Solo Road Trip Planning Guide: Tips for Traveling Alone

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

A few winters ago, I spent three months traveling around New Zealand in a van. It was my first-ever solo road trip, and I learned a TON of helpful road trip tips in the process – from how to plan, what gear to pack, and how to eat well on the road.

Since returning to the states, I put many of these road trip tips into practice, from a week long solo road trip around Nevada in my Subaru to traveling solo for months in my first Sprinter Van.

Your first solo road trip can be a little intimidating – especially as a female – so I wanted to share some of the things I learned from my experiences being alone on the road.

With this guide to planning your first solo road trip, you can travel smarter and safer, all while having a blast in your own company.


Planning Tips for Your First Solo Road Trip

Here are a few road trip tips to keep in mind when planning out your route and your solo road trip overall.

Take the Scenic Route

I always recommend taking the scenic route. It’s about the journey, not just the destination, right? So plan your route to be enjoyable and take time to enjoy the landscapes you pass through.

During my road trip to Nevada a few years back, my goal was to get off-the-beaten-path as much as possible, and the old country roads ended up being the best part of my trip. Fewer cars meant less stress, I could focus more on the scenery, and I could pull over wherever I wanted.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Give yourself plenty of time so you can stop at viewpoints and grab a bite to eat at that cute little cafe you happen to come across when cruising through town. It’s no fun being rushed, so plan extra time into your route and know that with all the stops, it’s probably going to take you longer than you expect to drive those miles. That way, if you see something unplanned that strikes your interest, you’ll be able to stop and check it out. If you find yourself feeling rushed, alter your route if possible so you can cover less ground and actually have time to stop and enjoy the scenery.

Find Cool Stuff to Do

Road tripping isn’t just about sitting in the car. It’s about finding fun things to do along the way. Do your research ahead of time and make note of the places you’d like to visit on your road trip, but be open to possibilities as well. You never know what local gems you’ll find by talking to people. Coffee shops, local stores, and visitor information centers can be great places to seek out info from the locals who know best. Also, don’t pass up quirky roadside attractions or an intriguing sign pointing down a dirt road. Stop to check it out! Some of the best stuff you won’t find in a guidebook.

While being spontaneous can lead to some of the best memories, you’ll also want to have a few stops in mind. National Parks are a great place to start. If you don’t have one already, consider getting an America the Beautiful Pass which grants you free admission to all national parks and public lands for $80 a year. Read more about how to save money in National Parks here.

Download Helpful Apps

Download a couple apps ahead of time so you’ll be ready to go when you’re looking for a place to eat or something to do. Here are some of my favorite travel planning apps for road tripping:

  • AllTrails – for finding local hiking trails
  • MTB Project – for finding local mountain biking trails
  • Peak Finder – for identifying local peaks
  • Tripadvisor – for restaurant and accommodation reviews
  • Yelp – for local services and spots to eat

Gather Resources Ahead of Time

Invest in a couple of guide books for the areas you’ll be exploring. Hiking books, road atlases, trail maps, national park maps, and regional guides like Lonely Planet can also help you plan your trip.

Shop my Favorite Road Trip Books


What to Pack for Your Solo Road Trip

What you pack for your solo road trip really depends on you, what you like to do, and whether you’ll be camping or not. Check out our Road Trip Essentials Packing Checklist for a complete list of suggestions. In the meantime, here are a few helpful suggestions to get you started, from apparel to outdoor gear, to entertainment, and more.

Solo Road Trip Basics

Map

Always carry a map in your car for those times when you are out of service and you can’t use the GPS on your phone. I like to buy a road and recreation atlas for whatever state I’m traveling in. They show parks, monuments, campgrounds, dirt roads, and all kinds of other helpful information.

Water

During my Nevada road trip I found that many of the free campgrounds didn’t have any potable water available. Invest in an inexpensive water jug to make sure you always have an adequate water supply both at camp and in case of an emergency. Fill it up before you leave and when it gets low, you can refill it at most truck stops.

