How to Travel Solo: Advice and Safety with Travel Advisor Alyssa Johnson

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How to Travel Solo: Advice and Safety with Travel Advisor Alyssa Johnson

In this week's episode of The Matt Feret Show, I sit down with travel advisor Alyssa Johnson to discuss solo travel. Alyssa is an experienced solo traveler and shared some helpful tips on how to stay informed, healthy, and safe while traveling. We discuss how solo travel can be intimidating, especially for women, and how to keep yourself and your belongings safe. She describes how to ease your way into solo travel and the benefits of attending planned trips that combine group touring with solo exploration. We also discuss the necessity of travel insurance and commonly overlooked items that could be helpful to pack on your next trip

How to Travel Solo: Advice and Safety with Travel Advisor Alyssa Johnson

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“I have lots of women that are coming that are married and have partners and their partner isn't interested in traveling or doesn't want to travel to the places where they want to go. So there are partnered people coming on the trip. It's not just for single people. They want that solo time, that time to kind of find themselves a little bit… it gives them time to dive deep and figure out a little bit more about themselves and really reflect on who they are when they're not with somebody else… I think that's a really important part of solo travel that gets overlooked when you're always traveling with somebody else.”

“The best piece of advice that I have for everybody about safety is to listen to your gut. It will never steer you wrong. It has never steered me wrong. It doesn't matter if you have a tour plan to go somewhere, if you really want to see this thing, if you come up to it or you turn the corner and something just feels off, don't do it. Just turn around, walk away.”


How to Travel Solo: Advice and Safety with Travel Advisor Alyssa Johnson

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Show Notes:

1:09 - Introduction
2:02 - How to navigate solo travel
12:40 - Benefits of solo travel
27:19 - Solo travel and safety
35:30 - Travel insurance and packing tips

Full Show Transcript:

Announcer (00:01):

This episode of The Matt Feret Show is brought to you by the Brickhouse Agency. Brickhouse is a boutique independent health insurance agency that focuses on finding the right Medicare coverage for folks across the country. Matt's wife, Niki, is the heart behind Brickhouse. She's great at making confusing things clear and is passionate about helping people find a Medicare insurance policy that suits their individual needs. To schedule a free one-on-one appointment with Niki or a member of her team, head on over to brickhouseagency.com or simply call (844-844-6565), and someone will help you schedule a phone call or a Zoom meeting. The consultation is free because the insurance companies pay Brickhouse, not you. There's never any pressure or obligation to enroll. Your clearer, simpler Medicare journey is just a call or click away. brickhouseagency.com. Not affiliated with or endorsed by the government or federal Medicare program. Contacting Brickhouse Agency LLC will direct you to a licensed insurance agent.

Matt Feret (01:09):

Hello everyone. This is Matt Feret, author of Prepare for Medicare and prepare for Social Security insider's, guidebooks, and online course training series. Welcome to another episode of The Matt Feret Show, where I interview insiders and experts to help light a path to successful living in midlife retirement and beyond. Alyssa, welcome to the show.

Alyssa Johnson (01:31):

Thanks for having me, Matt.

Matt Feret (01:33):

It's awesome that you're here. So tell everybody what you do, how long you've been doing it, and how you help people.

Alyssa Johnson (01:38):

I am a travel advisor. I have been technically booking travel for 20 years in the corporate space, but I set out my own business in 2022, so I've been doing the private space for about a year and a half now, and I help solo travelers get out into the world to see this beautiful place that we live in, feeling confident and they can actually do it. Sometimes it seems a little overwhelming.

Matt Feret (02:02):

Yeah, so solo travel, I would assume that can come in all shapes and forms, which is solo not yet partnered or married, post partner marriage and I guess widowed or widowed word. I'm not sure if that's a word, but it sounds like it might be. So let's talk about solo travel just in general. What are some of the things you help people with and what are some of the challenges that people find when doing solo travel?

Alyssa Johnson (02:31):

For solo travel? I think it's kind of scary. I tend to attract women into my audience in particular, and I think there is a specific set of fears that we have traveling out in the world solo or really going anywhere solo. There's a level of safety concerns. I have found also that folks are really nervous to eat dinner alone or even appear anywhere alone. Whether that's some sort of perceived judgment on the part of others, I'm not sure, but that's a very common concern that I hear. And so a lot of times people will come to me and ask, is there any sort of tour, like a group tour? I want to go out and travel, but I don't really want to be completely alone. So they'll ask for tours or like I said, safety tips because folks that don't fly a lot may not realize that you can't bring pepper spray on planes. You can't bring things that we as women would typically carry in the United States, things to protect ourselves. So that's a really big concern. And then just the sheer overwhelming amount of things there are to know about traveling. And if you're alone, you have nobody else to ask. You're reliant completely on yourself. And so that's a big concern too, is how do I know what I need to know because I don't.

