Update May 7, 2022: The STEP program.
A follower asked me if I had any tips for people going to carnival solo, and I cannot believe I have never thought to address this topic. I AM A PRO AT SOLO TRAVEL. Believe it or not, I have gone solo for most of my carnival jumps, including Trinidad. Funny but serious, getting people together for a group trip should be an Olympic sport. I would never scrap going anywhere just because everyone backed out. You only live once, and carnival invokes some severe FOMO. I got the tips you need to get you mentally grounded and prepared if you consider solo travel.
Note: even if you are traveling with a group, many of these tips apply to you. So read on!
Consider a travel concierge service.
Many Carnival travel concierge services will take out the stress of booking flights, accommodations, and fete tickets. While this may be the pricier option, concierge services will connect you to a group of people. In many cases, you won’t even need to worry about transportation, because they have it all figured out for you.
5 days before I was supposed to go to Trinidad 2020, I was homeless (a story to be told later) and connected with Soca Islands. This was a blessing. Prior to that mess, I couldn’t get into ANY of the popular fetes, but Soca Islands got me access to Ceasar’s Army Ambush, Soaka Street Festival, Soca Brainwash, and RedAntz Jouvert. Soca Islands is gradually gearing up for Trinidad 2023, so check them out.
Travel solo, but connect with others.
It’s true that you never play mas alone. Would you believe I have made a handful of friends going to Carnival solo? Search Facebook groups and engage in discussions. Even if you are not traveling solo, the Facebook groups may have intel on events and developments not yet publicly known.
Many Facebook groups will also have links to WhatsApp chats to connect with and get information on what’s happening in the area. You can get familiar with an entire group or connect with just a few attending people. WhatsApp chats are abuzz during the events, and people frequently send messages to link with the people they have been talking to in the group.
I also recommend the SoloMas app, which connects you to people who also go to Carnival Solo. Exercise discernment if you choose to share accommodations or transportation with people you don’t know. You should also ask experienced masqueraders if they know anyone they trust going to that particular event, and if they can connect you to them.
Enroll in the STEP program.
If going overseas, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It is a free service that allows US citizens and nationals to register their overseas travel with the nearest US Embassy.
The benefits of enrolling in STEP include:
- Receiving important safety information about your area of travel.
- Establishing a means for the US Embassy to contact you in an emergency back home.
- Help the US Embassy get you in a natural disaster or civil unrest.
Personal Security for going to carnival solo.
To me, this is the most important. I will say you need to let your immediate circle know your FULL itinerary. This includes your flights, transportation reservations, accommodations, fetes, tourist activities, and even who you’re playing mas with. If there are any deviations to the plans, you should update your contacts accordingly. Check-in with everyone often. When my sister was overseas, she maintained a group chat to keep everyone abreast of her location. If we didn’t hear for a while, we knew to check with her or escalate things if something was awry. If you and your contacts have iPhones, I would recommend you share your location until you get back home.
Hook-ups (’cause we’re adults). If you meet who you feel is the love of your life (cause carnival will do that), your people better know a government name, that individual’s phone number, and where you’re going with that person. I personally snap a picture of them when they aren’t looking. I’m not sorry about this whatsoever. Send it to your circle back home, and let them know when you two part ways.
Wear an alert device. For example, my Garmin 945 has an alert feature that I can trigger to contact people on my list to track my exact location. Reaching for your phone may distract you, but pressing a button on a watch, ring, necklace, etc., will allow you to keep your eyes on your surroundings. This feature came in handy just a few weeks ago.
More personal security tips
Unpopular opinion: Skip AirBnB’s. In this day and age, you have read horror stories from people who have traveled and stayed in an AirBnB. Most hotels have access to security, cameras, and an additional hard-wired phone in an emergency (especially if your cellphone reception is poor). If you are staying in an Airbnb or hotel, I suggest you never stay on the 1st floor and ask to be appointed to a room far from an exit.
Never tell anyone that you are traveling or staying somewhere alone. In some cases, I’ve lied about my marital status. In other words: lie for the sake of your safety. Everyone has seen the movie “Taken,” right? Ok.
If you are traveling overseas, get a local SIM card. You may require your cell service to unlock your phone. If you can’t, purchase a burner phone with a local SIM card and keep it for emergencies.
Personal protection measures.
If you have a concealed carry license in the US, and want to keep your firearm at your accommodation or with you in some areas, know the state reciprocity laws. Also, check the regulations on flying and claiming a firearm overseas here. Check the laws governing where your firearm can be inside a vehicle. NOTE: I do not encourage anyone to bring a weapon to a carnival or any fetes, and you wouldn’t be able to get in with one anyway.
Know your surroundings.
Did you know that taxi drivers have a dress code in some Caribbean islands? Some taxi colors are even different from the yellow you might see in the United States. While overseas, I take a photo of the car and license plate before I get in, and send it to my people back home. I also snap photos of any identification cards or certificates displayed inside.
If you are traveling stateside, you can look up crime data maps in the areas you might stay in. As always, talking to someone who knows or lives in the area (if traveling overseas) is super helpful. You should also seek Facebook groups and WhatsApp chats for this information.
Download the app: Maps.me. You can download the maps from all over the world in advance, so if you don’t have cellphone reception, you can still get where you need to be or find alternate routes. (If you stay at one place for a while, I recommend you never use the same route every day).
Take note of the nearest hospitals and police stations. If you are overseas, you should know where the nearest US Embassy is if you lose your passport or need any other services.
Defeat FOMO and stay safe!
I actually find solo travel fun for many reasons, but I also make sure I take the steps necessary to be safe. If you are a future solo masquerader, don’t fret! And if you’re traveling solo and run into me, we can chip down the road together.