Cash

Many campsites require a small fee and the only way to pay is cash. Keep a little bit of cash with you so you aren’t caught empty-handed when the ranger asks you to pay up. Cash is also handy for those times when you come across a local farmers market or roadside stand that only takes cash.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Road Trip Apparel

Bring clothes that are functional and can be worn multiple times. You also want your clothes to be comfortable and to breathe well. Think leggings or yoga pants, tank tops, a down puffy, a rain jacket, etc. I also always like to pack a hoody. If there’s a chance you’ll want to go out to a nice meal, bring one nice outfit that won’t wrinkle in your suitcase. As for shoes, I like to bring a trail shoe and my trusty Teva sandals which I can wear on walks, in water or with socks at camp… so fashionable, I know 😉

Shop my favorite road trip apparel

For more clothing suggestions that are perfect for road trips, check out these blog posts:

Outdoor Gear

As far as gear, what you’ll need depends if you’re camping or not. If you’re going to be camping whether in a tent or your car, a comfortable sleeping pad and a real pillow is a must. You’ll also want a camp chair that you can lounge around camp in, a good cooler, and a camp stove.

For more on what to bring road tripping and camping, check out our complete Road Trip Essentials Guide.

Shop my favorite outdoor gear for road trips

Entertainment

When you are traveling alone, you won’t have anyone to entertain you, so bring a few things to keep you occupied once you are at camp or your Airbnb or hotel. Like to draw? Bring a sketch pad. Photographer? It’s a great chance to practice and work on your creativity. Musically inclined? Throw a ukulele or guitar in the car. Enjoy reading? Bring a book or two that you can relax with in your downtime.

I also recommend loading up your phone with plenty of tunes to pass the time. This is your chance to belt it out, bang on the steering wheel, and have a blast. I’m a HUGE fan of Spotify. The Premium Membership is $9.99/month and allows you to save music and listen to any song on-demand on your phone, even when you have no cell phone service. You can follow your friends’ playlists and discover playlists organized by genre (everything from “Afternoon Acoustic Chill” to “Legendary Guitar Solos”).

If music isn’t your thing or you need a break from rockin’ out, download a couple of audiobooks or a bunch of episodes of your favorite podcasts. Here’s a list of our favorite outdoor podcasts.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Solo Road Trip Safety Tips

Know the Basics of Auto Repair

I’m a complete idiot when it comes to mechanics – I barely know how to check my oil (my dad cringes). But in the case of an emergency, it’s a good idea to know a few basics like how to check fluids and how to change a tire, and have things like a set of jumper cables in your car.

Before you leave, check to make sure your spare tire has air in it. The last thing you want is to get a flat and then find out that your spare is flat too. It’s also a good idea to sign up for AAA or another roadside repair service if your auto insurance doesn’t cover that. If your vehicle is older and hasn’t been serviced in a while, it’s probably worthwhile to take it in to have the fluids checked and topped off.

Finally, always carry the owner’s manual – that’s the best book you can have in your car.

Carry a Communication Device

If you will be traveling on the backroads or anywhere where there is no cell phone service (this includes a lot of National Parks), you should always carry some sort of device that you can use to communicate in case something goes wrong.

I have a Garmin inReach which is a GPS tracker and navigation tool that also lets me communicate via satellite (no cell service needed). With a device like this, you can send and receive text messages to any cell phone number or email address no matter where you are, share your location, send updates, and call for help if needed.

You should also make sure someone close to you has a loose idea of your itinerary and check in with them via text or phone when you roll through a town. And definitely let someone know if you are going hiking or doing any other sort of solo activity away from your car.

How to Feel Safe at Night While Road Tripping Solo

If you don’t feel safe, you won’t be having fun, and choosing the right campsite can make all the difference. When I was on my first solo road trip in Nevada, I tried to choose campsites that had a handful of other campers there. I didn’t want so many people that it felt crowded, but having a few families or couples around assured me that it would be hard for a weirdo to go unnoticed. I was also friendly to my neighbors, but not so friendly that I could be interpreted as inviting unwanted company to my campsite.