Matt Feret (03:52):

Yeah. Let's talk first about that sense of overwhelm. I mean, in the last 20 years you've got all the travel websites and then the travel websites that aggregate the travel websites, and then you've got deals that are, you can only get on the particular carrier website or the hotel website, but then sometimes you go on another website and they're giving discounts off that deal that are supposed to be the lowest. Where do people start just in travel in general, I guess on the self-serve piece, and then we'll get to how you can help them.

Alyssa Johnson (04:25):

Yeah, that's a great question. As a travel agent, I get to see the back end of all these systems, and even for us it's very overwhelming. So as a consumer coming to it with someone that doesn't spend literally hours a week diving into travel, it is so overwhelming. My best advice here would be to stick with carrier websites or book directly with brands. There's those prices from the booking agents like booking and travel velocity and Expedia, et cetera, but they're usually cheap for a reason. I'm actually helping somebody right now who sort of booked a very cheap deal and regretted it because it's very hard to service on the backend. So that's something to start with is that when you book through a third party website, you are technically not in charge of the booking, so you have to contact them to make any sort of changes, which can just add a whole other level of stress to it. So booking directly with the hotel, the cruise line, the flight carrier, that's probably a good place to start rather than any of those overwhelming flight booking sites.

Matt Feret (05:28):

And then you get down to things that you do and people in your profession, which is help out. So with the overwhelm or with the perceived deals, you can only get online or only with the carrier, where do you fit into that?

Alyssa Johnson (05:43):

Like I mentioned, I spend literally hours every week combing through websites. I get so many travel newsletters you would not believe, Matt. I spend so much time reading about the latest updates, the latest cruise line, hotel resort chain updates, things are being sold off and bought and just changed and renovated all the time. And so that's literally what I do is I intake all this information. So by the time someone comes to me and tells me what they're looking for, it's usually pretty quick that I can have an idea or two of the best place to send them. Whereas they would spend 20, 30 hours researching. They can come to me and fill out a forum and within probably 10 minutes I have an idea of things to recommend to them.

Matt Feret (06:27):

That's awesome. There's a lot around the websites and the wonderful world of the internet specials exclusives, but also brands and certain brands, I mean, I get 'em in my mailbox, you probably do, well, I definitely know you do, that are geared towards people in different ages and phases and stages of their life, particularly in the forties, fifties and retirement crowd. Are there particular brands that are better suited? And if you don't want to talk about 'em by name, that's fine, but are there particular brands that kind of cater to more of an audience of forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, or is it really just marketing?

Alyssa Johnson (07:10):

A little bit of both. There are cruise lines in particular that cater to sort of that forties, fifties, sixties and older crowd. Holland America is a really, really good line. Viking Virgin Voyages does a bit, they have a different flavor to them, escorted tours, those type of group tours that you'll book a pair or three or four, then show up and you'll be in a group and a motor coach. Those are typically historically marketed towards an older group, although they're skewing a little bit younger now post pandemic, but those are typically skewed toward an older group. And then river cruising, particularly in the us. I didn't know about this until I became a travel advisor, but you can actually take a gorgeous river cruise up and down the Mississippi and those river cruises are typically toward an older crowd as well.

Matt Feret (07:59):

I don't think I knew that either. I've lived around the Mississippi for most of my adult life. I didn't know you could cruise up and down. I guess I never looked.

Alyssa Johnson (08:08):

Yeah, they're really great. There's a couple different lines. I think Viking does one, American Queen Voyages does one, and there's similar cruises around the Great Lakes as well.

Matt Feret (08:17):

Thank you. So let's hop into single travel. I said at the onset that can happen for a lot of reasons or just preference. Maybe I just want to go on a trip with my guy friends or my girlfriends, which I guess is technically a group and not single travel, but what are the intricacies around single travel that people, you mentioned the fears, but what do people need to think of when booking this stuff?

Alyssa Johnson (08:44):

So solo travel is kind of a whole different animal. A lot of places, especially in Europe in particular, and on cruises, you'll have to pay what's called a single supplement. So that could be particularly on a cruise, it'll actually be double because cruise cabins are based on two people per cabin. Even if you're just one person in that cabin, typically you'll still have to pay for that second person, which is a little wild. I know. Then a lot of times in Europe, if you're on one of those escorted tours, they'll also charge a single supplement. It won't usually be double, but it'll be several hundred dollars more than what you would pay if you were a pair kind of breaking up a hotel room. They'll charge that single supplement, and that's something I think a lot of people don't realize until they've taken their first trip. And sometimes even if you're not doing an escorted tour, the hotel will charge kind of an upcharge to have a single room too. So that does kind of throw people for a loop.

Matt Feret (09:34):

Yeah, it throws me for a loop. I mean, you're still getting the same amount of money for the room or the cabin and they're just adding on a surcharge. Is that because from a business standpoint, that's not two people eating their food and two people buying their trinkets? It's just one.

Alyssa Johnson (09:47):

That's what I'm guessing, particularly with cruises. A lot of the money is made on the backend after the people are on the cruise, and so they're sort of missing out on that second person's internet drink package because the drink packages only benefit the cruise line. They very rarely benefit the passenger, photo sales, casino gambling. So they're sort of missing out on that second person's post cruise sales, so they have to find a way to make it up.

