it’s hard to travel around.

Where should you go? What should you include in your Japan itinerary? Should you buy a JR Pass to help you get around?

To help you out, here are a few suggested itineraries based on my years of visiting that will ensure you see the best sites on your Japan trip — as well as get off the beaten path and get a real sense of Japanese culture!

Table of Contents

Japan Itinerary: Know Before You Go

Japan itinerary: one week, japan itinerary: two weeks, japan itinerary: three weeks.

A bullet train passing the beautiful Mount Fuji in Japan on a sunny day

Just be sure to get one BEFORE you go as you cannot purchase them on arrival. For more information on the pass, including how much they cost and how you can get one, read this blog post . It has everything you need to know!

Mobile Data in Japan In Japan, English isn’t widely spoken (especially outside of the major cities) so having access to the internet is vital for checking addresses, using translation apps, and looking up things to see and do. The easiest way to get data is through an international eSIM for Japan .

An eSIM allows you to access mobile data via a QR code so you can have internet wherever you are, without worrying about physical SIM cards or roaming charges. This will save you a lot of time and hassle when using apps like Google Maps, Google Translate, Instagram, and YouTube. It will also come in handy for checking menus at restaurants (since they are rarely in english).  

The famous Sensoji temple during a sunny day in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Japan

Day 1 & 2: Tokyo Chances are you’ll be starting your trip in Tokyo , since it’s home to the country’s biggest international airport. If your trip is seven days long, activate your JR Pass right away, so that you can take advantage of the free JR trains that run through the city.

While you could easily spend your entire week in Tokyo and not get bored, here are some of the highlights:

Visit the fish market – In 2018, Tokyo’s main fish market moved to Toyosu, which is twice the size of the old one, Tsukiji, making it the largest in the world. While a lot of good restaurants moved too (Sushi Dai being the most famous), I find the place itself very stale, since you can no longer wander the floor (you look down via a walkway above; you also need a visitor’s pass to enter).

The old outer market in Tsukiji is still great though, and you can still find food and stores there too. You can wander alone and just eat and shop until you can’t anymore! Most businesses open at 6am, so it’s a perfect place to go in the morning when you wake up early because of jet lag. Food and drink tours of the Tsukiji Outer Market are available for around 13,500 JPY.

See Sensoji Temple – Sensoji is beautifully painted and sits in a scenic spot near a five-story pagoda and the famous Kaminari Gate. There’s a huge statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, inside the main hall. It’s always busy but is worth seeing with your own eyes. The temple is free to visit.

Drink in Golden Gai – This alleyway of back-street bars is a lively place to drink at night and has a bit of a red-light-district feel to it. It is not to be missed. Even if you don’t drink, be sure to wander about. Arigato Tours offers tours of the area where you’ll learn about the neighborhood while stopping to sample Japanese classics like sushi, yakitori, and ramen. Tours are 23,900 JPY and include a drink and dishes at four food stops.

Visit the Imperial Palace – When the emperor moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, he took Edo for his new residence and renamed it Tokyo. Though you can’t go inside (or get very close), the building is amazing. It is surrounded by lovely grounds and a park, and there’s a moat around the stone walls. You can also see the changing of the guard, though it’s a relatively low-key and unassuming ceremony.

Watch a sumo match – Kokugikan, Japan’s most famous sumo arena, hosts tournaments three times each year. The wrestling that we see today dates to the 17th century, though its origins go back even further, and it’s still one of the most popular traditions in the country. If you’re in town at the right time, this is a must-do! Tickets sell out quickly, so act fast. You can book a ticket online here (you’ll be accompanied by a guide too, so you can learn more about the tradition as it unfolds before your eyes).

If you have more time, consider taking a day trip to Kamakura to see the giant Buddha statue (Daibutsu). It is over 13 meters (42 feet) tall and dates back to the 13th century. The journey is around 90 minutes each way — and free with the JR Pass !

For delicious food, some of my favorite bars and restaurants include: Uogashi Nihon-Ichi (Standing Sushi Bar), Nemuro Hanamaru KITTE Marunouchi, Motodane, Tokyo Whisky Library, Ichiran Shibuya, and Uohama.

WHERE TO STAY IN TOKYO : Hostel Chapter Two – A small, family-run hostel not far from Skytree Station in Asakusa. I really like the shared kitchen and common room, as there’s a real social feel to them.

A narrow, old street in quiet Kyoto, Japan with a pagoda in the distance

With its beauty come lots of crowds though, so try to visit outside of the busy summer months. Even with lots of tourists, though, the city is still magnificent and has a lot to offer. Some things to see and do that you shouldn’t miss are the following:

Visit the Golden Pavilion – This famous (and picturesque) temple dates to the 1950s, when a monk burned down the previous temple (from the 14th century) while trying to commit suicide. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most-visited destinations in the country!

Explore Gion – Gion, the historic geisha district, is renowned as being one of the most iconic and atmospheric areas of town. It’s known for its traditional wooden machiya houses, narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets, and preservation of geisha (known locally as geiko) culture. Lining the main street are ochayas (teahouses where geishas entertain), small shops, and many restaurants, ranging from upscale kaiseki restaurants serving traditional Kyoto cuisine to casual eateries.

To really learn more about this amazing party of town and its past, take a walking tour of Gion . You’ll learn a ton and get a lot of context. They cost around 1,800 JPY.

Wander in the Bamboo Forest – For a relaxing break, head to Arashiyama and let the dense and towering stands of bamboo envelop you. Located near the famous Tenryu-ji temple, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. It’s not that big, but there are some hidden areas to explore. Just make sure to arrive early if you want to enjoy it without the crowds (it fills up fast after sunrise).

While there, I would also recommend visiting the Okochi Sanso Garden, which (along with the home) belonged to the famous Japanese actor Denjir? ?k?chi (1898–1962). It’s not free (it’s 1,000 JPY), but it’s really nice and has some wonderful views.

Admire Ryoan-ji temple – This is my favorite temple in Kyoto. Originally established in 1450 as a residence for a high-ranking samurai, it was soon converted into a Zen temple and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a mausoleum that houses the remains of seven emperors. Its traditional rock and sand garden is considered one of the best in the country. There’s also a teahouse where you can experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony ( chanoyu ) as you overlook the Kyoyochi reflecting pool.

Wander the Nishiki Market Nishiki Ichiba is now one of the biggest indoor markets in town. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and spanning over five blocks, it is full of vendors selling traditional dishes from the region, classic Kyoto souvenirs, and really just about anything else. There are over a hundred stalls here, many of which have been in the same family for generations. Opening hours depend on the shop but are typically from 9am to 6pm.

To dive deeper into Japanese food culture, you can take a food tour of the market . It’s the best way to learn about all the food you’ll see, as well as the market’s history.

For a half-day trip, you can also visit Nara. It’s a small city just one hour from Kyoto. Nara was the capital of Japan in the eighth century, so there are lots of buildings and temples here that are upwards of a thousand years old (which is rare in Japan, due to fires, as well as World War II). But the real draw in Nara are the deer.

Since the 17th century, those in and around the city have been considered sacred. You can buy crackers to feed them or just watch them stroll around carefree. A guided half-day walking tour that includes all of Nara’s highlights as well as a traditional lunch is 11,500 JPY.

While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to Todai-ji. It’s the world’s largest wooden building and is home to a 16-meter (52-foot) Buddha statue. It was built in 738 CE and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission is 600 JPY.

WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO : Backpacker Hostel K’s House – A fun, social backpacker hostel in a great central location. The rooftop terrace is a cool spot to hangout and meet other travelers after a day of exploring.

The iconic, towering Osaka Castle overlooking busy Osaka, Japan on a sunny day

Don’t miss Osaka Castle though. While it’s not the original (this version dates to 1931), it’s nevertheless an impressive sight. It’s home to a small but insightful museum and an observation deck that offers some picturesque city views.

And be sure to stroll down Dotonbori (ideally at night), the main street, which is lined with restaurants, stores, and tons of neon lights and signs. A guided walking tour that includes Dotonbori as well adjacent neighborhoods is 6,500 JPY.

The bombed-out ruins of the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima, Japan

Today, Hiroshima is thriving . Don’t miss the Atomic Bomb Museum, which depicts the history of the city before and after that fateful day. It has photos, artifacts, videos, and information about the effect of radiation on the population. It’s a sobering experience but one that should not be missed.

If you feel like getting out of town afterward, head to Miyajima , an island that offers a place to hike and enjoy nature. You can also take a cable car to the peak of the mountain to take in the view. A one-way ferry ride to the island takes 10 minutes and is free to JR Pass holders.

WHERE TO STAY IN HIROSHIMA : Roku Hostel – A cozy, small hostel with a rustic atmosphere and design. It feels like you’re staying with a friend here, and the beds are super comfy too.

An empty street with glowing lights in Tokyo, Japan

If you like history, don’t miss the Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village, home to a collection of traditional thatch-roof houses that you can enter to further immerse yourself in the country’s past.

This city (and region, really) is famous for its Hida beef, a high-fat variety that’s even better than any A5 Wagyu you might have. It just melts in your mouth. Be sure to have some while you are here!

The Japanese Alps are not far from here as well, so if you love hiking and want to extend your time in the region, head to Kamikochi for a day hike or overnight trip. It’s just an hour away and has both easy and moderate trails, which are open from April to November. Hiking trails can also be found in Hakusan National Park (also just one hour away by car).

The quiet streets of scenic Kanazawa, Japan with locals wearing traditional clothing

One of the more unique temples in Japan is here too: Ninja (Myoryuji) Temple. While the temple wasn’t home to actual ninjas, Myoryuji was built as a defensive structure (strict laws forbade local lords from building defenses, so they were hidden in the temple to circumvent the rules). These include hidden rooms, secret tunnels, and a maze of staircases and halls to confuse enemies.

If you need a break from exploring cities, Hakusan National Park, home to Mount Haku, one of the three holy mountains, is just an hour south of town.

The traditional Japanese castle overlooking Matsumoto in Japan

If you’re here in April, there are incredible cherry blossom displays that are famous in the region. And, just like Takayama, Matsumoto is close to the Japanese Alps, so you’re just a stone’s throw from some of the best hiking in the country.

A red torii gate in the water with lush greenery and Mount Fuji in the background Japan

There are tons of hotels (both modern and traditional) that have their own hot springs (often both indoors and outdoors). It’s the perfect place to wrap up a trip, relax, and take in the views.

In addition to getting a copious amount of R&R, be sure to ride the cable car up the mountain for even more amazing views. The area is surrounded by craters from an inactive volcano that erupted 80,000 years ago (not to be confused with nearby Mount Fuji, which is an active volcano), and you’ll find lots of vendors at the top selling eggs cooked in the sulfurous waters. It’s said the eggs prolong one’s life by seven years, so feel free to give them a try!

If you prefer to hike up instead, the trail is open between July and September, with the trek taking anywhere from 5 to 12 hours, depending on your level of fitness. Typically, hikers leave at night in order to arrive at the summit by dawn. There are little shops along the way that sell food and even beds you can rent in advance if you want to split your journey up. Just make sure you do your research and prepare in advance as it’s a tough hike!

If you really want to play tourist, you can also ride a mock pirate ship around the lake for more views of the mountains, and Mount Fuji in particular.

Full-day tours around Hakone that include all the main sights cost 14,800 JPY.

WHERE TO STAY IN HAKONE : Hotel Green Plaza – With gorgeous views of Mount Fuji, a huge buffet dinner (with both Western and Japanese options), and a private onsen where you can relax and enjoy the view, this is one of the best places to stay in Hakone if you want value but don’t want to break the bank.  

