Solo Travel: Tips For Flying Alone

Air travel is an entirely different ballgame when you're doing it by yourself. Imagine, you're totally alone in a hectic airport, completely unprepared for the journey ahead, and terrified to walk on that plane by yourself. It's not a comforting picture. According to USA Today, up to 8% of travelers miss their flight every year and many of them are even traveling with other people who can help them. That means millions of people end up stuck at the airport for one reason or another. You don't want to be one of those sad travelers if you're flying alone. 

Solo travelers only have themselves to rely on at the airport, which definitely pumps up the nerves an extra decimal or two. Your first flight alone is a big deal and it can be scary, but it's also simple to navigate if you just prepare properly. That's why everyone embarking on their first solo travel mission should learn these top-tier tips for flying alone before they get on the plane. Being prepared and familiar with these tips could save you from a minor headache at the airport, or worse, missing your flight. 

Check in for your flight online the day before

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from the perils of an unexpectedly crowded airport is checking in online the day before your flight. There is nothing that makes a solo traveler's heart drop faster than walking up to your airline and discovering a winding line of people waiting to check in for their flight, too. If you're running short on time at all, this will kill your travel plans because you'll have to get through a busy security line as well. 

There are lots of benefits of checking in for a flight online ahead of time, and really, no major drawbacks. Besides getting to skip the terrifying line, you may also get to choose your seat in advance, and the earlier you check in, the better options you will have to pick from. Certain airlines may also allow you to check your bag for a lower fee than you would at the airport if you select this option while checking in online (via CheapOair). So, if it's available, the first thing you should do to make your solo flight experience smoother is take advantage of online check-in. It'll save you tons of time, effort, and panic attacks once you arrive at the airport on your day of travel. 

Download your airline's app

The modern era of flying made the process way easier for solo travelers when they released airline apps. Today, almost every airline offers travelers an easy-to-use app with plenty of useful and accommodating features. Airlines use their apps to alert passengers when boarding starts, is a flight is delayed, and some apps even allow passengers to track their checked bags (Via Lifehacker). 

The features that are helpful for flying alone don't end there, though. According to American Airlines, some airline apps allow you to check in for your flight 24 hours in advance, review travel requirements, rebook your flight, live chat with the airline, and get free entertainment to keep you occupied on the flight itself. Airlines prefer when travelers use their app because it opens a line of communication between them and the passenger, so most of these handy apps are totally free. There is no reason not to just give it a download and take the guesswork out of your solo journey.

Arrive at the airport three hours before boarding time

Solo travelers will hear the risk-takers tell them that it's totally fine to show up at the airport two hours, or even just an hour before their flight boards. Block those voices out. As a solo traveler, you need a little extra cushion of time to prepare for your flight, especially if you're traveling internationally.

Arriving at the airport three hours early provides people flying alone with plenty of wiggle room to take care of any unexpected issues or even just grab a bite to eat and chill out. According to Global Dane, there are so many different things that can slow down your travel day, like traffic, finding a parking spot, and even forgetting something. Having that extra hour gives you plenty of time to handle those obstacles without worrying about running late. It might be a tad annoying to wait out an extra 45 minutes by your flight's gate alone, but it's far superior to the red-hot anxiety of almost missing your flight.

Read the details of your ticket very carefully

Even though you booked it, you might not know all the details of your plane ticket off the top of your head. That's why you should carefully check everything on your boarding pass as soon as you have it in hand and right when you get to the airport. Your boarding pass has crucial information, like the flight's arrival time, the gate number, the boarding time, and your boarding group (via Going). Checking these details can save you any questions later when you're in the midst of wandering the airport. 

Another helpful hint that goes hand-in-hand with this is printing your travel itinerary beforehand. One Good Thing makes the very wise point that relying on your phone for all your travel info is a risky move because it could die or you could have bad service in the airport. This physical copy should include your confirmation numbers, phone numbers, and the address of where you're going upon arrival at your destination.

Keep an eye on your flight's gate

Your flight's gate isn't set in stone and airlines commonly change up a flight's gate in the blink of an eye. According to Blue Sky Pit, your gate can change because of delays in the flight schedule due to mechanical problems with the plane or late arrivals. If you're not watching the gate number on your airline's app or on the display screens like a hawk, you could end up realizing at the last moment that you're on the complete opposite end of the airport.

When you're flying alone, you need to be extra vigilant about making sure you know about any changes to your flight's gate. Have you ever seen one of those people running through the airport as if their life depends on it through the crowds of unbothered travelers? They didn't keep an eye on their flight's gate. You don't want to make that run of shame all by yourself.

Pay the extra fee to pick your seat

Nobody wants to shell out the extra bucks for the simple pleasure of getting to pick your seat on a flight, but as a solo traveler, you should make the investment. According to Upon Arriving, the fee for choosing your seat fate costs around $13 for domestic flights and up to $50 for international flights on average. That's a small price to pay for a peaceful solo journey and you'll be thankful you paid it once the travel day comes. 

Your seat on a solo flight can completely make or break your experience. When you're not traveling with friends or family members, it quadruples your chances of getting trapped in the misery of a middle seat or sitting next to someone who might not be the most pleasant flight companion. On short flights, this might be tolerable, but on those long-haul flights, it can be completely miserable.  Thankfully, you can even out the odds when you choose your seat (Via Alternative Airlines). Give yourself the best shot of getting an aisle or window seat and just pay the extra fee to pick your seat when traveling alone.

Bring comfortable headphones

The dull hum of an airplane roaring through the sky for hours on end can be mind-numbing without headphones, especially if you're traveling alone and have nobody to talk to throughout the flight. Headphones allow you to create your own little world while you're stuck on a plane. Attempting to endure the journey without them is pretty hellish, even for experienced travelers. You may even want to carry a backup pair just in case your primary headphones break or get misplaced somewhere, just as a little bit of insurance. 