Matt Feret (10:11):

Well, that stinks.

Alyssa Johnson (10:13):

It does.

Matt Feret (10:14):

Well, how do I find cruise or vacation packages that don't do that? Or are those fees buried or right at checkout?

Alyssa Johnson (10:23):

A little bit of both. The nice thing is some folks are realizing that solo passengers, one do exist and two really want to go on these cruises. And so some cruise lines are starting to create solo traveler cabins designed for the solo traveler in mind. Lines like Norwegian Virgin Voyages and Celebrity are designing these inside and balcony cabins that are meant for just one person, and they are charged at that single person rate, so you won't have to pay double. And there's always sales on board. So a lot of the river cruise lines have single supplement sales while they either be none or it'll be like a hundred dollars, which is in my mind, fine, I'll pay a hundred extra dollars to travel solo. And then same with the escorted tour groups, there's always sales on, they won't always be happening at the same time. But the best way for not using an advisor is to subscribe to those overwhelming newsletters because usually that's where they advertise them and they'll come across as flash sales a lot of the time too. So unless you're up to date all the time checking websites and things, you'll want to be subscribed to those newsletters to get those solo travel deals.

Matt Feret (11:24):

It still sounds kind of exhausting for the solo traveler to go do this as compared to even a couples or a friend travel, like two people plus. What's your advice? I mean, we know where to start. We can go spend hours going down internet wormholes of travel and deals and sign up for this stuff, but how do you specifically help, and this is your specialty solo travel, so how do you approach this kind of thing and what do you find most popular and how do you navigate this stuff for people?

Alyssa Johnson (11:56):

Yeah, so as you mentioned, it is my specialty. So I sort of have curated my email newsletter subscriptions down to the solo traveler specials. And so I have an email newsletter that I then push those out to folks that are on my newsletter. So they just need to get one. They don't need to be subscribed to 20 like I am. I also talk about them on my TikTok and my Instagram frequently in my stories, just to kind of keep people up to date again, so they don't have to be the ones going through and combing through all those newsletters. And then I also do groups that I take myself that are technically solo travel, but you're still with some other people. So it kind of takes one, the guesswork out, and two, because I'm able to secure group prices, it kind of evens out that solo supplement.

Matt Feret (12:40):

Yeah, that's a nice little nuance there. It reminds me. So you've got pure solo travel and then you've got solo travel within a group. And that reminds me of some travel or adventure groups that are set up around the country and different, and again, those are usually for older adults, not necessarily singles, underage, whatever, 30. How popular are those? How useful are those? Do they all do all the booking themselves or do they use someone like you? How does all that work? How should I think about that?

Alyssa Johnson (13:12):

So typically, and when I first came across the idea, these solo travel groups were like an influencer or creator or a travel professional would be taking these people out on a single trip were for women in their twenties and thirties, and that was it. And something that existed in a space for folks in their forties, fifties, sixties, didn't actually exist. And so that's something that I heard from my following was that they really loved this idea of this baby step to solo travel. So we would go down the same tour or be at the same resort or be the same cruise, have our own experience, but I would be there to ask any questions if anything went wrong. They have sort of a safety net. And then we would have optional dinners together since that was one of people's main kind of stopping points from booking solo travel.


And so I expected it to be women in their twenties and thirties because that's what I was seeing. And what I actually found was it's more women in their late forties to late sixties that are booking these trips with me that have waited their entire life to go on a trip and have found this opportunity to come travel with other like-minded people in a group, but still kind of solo. And so they don't have to take care of securing the group hotel, securing the resort or the cruises. The only thing that I ask that they take care of is their flight booking. They can ask me questions of course, but a lot of them choose to use miles or points when booking at this stage because a lot of people have miles banked from the pandemic still, so they have all these miles of nowhere to go. And so I'm providing them with an opportunity to do it. It's just a lot easier. They have me in their back pocket to ask questions, me to do all those group booking, share the group policies, share packing lists most in particular, which I think is really helpful for them. And then they get to sort of connect with the other people going in the group.

Matt Feret (15:05):

As I sit here and think about it, the solo group piece. Before we go just to the solo piece, but the solo group piece you said, I don't know if you said that was a gateway way or maybe I'm thinking the phrase gateway drug, but-

Alyssa Johnson (15:16):

That's a baby step.

Matt Feret (15:17):

Baby step. That's a much way of saying that. Yeah, I guess I think there would be differences there between couples travel than individual group travel. So what are the different, you said eating, dining, I mean, yeah, I don't want to eat alone in my state room or wherever I am. What are the differences between that type of just regular vacation package for a couple or two people going and a group of solo travelers beyond eating and the group? What else are the benefits of doing that?