A busy street in sunny, subtropical Okinawa, Japan

Using the suggestions above, here’s how I would organize your itinerary:

  • Days 1-3 : Tokyo
  • Day 4 : Mount Fuji or Hakone
  • Day 5 : Takayama
  • Days 6 & 7 : Kanazawa
  • Days 8 & 9 : Matsumoto
  • Days 10-12 : Kyoto
  • Days 13 & 14 : Osaka
  • Days 15 & 16 : Hiroshima

The sprawling, green landscape of Hokkaido, Japan inside a national park

If you do want to spend a few hours in Hakodate, don’t miss the Morning Market, where you can find lots of fresh seafood. You can also visit Fort Goryokaku, the first “Western”-style fort in the country.

An old brewery in the winter in Sapporo, Japan

Be sure to stop in at the local Beer Museum too, owned by Sapporo Breweries (the oldest beer company in the country). It showcases the history of beer in Japan and how the business got its start. If you’re a whiskey fan, stop by The Bow Bar, home to some rare (and expensive) whiskeys and considered one of the best such bars in the world.

What I love about the city is its location. This region has some of the best hiking in the country. There are plenty of hills and mountains, offering options for both day hikes as well as overnight trips. Some highlights include Mount Me-akan, Mount Asahim, Mount Mashu, and Nishibetsu-dake. For the best views of the city, head to Mount Moiwayama. It’s just a 30-60-minute hike to the top, though there is a cable car you can take as well.

And if you’re visiting in the winter, hit the slopes! There are over a hundred ski resorts in Hokkaido. You can rent skis (or a snowboard) for around 10,000-18,000 JPY. Lift prices are usually 4,000-6,000 JPY per day. In the winter, don’t miss the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s held every February and draws over two million visitors. There are ice sculptures, igloos, live music, and delicious local foods on offer.

Additionally, be sure to take a day trip to Otaru, where you’ll find some of the freshest uni in the whole country (this is the main area where the famed Hokkaido uni is caught). Go hungry and visit the markets, stalls, and shops around there.

WHERE TO STAY IN SAPPORO : Waya Hostel – This is a laid-back, colorful hostel with a social atmosphere that makes meeting people a breeze. It has a homey, DIY feel and is perfect for budget travelers looking for a no-frills place to crash.

The busy streets of Tokyo, Japan near an old temple

There is a ton to see and do in Japan , and you could easily spend another month here and still just scratch the surface (we didn’t even get to Okinawa and the islands!). And while these itineraries are a bit fast-paced, Japan isn’t cheap, so budget travelers need to move around the country quickly to avoid breaking the bank.

But no matter how long you visit, you won’t be disappointed. Japan is an amazing, beautiful, and unique destination that I never get tired of visiting. While it’s not as affordable as its neighbors, there are still plenty of ways to save money , and it’s definitely worth spending the time (and money) visiting. You won’t be disappointed!

Just make sure to get your Japan Rail Pass before you go!  

Book Your Trip to Japan: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner . They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is left unturned!

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive inventory so they are best for booking a hostel. If you want to stay in a hotel or guesthouse in Japan, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancelations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • Safety Wing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think they will help you too!

Be sure to check out the Japan Rail Pass if you’ll be traveling around the country. It comes in 7-, 14-, and 21-day passes and can save you a ton of money!

Looking for More Travel Tips for Japan? Check out my in-depth Japan travel guide for more ways to save money; information on costs; tips on what to see and do; suggested itineraries, reading, and packing lists; and much, much more!

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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Solo Traveler

Solo travel tips, destinations, stories... the source for those who travel alone.

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Travel Solo for the First Time: Complete Guide for Newbies

Janice Waugh

June 7, 2023 by Janice Waugh

a first time solo traveler gazing in awe at her surroundings

You're going to travel solo for the first time. It's a big deal and yet, not such a big deal if you know how.

You likely have some questions.

You may have some concerns.

Don't worry, we're here to help.

For more than 14 years, Solo Traveler has been helping people with solo travel tips for newbies, as well as for those stretching their solo travel muscles to more challenging destinations.

Some people don't give their plan to travel solo a second thought. Others live with anxiety at every stage of the planning process. For still others, their worries only come at the 11th hour. They are about to leave and start to panic.

Having a good sense of what solo travel is like and planning for it will go a long way to easing you into your first solo trip. There is a lot of information on Solo Traveler. In fact, there are over 700 posts about the many aspects of solo travel.

This post covers the basics of how to travel alone for the first time. It will also point you to more in-depth articles on specific aspects of solo travel. If you're in your 20s or 30s, check out this piece on solo travel .

It's my hope that it will help those who are new to solo travel find what they need to go with confidence.

a make traveler with arms outstretched, viewing the green landscape around him

Table of Contents

How to Travel Alone for the First Time

When first-time solo travelers announce their intention to travel alone, they often face a lot of questions from family and friends. The primary one is, “why”? To get this issue out of the way, read about the why of solo travel here .

Now, let's get on to the how.

Preparation for your first solo trip can be broken down into a number of parts. You need to decide:

  • How much you have to spend.
  • Where to go.
  • How to get there.
  • Where you will stay.
  • How long you will stay.
  • How you will travel at your destination.

Huh! Those six decisions look pretty familiar to anyone who has traveled. Yes, much of solo travel is the same as all travel.

However, there is another list, this time of questions, that first-time solo travelers need to consider:

  • Am I ready to travel by myself?
  • How challenging a destination should I consider?
  • Am I comfortable with my own company?
  • Do I want to meet people on my trips or is solitude my objective?
  • What do I need to do to be safe?
  • How do I ensure my loved ones that I will be safe?
  • Am I better to go solo on a group tour or is independent solo travel right for me?

Those seven questions are not the questions that every traveler asks. They are, however, important for those traveling solo for the first time.

Below, we'll get into tips and advice that will help you answer each question.

senior woman standing in front of a map holding a passport, preparing for first time solo travel

Is Solo Travel a Good Idea? Get Ready for Your First Solo Trip

Solo travel is a confidence booster but you have to actually travel solo for that to happen. So how do you gain confidence before you go? I have a few suggestions.

  • Find your cheerleader . When you tell people about your trip, notice who is excited about it. Spend as much time as you can with those people as they will build your confidence. Try to avoid the naysayers.
  • Stop watching crime shows. They are not representative of the dangers in the world.
  • Plan how you will stay in touch with home . The fact that you will stay connected will build your confidence.
  • Find a local contact . Chances are, someone you know, knows someone where you're going. Get the concept of six degrees of separation working for you.
  • Find out if there is a Greeter program in your destination so that you can meet up with a local.
  • Be patient with yourself . Take your time. Please know that even very experienced solo travelers become overwhelmed from time to time, especially at the outset of a trip. It will pass! Be prepared to handle this by reading Feeling Overwhelmed? How to Conquer First-Day Solo Travel Anxiety .

first tour vacation

Best Countries for a First Solo Trip

Your choice of destination for first time solo travel is important. It can make the difference between a successful, confidence-building first trip with a future of many more solo trips, or one with mixed results. I suggest that first trips be to destinations where it's easy to find people who speak your language. In your own language, you'll find it easier to navigate, feel safer, and meet more people.

Certainly you can travel your own country. There is always more to see near home. But if you want to visit another country, as many new travelers do, consider Canada , the United States , the United Kingdom , Ireland , Australia , or New Zealand .

You'll find more specific ideas for where to go on your first solo trip here.  You may also want to read  Best Solo Travel Destinations: Real Solo Travelers Love These,   Best Budget Destinations for Solo Travelers , and Summer Solo Travel: Great Destinations, Good Times Guaranteed .

first tour vacation

Travel Solo but Not Lonely

Solo travel need not be a lonely experience. Many solo travelers say that they meet more people traveling alone than they do when traveling with others. After all, you are not focused on a companion. You are open to meeting people and that makes people feel comfortable approaching you.

However, there are things you can do to make sure you have a social experience. Here are a number of posts that will help.

  • How to Travel Alone Without Being Lonely: 10 Tips & 12 Posts
  • Eating Alone Is Easy When You Know How
  • Expert Tips for Shy Travelers and Solo Travel Introverts

Stay Safe While Traveling Solo

There is so much to be said on this topic, especially when you are traveling solo for the first time.

Here's a link to our  Solo Travel Safety: 50 Tips post that covers just about everything you need to know.

Here are a few basics:

  • Arrive at a new destination well before dark . Daylight gives you a better sense of the safety of a place.
  • Take the business card of your hotel with you when you go out for the day.
  • Don't tell people you meet where you're staying. Your accommodation should be your safe zone.
  • Be prepared to be impolite if someone is bothering you. This comes up in Solo Female Travel Safety: Advice for What Women Worry About .
  • Always have travel insurance . Since I started to travel at 15 years of age, I've always had insurance. Read: A Complete Guide to Travel Insurance for Solo Travelers .
  • Use public Wi-Fi with a VPN. If you're planning to use public Wi-Fi for doing anything that requires security, such as booking a hotel room with a credit card, make sure you have a VPN. Read  Best VPN for Travel: What, Why, How & New Recommendations .
  • Keep your money and credit cards in multiple places . Here's  How to Manage Money While Traveling .
  • Download these safety apps . Here are 10 Solo Travel Safety Apps to give you peace of mind.

Remember, as you travel you're in a holiday mindset and a different culture. Both factors will affect your ability to judge situations. To keep you safe in a variety of situations, it's helpful to be clear on your safety rules before going. And, most importantly, trust your instincts.

female travelers on their first solo trip walking throgh a city on an audio tour

Should Your First Trip Be a Tour?

When does a tour make sense?

  • being alone
  • your safety
  • finding the time to plan
  • missing important highlights
  • navigating new cities
  • getting lost
  • If you want to go to a destination that you consider challenging.
  • If you want to break up a long trip. If you're on your own for a month or more, you may want to include a tour so that you have company for a while and you can relax while someone else manages the details.

Tour companies are not all the same. There are a wide variety of experiences available and a number of things to consider when choosing a tour.

Read  How to Choose a Tour: Top Tips for Solo Travelers.

Taking a tour can be a good way to get an introduction to a destination and help you build your confidence. By adding time on your own at the end of a tour, you can then travel solo independently for the first time as well.

You'll also want to browse our solo travel tours  page or, if you already have a good idea of what you're looking for, use our searchable trips page to get to what you want faster. Solo Traveler is the best source for a continuously updated list of a variety of tour companies offering trips with no or low single supplements. If you'd like to receive it by email each month, you can sign up here .

a woman on her first solo trip smiling from the driver's seat of her car

How to Plan to Travel Alone

If you have decided that you have the confidence, that you are comfortable in your own company, and that you can take care of your safety, you may have decided that you will travel solo independently.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Make a budget . Know how much you can spend so that you plan your transportation and accommodation, the two most expensive aspects of a trip, accordingly. Here's more on creating a budget , along with a handy interactive spreadsheet.
  • K now the basics . Before you leave, be sure you understand the visa requirements and spend a few moments to understand the currency exchange. Make sure your passport doesn’t expire for at least three months after your trip ends as some countries have such a minimum for visitors.
  • Book your flights/trains.  Yes, you check your passport and visa needs first and then book your flights. You don't want to get ahead of yourself, put the money out for a flight and discover later that you have to pay a fee to have it changed. Also, book your transportation so that you arrive before dusk. Everything looks better in daylight and, if your hotel/hostel isn't to your liking, you'll have time to make changes.
  • Book your accommodation. Arriving in a new city, not knowing how it works, and still having to find a place to stay can be stressful, especially when it's your first time traveling solo. Plus, you can end up spending more than you budgeted because you just have to get a place. If you're looking for a hotel, we use and recommend booking.com . Here are a variety of other options: Best Accommodation for Solo Travelers: The Choice is Yours .
  • Study a map. Maps provide a bird’s-eye view of a new destination. They give you a sense of distance between places and, therefore, what’s possible to do in a day. You’ll also get a sense of where the areas are that you want to avoid for safety reasons.
  • Add important numbers to your phone. Research useful apps for your phone and download them when you have free Wi-Fi. While you may not want to stay connected with home as you travel, important numbers should be in your phone before you leave. Get the front desk staff at your accommodation to help you add important local numbers to your phone such as the one for your hotel or hostel.
  • Pack light so you can manage your own things. One carry-on sized bag and a daypack or large purse should do it. Here's how to pack light . A reader recently provided an excellent reason for this from their own experience: “I used the info on your blog about traveling with only carry-on and a small wardrobe when I traveled solo to Peru. Having no checked bag saved me from missing a connecting flight in the Lima airport.”
  • Arrive at the airport, train, or bus station early. Whether it’s traffic congestion or a massive lineup at the airport, many things can slow you down when trying to catch a flight.
  • Don’t plan much for your first day. Take the time to settle in and get to know the city and how it works. Do people line up for the bus? What’s the street food like and where are the busiest stands? What’s within walking distance of your lodging? Take it slow and learn.

first tour vacation

Tips from Seasoned Solo Travelers

Over on the Solo Travel Society on Facebook, there are many experienced solo travelers as well as people who are new to traveling alone. I asked those experienced travelers what tips they would offer a solo travel newbie and here's what they had to say.