As far as sleeping, I used to drive a Subaru, and I slept in the back of my car. Now I travel in a Sprinter Van. Sleeping in a vehicle, as opposed to a tent, helps me feel more secure because I lock the doors, and if something goes wrong, I simply hop in the front seat and drive away. My car also has a loud alarm that I could set off using a button on my door key if I wanted to cause a commotion.

If you don’t have a car you can sleep in, think about what you need to protect yourself and to make you feel safe while you are sleeping in your tent. Whether that be a loud alarm that you can sound off, pepper spray, or something else to give you peace of mind – have it within arm’s reach.

If you don’t feel safe camping solo, opt for a hotel or Airbnb (see below)…and have a cushion in your budget just in case.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Keep an Eye on the Gas Tank

This may seem obvious, but if you are traveling in rural areas and you don’t know how far it is until the next gas station…fill up. Nothing can ruin your day faster than running out of gas in the middle of nowhere when it could have easily been prevented.

Have a Hide a Key

What happens if you accidentally drop your car key when you are out on a hike? Having a hide-a-key stashed somewhere outside your car could save you a lot of hassle. Just be smart about where you stash it so it’s not super obvious.


Finding Accommodation on Your Solo Road Trip

Finding Good Campsites

I recently discovered the All Stays Camp & RV app. At $10, I thought twice about whether to download it, but it turned out to be a great decision. It has all of the campsites mapped out, and you can filter by type – from free BLM and National Forest Service campgrounds to KOA facilities and Walmart parking lots. The app also has images, directions, and contact info for each campground. Using this app in Nevada, I camped at some super cool (and free) spots that I would have never found on my own. And it also allowed me to look down the highway and decide whether it was time to stop for the night or whether there was another option up the road.

For more tips on finding good free campsites plus some additional apps that I now use, see our Guide to Finding Free Campsites.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Finding a Last Minute Hotel or Airbnb

If you’d rather stay in a hotel, Hotels Tonight is a great app for finding last-minute deals…although you won’t always find a room especially in smaller towns. If there’s nothing on Hotels Tonight, check Hotels.com and Booking.com.

Check Airbnb too. Again, you won’t always find something in smaller towns, but Airbnb can be great for solo travelers. For the most economical option, check “Private Room” when searching which means you’ll get your own room in a home where someone else is living. When I’m going this route, I always try to find a place where the host has good reviews, and in lucky cases, you might even get some good local intel from your host and make a new friend.

Get $40 off on your first Airbnb stay using my referral code!

Airbnb coupon

Camp Cooking Tips for Your Solo Road Trip

Make Meal Prep Easy

Cooking for one during your road trip can be tough. Depending on the length of your trip, consider pre-cooking a few of your meals. Things like pasta salad and quinoa salad save well and can be easily eaten during a quick roadside break or when you get to your destination. Things like spaghetti sauce, soup, and other saucy dishes can be portioned out, frozen, and reheated. Veggies can be chopped and stored in reusable containers or a Stasher Bag for easy cooking. This makes dinner prep and cleanup easier and you’ll probably eat better than if you are making everything from scratch at camp.

Using non-stick pots and pans will simplify cleanup too. For dishes, pack a small dish brush or sponge and some biodegradable soap, and remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles.

If you like cooking at camp, consider making one-pot meals. My friends from Fresh off the Grid wrote a guest post with 6 killer one-pot recipes perfect for road tripping.

Hit the road with this solo road trip planning guide for women traveling alone including how to plan, what to pack, and tips for staying safe.

Pack Healthy Snacks

Bring plenty of healthy snacks to help avoid binging on chips, candy, and other gas station junk food. Easy to snack on fruit like grapes, blueberries, apples, bananas, and mandarins are nice to have (I wash everything before setting out so they’re ready to go). I also love bringing along pre-chopped veggies and dips like hummus and Bitchin Sauce and other snacks on the healthier side like light popcorn, nuts, and baked chips.

Have you ever done a solo road trip? How did it go? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

26 comments on “Solo Road Trip Planning Guide: Tips for Traveling Alone

  1. Great article full of useful information! I see you were driving combi – one question to that: do you think it would contain 2 people sleeping in it? Considering that the luggage would be stored on top of the car?