Alyssa Johnson (15:49):

So the benefit is we have a closed motor coach. I'm thinking of just the one that's coming up next. We have a closed motor coach that's just people that have signed up on the trip through me. It's a private trip. So you're sort of getting that. There's going to be folks that are like-minded. So if you go on an S word tour as a couple, you can sign up and go on the same tour, but you'll be on a motor coach with who knows how many kind of people. They could be families, all different ages, all different interests where if you go in a group like this or your own people can set up their own private groups, you're in a space with people that are of the same mind as you. And so this one that I'm thinking of that we're going on next, we're going to Ireland and Scotland.


So there's a semi-structured portion of the day with tours as a group walking tours and distillery experiences. And then you get half the day to go and do your own thing. So you do get that structured time with a guide with the group, and then you do get to challenge yourself a little bit and go out and do things on your own. So that's where the solo travel part comes in, and that's where that baby step for solo travel comes in. If you were with a partner, you'd still get that same unstructured time, but you'd be with your partner or a friend or whatever, this you're truly on your own to decide what you want to do. And so there are unstructured meal times, so you can challenge yourself to go eat dinner alone or you can make friends with some people in the group and go out with them or make friends with locals or whatever.

Matt Feret (17:17):

That's really nice. Yeah, because two ways I'm thinking about this. One, I'm single and I'd like to be around people and travel together and have a shared experience, but also there's another way of I'm single and yeah, I like my singledom. I want some interaction, but I also want some me time and some solo time.

Alyssa Johnson (17:35):

Yeah, that's where I'm at. And that's really why I created these was because I know people are sort of in that same space. I have lots of women that are coming that are married and have partners and their partner isn't interested in traveling or doesn't want do travel to the places where they want to go. So there are partnered people coming on the trip. It's not just for single people, but they want that solo time, that time to kind of find themselves a little bit. I was able to dive deep. I did get divorced, and that's sort of what kicked off my solo travel interest. So it gives them time to dive deep and figure out a little bit more about themselves and really reflect on who they are when they're not with somebody else, what are their interests actually when they're not with somebody else. And I think that's a really important part of solo travel that gets overlooked when you're always traveling with somebody else.

Matt Feret (18:25):

I bet. And I bet you also probably run into people whose husbands or wives are still working and they're not and they can't or they can't take time off, but someone else can. I mean, maybe there's an age gap of let's call it five years. Well, if you retire or you retire early and the other partner's got five years left, what are you supposed to do? Sit around for five years?

Alyssa Johnson (18:47):

Yeah, exactly. That happened to my parents. My dad retired two years earlier than my mom, and so he was living the lovely retired life and she was having to go into work and as soon as she retired, literally the week that she retired, they went on this amazing cross country road trip in their trailer. But for those two years he was sitting around just hanging around the house because what else was he going to do?

Matt Feret (19:08):

Yeah, that's the group travel piece. Let's go into the single travel piece, which is non-group. How do people, or how do you suggest or how do you work with people on that type of adventure?

Alyssa Johnson (19:21):

Same process as I do for any type of travel client. Folks will send in a form that's full of information about things that they were looking for. So that helps me really narrow down the option. It could be a cruise, it could be just a relaxing, all-inclusive resort vacation on a beach somewhere. It could be a European tour, it could be a tour in Asia. Really literally anything fill out that form. And it's sort of the same process for me as it is to book any sort of group or any sort of couple or partner tour. I narrow down all of the single supplement sales and prices that are going to be kind of to over budget for a single traveler so that they don't have to. So it's kind of the same process, but they still have me to kind of curate their options so that they're not sitting there because as a single or solo person, they don't have someone else to bounce ideas off of.


It's a hundred percent in their court. Rather than sharing that planning responsibility with anybody. And even with a group, it's easier. You can kind of bounce ideas around in a group chat, get kind of a group consensus, but when it's you, you're the one, you have no one else to make decisions, which can be a double-edged sword. It can be a good and a bad thing. You get to advocate for yourself and do what you want to do, but you also don't have anyone else to kind of please or compromise with. So it's a little bit of a double-edged sword there.

Matt Feret (20:46):

And I would imagine too, when you use a group setting, as you said, you can kind of come to a group consensus, but also I would imagine the packages are just that, right? There are Scotland, Ireland, or river crews down the Rhine or some of the, I mean, not knocking those at all, but there usually aren't expeditions in the Andes or a solo tour around Thailand. Some of these more exotic or more very specific things. I mean, call me crazy, but I want to go to Antarctica sometime in my life.

Alyssa Johnson (21:19):

Oh, that's on my bucket list too.

Matt Feret (21:20):

Yeah, right. I don't know that those are group, there are group tours. I don't know that there are, but I would imagine the logistics on solo travel are much more complex when going to these kind of far-flung places or these bucket list items as opposed to the group thing. How much additional planning does that take? You said a lot of it's on the individual. If they don't have a group like a motor coach, like you said, they don't have something shuttling them to and from the other things, what are the complexities of that solo travel beyond let's just say the norm? Well, maybe it's the norm, the normal kind of packages, the popular ones in Western Europe or the Americas.