  • Annalie   Carry a game with you, like a backgammon set, chess, a pack of cards. People all over the world can become friends over a simple game!
  • Scott   Leave the third pair of socks and the fourth t-shirt at home. Pack more smiles than you think you'll need, and more patience. Take all the expectations out of your pack and leave 'em at home.
  • Pamela   Go to the market while you are traveling. The experience will shed light on cultural, culinary, agricultural, linguistic, and family composition differences. People are always willing to teach you something new and befriend a stranger with a wealth of information. My first experience of this was in Aruba. I saw very little at the market that I was familiar with, but I came out with knowledge and friends.
  • Tony   Join free walking tours whenever you can! It's great for getting to know the city, learning its history, and meeting other backpackers.
  • Laurie   When you travel solo for the first time–or any time, for that matter–spend Day One at your new destination getting oriented: stop at the local chamber of commerce for a free map and suggestions for must-see points of interest; if you ride, rent a bicycle, you'll cover a lot more ground and still be able to see things up close and personal; chat with storekeepers, cab drivers, and servers and ask them their thoughts about their mayor, their favorite place to eat and drink, changes they've seen in the area over the years, and where they would take out-of-town visitors. Spend the rest of your time following up on their suggestions and return to let them know how you fared.
  • Toni   Give yourself the gift of strangers: ask questions, share impressions, get directions. Use Facebook or Twitter to friend or follow for ongoing exchange and learning.
  • Sam   Make sure (wherever possible) that you arrive at your next destination during daylight hours. When you have to find your way from the airport or train station to your accommodation it is much less nerve-racking to do this during the day when you can see where you are going and there are lots of people around and shops open to ask for directions. Once you get to your accommodation you then still have some time up your sleeve to get your bearings, have a look around, and plan where you will start exploring the next day. Plus, if you are staying at a hostel it is good to arrive before people are making dinner or having afternoon drinks as this is one of the best times to get a feel for the place and meet new people.
  • Tracey   Take the time to observe how people interact and how things work. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, on a park bench, or just killing time standing in a lineup, I love to watch locals going about their day. If you pay attention to the little things, you can learn a lot: how to use public transit (and how to conduct yourself on it), whether to pay your bill at your table or at the counter, whether people are expected to line up in an orderly fashion or just jump in where you can, how to tip, or how to hail a cab. I find this particularly useful in a place where I don't speak the language.

first tour vacation

Stories About First Solo Trips

first tour vacation

What is first time solo travel really like? Well, that depends a bit on you, but here are a few descriptions by readers of Solo Traveler.

  • Deborah I was a late bloomer as far as travel goes. I took my first solo trip to Nassau, Bahamas when I was 34. I was nervous at first, but I got there and made so many travel friends. I had a glorious time. I haven’t stopped traveling yet and I’ll be 64 soon. I'm planning another big trip around the world. I'm retired now and will live on the “road” until I decide to come back.
  • Massy On my first solo trip I went to Japan. I am an introverted person and I get very self-conscious about myself (seriously). On January 1, 2013 I posted on my Facebook page the “2013 mission to Japan.” On my birthday in July 2013, I bought a ticket as a gift for myself. I got a lot of questions from friends because no one really went solo. I made it to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It was the most worthwhile and enjoyable experience. It was fascinating to see how communication clashes and cultural differences bring people together. It was just an amazing journey. I learned so much. I met new people. What a journey! It’s addictive.
  • MG I went to Puerto Vallarta and I was depressed. Then I met new friends at the hotel. I didn’t expect to end my vacation having so much fun. This is one good thing about traveling solo. You get to meet new friends that you wouldn’t have if you were in a group.
  • Leslie I had just gotten my professional designation, which took 7 years of exams (post-college) and I wanted to do something big to celebrate. I love to travel, but several of my friends said they couldn’t get the time off or couldn’t afford to go somewhere too far away. I finally decided I shouldn’t be held back just because no one could travel with me, so I booked a camping safari in Tanzania! I love animals and an African safari had always been one of my dreams. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that scared to get on a plane and fly halfway around the world by myself (and to a Third World country, no less). It was exciting! I learned that I’m much more self-sufficient than I thought and that traveling alone can be fun and very rewarding. Now that I know I can travel alone and be just fine, I feel like the possibilities are endless!
  • Zola My first earned vacation out of college I booked a week in Mexico. I loved going on an adventure by myself. I learned a few lessons from first time solo travel that have been useful for my other solo trips I have taken to Bali, Egypt, and Thailand.

If you're looking for even more tips, don't miss The Ultimate Solo Travel Guide: Travel Alone & Love It .

Enjoy your first solo trip!

Sharing is caring!

Publisher Janice: info @ solotravelerworld.com

Editor Tracey: tracey @ solotravelerworld.com

Sales Simon: simon @ solotravelerworld.com

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first tour vacation

The content of Solo Traveler and any resources published by Solo Traveler are meant for entertainment and inspiration only. Please note that while we have advertising clients promoting destinations, products, services, trips and tours on Solo Traveler and that we endeavour to only work with companies in which we have confidence, we are not responsible for the delivery or quality of their products or services. Every person and every travel situation is different. Your safety, satisfaction and fun traveling solo are your responsibility alone and not that of Solo Traveler, its publisher, editor and/or writers.

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A first-timer's guide to Gran Canaria, Spain

Ross Clarke

May 13, 2024 • 9 min read

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Get to know Gran Canaria, the third-largest Canary Island, with this first-timer's guide © Maremagnum / Getty Images

Ross Clarke has recently returned from Gran Canaria where he was researching for the upcoming Canary Islands guidebook (publishing November 2024). Here he creates the ultimate guide to help you start planning your vacation to the Canaries' third-largest island.

When you fly into Gran Canaria or traverse its coastline by boat to dock at one of its ports, you instantly understand why this island has captivated and intrigued people for centuries.

It’s been given the nickname of "the continent in miniature" due to its diverse terrain, and "the land of eternal spring" for its climate. The original inhabitants before the Spanish named it "Tamaran," and their legacy can be seen across the island in remains of their cave dwellings and artefacts.

Gran Canaria is the middle child of the archipelago, having sprung up from the ocean floor about 14 million years ago. It is often compared to its neighbor, Tenerife , but each of the islands has its own merits.

Most people will know Gran Canaria for its beaches and resorts, particularly Maspalomas in the south that encompasses the popular spot of Playa del Inglés . And while the beaches and sunny weather are spectacular, there’s much more to this beautiful island than sand, sun and sea, from incredible history and culture, magnificent sights and natural wonders, to outstanding food and wine.

When should I go to Gran Canaria?

For many years, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria held the title for the city with the best climate in the world. This is because the capital enjoys a temperate year-round climate with little rain and rarely scorching temperatures. Interestingly, Gran Canaria has its own microclimate, meaning that it can have hot, dry, sunny weather in the arid south, chilly, crisp and fresh temperatures in its mountainous center, and humid, hazy vibes in the north.

Gran Canaria is incredibly popular for winter sun, and beaches can be busy with tourists even in January – although you’re unlikely to spot a Canarian sunbathing until after April. Winter also plays host to several celebrations, including one of the world’s largest carnivals in February. These more-than-week-long celebrations take over the whole island and there are parties, parades and plenty of costumes and fun. 

Summer also gets busy when the mercury can hit 30°C (86°F), however, with more than 60km (37 miles) of beaches around the island’s coast, you can usually find a spot on the sand to soak up some rays. Autumn and spring can be good times to visit, and prices tend to be a little lower, places less busy and temperatures ideal for exploring and sightseeing.

A person sits at a viewpoint over a rocky landscape with two significant outcrops rising above the rest

How much time should I spend in Gran Canaria?

Gran Canaria is both ideal for an exciting city break over a long weekend, a week-long beach holiday or an extended stay. In fact, it’s one of the most popular places for remote workers looking to balance work with the laid-back island lifestyle.

If you’re here for a week, you’re probably going to want to hit the beach (and I can’t blame you). While the dunes of Maspalomas are a sight to behold, try one of the quieter beaches such as Melenara near Telde or the remote Playa Güigüí – it’s a bit of a hike but well worth it for unspoilt sand and an all-over tan if that’s your thing! Once you’re suitably bronzed, consider hiring a car and visiting the center of the island. You’ll find fragrant and fire-resistant Canarian pine trees, family-run vineyards, and soaring volcanic monoliths such as Roque Bentayga , which were worshipped by the island’s original pre-Hispanic inhabitants.

If you’re hopping off a cruise ship or here for a city break, the capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – to give it its full name – is Spain’s eighth largest city and exudes a cool cosmopolitan vibe. It’s incredibly foodie and it’s worth indulging in the restaurant scene, from cool Canarian dishes by the beach in Mar Gastrotasca , to fine dining at Muxgo – the island’s first Green Michelin Star restaurant thanks to its 0km (0 mile) food philosophy. Don’t miss the beautiful Las Canteras beach with its natural barrier reef that protects the shore and makes the seawater almost swimming-pool like. The old town of Vegueta and Triana is also worth a visit to wander the historic streets and museums.

Is it easy to get in and around Gran Canaria?

The island has one major airport, Gran Canaria Airport (LPA), located about halfway down the east coast, which covers both international and domestic flights. It’s easy to get from the airport to all major resorts by bus, taxi or hire car. 

The bus network is extensive and reaches all parts of the island. Buses are inexpensive and reliable and run by Guaguas Global . In the capital, you’ll see yellow buses. These run the length and breadth of the city and are operated by Guaguas Municipales . Single journeys start at €1.40.

Car hire is a great way to explore the island. Prices are generally good value although can peak during busy periods so it’s advisable to book ahead. Try using a local company if you can such as Cicar or Tirma . You could easily drive the circumference of the island in a single day, it is so compact, but it’s worth taking your time and planning journeys in advance so you don’t miss anything. Make sure to fill up with fuel before heading inland, as the steep, winding mountain roads can deplete reserves quicker than you think.

From the ports in Las Palmas and Agaete, you can catch ferries and high-speed catamarans to neighboring islands including Tenerife.

Two people carrying backpacks trudge up the steep slope of a vast sand dune

3 of the best things to do in Gran Canaria

1. see the waves of sand.

