How I Prepared for My Solo Trip to London
Preparing for a solo trip is an exciting, yet somewhat nerve wracking experience. If you’re traveling internationally, it’s worse, because there’s so much to think about and do. It becomes very daunting and intimidating to think about all there is to do in order to prepare for a solo trip, especially an international trip.
When I had made the decision to visit London in 2022, I knew I had to start preparing in 2021. COVID was still part of our lives and countries took extra precautions with international travelers. Though I was hoping England’s restrictions would change for American travelers, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
My head was hurting at the thought of taking my solo trip to London during this pandemic. There was so much research I had to do beforehand that I didn’t need to do 7 years ago when I studied abroad in London. It made me feel very anxious and doubt if I would even be able to travel to London. Especially since I had plans to go in 2021 but COVID prevented that (thanks a lot, COVID).
After taking a few deep breathes, I knew I had to create a plan of action to calm my anxiety and gather my swirling head into more cohesive thoughts.
Related Post: Visiting London: Day 1 – Arrival in London
Tips to help with travel anxiety during COVID
What I was experiencing was something I’ve dealt with before. The travel anxiety was real and it was even more debilitating, because of the pandemic and possible risks associated with traveling at the time. I created a post a while ago about overcoming travel anxiety. This post gives you 5 Tips For Overcoming Travel Anxiety. While this post is a basic outline of general techniques on how to deal with travel anxiety, this was written without taking COVID into account.
I wanted to share some other things I’ve used to help with my travel anxiety during COVID. Since 2020, I’ve been traveling throughout the pandemic (when it was safe to do so). I’ve developed a few strategies which have worked for me and may work for you if you’re experiencing travel anxiety.
1. Take a deep breath
Find a moment to take a deep breath. Trying to prepare for an international trip when COVID is still around, with the potential for travel plans and restrictions to change at any given time, can be stressful. Breath in, breath out.
2. Create a plan of action
A plan of action is a list of actions you plan on taking in order to achieve a certain goal. This is the bulk of your planning and prepping phase for your trip. The reason for creating one is to not only create a “how” to prepping for your trip but to also give you some structure. Having a thoughtful, organized plan of action will provide a visual goal, a sense of direction for preparations, and can reduce your anxiety levels.
For me, writing down my thoughts and organizing them into a plan of action really helped with preparing for my solo international trip! It made me less anxious, because everything was visually written down in front of me. I could clearly see what I wanted to do, needed to do, and how to do it in a given time frame.
3. Do your research ahead of time
This goes without saying, particularly with solo international trips, is to do your research ahead of time. The type of solo trip you take, the location, activities, and all that good stuff will contribute to the amount of time needed for research.
Research for my solo international trip to London in March of 2022 commenced during the fall of 2021. This occurred somewhere between October or November. I wanted to give myself about 4 to 5 months time to research about international travel to the UK. This is because, at the time, travel restrictions were still in place but not as strict at they were before. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
Since I’ve been to London before, I didn’t do a lot of research as it’s a familiar place to me. However, I still did all the research I could on traveling to England during COVID. You may have to take more time to do your research for the country you’re looking to travel to.
Depending on the restrictions, visa requirements, vaccination(s) needed, etc., plan on doing research on international travel about 2 to 6 months in advance. You might need even more time than that, up to a year in advance. Why?
- Because there may be a series of vaccines needed for the country you’re traveling to.
- Getting boosters (especially for COVID) in an allotted time frame.
- Ensuring your passport is not set to expire within 6 months to a year of international travel
The last thing you want to do is arrive in the country only to be turned away, because you didn’t meet the requirements. It will make preparation for your solo international trip easier, more efficient, less stressful and anxiety inducing.
Related Post: Do Your Research!
4. Create trackers for travel
Let’s face it, international trips involve so many elements and it’s hard to keep track of it sometimes. Even during the preparation phase, you can easily lose track of your research, information, itinerary, activities, or anything else. This leads to more anxiety than you’d care to have when preparing for your international trip.
To help reduce or manage your anxiety, create a travel tracker for your trip(s). Whether you like to keep records electronically or physically, having a travel tracker is beneficial! It’s a way to stay neat, organized, and structured with your trip!
5. Sign up for travel notifications
Nowadays with COVID in the picture, a lot of countries and travel apps have travel notifications which you can enable. That way, you’re always up to date on the latest travel information regarding COVID. This takes some of the anxiety and unknown out of international travel. Why? Because you’re being notified in real time about upcoming travel changes regarding COVID.