    Myself and a friend were planning a road trip across Europe and wanted to use her combi. I’m just not sure if we would fit in 😉

      1. I do a lot of solo hiking and was thinking of getting a phone tracking app so my husband can see where I am. Do you use one that you would recommend?

        1. Hi Erica – Kristen brings a Garmin inReach Mini when she heads into the backcountry. It has two-way messaging and location sharing. Happy trails!

  2. Sorry combi must be European expression 🙂 It’s the same type of car as your Subaru in the pictures. It’s good news two people can sleep inside. Tent is planned just in case yes. Thanks for your reply 🙂

  3. Great post, lots of good info. I’m going to have to look into getting a SPOT. I plan to travel in a van solo in a couple years once both kids are off to college. In the meantime, we’ll be going to Colorado this summer and plan to do some hiking and camping. The SPOT would be a nice reassurance, just in case.

  4. I got the same Outback as you and getting ready for a month-long trip in South cali, Az, Utah and Wyoming , great tips , thanks. Used to travel in VW bus but this time its a solo trip.

  5. I leave for my first solo road trip two weeks from today. I feel like I have done so much reading and research, but I am still super nervous for some reason. Your tips are awesome and I can’t wait to apply them and see where the road takes me!

    1. How did it go? Can you provide any additional feedback or suggestions from your experience? I’m getting ready for my first solo trip in August to see majority of New Mexico!

  6. This is great information! I’m doing a small road trip this winter with my dog, and I’ve been trying to work out all the details. This is definitely helpful so that I’m not missing anything!

  7. I’m one of those solo road trippers and camp quite often. At first it was kinda freaky but got used to it. I do carry but I also have a clip on my keys that I use to clip the zippers together in my tent while I sleep. The keys will sound if someone is trying to open the zipper and it prevents the zipper from opening since the two are bound together by use of the clip.

    1. This is a great idea, just need something in the tent to pee in as unclipping jangling keys to go outside is kind of counterproductive!

  8. Wow great guide! I have always wanted to do a road trip, I think a lot of people are put off because they find it too intimidating, particularly the thought of going on your own, but in reality if you plan ahead you can put yourself in a much better position.

  9. Very cool post. I will be doing a bunch of solo trips myself. I was surprised you took your Subaru and not the Sprinter. What was your motivation?

  10. Hey there, I’m from Australia and spent two months road tripping around the west mostly tent and car camping. I liked forest service campsites, small, pretty, cheap and everywhere. They also have good clean facilities and often a camp host which can make it feel safer. Lots of families or older couples without kids camp here and are very friendly. Lots of hunters too, initially this made me feel a bit uncomfortable, just me and a bunch of men but I never had any problems. I would tent camp most times and cook at camp to keep costs down, I was travelling in sept/Oct so being able to make a fire quickly is a must and being able to set up camp with a head torch is useful. I slept in the car if it was wet or later in the trip when I parked in BLM areas alone so your tips about keeping the car locked and the driver seat clear make sense. Also important to have enough money to take yourself out to dinner now and again particularly on wet nights as trying to cook eat etc gets irky. And to stay in a motel to catch up on laundry and just veg in comfort for a bit like you would at home. Same with airbnb. Main concern for me was driving in cities on wrong side of road for me! So I hired a car from a regional airport in the middle of where I wanted to be and started in a town that did not feel to overwhelming. It was also quite possible to avoid major city centres for quite some time and when i did i would stay in suburbs and bus to city centre. This driving info will not be helpful to those in the US but may give other solo female travellers from other countries an idea of what is possible if you fear driving out of a major US city as soon as your plane lands!

  11. As I find your tip about going as off-the-beaten-path as possible in order to reduce stress, focus on the scenery, and be able to pull over wherever one wanted, what if one wants to do the solo trip around a certain city or country abroad? If I were to do this abroad, I would hire a taxicab ahead of time on the day one has to go to the airport and the day to head back. Doing this will help ease stress on the start and end of the trip.

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