The rolling, shapeshifting, undulating dunes of Maspalomas should be on anyone’s must-visit list. These mountains of golden sand were here long before any development started in the resorts that now surround the protected space. Over the last few years, the Canarian government has brought in strict regulations for the dunes in order to preserve and protect them. There are several dedicated routes that you can walk that’ll take you to various parts including oases and La Charca nature reserve, a home to migratory birds. For your own bird's-eye views, head to the panoramic Atelier Cocktail Bar on the top of the Bohemia Suites hotel.

2. Climb the the Roques

There are two very famous monoliths in the center of the island, both of which are worth a visit. The Roque Nublo is the more famous, standing at a height of 80m (262ft) and soaring nearly 2000m (6561ft) above sea level. The trek to the rock is relatively easy and takes about 30–40 minutes.

Alternatively, try climbing to the Roque Bentayga . This was the last point of defence for the island’s original inhabitants, and it’s easy to see why as it stands on a plinth with views of the surrounding sunken volcanic crater. Check out the ground at the top, there are carvings and holes in the stone that are still a mystery to historians.

3. Wander the old town of Las Palmas

No visit to the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is complete without a stroll around the beautiful historic streets of Vegueta. Take a trip up the bell towers of the imposing Catedral Metropolitana de Santa Ana de Canarias to get views over the city, sea and surrounding rooftops. Nearby, stop at the Museo Canario to learn all about the island’s original inhabitants and visit the rather creepy skeleton room containing many real examples of their mummified and skeletal remains. Finish with a visit to Terraza Belvédère to enjoy a local wine on the rooftop overlooking the Santa Ana Square.

A row of colorful houses leading down a street to a small church

My favourite thing to do in Gran Canaria

I’m a sucker for a good market, and in Gran Canaria you’re spoilt for choice, from craft and artisan pop-ups to food and agriculture. One of my favorites, that I used to go to regularly when I lived in Las Palmas, is the weekend market in Vega de San Mateo. There are two giant warehouses that are full to the brim with stall holders. One is for crafts and but the other (which is my favorite) is the agricultural one. I love nosing at the stalls and chatting to the stallholders who often give you little taster of their baked goods or let you sniff spices. There is usually a stall selling truchas de batata – sweet potato pasties – that I devour in an instant. It’s also a good place to pick up non-touristy souvenirs such as seeds, herbs and sauces.

My other favorite is the weekend market at Teror. This town is famous for two things: the church dedicated to the island’s patron saint, Virgen del Pino; and chorizo de Teror , a sort of spreadable chorizo paste. You’ll find countless stalls selling bocadillos (rolls as big as your head) slathered in chorizo de Teror and fresh cheese.

How much money do I need for Gran Canaria?

Gran Canaria can be relatively cheap if you avoid the obvious tourist traps. The currency is the Euro (€) and most places take credit and debit cards. Over recent years cash has been on a decline, but it’s worth carrying some Euros in case you need them, especially in less touristic and developed areas.

  • Hotel room: €50–250 per night
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): €75–100 per night
  • Bus ticket: €2.50
  • Coffee: €1.50
  • Tapas for two: €25–40
  • Beer/glass of wine: €3
  • Bottle of local wine: €15–30

Is this a family-friendly destination?

Canarian people adore children, and you’ll find families socialize together from grandparents to babies until all hours. And don’t be surprised if Canarios talk to your children before they speak to you – the island is extremely family friendly.

Is Gran Canaria good for gay travelers?

Gran Canaria is one of the most popular destinations for the LGBTIQ+ community. The island and islanders are incredibly open, and it is a safe environment to be yourself. Each year there is a famous Winter Pride in Playa del Inglés, centered around the Yumbo Centrum – the world’s only LGBTIQ+ shopping center – where you’ll find bars, shops, restaurants and clubs.

What is the calima ?

Some days in Gran Canaria, you might find that the air is very hot and yet it’s foggy or misty. This is known as the calima – the hot winds that blow over from the nearby Sahara Desert carrying sand dust in the air. While it won’t hurt you, it can make temperatures and being outside unpleasant.

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solosophie

A Step by Step Guide for Planning Your First Solo Trip!

By: Author Sophie Nadeau

Posted on Last updated: 2nd March 2023

Categories Solo Travel

Last Updated on 2nd March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

If you’re looking to book your first solo trip, then this post was made for you! Whatever your reasons for deciding to go it alone, taking a solo adventure is one of the most fun ways to travel and you likely won’t regret it. Here’s a step by step guide for planning your first solo trip ; tried and tested solo travel tips , tricks, and practical advice included…

Planning your first solo trip: considerations, tips, tricks & practical advice for your first time travelling alone!

How I got started with solo travel

Decide on your destination, practice solo travel at home, have a few plans in place in advance, consider a group tour.

  • Pack light(ish)

Always have several travel funds at the ready

Confidence, exploring & nerves, keep in touch while you’re away, keep multiple copies of essential information, research your accommodation in advance, read up about any scams/ dangers of a place, get travel insurance, never keep all of your money in the same place, never keep your various ids in the same place, never drink too much alcohol, keep an eye on your drink (all your drinks- not just the alcoholic ones), don’t trust people too easily, arrive somewhere during the day, research where you’re going, buy travel insurance before you go, look after yourself (and give yourself breaks), keep in touch with friends and family, you’ll get to know yourself better, you’ll have great stories (that only you will be able to tell), you’ll become a better problem solver, you’ll appreciate your own company, you’ll learn a new language quicker, you can do whatever you like, whenever you like, you’ll meet more people, you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone (and that’s a good thing), you’ll learn self-discipline, your self confidence will improve, you are in charge of the budget, it’s fun; enough said, enjoyed reading this step by step guide for planning your first solo trip pin it now, read it again later:.

When I was younger, I was scared to even walk to the next aisle of the supermarket without my Mum. I would never have imagined that I’d have the courage to stay in a  hostel on my own or move to a new country by myself or even be writing about solo female travel hacks!

Solo female travel has been on the rise the past couple of years and it’s only set to increase even more as we decide to see the world on our own terms. Now, exploring my home town or even heading to a new city for a couple of nights solo doesn’t daunt me.

10 Reasons to Visit Cyprus on your next trip to the Eastern Mediterranean! Here's what you need to see and visit in one of the best islands. Sandy beaches, amazing food, and UNESCO historical sites in Cyprus!

How to get started with solo travel

Not all travel destinations are created equal and nor are all destinations as easy to visit as one another. First things first, you’ll need to decide on your destination. And it doesn’t have to be too far away either. Instead, pick somewhere where you think you might feel comfortable visiting.

Maybe you speak a little of the local language, perhaps you have friends or family in a city nearby. If you want to get out of your comfort zone but are feeling a little nervous, then selecting a destination that’s not 100% out of your usual life is the way to go.

travel quotes by women

Once you’ve decided on your destination, before you even book anything, practice at home first! What I mean by this is try to go to dinner on your own (here are my best tips for dining alone ) , watch a movie in your local cinema or take yourself around a museum solo. Basically, get used to travelling by yourself within the environment you’re used to. It may sound silly but it totally works!

In fact, it’s at this point, before you’ve decided to go away, that you might realise you’re not sure if you want to go it alone. While nerves are normal, as is feeling a little awkward about being by yourself  (I still get nervous before trips!) , you might realise that travelling alone just isn’t for you.

One of my best friends hates travelling alone. It’s not that she can’t do it or anything. It’s just that she literally doesn’t like it very much. Instead, the joy in travelling for her lies in sharing the experience with the people she cares about. And that’s totally fine! Solo travel isn’t for everyone and that’s obviously okay.

first tour vacation

While it can be daunting, scary and downright exciting to arrive in a destination with  literally  no plans, when it comes to your first trip, you may well want to plan a few elements in advance while in the comfort of your own home.

Perhaps plan to reserve a hotel/ dorm room for at least the first night of your trip and plan how you’ll reach said accommodation. Having an itinerary for when you arrive will take a lot of pressure off the ‘solo’ aspect of your trip.

Hameau de la Reine

If you’re still not sure about going it alone, then a group tour is a great way to go on your own but with all of the nitty-gritty details planned out. My first ever solo adventure was a trip to a destination I’d been dreaming about ever since I was little (two weeks across many of the highlights of Italy ).

However, as a teenager on my first solo trip, I was incredibly nervous about going it alone (and this was in the days before travel blogs/ travel YouTubes were ‘a thing’) .

Instead, I opted to join a group tour where I’d have travel companions and an already set itinerary built into the framework of the trip. In the end, I had a whole load of fun, made lots of friends, and it gave me the confidence to plan my whole next solo trip entirely on my own!

Ruined and abandoned Church of St Peter the Poor Fisherman, Revelstoke, South Hams, South Devon, England

Pack light (ish)

When travelling, you barely ever use as much as you think you need. This is especially important to remember when you’re going alone and there won’t (necessarily) be anyone to help you with your luggage!

Make sure to pack light (perhaps even going hand luggage only ) and make sure that you’re able to easily move your baggage around on your own. Only take what you need and lead everything but the necessities back at home.

Wearing layers and creating a capsule wardrobe for your travels can also vastly reduce the number of things you need to bring with you. When it comes to packing, look up clothing guides online (Pinterest and search engines are a great place to start) so that you’ll be able to dress like a local and blend in as much as possible.

Consider purchasing a phrasebook in the local language of where you’re visiting, as well as printing off some maps of the area you’re going in case your phone runs out of battery/ breaks/ etc. And while we’re on the subject of travel gear, make sure that all of your bags have zips and well-concealed pockets in which to place your valuables.

Le Stanze del Cardinale Review, Pavia Hotel and B&B accommodation, Lombardy, Northern Italy

On my recent solo trip to the South of France , I decided to just travel with one form of payment (my debit card) which I’ve also done on plenty of occasions before. I also had a £5 note and €2.75 in change.

Needless you say, you can guess what happened next. The very first machine I put my debit card into in a train station damaged by card! Literally,  the first time I tried to use my card while abroad on that trip.  

For the rest of the trip, I was too worried to withdraw funds from any ATM as they often swallow damaged cards. This also meant that every time I went to pay for something, I just hoped my contactless (and now temperamental chip and pin) would carry on working okay.

Luckily it did! Anyway, my silly/ self-inflicted mistake demonstrates that it’s important to travel with at least two different cards (one debit, one credit) as well as some cash.

While you don’t want to carry around too much cash, having around $50 hidden somewhere away from your main bag and on your person (think in your shoe/ bra) is always a good idea for emergencies. Lesson learned!

Orangerie Paris

On your first solo trip, it’s only natural to be nervous. When you’re walking around, stroll with confidence and look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.

You know, fake it ’til you make it! If you do need to get out your phone/ map to check you’re headed in the right direction, then going into a coffee shop to go through your bag is likely your best bet.

If you're looking to book your first solo trip, then this post was made for you! Whatever your reasons for deciding to go it alone, taking a solo adventure is one of the most fun ways to travel and you likely won't regret it! Here's a step by step guide for planning your first solo trip

Today, with data being cheaper than ever, and with WiFi available in coffee shops, bars, hotels, and airports throughout the world, keeping in touch with people back home couldn’t be easier.

You can even make use of apps such as ‘Find My’ by Apple that allow approved people (for me it’s my parents) to check the location of where your phone/ laptop is at any given time.

Give a friend/ family member/ partner your itinerary before you leave and plan to check in with them every so often. If something does happen and you don’t get in touch, then your friend/ family member/ partner can alert the relevant people.

With this being said, don’t post your live location on social media. This is particularly important if you’re travelling on your own. I always wait a couple of days after leaving a place to update my social media with where I’ve visited. That way, I’ll be long gone before the time that I say I’ve been in a place.

A quick guide to the best things to do in Clervaux, a quaint town in northern Luxembourg, central Europe. Best things to do in the pretty city of Clervaux; abbey, castle, museums, and views!