When I was preparing for my trip to London, I went onto the UK’s travel website and signed up for their travel notifications regarding COVID. I got emails, sometimes daily or weekly, about upcoming changes to COVID restrictions and travel. This took a HUGE weight off my chest, because there was no guess work needed. If changes were going to occur, I was prepared and updated on that prior to my trip.
6. Create a to-do list
This goes hand in hand with creating that action plan I talked about earlier. While an action plan is the overall plan or goal you’re working on, a to-do list is there for the minor details of the prep work. The to-do list can be a daily, weekly, or monthly list of tasks and things you need to do to prep for your solo trip. However, I recommend having a daily or weekly to-do list (this depends on your trip). To-do lists can be incorporated into your action plan and will help with task completion.
After I created an action plan, I then wrote down weekly to-do lists of things I needed to research, buy, or do in order to achieve my travel goal. Whether you’re going on an international solo trip or not, to-do lists give you some peace of mind and organization. At least for me, it did just that while I prepared for my London solo trip. I could feel my anxiety melting away as my action plan, to-do lists, and prep work all came together.
7. Give yourself time
Planning for a solo trip is stressful and exhausting. Just throw COVID into the mix and it’s a recipe for burnout and anxiety. Know your limits and give yourself some time and space to decompress or take a break. While planning a travel trip is exciting, you need to incorporate built in breaks in your prep process.
I was extremely excited to prepare for my solo trip to London! Yes, I spent days and even weeks researching and preparing for my trip. However, the more prep work I did, the more anxious I felt about international travel. I began to worry about the “what ifs” and how I wouldn’t be able to go to London. Or, if I did end up in England, how I wouldn’t be allowed into the country, because I didn’t meet one of the new entry requirements.
So, I purposely took several days or a week off from planning and prepping. I had to take a step back from that process to calm myself down. Thankfully, because I started my preparations months in advance, I had more time to give back to myself.
8. Expect the unexpected – plan accordingly
One of the things I do, which personally helps me with my travel anxiety, is to create back up plans. I try to expect the unexpected, that way I’m not so caught off guard if things happen.
Realistically speaking, there are going to be moments where you’re caught off guard and have to adapt accordingly. That’s part of the travel game and I understand that. However, if you’re able to foresee different outcomes to situations and plan for those, it can reduce your anxiety. This way, you’re prepared to tackle (almost) any situation thrown at you.
9. Be optimistic but realistic
Last but not least, be optimistic about your solo trip but also be realistic. As I’ve mentioned before, COVID is unfortunately still here and has effected tourism and the travel industry. With that being said, always think positive and be optimistic about your travel plans. At the same time, remember the circumstances of the world, your own personal situation, and know that things may change.
When I was preparing for my trip to London, I was very optimistic about visiting in 2022. After having my plans canceled and postponed due to COVID though, I knew that my future international travel plans may change and I had to accept that.
Related Post: Visiting London: Day 2 – Exploring with Friends
How I prepared for my solo international trip
Now that we’ve taken some deep breathes and managed (hopefully) to reduce or eliminate the travel anxiety, we can now move onto the prep work. Finally, it’s time to move forward with the preparation work so that future international trip can become a reality!
While preparing for the lovely solo trip to London I’d be taking in 2022, I had to ask myself a few questions.
- what time of year did I want to visit London?
- what month did I want to travel in?
- was it safe to travel to London?
- was England accepting American travelers in 2022?
- what were the COVID restrictions and entry requirements?
- are masks required in the UK and on board flights?
- did I need to buy additional items for the solo trip?
- what would happen if I couldn’t enter the UK?
- what would happen if they shut down the borders?
- what activities did I want to do?
- which activities where still open during COVID?
The list literally goes on but to keep it short and sweet, these were just some of the questions I had that needed answers. My jumbled thoughts and questions needed to be written down, organized, and answered accordingly.
Once I took a few deep breaths and a few days to calm myself down, I created an action plan to start preparing for my trip to London.
Look up COVID entry requirements
First things first, I had to look up the COVID entry requirements for the UK. Specifically, I had to look up the entry requirements for England, because that was the only country I planned on visiting.
I visited a number of websites to check the current entry requirements and general information about COVID in England for this little solo London trip. The notable sites I visited for this information were:
- https://www.britishairways.com/en-us/information/incident/coronavirus/entry-requirements (for my flight)
- https://www.pt.usembassy.com (for entry requirements for Portugal, because at the time I was thinking about doing a layover in Portugal)
I opened multiple tabs with different links to COVID and the UK’s entry requirements. I compiled all the different websites into a folder on my web browser and saved all the information to my laptop. That way, I could always come back at a later time to look at the information.
Take note of COVID entry requirements
With the saved tabs from my web browser, I took out my iPad and took notes on the COVID entry requirements. I went through each tab, scrolling through many pages worth of information, to document the important points.