Alyssa Johnson (21:59):

Yeah, you mentioned a really good one yourself, and that's the transportation is figuring out how you're going to get from point A to point B. It's a lot cheaper to ride share or grab a taxi when you're in a group of four or five even than when you're by yourself. You can split the costs between you and the other people in your group. So just by definition, solo travel is going to be more expensive because you're footing the entire bill. So that just adds another level of preparation, need and complexity to it. So besides the transport, there's also figuring out lodging. When you're with a group, you can usually, as I do get group rates if there's enough folks in your group, but when you're solo, you can literally stay anywhere. You could stay in a hostel if you wanted. You could stay in a five star luxury, four diamond resort if you wanted.


But that's all up to you to figure out and that cost is totally on you. And so I keep coming back to cost, but really in my mind, that's the differentiating factor is not having anybody else to split that cost of burden with so that it does, I don't want to say dampen, but it does possibly lessen the variety of activities that you can do on some type of budget, whether that budget is a lot or a little, we're all on some type of budget. And so that not having anybody else traveling with you to split those costs really can kind of lower the amount of times that you can solo travel. And also if you're afraid of flying like I am, yes, as a person who books travel for a living and travels a lot, I do not like getting on flights. And it is a lot scarier when you're a solo person. So if that's something that frightens you and it totally does me, it's fine, but it can kind of limit where you might be interested in going in any one shot. A flight to the other side of the country is a lot different than a flight to South America to get to Antarctica. It's a lot different than going to Dubai. So that also is kind of a limiting factor when you're not traveling with anybody else.

Matt Feret (23:59):

So Antarctica, Dubai, et cetera. In terms of the volume of these groups solo, I can think of the group slash solo adventures. Are they typically the, I'll say it again, the normal ones that Scotland, Ireland, England, that sort of thing, or do they go to those exotic locations and can you say, I want to go to Machu Picchu, or I want to hike a section of the Andes and I'm 60 and I'm not really sure how to do it or what equipment I need. It seems more complex than just hanging out on a cruise ship. Do those more complex kind of exotic group slash solo organizations or packages exist?

Alyssa Johnson (24:39):

They do, and I think they're only not booked because people don't think about it. And I think nobody's asked that question that you've just asked is does this exist and can I do it? So there are a couple tour companies that I work with that they will take as little as two people on a tour. So a lot of the European tour companies, they have to sell out before they'll, or they have a very large minimum number of people before they'll say, yes, this tour is happening. One of the ones that I work with does these exotic locations, does Machu Picchu, does hiking through the Andes does Dubai, and they'll go with as few as two people. So you could end up on a tour with one other person and you get that same experience that they would get if there was 30 people there. So I think that's the thing is nobody thinks to ask and nobody thinks like, Ooh, could I go and see Antarctica alone? The answer is yes, you totally could do that. It does exist. And they're actually really great tours because they're usually more intimate because not a lot of people think to do.

Matt Feret (25:37):

Awesome. So I want get to, I'm going to hit it really hard in a minute here, just the solo travel and the safety piece and what's real and what's not, what's overblown and what, I got to ask this now. What are some of the coolest, exotic location trips, adventure, et cetera, that you've ever either been on or sponsored or seen out there for the solo slash solo group traveler?

Alyssa Johnson (26:05):

Well, Antarctica, as we already talked about every February, it seems on social media, that's sort of Antarctica cruise season, that that's the main way that people get down there. They'll take an Antarctic cruise, and so you'll see people sailing over the Drake passage, the cruise ship will be kind of like this. I can't imagine for a day or two to get down to Antarctica.

Matt Feret (26:23):

Yeah, you're worried about flying. I don't want to be in a boat that's doing that. That

Alyssa Johnson (26:27):

Might be, yeah. So heads up for people wanting to go to Antarctica, there's about a day or two of this, most likely through the Drake passage, so that's really cool. I'm working on a trip now for somebody to Argentina, like a luxury trip of food and wine lovers, but they want to go all through the southern tip, go over to Chile and see the glacier fjords go through a shua and the whole Ra del Fuego. I don't book that very often. I love Argentina. I think it's amazing. And then I've been seeing some really cool tours in Japan that have just opened pre pandemic. They took a little while longer to open than a lot of other places that just kind of go around all of Japan. So you get the snowy capped mountains in the north, and then you get all the tropical goodness in the south and goes all through Japan. And I think that's a really cool, super intensive way to see the country.

Matt Feret (27:19):

That's awesome. So as I promised or I said before, solo travel, you mentioned at the very beginning of the show, you can't take pepper spray on a plane. And I think there could be certain, I mean, I would be somewhat wary of working with you or doing it on my own and saying, yeah, I'm going to go hang out in Argentina for a week or two weeks and go make my own travel itinerary. And then you get on the government websites and you see what countries are red, what countries are orange. I mean even I was looking at Mexico, I don't know, six months ago, and they were like, don't travel here. Don't take Ubers. I mean, very specific stuff. So there's a lot of this kind of fear out there that's nonspecific. I mean, don't travel to this country, really. The whole thing is how do I think about safety and solo travel?