One of the key travel tips I could give you in this beginner’s guide to solo travel is to keep multiple backup copies of essential information such as family/ friends’ numbers, local emergency numbers in a small booklet in case your phone gets stolen.

I also recommend having a photocopy of your passport/ travel insurance handy to leave with someone back home in the event that you lose your belongings or they’re stolen.

Whether you’re staying in a hostel or opting to splurge out on a special hotel, if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my years of travelling alone it’s that there are plenty of times where the accommodation you’re expecting looks nothing like the photos! As such, be sure to always read the reviews before booking somewhere to avoid dissapointment.

Visit Beziers: Planning a solo adventure in the south of france: tips, tricks, practical advice, and where to visit for a historical trip in Southern France, Europe!

I don’t say this to put you off going on your first trip, but it’s essential to plan well in advance before visiting a destination in order to get a feel for any dangers/ scams that might be in place before you arrive.

For example, while Paris as a solo traveller is fairly safe, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fair amount of petty crimes and common tourist scams . In the same vein, I recommend always travelling with a crossbody bag as it is harder to pickpocket.

Perhaps this is a surprising way to make the most of any trip, including your first solo trip but it is probably the most important. I often hear people saying ‘If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel’.

And to be honest, they’re probably not wrong. Having travel insurance ensures peace of mind and can help you to avoid potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Even the healthiest person can have accidents and you never know when.

With travel insurance, you can carry on exploring, snapping photos ( check here for my best tips to take photos of yourself as a solo traveller ) and making new friends, safe in the knowledge that, should the worst happen, you’re covered. Because let’s be honest, no one wants to come home with a tourist t-shirt, let alone $100,000 in unpaid hospital bills!

All in all, solo travel is really fun but your safety is still the number one priority. And while I’m on the topic of safety, make sure you have travel insurance!

Villefranche-sur-Mer seen from a distance

Essential solo female travel tips

If your wallet is stolen and it’s your only source of money, then it’s going to be a lot harder to do things. Keep some emergency money hidden in your bag in a place like underwear, a sock or within a book. The point is to have funds spread over multiple locations, as opposed to just in your purse!

On this note, you should also be sure to have multiple forms of payment, such as multiple credit cards and some cash available. This way, if one of your cards is lost, stolen, breaks, or is blocked, then you’ll have some emergency backup money!

Same theory as the money (but probably way more important depending on where you are). If your wallet/ bag is stolen, then you’ll also lose your only ID.

I’d recommend taking photocopies of your important identification and leaving multiple copies at home with friends and loved ones. Similarly, if you’re travelling with multiple bags, leave a copy or two in each bag. 

2020 Goals & What's Next for solosophie?

Of all the solo travel tips I could give, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you get super drunk and have no idea what you’re doing, no one is there to look after you. Even worse, there are always bad people around who will be actively looking to prey on your vulnerability- especially as a woman.

When travelling solo, I’ll limit myself to a maximum of one glass of wine with a nice meal. I could probably drink more and be fine but it’s just not worth the risk. It’s also worth noting that I implement this policy both at home and abroad. 

You should obviously always watch your drinks when you’re at home but this rule especially applies when you’re abroad and might not even speak the language.

Never accept drinks from people you don’t trust (read below). This also goes for previously opened tins and bottles of water/ coca cola etc.

I always buy my own bottled drinks and carry them with me. If I were ever in a bar, I would make sure to watch the barman too (some friends have horror stories about this). Like I said, you can never be too careful, especially when you’re voyaging alone!

The Broken Arm Coffee Shop in Le Marais, Paris, France

I’m not saying that you should lock yourself away and never talk to anyone. Some of the best people I’ve met were in bars in Paris, cafés in Italy and across Canada.

However, this doesn’t mean to say that everyone who’s nice to you is actually a nice person. Keep your wits about you, your valuables close and never ever ever get drunk around people you’ve only just met.

As a woman travelling alone, there are some policies and personal solo travel tips that I always try and stick to, no matter what the destination.

For example, arriving in a new city can be daunting, even when you’re with a travel partner. Arriving at night can be downright terrifying and it can be much harder to find your bearings post dusk. As such, I always plan to arrive in a new destination during the day.

It’s important to look up a city before you go. Print off maps and addresses or write them down somewhere. Technology can (and often will) fail when you need it most so it’s important to make sure you don’t rely on it too heavily. 

Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the local language, make sure you have at least a simple phrasebook. Be wary of any tourist scams that take place in the area you’re visiting (read more: 5 Parisian Tourist Scams and how to avoid them ).

This tip really isn’t just for solo female travellers, but a relevant travel hack for everyone. If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Even if you’re the healthiest person in the World, you still never know when accidents can happen. 

The town of Amarante

Of all the solo female travel hacks listed here, looking after yourself is arguably the most important.  Take regular breaks and don’t let yourself get too worn out or tired. Make sure to keep eating plenty of healthy fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water.

When I was in Canada, I ended up with a kidney infection due to not looking after myself properly. I had no one to remind me to look after myself but me and I didn’t pay enough attention.

If you’re taking any medication (including contraception), make sure that you bring enough to cover your trip and more in case your trip gets extended for any reason. 

The main rule that underlies all these hacks is prevention is better than cure. Also, it’s always important to remember that tour safety and health is always more important than material possessions.

Make sure that someone knows where you are (whenever you can) . If you’re travelling to a new city or staying in a new hostel/ hotel, let someone back home know and make a point of telling your loved ones when you’ll be checking in with them.

That way, if the worst does happen and you don’t check in, then someone is looking out for you and knows all the details of your last movements.

amalfi coast

Reasons to travel alone

The cry of a baby piercing my eardrums. The sweet smell of salty air whipping through my hair. And the warm feeling of the sun on my skin. All sights, smells and sensations I experienced while travelling Europe alone for the first time a few years ago.

So do you fancy going solo this year? Do you want to have these experiences (and more) while exploring the world on your own for the first time? Here are some very good reasons to travel alone!

Of all the reasons to travel alone, this is probably the best excuse to go. If you go alone, you’ll get to know yourself better and quicker than with any other method of travel.

Without the constant compromise of travelling with a companion, you’ll quickly get to know your favourite travel styles (adventure? luxury? budget?), as well as your favourite foods and methods for forming friendships.

Sure, you can’t do that thing with your friends where you say “remember that time when…?”, but you’ll have equally great stories to tell, if not better when you venture out on your own. After all, the stories you’ll be able to tell will be unique, yours, and yours alone.

When you’re travelling alone, you  and only you can solve any problems you might encounter. From language barriers to securing accommodation while travelling, going solo forces you to stand on your own two feet and become a better problem solver in the process.

Burrator Reservoir: visiting the prettiest body of water in Dartmoor National Park, Devon, England: edge of the lake

Bar distractions from your phone and constant social media notifications (disable these- you’ll thank me later!) , when you travel alone, you learn to love and appreciate being your own best friend. You’ll quickly figure out the easiest way to eat alone and the art of dining for one.

You’ll soon realise that it’s not embarrassing rocking up to a restaurant, enquiring for a table for one, and pulling out that book everyone told you that you ‘must read’!

Learning to appreciate your own company is one of the best skills you can get from travelling alone, and it will teach you that there’s always a way of curing boredom, you need only search for the key!

If the purpose of your trip is to improve your language skills , then there is no easier way to hone those abilities than to completely immerse yourself in a country where that language is spoken.

Without the company of friends, family or even a partner, you’ll be forced into speaking the language that much quicker- which can only ever be a good thing.

When you travel with someone else (even if it’s your partner/ best friend) , then you always have to compromise. But when you travel alone, you can be a little selfish at times. Fancy a little lie in one morning? Do it.

Equally, if you fancy getting up incredibly early and experiencing a solo sunrise, then go for it! Similarly, you can budget or splurge as much as you want each meal time- and no one can judge you for it.

The thing is, when you’re travelling solo, you can really do whatever you like, whenever you like, and this includes the myriad of opportunities waiting for you should you opt to sit back and people watch in a café!

learning to let go

Travelling alone doesn’t have to equal lonely. Instead, it provides you with the perfect opportunity to make plenty of friends, all over the world.

Without a group of people to chat to when you reach your hostel, instead, head to the common room area and get chatting with fellow travellers.

You’ll soon make fast friends with new people, and maybe even get great recommendations for the best takeouts and must-see spots in town while you’re at it.

Being pushed out of your comfort zone will ensure that you become more confident and able in your abilities to do your own thing, make decisions and stand firm in them.

When you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to increase your horizons and contemplate things you’ve never even considered before.

Just remember that travelling alone is safe, you should still take safety precautions everywhere you go- especially if you’re a solo female traveller.

el cotillo cove

With no one else reminding you that you have to be at the airport at a certain time to catch your flight, or that it’s now time to hydrate as it’s been a little while since you last drank some water (and no one wants to get sick or dehydrated on the road).

Self-discipline is a valuable skill that will translate into all other areas of your life; work, family, friendships- and it’s the kind of skill you’ll easily acquire if you choose to go alone this year.

You may not notice this at first, but soon enough, your self-confidence will improve and you’ll soon discover that you’re able to do much more than you ever thought you could.

After all, after exploring cities on your own, taking flights solo, and you’ll soon be rewarded with opportunities you never thought were previously possible!

Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, Quebec

Though booking solo rooms can be a tough pill to swallow when you’re used to splitting the cost of a room with a partner or friend, you can easily make up for this by setting your travel budget as to what you actually want to do.

If you want to splurge on a fancy meal you can. Alternatively, if you’d rather pinch the pennies then this is also perfectly possible. The point is that when you travel alone, you alone are responsible for the travel budget and there’s no need to compromise!

If there’s only one reason you give yourself to give solo travel a try this year, remember this one thing:  solo travel is fun.  And if you take the plunge and decide to go solo travelling this year, it might turn out to be the very best decision you make this year!

best solo female travel tips

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.

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A beginner's guide to visiting Puerto Rico: Everything you need to eat, see and do

Victoria M. Walker

Puerto Rico is beloved by travelers around the world, and for good reason.

From bioluminescent bays, pristine Caribbean beaches and lush forests to historic streetscapes, a vibrant local food scene and fascinating cultural attractions, each region of Puerto Rico offers visitors a distinct experience.

And there's simply never a bad time to visit. Better yet, you can often find cheap nonstop flights to both San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) and Aguadilla's Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) on the stunning northwest coast. If you're traveling from the U.S., you don't even need a passport or have to change your money.

It's a perfect tropical weekend getaway from the Eastern Seaboard; you can board an early morning flight and enjoy lunch and a pina colada with your toes in the sand.

In short: Paradise awaits.

first tour vacation

Where to eat and drink in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a wonderful destination for foodies. Along the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, you'll find gourmet cuisine served in elegant, historic townhomes rubbing shoulders with atmospheric hole-in-the-walls that serve traditional fare.

Following Hurricane Maria, restaurants became ever keener to support local agriculture and celebrate food that is grown entirely on the island. The result is farm-fresh, hyper-seasonal cuisine infused with Creole, Taino and Spanish influences.

The much-loved national dish is mofongo — deep-fried mashed plantains served with a side of seafood or meat and chicken broth soup. Among the best places to try it are Santaella in San Juan and Mi Casita in Pinones.

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Lechon — a whole pig roasted over a fire for at least four hours — is another hearty mainstay of traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Around an hour's drive south of San Juan, dozens of lechoneras dot the famed Ruta de Lechon, or "Pork Highway," where trays of succulent, tender pork are served at communal tables, usually accompanied by copious cold beer and live music.

