Punta Cana: How I Prepared to Travel Alone, Where I Stayed, and What I Did
After my trip to South Beach Miami in February 2017 for my 40th birthday, I caught the “travel bug” and I knew instantly that this was the first of many vacations I planned to take. Being a school counselor, I’m lucky enough to have the summers off and after talking with a coworker who traveled to the Dominican Republic alone the previous summer, I felt that this would be a great destination for not only my first solo trip but also for my first international trip.
Once I decided that Punta Cana was going to happen I immediately began to research places to stay. With the options being endless, I of course turned to Facebook to ask for recommendations. I received very little suggestions and when researching them, I didn’t feel 100% about whether or not they met my needs. After weeks of looking at trips on Apple Vacations, Groupon, Travel by Jen, and Trip Advisor (all great sites by the way), I decided to really think about the type of vacation I wanted. Did I plan to explore the area? Did I want to party? Did I want to be around a lot of people? After this reflection, I decided that the type of vacation I wanted, was a relaxing one. I wanted to feel at home, but away from home (if that makes sense). My goal was to find something all-inclusive with a nice view, beautiful beach, and easy access to the pool. Oh, I also didn’t want to be bothered with a large crowd or a lot of kids.
Where I Stayed
My coworker said she used Air BnB and loved it. I was a little hesitant because initially I wanted to purchase a package deal that included the three A’s (airfare, accommodations, and amenities). But while researching, I realized that you might be able to save and find better deals if you purchase each separately. Always do your math and add up the cost to determine the best option. On Air BnB, I found a ton of wonderful options! You can rent a room or an entire home. The options are endless. It wasn’t long before I came across this beautiful loft condo that had everything I wanted! I instantly fell in love with it! It felt like it was meant to be. The icing on the cake…there was an optional all-inclusive package available. The condo is located at the Alsol Del Mar Soto Grande, which is a condo resort located in the Punta Cana, Cap Cana area of the Dominican Republic. This resort that is not overcrowded, has a private beach, and a huge infinity pool, not to mention beautiful views. Can you purchase your entire vacation from the resort’s website…absolutely. I din’t find this out until after I rented the condo through Air BnB. Do I have any regrets? No and I’ll tell you why. The woman I rented the condo from, Kelly, was accessible prior to my vacation, during my stay, and once I returned home from my trip. If I had a question or an issue, she took care of it. I received personalized, one on one attention the entire time. Checking in and out was effortless since I didn’t have to go through the resort, the condo had key-less entry so no worries about accessing it even if you arrive to the resort 10 pm at night as I did, and she even had a guidebook with a list of places to visit and things to do. Click here or on the picture to see the condo listing on Air BnB for yourself.
Yes! The pictures above were taken by me on my trip. Beautiful right! I woke up to that view every morning. This resort was quaint, family and pet friendly, and more importantly for me, not flooded with vacationers. I purchased the all inclusive package when I arrived at around $75 per night. This included unlimited meals and drinks (yes, adult drinks too). The condo came equipped with a full kitchen, full fridge, 1.5 bathrooms, two balconies with gorgeous views of the ocean, cable/internet with Apple TV, washer/dryer, and everything you need to prepare a great meal (pots, pans, plates, etc.). There was even snorkeling gear and beach towels available too. There’s even a grocery store close by to stock up on food and water. The food at the resort was amazing and very well presented.
There is only one restaurant on the premises that offers a buffet style breakfast and dinner made to order. You can eat inside or outside for a beautiful view. I ate outside every morning and every night. For lunch you can enjoy your meal by the pool, by the beach, or at the covered outdoor seating area by the pool. The menus changed daily so there was always something new to try. The drinks were great too! They are not full of sugar like some of the reviews I’ve read about other all-inclusive resorts. Another plus is the staff. They were awesome and super friendly! They catered to my every need. I always made sure to leave a tip even though it was included with the all-inclusive package. You sometimes receive extra attention when you do so. It was worth it! What can I say, this resort met all of my needs.
The only con is the location is remote and requires transportation to get anywhere which can cost almost $60 round trip. However, there are a ton of excursions available and other local beaches you can visit that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Initially I planned to never leave the resort, but my friend joined me for the weekend and we visited Coco Bongo which is an all-inclusive club. If you want a show, it’s a must see! And we purchased the Sunrise Cruise right from the hotel lobby for our last day in Punta Cana. This was awesome! They pick you up from the resort and bring you back, take you snorkeling, play water games, and it includes drinks and finger foods. We met some amazing people. All in all, I loved this resort. I loved using Air BnB. I loved the condo and I definitely plan to stay here again in the future.
How I Prepared for My Trip
I joined a travel group: The thought of traveling alone was empowering yet a little scary. But I was proud of myself for even taking the initiative. One of the biggest things that helped me was knowing that I am not the only woman in this big ol’ world traveling alone. At the suggestion of a friend, I joined the Facebook group, The Travel Divas. I found this group to be very informative and supportive. They also have an extensive list of trips that you can get in on and meet Divas that are traveling all over the world. I am definitely thinking about the trip to Dubai or Egypt!