I made bullet points for the COVID entry requirements for travelers entering England who were fully vaccinated. As I am fully vaccinated and boosted, I paid particular attention to those sections, because it applied to me. In addition to bullet points, I used a bold font and highlights to mark important dates, numbers, costs, or information.
The GoodNotes app on my iPad made this possible for me. I love this app and use it to take notes for my blog, YouTube channel, and full-time job. It’s a side note but I highly recommend this app if you’re looking to take notes.
Create a time frame for entry requirements
COVID entry requirement information for England obtained, check! Notes taken on those requirements, check! Now, with all the information gathered, I had to create a time frame to complete those requirements.
For example: at the time, England had different entry requirements prior to March 18th, 2022. England wanted (vaccinated) travelers entering the country to:
- have proof of vaccination
- schedule a COVID test to be taken up to 2 days after entry
- complete the passenger locator form 48 hours prior to your arrival date
With that information in mind, I created set dates and times to complete the listed requirements. I put those dates and times in my calendar, and set reminders for myself to ensure they’d get done.
Sign up for travel notifications
One thing that I did in the beginning of the planning process for London, was sign up on the https://www.gov.uk website for travel notifications. These travel notifications included information on travel, entry requirements for COVID, COVID in the UK, and other pertinent information.
Once you signed up and confirmed your email, you were sent emails with any travel updates and entry into the UK. Sometimes, I got weekly emails. Other times, I got bi-weekly emails.
Either way, I was so happy to have these notifications sent to me. It meant I always had up-to-date information on COVID entry requirements and travel in the UK. I HIGHLY recommend you to do the same as well, so you have some peace of mind knowing that you’ll receive the most current information on travel.
Outline activities and things do to
With all the COVID entry requirement and time frame out of the way, it was time to move onto the fun part of the preparation process. It was time to figure out what activities and things I’d be doing while on my solo London trip.
This was the best part, because I wanted to see and do so many things. I couldn’t contain myself and all the ideas I had in mind. The one downside to traveling with a full-time (non-travel) job, is that you don’t always have tons of time to travel. Often, you’re limited on time and you have to pick and choose what to see and do. It’s hard.
However, I wrote down all the activities I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit. In the end, I managed to pick:
- 3 different day trips
- quite a few new places to visit
- a couple walking tours to do
- potential places to visit for afternoon tea (I wanted to try it, because I didn’t do it the last time I was in London)
- a few experiences to do
I kept my list and repeatedly went back to it throughout the weeks. This meant going over the activities, places, and tours to ensure they were the ones I wanted to do. I wanted to be 100% sure these were the ones I wanted to move forward with, because I was only going to be in London for 8 days.
Look up prices for activities
Part of my decision to do certain activities and experiences were dependent on the price. I wanted to do certain tours, activities, and day trips but I didn’t want to break the bank. For me, I wanted to go with the cheaper options that would still provide the best experience.
My list of activities in hand, I made a note of the prices and put it in bold. This would give me a better idea of how much things would cost and it would help me narrow down my options.
Look up accommodations and pricing
Moving onto accommodation, I spent some time contemplating where I wanted to stay. My choices were a hotel, hostel, or AirBnB. I had to figure out where I wanted to stay, if it was cheap, clean, and safe. I wrote down my options, the prices, locations, attractions near by, and so on. In the end, I ended up going with Selina Hostel in Camden.
Create a travel tracker
If you’ve been keeping track like I have, I’ve accumulated a lot of information with numbers attached to them. Multiple things were documented, along with their prices and timeline. I had to find a way to organize all this information and track what I was doing.
Enter the travel tracker! Once I had an idea of prices for everything, I did the math to see the total cost. From there, I made a budget range for my trip, ranging from low to high. Meaning, I created a total budget that would range from the lowest possible cost to the highest cost I’d be willing to pay for this 8 day solo trip. Plus, I kept track of my timeline for completing COVID entry requirements. My travel tracker made my life a whole lot easier when it came to financing and planning this trip.
This stage in the preparation process was where I had to make some sacrifices with activities and experiences in order to be within my budget. Even when I was researching COVID testing for entry requirements (when they were still in place), I had to be careful of pricing so it’d fit into my budget. My tracker greatly reduced my anxiety and gave me a physical chart to see how everything fit into the budget.
Create weekly to-do lists
This was the one of the fun parts of the prepping process. I created weekly to-do lists for this trip so I could complete tasks as needed. This is where I took my dates, timelines, planned activities, and broke them down into smaller tasks to complete throughout the weeks.