If you want to graze on authentic local delicacies beachside, head for Luquillo (near El Yunque National Forest), where more than 60 kiosks ranging from rustic beach bars to full-service restaurants serve authentic Creole cooking as well as Latin American signature cuisine.

A colorful pit spot while exploring San Juan's trendy Santurce district, Alcapurria Quema is a no-frills Santurce locale that's one of the best places to try Puerto Rico's ubiquitous local snack, alcapurrias: deep-fried fritters made from plantains (or grated yucca) stuffed with flavorful beef, pork or fish.

Fine dining in Puerto Rico

If you want to splurge, San Juan has plenty of upscale dining venues.

Located inside the elegant Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919 is widely hailed as the best fine dining restaurant in Puerto Rico. Helmed by Juan José Cuevas, who worked at the Michelin-starred Blue Hill in New York, menu highlights include scallops with organic mushrooms, kale and sunchoke, as well as robalo (snook) with pistachio, local white beans and dill. For an unforgettable dining experience, opt for the chef's menu ($199) accompanied by sommelier-selected wine pairings. Make a reservation, dress the part and enjoy every moment. It's one of the island's most expensive restaurants, but worth it.

Vianda 's stylish midcentury modern-style bar and sleek, moody dining room draw well-dressed locals with its innovative mixology and farm-to-table cuisine. Vianda means "root vegetable," and the small, seasonal menu riffs on Puerto Rico's rich culinary heritage while showcasing the island's incredible bounty of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs. Start the evening with a Corazon de Melon ($15) cocktail, made with tequila, watermelon, cucumber, mint and rosemary, followed by a signature entree such as the Mar y Tierra, a rich medley of cod loin, crispy pork belly, mussels, sofrito butter and white beans ($44).

Most epicureans will have heard of Marmalade , the internationally renowned restaurant credited with putting Puerto Rico on the foodie map. It remains one of the best gourmet dining experiences on the island. Iowa native chef Peter Schintler deftly blends indigenous and international ingredients to produce a truly memorable five-course prix fixe menu ($135 per person). It changes frequently, but menu classics include local organic rabbit with black olive garganelli and grilled ahi tuna with peanut-miso broth.

Chef José Santaella 's namesake restaurant is a lively, fun place to dine on nouvelle Puerto Rican cuisine with family and friends. The edgy industrial decor (it used to be a hardware store) contrasts with the menu's vibrant "tropical creole" gastronomy. Arrive early for cocktail hour and try a Lady Bullet (Woodford Reserve bourbon, fig marmalade, lavender syrup, orange bitters and lime juice; $16) and stay for the duration, grazing on delectable small plates, including wagyu sliders ($26), grilled Spanish octopus ($32) and escargot ($18).

What to see and do in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a ton of sightseeing you'll want to add to your itinerary, too.

El Yunque National Forest is just 45 minutes from San Juan and is the only tropical rainforest on U.S. soil. It's famous for its incredible hiking, an abundance of waterfalls and endemic wildlife.

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There are just five bioluminescent bays in the world, and Puerto Rico is home to three: Bahia Mosquito, Laguna Grande and La Parguera. To access Puerto Rico's bio bays via kayak or paddleboard, you'll need to paddle through dark mangrove channels — signing up with a tour operator is definitely the way to go. Most companies operate two tours each night, at sunset and 9 p.m.

The protected wildlife reserve of Bahia Mosquito is located on Vieques, an island municipality a short flight from San Juan. Famed for its picture-perfect crescents of sand, boutique hotels and crystalline waters, Vieques is the quintessential Caribbean idyll. Boasting the highest concentration of phosphorescent dinoflagellates (plankton that make the water sparkle with just the touch of a hand), Mosquito Bay is the brightest of the world's five bio bays.

For travelers with limited time, Laguna Grande is the most accessible bio bay in Puerto Rico, less than an hour's drive from San Juan on the northeast coast. What sets Laguna Grande apart is that the bay is actually a lagoon nestled within an area of spectacular natural beauty.

Puerto Rico is replete with gorgeous, sandy beaches. Near Luquillo, La Pared is an often deserted stretch of almost golden sand. The beach town of Naguabo, in the southeast corner of the island, is also incredibly quiet, and palm trees frame the soft, sandy beach and turquoise water.

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Ponce is Puerto Rico's second-largest city. Located on the island's southern coast, it's chock-full of history. Be sure to check out Plaza Las Delicias, which has a cathedral as well as an old firehouse (Parque de Bombas) that's now a museum.

Museo de la Musica Puertoriquena has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. Here, you'll find traces of Taino, Spanish and African influences. You'll also learn about Puerto Rico's musical history, which you can now hear throughout other parts of the Caribbean, the mainland and around the world.

Where to stay in Puerto Rico

Hyatt regency grand reserve puerto rico.

Fresh from a multimillion-dollar face-lift, this 579-key beach resort reopened in 2019 as the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve.

Rooms (starting at 520 square feet), suites and villas are contemporary and inviting, with simple wooden furnishings, marble floors, a white-on-white color palette and furnished terraces and patios. Bathrooms feature rainfall showers with separate tubs and Pharmacopia toiletries.

Beyond the hotel's natural assets — a beautiful white-sand beach and 72 acres of flamboyant tropical vegetation — amenities include a lagoon-style pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a luxurious spa, two Tom Kite-designed 18-hole championship golf courses and several upscale restaurants serving everything from Pacific Rim cuisine and sushi at Nori Asian to prime cuts of beef and seafood at Prime 787, a contemporary American steakhouse.

The hotel can arrange a number of activities nearby, including horseback riding, an all-terrain-vehicle excursion at nearby Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park and hikes through El Yunque National Forest.

Rates at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve start at $300 or 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort

The rambling 255-key Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort is the only Hilton hotel outside of the San Juan area.

While rooms are rather spartan and generic, they have an inviting beachy vibe with a green-and-white color palette, light wood furnishings, tiled floors and balconies with ocean views (in most rooms). Comfort-enhancing modern touches include coffee makers, minifridges and flat-screen televisions.

At this amenity-rich, family-friendly resort, there's plenty to keep adults and children entertained, including two expansive pools, a 27-hole championship golf course, a miniature golf course, tennis courts, a playground and a splash park. It's also home to one of the largest casinos in Puerto Rico and four restaurants: El Bohio, La Cava, La Terraza and Sancho's Sushi Bar.

While it isn't the splashiest Hilton property in Puerto Rico, it's a great base for exploring Puerto Rico's southwest coast.

Rates at the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort start at $230 or 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort

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Located between El Yunque National Forest and Espiritu Santo River State Preserve, The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort places guests within striking distance of two of Puerto Rico's top attractions.

Designed by Puerto Rican fashion designer Nono Maldonado, the spacious (and completely refurbished) accommodations channel a breezy Caribbean aesthetic with a serene white-and-cream color palette, abstract artworks and sleek, modern furnishings.

However, it's the luxe details and exquisite service that really set this property apart. There's the cozy pillow-top bed dressed with a cashmere throw, the marble spa-style bathroom with a centerpiece deep soaking tub that's stocked with luxe Frette bathrobes, and, of course, the St. Regis' private butler service.

A surfeit of amenities include a beautifully landscaped swimming pool, a lavish spa, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course and three acclaimed restaurants.

Rates at The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort start at $695 or 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Puerto Rico's most exclusive resort, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve , combines unbridled luxury and impeccable attention to detail with a sustainable ethos. Built by the Rockefeller family in the 1950s, it remains a magnet for tycoons, celebrities and, these days, cryptocurrency investors.

Nestled on a glorious 2-mile beach amid a riot of mature tropical vegetation, beautifully appointed rooms and suites are equipped with every creature comfort imaginable and assigned their own private butler. Standard rooms are huge (they start at 1,000 square feet), while deluxe suites also feature private plunge pools.

The resort's amenities are, as you'd expect, exceptional. There are two gorgeous pools fronted by swaying palms, three Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf courses and one of Puerto Rico's finest restaurants: Coa, a culinary homage to the region's Taino roots. A roster of family-friendly activities includes the signature Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment program.

Rates at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve start at $1,995 or 170,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Related: Puerto Rican renaissance: A review of Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

The details

Getting there.

If you're interested in visiting Puerto Rico, flights are plentiful. There are more than 120 nonstop flights between the island and major mainland U.S. cities, according to Discover Puerto Rico . That means you can fly nonstop between the island and cities like New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Chicago. Most of the nonstop routes are to San Juan.

While the cheapest available flights to Puerto Rico typically range from $300 to $600, you can pick up deals with both legacy carriers as well as low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines .

Of course, a cheap deal isn't the only way to get to the island.

You can easily use points and miles to get you from major cities to Puerto Rico. American Airlines , for example, offers off-peak MileSAAver awards from 17,000 miles one-way in economy or 59,000 in business class.

With United Airlines , expect to spend between 20,000 and 65,000 miles for a one-way ticket from cities like Newark and Chicago.

But perhaps the best way to use points to visit Puerto Rico is through JetBlue .

first tour vacation

On JetBlue, you have several destinations beyond San Juan to consider. For instance, you could fly round-trip from New York to Aguadilla for just $274 or 23,000 TrueBlue points in August this year, or to Ponce for $386 or 31,000 TrueBlue points round-trip.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to JetBlue at a 1:1 ratio, but this might not be the best use of your Chase points .

JetBlue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards as well, but TPG doesn't recommend transferring Amex points to JetBlue because of the limited value you'll get. Additionally, points transfer at a weak 250:200 transfer ratio.

You can also transfer Citi ThankYou Rewards to JetBlue, though the transfer ratio isn't great — either 1:0.8 or 1:0.5, depending on which Citi card you have.

Do you need a passport to go to Puerto Rico?

Nope! Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, so you don't need a passport or a visa to visit if you're a U.S. citizen. Just bring your state ID and you'll be good to go.

Getting around

Ride-hailing Uber is the only ride-hailing app that made its way to Puerto Rico and survived the pandemic. The mobile app is equally as effective as it is on the mainland and is very popular with locals for its competitive rates (compared to local taxis), efficiency and reliability.

Taxis Within San Juan, taxis are frequent, reliable and comfortable; look for white cabs labeled Taxi Turistico. Designated taxi stands are located at key tourist points in San Juan (including cruise ship piers, major hotels, Plaza de Armas and Plaza Colon). Taxis operate a fixed-rate system according to specified zones, but they can be pricey. Once you leave the metro area, it becomes increasingly expensive to travel between towns.

If you plan to stay in neighborhoods like Old San Juan, you probably won't need a car, Uber or taxi since the area is pretty walkable.

If you're a public transportation geek like me, make sure the Tren Urbano is on your radar. It's an 11-mile rapid transit system that serves San Juan, Guaynabo and Bayamon. The trip between Bayamon and San Juan is just 30 minutes, and the one-line train system has 16 stops; it passes through the University of Puerto Rico as well as the Santa Rosa shopping mall. It's very affordable, too: A regular fare is just $1.50 and if you're between the ages of 60 and 74, just 75 cents. Better yet, if you're 6 years of age or younger, or 75 or older, it's free.

Renting a car in Puerto Rico is pretty straightforward with all the major rental companies to consider, including Avis, Enterprise and Hertz, each of which is located at the airport.

The best times to visit Puerto Rico

The majority of hurricanes in Puerto Rico typically occur between August and October, while hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the U.S. National Weather Service . Notably, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017.

Many people I spoke with on the island said, "Summertime is all the time" in Puerto Rico, with temperatures hovering in the 80s daily. If you're trying to avoid the infamous daily Caribbean rains, you'll want to plan to visit between January and March, as precipitation is low .

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If you want to avoid the hordes of people traveling during spring break but still want to visit before hurricane season kicks in, the spring is the best time to score flight and hotel deals. As an added bonus, you'll have the beach all to yourself.