I familiarized myself with the area: Knowing your surroundings is an added bonus. I used Google Earth to scope out the area where the hotel is located to get a visual look at the land. It is better to know where you are going and what areas may be safe to venture out to. I knew that my hotel was located in a remote area that required a secured pass to enter (my Air BnB hostess, Kelly obtained one for me). Using Google Earth showed me everything right at the palm of my hand.
I loaded up on apps: I used several apps to keep me on track with preparing for and while on my vacation. I used Google Translate to help me communicate with the staff at the resort. Most of them spoke English but I think it’s nice to be able to greet people properly. It is also helpful for reading signs. You can change the language and type in what it is you want to say, and Google Translate will tell you how to say it. It has an audio component as well so you can hear how it should be said.
Another app that helped me out a lot was the XE Currency app. The Dominican Republic does except US dollars but you are sometimes charged in Dominican pesos. This app helped me to ensure I wasn’t overcharged. It was very accurate and up to date on the exchange rate.
I purchased my flight through American Airlines and they have an awesome app. This app allowed me to check in effortlessly, gave me flight updates and changes before they were even announced at the airport, and it held my boarding pass so no need to stand in line to print one. Check to see if the airline you are using has an app. Most of them do. I am using Allegiant Air for an upcoming trip back to Florida, and I’ve downloaded their app which has already sent me reminders about my upcoming trip. Some airlines offer perks and rewards for using their apps too.
If you are using Air BnB, download the app. You can stay in touch with the person you are renting from and you will get some awesome reminders of your upcoming trip. As I mentioned, most locations have a guidebook with a list of recommended local places to visit with reviews from other travelers.
There are a ton of apps you can use to prepare for your travel but these were the most helpful for me. To keep up with the weather, add the location you are visiting to your phone’s weather widget. This can also help you with time changes if you may be affected.
I paid for airport transport ahead of time: I read that the Punta Cana airport has a ton of cabbies (cab drivers) that solicit you right as you get off the plane. This is a true statement but a polite “no thank you” works just fine. It can be a little overwhelming. I used Caribbean Dream to transport me from the airport to my hotel and they picked me up from the hotel to bring me back to the airport, along with my friend, to come home. They were awesome! I had a private vehicle. They waited even though my flight was late arriving. They had a sign with their name on it so I was able to identify them right away and avoid the crowd. They give you a pick up time from the hotel based on your departure flight time. Great service and the vehicle was clean. It wasn’t expensive at $70 for two people. Even though I arrived alone, I paid for 2 people both ways. It ended up being cheaper. I definitely recommend them. Click Caribbean Dream to check out their website. They also offered me a free excursion and they have other excursion offers on their website. Bonus…you can pay via PayPal!
I used travel credit cards: This was tricky for me. I had no credit cards up until the point where I decided to start traveling. Not that I am against them, I just never felt a need for one. So I did some research and realized you can rack up on a lot of points with the right card. I am in no way promoting using credit cards nor am I promoting any credit card companies but after doing extensive research, I decided on the Venture One Visa Card. It just so happened that a pre-approval offer came in the mail so signing up and getting approved was easy. I planned to use this card while traveling internationally since there are no fees for international travel. However, because I waited the last minute to apply, my card was not going to come in time for my trip. I really didn’t want to use my bank cards and when talking to the bank, they couldn’t help me last minute either. I did find a solution….WalMart! I purchased a Netspend Prepaid Visa Card. The reason I went with this card is due to the fact that it can be used internationally. It is also refillable via the app. You may be charged 3.5% on the USD when using it out of country, but it worked great for me. You get a text update after every purchase which is nice. And they have a useful app too. Before purchasing a prepaid card, read the fine print to be sure it can be used internationally! Very few allow you to. I set a spending budget and put what I needed on the card to pay for my all-inclusive meal plan and to purchase trinkets and things while there. I carried about $200 in small bills for tipping and other miscellaneous items. I had more than what I needed but felt comfortable and prepared in case of an emergency. My advice is to get your money right well in advance!
What I Purchased for My Trip
You can see from the above pictures that I enjoyed myself! When it comes to packing, I tend to go overboard when preparing for vacation especially when it comes to clothes and shoes. I’m a woman who loves to shop! My advice…don’t prepare so far in advance that you make too many unnecessary purchases. There were some key items I needed now that I plan to start traveling more each summer.
Luggage: Indecisiveness haunts me sometimes. I couldn’t decide if I wanted an upright, hard luggage, soft luggage, or everything in between. All I knew is I wanted something different than what I used during my trip to South Beach Miami (Vera Bradley weekender and Kipling backpack). None of my luggage had wheels which was terrible when running to get to my flight on time. I also wanted something light, carry-on size, and easy to lift onto the overhead compartment. I found the perfect solution at my local Academy Sports store. I purchased the Magellan Outdoors Summit Wheeled Backpack. This bag is lightweight, has tons of pockets, and comfortable straps. The wheels glide smoothly on surfaces and the handle is easy to lift up and down. I was very pleased with this purchase and it fits in the overhead compartment with room to spare. This brand is exclusively sold at Academy Sports. Click here for a similar option available on Amazon.