One week, I focused on buying tickets to activities/experiences and creating the itinerary. Another week, I focused on COVID stuff and completing certain things within the allotted timeframe set by the UK government. The final week, I made a to-do list of getting all my documents in line to be printed off. You get the point. This was great for organization and task completion!
Adjust COVID entry requirements
Remember when I signed up for those email travel notifications from the gov.uk website? Well, about 2 weeks prior to my departure for London on March 18th, I received an email stating that England was going to change their COVID entry requirements. These changes would go into effect at 4am on the 18th of March.
The new requirements, at first, stated that vaccinated passengers only needed to fill out a passenger locator form. They no longer had to take a COVID test.
Then, the week of my trip, I received yet another email. This time, the new requirements took away the passenger locator form as well. Vaccinated passengers only had to show proof of vaccination and that was it!
In the end, I updated my previous COVID entry requirements list with red ink to signify the changes. I was excited that the requirements changed and it meant I didn’t need to do as much now to enter England!
Get travel insurance
One of the last things I had to get was travel insurance. This is super important when traveling, either domestically or internationally. Though, I tend to do this more so for international travels.
For my solo trip to London, I wanted to ensure I was covered for any unexpected mishaps abroad. Whether it was technical, physical, or medical, I wanted to have insurance to ensure I was covered.
I went through Travel Insurance Master to get my travel insurance. The specific insurance company I went with was GoReady and it cost me $58.75 for my solo 8 day trip to London. Thankfully, I didn’t need to use it but it gave me less anxiety knowing that I was covered should anything happen.
Print off travel documents
What I like to do for international travels, is print out all my travel documents. My plane tickets, accommodation, activities/experiences, insurance, passport, vaccination, and anything else I need. I like to have digital and physical copies of everything.
I printed out 3 sets of the documents I mentioned above. One set of copies was for me, one for my boyfriend, and the other set went to my parents. That way, if needed, they could assist me overseas and had knowledge of my plans and locations.
One of the last few things I had to do was exchange my American dollars into British pounds. In reality, I did this 3 days prior to my departure for London and I have no idea why I waited so long. I usually like to get the currency I need about a week or two prior to my departure.
I guess because I was so busy at work that I completely forgot. Regardless, I went to the nearest AAA building to exchange currencies.
There are a few ways to get currency. You can:
- go through your bank (check with your bank to see if they can exchange currency)
- go to the nearest AAA facility – I didn’t know this before but they can exchange currencies for you!
- go to a currency exchange place
I opted to go to AAA because it was the quickest and easiest option at the time. All you do is go to the counter, tell them the currency you need and the amount you want to exchange, and it’s ready the next day. Or, within 2-3 days, depending on if they have the currency you need in stock. The whole process was quick and easy
However, if you don’t live near a AAA, then either go to your bank or a currency exchange place to get your currency.
Take a COVID test
Now, this is something I didn’t have to do but I wanted to do. For my knowledge and to protect others, I decided to take a COVID test 2 days before departing for London solo. Just to be sure I didn’t have COVID.
I went to my local CVS to take a drive-thru PCR COVID test and got my results 2 days later. They were negative! It was a relief knowing that I’d be traveling to the UK without COVID.
Pack my luggage
Finally, the last thing I had to do was pack my backpacks for my London solo trip! This final step made everything so surreal, because it meant that I was actually going to be able to fly to England! As long as nothing happened between the time I packed my luggage and the time of my flight (which was 3 days apart), I was good to go.
I made a list of all things I planned to take for this solo trip. Everything from clothing to toiletries, electronics, and miscellaneous items were accounted for and packed nicely.
I used packing cubes, organizers, and clear luggage containers to pack and organize my items. In the end, everything fit into my 40L Eagle Creek Global Companion backpack, little Vera Bradley backpack, and fanny pack. Everything was packed and ready to go with 3 days to spare until my flight.
Related Post: Visiting London: Day 4 – Day Trip to The Cotswolds
A satisfying feeling
What started out as a feeling of anxiousness eventually turned into a feeling of satisfaction and peace. The whole preparation process went relatively smoothly. Because of the changes to COVID entry requirements, it all worked to my advantage. I didn’t have to do nearly as many things I was thinking or expecting to do for the entry requirements. I didn’t complain and was happy that everything worked in my favor.
Even as I got further into the preparation process, it got easier to organize everything and accomplish tasks. Plus, my anxiety decreased and I gained more inner peace. The stress melted away as I progressed through the preparation for this solo trip. However, there was always a tiny bit of stress and anxiety, because anything could change or happen.
At the end of the day, I didn’t let that stop me from doing what I needed to do to make my trip to London a reality.