Alyssa Johnson (28:15):

Yeah, that's an excellent question and I'm glad you brought up Mexico in particular because what people I think have to remember is that Mexico's a really big country. I mean, there's parts of it yes that are dangerous, but there's parts of it that are super safe. I have a cousin that's lived in Mexico, oh gosh, 20 plus years now, has never had a problem, lives in this lovely little area in Baja, California, super duper safe. So I think yes, do pay attention to the warnings, they're there for a reason, but also don't lump in a whole country with one or two dangerous areas. So be more specific when you're looking those large countries, Mexico, Argentina, any of these historically, what we think of as dangerous countries, be more specific in the areas that you're looking at rather than just being scared of the country as a whole.


There's places in the US that I feel less safe than places that I go in Mexico. So that's one piece of advice. And then the second piece of advice is, as you mentioned, we can't take pepper spray or knives on a plane. What do you do when you're out solo touring by yourself? So some things that I do are I carry a bag that's pickpocket proof, so it has slash proof straps. The zippers sort of locked together, pockets are buried really deep inside. I have for my passport, some travel clothing that I wear that has internal pockets and zip pockets. So you can keep your cash and your credit cards and literally on your person the whole time. This is really important for places like the Mediterranean area in the summer when pickpockets are really, really high, the best piece of advice that I have for everybody about safety is to listen to your gut.


It will never steer you wrong. It has never steered me wrong. It doesn't matter if you have a tour plan to go somewhere, if you really want to see this thing, if you come up to it or you turn the corner and something just feels off, don't do it. Just turn around, walk away. And then particularly if you're solo traveling, just be mindful of how much alcohol you consume because you want to keep your awareness around you at all times. And that sort of goes hand in hand with that listening to your gut. It's literally never steered me wrong, and it will never steer you wrong.

Matt Feret (30:29):

When I was a younger man, I remember walking around college areas and college campuses late at night going from place to place, and we all used to make fun of why do women go to the restroom together? Why do women always gather in clumps? And when I was young and I didn't really think of it because I'm a guy and I'm just wandering around and I'm untouchable when I'm in my late teens or early twenties, but it was basically like, yeah, women can't do that because every time you're out solo, you've got to be looking over your shoulder or worry about your physical safety. And I remember thinking way back when I was first introduced to that just kind of punched me right in the face like, oh yeah, I don't have to live that way at all or rarely have to live that way. And that's a real difference, stuck with me my whole life that even day to day, walking, traveling, especially, I got to think women have different self-awareness, different fears. They're looking at the passersby, they're looking at the restaurants differently, they're looking at the lighting, the stuff that I didn't even think about. And maybe I'm just naive that I need to think about it too, but let's talk about women and solo travel or even solo group travel and safety.


What are the realities there and what's just probably overblown and what's maybe not talked about enough?

Alyssa Johnson (31:56):

Yeah, no, you're totally right. And thank you for recognizing that and for saying that it's a whole different ballgame traveling solo as a woman versus traveling solo as a man or even in groups, like you said, there's just a different day-to-day reality for women. We are a lot more hyper aware of our surroundings. I would never go through a dark alleyway by myself where when I was married, my ex would've no problem walking down a dark alleyway. A man-

Matt Feret (32:21):

Wouldn't even think of it, just be like, yeah.

Alyssa Johnson (32:23):

No. Yeah, exactly. And I was like, are you sure that we want to go down there? Men don't think about it because it's not part of their reality. And so especially in traveling in a foreign country, it's something to be really aware of. And like I said, super trust your gut on this, particularly when you're in a country where the language spoken isn't your native language. And so you're not necessarily understanding what people are saying. It's going to be really important to rely on your intuition and again, trust those feelings. As a woman that we've lived with our whole lives, that helps us sus out some sketchy situations that's really going to be your best friend. And I'll say, I've never had a problem when I'm solo traveling, so I don't want it to sound really scary, but use your level of everyday awareness, maybe up one or two notches as you're going around a foreign country and start off somewhere, like I said, that speaks your native language. My first solo trip was to England, one because I was really interested in British history, but two, because they speak English and I knew it would be a nice easy jumping off point for me to kind get started. So you build that confidence traveling in a different country and then you can kind of step it up from there and step it up from there.

Matt Feret (33:31):

So yeah, it is kind of like the old spidey sense, right? It's go somewhere that's a little more comfortable first and then step it up. That makes a lot of sense. Personal protection, the spidey sense, the trust, your gut piece are there. And you mentioned language barrier, which you don't know what's being mumbled or said, and that can be unnerving. It could be talking about the tapas or it could be talking about you and you don't know. I can get that to be unnerving. What are there sections, maybe this isn't a fair question. Are there sections of the world that solo travel you call a timeout on?

Alyssa Johnson (34:09):

I think it's different for every person and their risk tolerance. For me, it would be places obviously that there's currently a war happening. I'm not going to be going to be on my list Ukraine anytime soon.