Passport wallet with RFID: There was no way I was going to carry my bulky wallet on vacation with me. There are passport holders and there are passport wallets. I opted for the passport wallet that way I could keep up with everything all in one place (passport, money, credit cards, parking pass from the airport, etc). Yes, you have to remove your passport from the wallet at times but I felt safe in knowing I could secure everything together. I purchased a sturdy, gray leather passport wallet and it served it’s purpose. Plus it’s a great way to store my passport when I am not traveling. They come in a ton of colors! Some even come with a strap to keep them closed. I used an elastic ponytail band to keep mind closed. Purchase yours right here.
Compression bags: Yes, I pack like a girl which means I over pack! Thanks to the compression bags I purchased, I was able to get 7 pairs of shorts, 7 tops, 1 dress, 3 bathing suits, 1 cover up, underwear and bras, airport outfit, 4 flip flops, and I’m sure I missed something, stuff into my carry-on. Yes all of that in one compression bag that fit perfectly into my wheeled backpack. I was impressed! I purchased a pack of three, all different sizes. I only used one and carried the others along to store my wet and dirty clothes in. They didn’t require any special machines or anything. All you had to do was stuff them, roll them, and seal them. Bonus tip: I used the laptop compartment of my backpack to store shoes. I only packed flats. So…I packed way more than what I needed for a 6 day trip but I was happy! These Lewis N. Clark Compression Bags were a life saver.
TSA approved travel locks: I purchased three. I put a lock on all of the compartments I wanted to keep closed such as the main compartment of my backpack and my personal carry-on item. These are also helpful if you want to lock up things you leave behind in your room or if you want to lock things up while you are at the pool or beach. I like the flexible ones because they allow you to lock things up to a beach chair or something if necessary. Here’s what I used.
Anti-theft cross-body purse: Call me overly cautious but I wasn’t sure what I was in for traveling alone. I’d rather be overly cautious than have something stolen or lost while in a foreign country. I love, love, love this small Travelon Anit-Theft Bag that I purchased. It has just the right amount of compartments. The zippers hook/lock making it harder for someone to open, and the straps cannot be easily cut or ripped. It’s also waterproof. I use this bag even when I am not traveling now. It also has RFID blocking which protects you from credit card scanners. I also purchased a waist belt that held my cards and cash and laid flat on my waist. I only wore it the one time I went out dancing. I wore very loose fitting shorts and didn’t want to carry a purse. It fit seamlessly under my clothing. My money was secure and hidden and it stayed in place. Though I didn’t use it much, I can see myself using it on other adventures. It’s a great alternative to carrying a purse. I purchased this one with RFID blocking by Lewis N. Clark.
Other useful items: I bet you are wondering where I put my toiletries since I stuffed my backpack with clothes and shoes. Well I have a gray leather tote bag that is the perfect personal item size and fits underneath airline seats. I put my cross-body bag, snacks, scarf (I always travel with one), toiletries (oral hygiene products, hair products, body products, and makeup), and had enough room for trinkets on the way home. I like the fact that this bag has a pocket on the back perfect for storing my phone so I didn’t have to dig for it. This bag was a Christmas gift from my mom and I have no idea where she got it. But you can find a similar one here on Amazon.
I wanted to be comfortable for my flight so I purchased some calf-length workout leggings. The pair I wore home were really nice. They had a pocket on the leg that was roomy enough to hold my phone and money for easier access. The pair I wore going had a pocket in the waistline that was nice for storing cash so I didn’t have to reach in my wallet. I purchased these from Academy Sports and they were on sale! They made my ride very comfortable. I also purchased simple and cute shorts and tops that I could interchange and mix and match. This worked out perfectly. They were airy and lightweight, perfect for the hot Caribbean sun. While traveling, I wanted something comfortable for my feet. Last time I wore my white Converse but I wanted something that was sporty and matched my workout attire (yes I’m anal like that) so I purchased these JSport Jambu Wendy Walking Shoe in black. OMG! So comfortable. They are easy to put on and take off, no laces to tie, and they have memory foam cushioning on the inside. They are my new workout shoes as well as travel shoes. I don’t recommend flip flops as I heard how awfully nasty airport floors are. Do whatever makes you comfortable. I wouldn’t wear shorts or a dress either. Leggings or jeans, with a tee shirt, denim shirt or light sweater are my go-to items.
If you are going to the Caribbean, don’t forget your sunscreen! I did bring some and still got burned due to the fact that I was so relaxed and fell asleep by the pool. I was happy to have my big brim sun hat! At the end of the day…I had an awesome vacation! Yes a lot of preparation and shopping went into preparing me for my first international adventure but every penny spent was for a good reason. At least I feel it was. It has also made me even more prepared for future endeavors. Stay tuned for more travel posts and feel free to ask questions or share some of your favorite travel items and tips.