Bottom line

Puerto Rico has come a long way since Hurricane Maria in 2017 and Fiona in 2022. Let it be known that the island is open for travelers — and eager for the business. From beach resorts to landmarks, excellent food and great hospitality, there's something for everyone who makes the short flight down to visit.

Related reading:

  • The best hotels in Puerto Rico
  • 8 reasons to visit Puerto Rico in 2023
  • Best points hotels in the Caribbean
  • Start booking your summer trips now — here's why
  • The 26 best Marriott hotels in the world

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Monte Argentario in Tuscany, Italy—one of the cheapest destinations to head this summer?

As Google reveals that one of its most popular travel search trends is currently 'cheap summer vacations', there are lots of ways that travelers can find ideas to travel for less.

This is particularly important as Bloomberg reports that the post-pandemic travel boom, merged with curbs on hotel construction, overtourism and restrictions on Airbnb in many cities, is sending hotel rates sky high, especially in Europe.

It's also clear that travelers might be feeling the pinch. Vacasa, the home rental platform found that while 4th July and Memorial Day will be the big summer travel weekends, its poll suggests that some people have shifted their travel plans or planning behavior to be more budget conscious (81% of respondents), driven significantly by higher cost of living and inflation (74%).

Ways To Find Cheap Summer Vacations

Bloomberg recommends ignoring Instagram feeds for overhyped, over-expensive destinations and instead hitting places under the social radar for cheap summer vacations —in Italy, this might be the picturesque Costiera Cilentana, an hour from the Amalfi coast or the stylish but under-developed peninsula of Monte Argentario, just 90 minutes from Rome's Fiumicino airport.

If Italy still seems like too much on the beaten European track, Romania's travel star has been rising for a while, hot on the heels of the much-beloved (and still relatively cheap) Albania .

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Aurora alert: why you now need to pack a bag for sudden solar storms, leak reveals an etf perfect storm could be heading toward bitcoin after 6 trillion fed inflation flip unleashed a crypto price boom.

There are also alternatives to the hotel for cheap summer vacations. Bloomberg reports that European hotel rates have increased 50% since 2019, according to market researcher CoStar Group, so maybe a boat would be better value.

Alternatively, HomeExchange, the home swap website, allows members unlimited exchanges for only $220 per year, meaning you can travel relatively cheaply but also visit places that might not be quite so crowded this summer.

The U.K's Telegraph also advocates finding some of the nicest youth hostels or staying in a mountain bothy in Britain —these are remote shelters in some of the most breathtaking hills and woods across the U.K. that are free to use for just an annual subscription of $32 from The Mountain Bothies Association. There are similar refuge schemes across Europe in the most spectacular places—many also run a basic menu for breakfast and dinner.

Change your mode of travel for cheap summer vacations. Though there are cheaper ways to fly (the London to New York route remains one of the most competitive, if you are available to fly at any time) but one of the most inexpensive ways to travel on holiday this summer might be by train.

The Telegraph lists several examples, notably Eurostar tickets if you book a long time in advance (around $50 one-way)—it's sometimes easier to find deals if you book to Brussels and not London to Paris. The 51-hour rail journey from Chicago, Illinois to Emeryville, California can be had for just under $100 if booked in advance.

Inter-railing across Europe can be cost-effective or you can take the train on a 28-hour, 1,300-mile journey from New Delhi to Goa for just $13 (first class is only $67)—and it can cost less than a dollar to travel across parts of the Himalayas.

Change your mode of finance for cheap summer vacations. One final way of limiting the damage is to use multi-trip travel insurance (if you travel often) and definitely go for a bank card that doesn't add on charges for overseas use and find one that charges lower fees when transfering between different exchange rates.

Alex Ledsom

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You can escape the downtown Nashville crowds here: Local hidden gems

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From overlooked roadside attractions to offbeat museums and obscure natural wonders, Local Hidden Gems will showcase some of the unique and unexpected treasures that make America extraordinary. We will emphasize charm, surprise and delight.

Local hidden gem:  Radnor Lake, Nashville

Downtown Nashville, among the city’s most popular tourist destinations, is known for its symphony of twangy guitars emanating from the windows of honky tonks . But visitors who are looking for some peace and quiet don’t have to go far.

Radnor Lake State Natural Area and State Park , about a 25-minute drive from Lower Broadway, offers a far more muted soundtrack courtesy of its wildlife. That includes owls, waterfowl, otters and more throughout its 1,389 acres (and counting).

Roughly 10 miles from Nashville’s urban center, Radnor feels a world away. You could spend much of the day there if you want, but it’s just as easy to duck in for a quick walk or find a place to perch and watch the water.

Learn more: Best travel insurance

Radnor is free to visit and open all year from 6 a.m. until 20 minutes after sunset. The park offers more than seven miles of hiking trails flanked by wildflowers, mosses and fungi. Visitors can also jog, ride bikes and stroll with pets where there is asphalt or gravel.

Local hidden gem: A perfect symbol of resistance in New York

The park’s Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center – a short hike from nearby parking areas – hosts open houses on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Self-guided tours offer a chance to see birds of prey, snakes and turtles.

Pro tip: Parking can fill up quickly, so consider taking a rideshare.

Address: 1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN 37220

More information: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/radnor-lake

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at [email protected].

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People sit on small outdoor wooden decks, under red umbrellas and a green tree canopy, next to a gentle river.

Now One Fast Train From Tokyo: Culture, Crafts and Hot Springs

A new high-speed train stop unlocks Kaga, a destination for onsen, nourishing food and traditional crafts, as an easy-to-reach getaway from Japan’s capital.

A riverside cafe pops up from spring through fall on the Kakusenkei gorge in Yamanaka. Credit... Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

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By Hannah Kirshner

Hannah Kirshner lives in Yamanaka, Japan, and wrote a book about the people crafting and cultivating the town’s culture, including sake brewers, woodworkers and foragers.

  • May 17, 2024

At the southwest corner of Ishikawa, a verdant prefecture hugging the Sea of Japan, traditional craftsmanship thrives alongside contemporary art and architecture in the small towns that make up Kaga City.

Three of these towns — Katayamazu Onsen, Yamashiro Onsen and Yamanaka Onsen — are famous for their onsen, or hot springs. In centuries past, monks and merchant seamen made pilgrimages to these restorative waters. The 17th-century haiku master Matsuo Basho even penned two poems during a visit.

Japanese tourists still flock to Kaga’s onsen towns every fall, when the leaves turn fiery and snow crab is in season. But few foreigners find their way here, in part because the journey from Tokyo has not been easy.

That changed in March. A new extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, the high-speed train that rockets passengers from Tokyo to this region, now includes a stop at Kagaonsen station. The trip takes less than three hours on a single train.

When I first came to Kaga in 2015, the journey took two trains and nearly four hours from Tokyo. There was little English signage at the station and Google Maps didn’t yet list the (infrequent) local buses.

I had come to apprentice at a bar in Yamanaka, where I met people who craft wooden bowls, brew sake and make paper from mountain shrubs. Enchanted, I returned to write a book about how their work weaves into the vibrant local culture and community; by the time it was published, Yamanaka had become my home.

I set out earlier this year to be a tourist in my adopted home, looking for places that express the unique character of each of Kaga’s three onsen towns.

A large, steamy window reveals a view of a large body of water that is glowing in a yellow hue. The sun is low in the sky.

Katayamazu: Where retro meets modern

In Kaga, public bath houses (segregated by gender) are so ingrained in daily life that many homes were built without a shower or bath. I lived for a time in such an apartment, enjoying the daily ritual of showering among the softly echoing voices of neighbors and soaking in a communal pool of onsen water shrouded in steam.

Katayamazu , a fading red-light district, is the least traditional of Kaga’s onsen towns. Its public bathhouse, a glass and steel box, gleams along the edge of Shibayama Lagoon. The building was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi — the architect of New York’s Museum of Modern Art expansion — as part of a revitalization effort. It stands in contrast to Katayamazu’s dated hotels and shuttered shops, remnants of an exuberant domestic tourism boom from the ’60s through the ’80s, followed by decades of economic stagnation .

I frequent the bathhouse on odd-numbered days, when women get to bathe on the side overlooking the lagoon. In winter, it’s possible to spot migratory Mandarin ducks gliding across the reflection of snow-capped Mt. Haku, the tallest peak in Ishikawa. A cafe upstairs overlooks the same panorama, but I prefer the coffee across the street at Mie Coffee , served in local pottery. (Like many small businesses here, they take irregular holidays, so check their Instagram for hours.)

I stayed one night at Besso , a spare but cozy inn converted from a massage parlor, and walked along silent streets to a bar called Kikko , a 1970s time capsule with stained glass windows draped in red velvet, jazz and soul albums decorating the walls and a record player in the corner. The barman, 85-year-old Tokio Kameya, jokes that “even I am retro now.”

A group of amateur sumo wrestlers were wrapping up a karaoke party as I sat down. Kameya-san poured me a Japanese whiskey over perfectly clear ice and played a bossa nova record as he tidied up. He told me his bar caters to locals (it is cash only, no written menu, and no English spoken) and he doesn’t think Katayamazu has much to offer tourists. But to me the town’s charm is its anachronistic mix of modernity and kitsch.

Yamashiro: A meditation on art and fish

Onsen go hand in hand with ryokan, Japanese inns where guests luxuriate over elaborate seasonal meals and soak in mineral-rich baths. On my birthday in January, as snow blanketed Yamashiro, I checked into Beniya Mukayu , a 16-room ryokan tucked into the woods.

Guests who stay at least two nights can book experiences with artisans — making paper, shaping Japanese sweets or roasting tea — but I would happily spend days of quiet contemplation in the ryokan’s communal spaces. I hardly saw anyone as I soaked in a hinoki-wood onsen that frames a vignette of swaying bamboo, its rustling leaves harmonizing with the sound of running water.

On a map of the garden’s 13 varieties of moss, I recognized the spare typography of the designer and thinker Kenya Hara (best known as the art director of Muji, the Japanese retailer). Beniya Mukayu’s owners, Sachiko and Kazunari Nakamichi, share with Hara a decades-long friendship and exploration of minimalist Japanese aesthetics.

Later, while other guests trickled into the ryokan’s dining room for crab shabu shabu and duck hot pot, I stalled in the entryway, mesmerized by Hara’s kinetic sculpture on permanent display. Beads of water spun across a white lotus-like disc and disappeared into a small black hole described as a ho-sun, a Zen term referring to one’s mind.

In Yamashiro’s town center, I followed the trail of another artist, Kitaoji Rosanjin , a sought-after engraver and calligrapher who came to Yamashiro to study ceramics in 1915 (his pottery is now in collections around the world). I visited a cottage called Iroha Souan , where Rosanjin stayed and carved signboards for several nearby ryokan; guests of Araya Totoan can view his work, including a painting of a crow composed of loose brush strokes, in the ryokan’s lobby.

Next, I took a dip at Kosoyu , a bathhouse rebuilt to look as it did during Rosanjin’s time. Sunlight poured through stained glass onto Kutaniyaki tiles, Kaga’s style of brightly painted porcelain. (Kosoyu is for soaking only, so it’s best to arrive freshly bathed; there are showers at Yamashiro’s main public onsen across the street.)

Rosanjin was known as a gourmand as much as an artist — he became the creative force behind an exclusive restaurant , pairing ceramics and food — and he was said to have enjoyed the exceptional freshness and variety of ingredients in Kaga. These days, tourists and locals line up for unpretentious 2,000-yen lunch sets (they could easily cost five times as much in Tokyo) at Ippei Sushi . On a recent Friday, the chef, Yukio Nimaida, showed me three kinds of local prawns he’d sourced early that morning. The rice he uses, a bouncy sweet cultivar called Koshihikari, grows nearby in paddies fed by clean mountain water.