Matt Feret (34:18):

Yeah, that'd be on my list.

Alyssa Johnson (34:20):

Or for me in particular, places that are less friendly to women, countries that are maybe the Taliban’s in charge of right now or that have different rules for women that I may not know. I'm not personally going to go to those countries by myself because I don't want to unknowingly break a rule. I want to respect the cultures of countries that I'm visiting. And if I'm not an expert in that country and I don't know what parts of me need to be covered or whether it's allowed for a woman to go out at a certain time, I'm not going to do that. Egypt, for example, is really a good example. It's totally on my bucket list, but a fellow travel agent was telling me that she will only go, she's an Egypt expert, actually, she'll only go with a group or a guide, even if she's so low. She'll always have a guide with her because she doesn't want to unknowingly break a custom or a rule that might put her at risk, so she won't even wander around there. And again, that comes up to everybody's risk tolerance level and I really want to go visit some of these countries, but because I don't know the nuances, I want to be really, really respectful of these countries that I want to go visit. But I also don't want to be putting myself into risk either.

Matt Feret (35:30):

Makes a lot of sense. Group travel in my brain typically ends up coming up with some sort of insurance and even solo travel. So let's talk about trip insurance first. Will you please tell me whether or not I need to buy trip insurance and if I buy it, is it kind of one of those things? It's almost like when I'm buying, I'm replacing tires on my car. Well, we'll replace it a hundred percent unless you hit a duck or unless you hit a curb or unless the tire goes flat or you read the fine print and you're like, wait a minute, what am I actually paying for? Do I need travel insurance?

Alyssa Johnson (36:07):

Yes, yes, yes. I'm so glad you asked that question. I actually make clients sign a waiver that they chose to decline. If they decline travel insurance. It's that important and I want to make it that clear to clients that I feel like it's pretty much a necessity when you go. Now, the difference is what travel insurance do you book? Because you run into those situations like you said with tire insurance where oh yeah, if you got sick on a Wednesday at noon and it's this very specific disease, then you're covered and then you're good. But anything else? Sorry. So typically what I have found is the insurances that are offered when you purchase a flight, there's always a, are you sure you want to insure your purchase at the end? Or if you book with a cruise line or resort, they usually have a insurance that kind of is with it.


Do not book those insurances. They're really hard to work with. I learned this the hard way with the client. They are those type of tire insurances where they have all these very specific conditions that they'll pay out under and they won't pay very much. So my advice is to book a third party travel insurance, particularly I really like travel insured is what I use for myself. Travel guard is really good as well. They have different rules. I'll speak about travel insured, I'm not sure about the other ones, but they have a cancel for any reason policy that if you purchase it within 21 days of your initial travel deposit date, you'll get 75% back for canceling for any reason. You could just decide you don't want to go and they'll give you 75% back. So purchasing that insurance in a timely manner is critical and they'll give you cash back versus whether if you buy an insurance policy through the cruise line or the resort, you usually get a travel credit versus cash back in your pocket.


So that's the other benefit of working with a third party travel insurer is you'll get cash back. They're not affiliated with anybody, so they can't give you a credit back. You'll just get cash back in your pocket. And policies vary state by state. So it's really important for people to read the policy documents before they purchase of whatever policy they're reading, see if they're purchasing outside that 21 day mark, see what the cancellation conditions are, if there's a particular thing they're worried about. Usually that's what happens if someone's like, oh, my parents are not doing so well, what if I need to cancel my trip? So they can look with that specific situation in mind and see if that's something that's covered under that policy.

Matt Feret (38:33):

That's really good. I'm in the wild wonderful world of insurance. I do have one more question about that. So if I've got a medical condition or a chronic condition and I feel like it's holding me back, but darn it I want to travel, but I'm kind of worried, what if I lose my prescriptions? What if I fall? What if I get sick? What if I have a really bad accident and I've got to be airlifted places? So on the medical side of thing, on the solo travel or even the group solo travel, what should I be looking for there that would ease my mind? I mean, I don't want to not travel because I feel like something might happen or that I've got some condition that might limit me or cause me to have an emergency in a foreign country. What should I be thinking about around the medical piece of this?

Alyssa Johnson (39:20):

So all those third party insurance covers, they will cover medical things as well. One of them travel insured offers with the exception of five states because of insurance laws, an annual travel insurance policy. So it'll cover all of your trips for a whole year versus having to purchase each one. And so you just need, again to read those documents of what's covered. But they have really great coverage amounts in general for medical issues for airlifting. And you can customize those plans too in most states where you can check a box if you want repatriation coverage, check a box if you want medical evacuation coverage, check a box if you want electronic device coverage. If you're doing a work vacation trip and you've got your work laptop with you, you'll want to have that electronic device protection to protect your work laptop or whatever. If you've got some expensive a camera equipment with you so you can kind of check and uncheck and add and subtract these policies that are kind of riders onto the main policy based on your particular concern level.