Regular solo travelers should also invest in a high-quality, comfortable pair of headphones to take along with them on planes. According to Forbes, some of the best headphones for traveling right now are the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Skullcandy Indy ANC. It's a venture that will pay off in the long run when you don't have to buy new ones every few months.

Put medication and valuables in your carry-on

Packing your bag smartly means dividing up stuff between your checked bag and carry-on properly. The basic rule of thumb is that anything that you can't live without for a day should be safely tucked away in your carry-on bag, right in your overhead bin. Things like your ID, phone charger, a lock to keep your valuables safe, valuable electronics, and especially any prescription medications should always be put in your carry-on within arm's reach (via The Points Guy). Keep this in the forefront of your mind when you're flying alone because you won't have the assistance of a loved one who knows your medical needs nearby.  

Your checked bag should primarily be for clothes and non-valuable bulkier items because there is actually a substantial chance that this bag can get lost somewhere along the line. According to Luggage Hero, the top airlines in America lost a total of 680,000 bags in just the first quarter of 2022. It's a hassle under the best circumstances. If you have important stuff in there, like necessary medication or your travel documents, it can be a complete trip-ending disaster. 

Bring plenty of flight-friendly entertainment

If you don't have anyone else to keep you company on a flight, it can get pretty boring being up in the air for hours on top of hours. While some airlines provide a few options to entertain yourself on flights, they often cost extra money and are underwhelming. That's why solo travelers should bring lots of ways to entertain themselves on a flight, especially when it's a long one. Luckily, there are many different ways to make a solo flight a little less boring, like reading a book, listening to a podcast, writing in a journal, or doing a low-mess craft such as crochet (Via Canadian Affair). 

Alternatively, you could use your time on a solo flight productively. She Goes The Distance recommends making a list of your goals, editing photos, organizing your phone, or learning a bit of a new language on an app like Duolingo. The more creative you are, the more entertained you can be on a flight by yourself. You'll want to have a few different entertainment options to rotate through when you get sick of one, so choose a few that sound interesting and pack them away in your carry-on. 

Bring snacks

Airports are notoriously expensive for even the blandest offerings, but you don't have to succumb to the $17 granola bar. Many travelers are under the impression that they aren't allowed to bring any food through airport security, but this is completely false. Airports are much less strict about foods than they are with liquids. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), you're totally allowed to transport solid food items in your carry-on or checked bag, however, TSA officers may have you take it out of your bag to go through the X-ray machine. After that, you're good to snack! If you're traveling internationally, there may be some rules about what you are allowed to bring to your destination.

Taste Of Home recommends bringing somewhat healthy snacks like dried fruits, pretzels, cheese crackers, and dehydrated edamame. These types of light snacks won't make you feel sick up in the air. On the flip side, you should avoid fried foods, spicy stuff, and red meat like the plague because they can make you feel extra bloated and uncomfortable on a plane (Via Delish).

Have a stash of sleep-inducing medication

When all else fails, one of the best things to do on a solo flight is to drift off into a semi-comfortable sleep. Unfortunately, that dream is not as easily achievable on a plane alone squished like a sardine between strangers. There are a few hacks you can use to actually catch some ZZZs at 40,0000 feet in the air. USA Today suggests that sleepy solo travelers bring a supportive neck pillow on the plane, their own lightweight blanket to drape over them, and a comfortable eye mask. If you feel like you're even sort of in a bed, there is a high chance you'll fall asleep to the white noise of the plane engine or a calming playlist. 

There are solutions for people who need something a little stronger, too. According to Smarter Travel, melatonin, diphenhydramine medicines like Tylenol PM, and valerian root can all be helpful for taking the edge off and falling asleep. One renowned doctor also swears by taking magnesium on a flight because it replenishes your body with a mineral that makes you more relaxed and less stressed, which promotes sleep and lessens the effects of jet lag (Via Bloomberg). 

Just don't take too much of any sleep aid to avoid arriving at your destination groggy from the haze of just waking up. It's also a good idea to try any sleep medication before you take it on a plane so you don't have a mile-high adverse reaction. 

Give a family member or friend your flight details

Traveling by yourself requires an additional dose of safety precautions, although this is probably a good idea whether you're alone or not. One of those smart safeguards is letting a loved one know your plans, including the exact details of where you'll be and when you'll get there. According to Travelers, this is the #1 most important tip for traveling alone. Even though you're flying alone, there should still be someone out there in the world who has your back. Give this special person your flight number, arrival time, and your entire itinerary before even thinking of stepping on a flight by yourself. 

As you go along your solo journey, keep them updated every step of the way. Shoot them a quick text when you're arriving at the airport, getting through security, boarding the plane, and then finally when the plane lands. Keep up the line of communication until you have safely arrived at your accommodations and locked the door behind you. It might seem like an additional hassle, but it could end up saving you if anything out of the ordinary happens.

Have a portable charger on hand

One of the worst things that can happen when you're flying by yourself is having your phone or other important device die. First of all, it's frustrating to be stranded on a flight with no end in sight and absolutely no form of entertainment like a tablet, eReader, or phone. Secondly, this can actually be really dangerous for someone who travels by themselves. Suppose you land in a new country and can't find anywhere to charge your phone, you could be completely stuck with no way to communicate.

Luckily, you never have to worry about this scenario if you carry a portable charger with you when you fly alone. While there is a large assortment of portable chargers to consider, CNN says that the best portable charger for 2023 is the Anker PowerCore 13000. It's super compact and sleek, but it can fully charge an iPhone 2.5 times and charge USB devices, too. According to Gadget Royale, some portable chargers can give your devices up to a full day of extra battery life. That's plenty of time for an entire flight and day of travel.