I asked Nimaida-san what he hopes visitors to Kaga will experience. “Hot springs and fish,” he said. “That’s all you need, isn’t it?”

Yamanaka: A pathway through woodlands and lacquerware

With Kiku no Yu public bathhouse at its heart, Yamanaka’s downtown stretches along one side of the Kakusenkei gorge. On the other side, a peaceful walking path meanders beside the icy aquamarine river; I walk there often, especially in spring, when wildflowers emerge from lush tufts of moss.

Yamanaka is also known for wooden tableware and teaware finished with lacquer made from the sap of urushi trees. The best of this lacquerware is not for sale in the souvenir shops along the main street but is on display in small museums and in service at tearooms, bars and ryokan.

One such place is Mugen-an , a house-turned-museum near the south end of the Kakusenkei walking path. Its shoin-style architecture — including paper doors decorated with gold and rare spalted persimmon-wood railings, naturally streaked with black — reflects the status of its original residents, a former high-ranking samurai family.

In early May, I brought friends from New York to Mugen-an to sip matcha — the same bright green as the new maple leaves outside — and admire displays of tea ceremony utensils decorated in maki-e, lacquer illustrations dusted with precious minerals.

A scenic hinoki-wood bridge, Korogi-bashi, leads back toward town. Up a steep stone-paved side street next to a shrine is Washu Bar Engawa (the bar I apprenticed at when I first came to Yamanaka), where sake and food are served in an exquisite collection of local lacquerware and antique pottery. Last time I stopped by, I drank from an elegant horse chestnut cup made by the craftsman Takehito Nakajima specifically to suit the local sake, Shishi no Sato . On any given night, there’s a good chance of running into a few craftsmen at the bar.

It’s not easy for tourists to access craftspeople’s studios, but at Urushi-za , a lacquerware showroom, visitors can make an appointment to tour the attached training institute — where students learn every step from forging their own tools to applying maki-e — and even try shaping a bowl by applying a sharp gouge to a fast-spinning piece of wood on Yamanaka’s unique style of lathe.

The most immersive experience of Yamanaka’s distinct culture is a stay at one of its high-end ryokan, like Kayotei , where the owner, Masanori Kamiguchi, has spent decades cultivating appreciation of local crafts and ecology among his guests. Across the street, the young proprietors of Hanamurasaki ryokan, Kohei and Manami Yamada, pursue a similar vision. And visitors don’t have to stay overnight to reserve afternoon tea in their sabo, a tearoom designed by the Tokyo-based restaurateur and designer Shinichiro Ogata to feature locally quarried stone and Japanese paper, along with teaware in shades of charcoal and porcelain.

“I believe that in order to pass down something traditional it has to fit into modern life,” Kohei-san told me. Manami-san added: “Ryokans have always been cultural salons.” This kind of hospitality encourages patronage of local crafts, and brings new people and ideas to small towns. Visitors who come on the extended Hokuriku Shinkansen can be part of that legacy, helping Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu thrive.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024 .

Open Up Your World

Considering a trip, or just some armchair traveling here are some ideas..

52 Places:  Why do we travel? For food, culture, adventure, natural beauty? Our 2024 list has all those elements, and more .

Mumbai:  Spend 36 hours in this fast-changing Indian city  by exploring ancient caves, catching a concert in a former textile mill and feasting on mangoes.

Kyoto:  The Japanese city’s dry gardens offer spots for quiet contemplation  in an increasingly overtouristed destination.

Iceland:  The country markets itself as a destination to see the northern lights. But they can be elusive, as one writer recently found .

Texas:  Canoeing the Rio Grande near Big Bend National Park can be magical. But as the river dries, it’s getting harder to find where a boat will actually float .

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Strategically located in Jumeirah Village Circle, our hotel epitomises urban resort living in the vibrant heart of Dubai. This unique destination offers a seamless blend of city excitement and serene beachside relaxation, just minutes away from Soluna Restaurants and Beach Club on the iconic Palm Jumeirah. Here, you become part of a thriving, sustainable community, enjoying our large pool, exquisite dining options, and a calming spa to ensure a comfortable and memorable stay.

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My family booked first-class 'apartment' seats for an 8-hour Etihad Airways flight. I can see why the private airplane rooms cost $6,000 a pop.

  • My family of four used travel points to book a first-class flight on Etihad Airways.
  • The luxurious "apartments" typically cost $6,000 a person, but we paid about $33 each.
  • It was great, from the personalized check-in process to the amazing meal and  in-flight showers .

Insider Today

My husband is a frequent business traveler, so we're constantly trying to maximize his travel points to pay for some amazing trips for us and our two kids.

Flying has been hectic and nightmarish lately, but letting the best redemption opportunities steer our travel plans has led to more comfortable and luxurious vacations.

Last year, my husband and I planned our family of four's most epic trip yet: flying around the world on 11 different airlines across four continents over 70 days.

Booking Etihad Airways' first-class "apartments" for our flight from Abu Dhabi and London was easily the best redemption of the trip.

Here's what it was like.

We redeemed our travel points to drastically reduce the cost of our tickets.

first tour vacation

We have lots of American Airlines points through the company's AAdvantage program, and Etihad is one of its partner airlines .

Although finding award availability on partner airlines can be challenging, the values can be tremendous. In our case, we took advantage of our family's flexible schedule to find last-minute unsold inventory, which is often released just days before the flight.

If your travel plans allow you to book (or, in our case, modify) your flights last minute, you can often find multiple seats on these "unicorn" flights.

The first-class apartment seats we booked on Etihad typically cost more than $6,000 per person. But we redeemed 62,500 AAdvantage miles (and paid $33 per person) for our flights.

We checked in early in the morning.

first tour vacation

Instead of the typical airport check-in lines, Etihad's first-class area had sit-down desks with concierge-level services.

Traveling with children can be stressful, but being in a quiet terminal with a personalized experience made it incredibly easy and enjoyable.

From there, we went to the first-class lounge.

first tour vacation

We were booked on the final flight using the "old" lounge at Zayed International Airport as Etihad was moving to a new terminal later that morning.

The employees were happy and accommodating, even if the energy seemed bittersweet as they prepared to shut off the lights behind us.

There were fewer than 10 guests in the airport lounge , and we found the service impeccable. After enjoying a fantastic made-to-order breakfast, we had coffee and a mimosa (for the adults) while relaxing before boarding.

We couldn't believe how awesome the apartments were.

first tour vacation

The single-passenger apartments on the A380 have closing doors, a three-seater couch that converts to a bed, and a comfortable recliner chair.

Since we booked only a few days in advance, we had less control over seating choices . It was a bit of a struggle at first because we didn't want to end up too far away from our kids.

Luckily, once we boarded, the flight attendants helped move the children to adjoining rooms near us. There were only two other people riding first class, so it wasn't very difficult.

The freebies and perks continued on the plane.

first tour vacation

Before departing, we each got a set of comfortable pajamas and slippers.

The adults also enjoyed another complimentary glass of Champagne, and everyone made their lunch selections from the extensive menu.

My husband and I got our own little date on the flight.

first tour vacation

The flight attendant asked if my husband and I wanted a "date" for our in-flight meal , which involved setting a table for two in my husband's apartment.

We started with caviar and more bubbly, then my husband had the Arabic mezze and I had the burrata. Both appetizers were exceptional.

For our mains, we both had the well-prepared beef tenderloin. A cheese selection, chocolate, and more wine followed, and everything was amazing.

Lunch was the main event on this flight, but another simple meal was served about an hour before landing in London.

Once we finished lunch, our couches were converted into beds.

first tour vacation

Once lunch was over, the attendants came around and converted all of our couches so they were completely reclined.

Our kids were very excited to eat their ice cream in bed.

The flight was eight hours, and the comfortable beds allowed us to get a couple of hours of sleep.

My husband and daughter opted to try out the shower in the sky

first tour vacation

Passengers in the apartments can reserve free shower times at the beginning, middle, or end of the flight.

My husband and daughter both chose to end their flight with a shower. During their 30-minute time slots, they each got five minutes of hot water — which could be paused at any time.

Overall, this was an exceptional way to redeem our points.

first tour vacation

The Etihad apartments are one of the most luxurious commercial flight options in the world.

Although it took planning, flexibility, and a little luck, I think this was an incredible use of our travel points.

The value of paying about $30 for a $6,000 experience alone had me sold, but every aspect of our trip was outstanding — from the check-in process to the in-flight meals.

I highly recommend it if you ever have the chance (and the points).

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    Having a good sense of what solo travel is like and planning for it will go a long way to easing you into your first solo trip. There is a lot of information on Solo Traveler. In fact, there are over 700 posts about the many aspects of solo travel. This post covers the basics of how to travel alone for the first time.

  16. 30 World's Best Places to Visit for 2023-2024

    Paris. #1 in World's Best Places to Visit for 2023-2024. France's magnetic City of Light is a perennial tourist destination, drawing visitors with its iconic attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and ...

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    First-timer's guide to Fuerteventura. May 13, 2024 • 9 min read. A chilled and stunning Canary Island, Fuerteventura is packed with fun things to do and see. Start planning your trip now with our first-timer's guide.

  18. A Step by Step Guide for Planning Your First Solo Trip!

    Keep multiple copies of essential information. One of the key travel tips I could give you in this beginner's guide to solo travel is to keep multiple backup copies of essential information such as family/ friends' numbers, local emergency numbers in a small booklet in case your phone gets stolen.

  19. First Timer's Guide

    Take a scenic 20-mile drive from the center of downtown and discover this tranquil commercial tea garden - the only in North America. Explore the 127-acre farm on foot or via trolley - and don't miss the factory tour to see the tea from leaf to bag. Before departing, stock up on Plantation Peach Tea for a sweet souvenir.

  20. A beginners guide to visiting Puerto Rico

    Most companies operate two tours each night, at sunset and 9 p.m. The protected wildlife reserve of Bahia Mosquito is located on Vieques, an island municipality a short flight from San Juan. Famed for its picture-perfect crescents of sand, boutique hotels and crystalline waters, Vieques is the quintessential Caribbean idyll. Boasting the ...

  21. AFC Vacations

    Affordable First Class guided travel. & cruise experiences since 1982. Contact Us. 8787 Complex Dr, Ste. 130, San Diego, CA 92123. 858-481-8188 or 800-369-3693. [email protected]. Connect With Us. AFC Vacations specializes in First Class guided travel and cruise experiences. Our friendly staff & included Home Pick-up Airport Service ...

  22. Luxury Train Travel Packages

    Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Botswana Safari. 2025 Mar Apr Sep Oct. 14 days from. $7,395 pp. View Details. Show all 16 tours. From the untamed wilderness of South Africa to the emerald mountains of the Scottish Highlands, luxury train trips combine deluxe amenities with unbelievable routes.

  23. Affordable Summer Vacations 2024: How And Where To Travel For Less

    Inter-railing across Europe can be cost-effective or you can take the train on a 28-hour, 1,300-mile journey from New Delhi to Goa for just $13 (first class is only $67)—and it can cost less ...

  24. Amtrak Vacations®

    When you travel on an Amtrak train, it's so much more than just getting to your destination. It's stretching out, relaxing, and watching breathtaking scenery go by. It's simply a better way to travel. ... "First Amtrak Vacation to ever book, and Sean's expertise made the whole experience seamless. He was able to provide details of what ...

  25. Should I use a travel agent to book a cruise? What to know

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  26. A peaceful escape near Nashville: Visit this local hidden gem

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  27. For Japanese Hot Springs, Visit 3 Charming Onsen Towns in Kaga City

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  29. She flew a record-breaking US flight

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