Matt Feret (40:24):

And it's probably, this gets again into crazy insurance speak, but that's it's kind of part of what I do. Yeah, I mean if they're still employed, they have usually group sponsored health insurance. You got to read your policy because you don't know how much foreign travel is covered. If you're on Medicare, there are certain Medicare plans that cover travel outside the US and there are ones that don't or they get capped at $50,000 given the nuance and given the fact that no one listening besides a nerd like me around this stuff is going to want to ask, call, look in all their paperwork, is it just a pretty good idea to go get some sort of medical coverage even if maybe even you're doubling up?

Alyssa Johnson (41:08):

Yeah, a hundred percent. You never know what could happen, especially if you're on a cruise and you're in international waters or health insurance I believe isn't going to kick in. And cruise ship doctors I know from personal experience are very expensive. So please don't travel without the travel insurance. You never know when you might need it. At some point your insurance here either won't kick in or a limit will kick in and you'll need that supplemental travel insurance. And just from a professional's perspective, I purchase it every single time I go. I live in one of the five states that you can't have an annual policy, and so I spend the money every single time I travel and I travel a lot. So that's how important it is that I'm buying it every single time. And I'm only 38 and I'm in relatively good health and I'm still purchasing it every single time I travel.

Matt Feret (41:54):

That's good advice. And yeah, you said international waters. There are things in Medicare that are like, well, you're covered here and you're covered in transit to Alaska, but not to other places. It's mind boggling for, I don't even remember it, but I know it's there. I'd have to go look it up and I do Medicare every single day. So yeah, that's great advice on that piece. I've also heard of instances where people are on vacation and get into an A TV accident and they get airlifted even if they may not have been able to be airlifted and they get presented with a $15,000 bill.

Alyssa Johnson (42:30):

Those things can happen and you'll be shocked. Even dental care in particular, again, another personal situation, I had a cracked tooth on a cruise ship. There is no dentist on a cruise ship. So if you need to visit a dentist in a foreign country, you'll want to have some kind of insurance to cover it for you.

Matt Feret (42:46):

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So solo travel, trust your gut, maybe find a group, maybe take baby steps. In that travel piece, what questions or other advice around not only travel but solo travel or solo group travel? Did I not ask or touch on that I should have?

Alyssa Johnson (43:07):

I think the thing I really enjoy making sure people know is must haves for packing regardless of whether you're going for a group, regardless of whether you're solo traveling. So back to what I just said about the dental issue. I always pack a dental repair kit, one of those little tiny tubes of cement that you can get on Amazon or at a store. I was able to fill my own cracked tooth and so well, the dentist that I saw when I got back home asked me, are you sure you did this yourself? Like I said, there's no dentist on a cruise shipper. Usually when you're out traveling, you might not necessarily want to avail yourself of the local dental care, but

Matt Feret (43:45):

I had no idea that you could self-fill a tool. That's a new one on me. Yes.

Alyssa Johnson (43:51):

Yeah, and I only know that from personal experience because I've had an open cavity, an air on an open cavity is really painful. And so that's something that I always recommend and almost nobody's ever thought of that before. And the tube of cement is super tiny, so it's not taking up space. Also a really basic medical first aid kit just with travel sizes of things like pain reliever or cold medicine because sometimes in countries, in other countries, they either outright won't have what you're looking for or they'll have a different brand or different type that you're not sure, especially if you're on a lot of medication. I've run into that situation too where clients were on a lot of specific, they can only take specific remedies, so you'll want to make sure that you have those with you as well. And then I always bring with me, I might be an over packer, but I know a lot of people advise packing cubes.


I bring vacuum bags, so they make the ones that you hook a vacuum up to, like a space saver bag. They make travel ones with a travel pump so that you can still carry a carry-on or your check bag or whatever, but you're taking up a lot less space and it's a lot more organized. You can fit a lot more in there, but you just have to keep in mind the weight limits of your luggage. But that's sort of like a packing hack that I don't see around a lot is to use those space saver bags made for travel that come with a little pumps so you can do it yourself.

Matt Feret (45:13):

Yeah, that's all awesome advice. This has been really enlightening and a lot of fun, and now I'm thinking about Antarctica and how the heck I'm going to go do it.

Alyssa Johnson (45:23):

It's a pricey one, so you'll need to save up for it. It's definitely not like a spur of the moment trip, but it's definitely on my bucket list too. I'm going to get there someday, Matt.

Matt Feret (45:31):

Yeah, well, me too. Maybe I'll see you there. Thanks so much for all your time today.

Alyssa Johnson (45:36):

Yeah, thanks for having me. It's been a blast.

Matt Feret (45:45):

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Matt Feret is the host of The Matt Feret Show, which focuses on the health, wealth and wellness of retirees, people over fifty-five and caregivers helping loved ones. He’s also the author of the book series, Prepare for Medicare – The Insider’s Guide to Buying Medicare Insurance and Prepare for Social Security – The Insider’s Guide to Maximizing Your Retirement Benefits.

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