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Don't Be Afraid to Backpack Europe Alone! (Tips for Solo Travelers)


These days, it seems like everyone's going backpacking to Europe with a group of friends.  But just because you're all by your lonesome, a backpacking trip should not be out of the question.

Backpacking around Europe can be just as safe, and just as much fun (if not more), as traveling with your dearest friend. Just follow these tips, and you, too, can have an awesome backpacking trip.

Think Europe
If it's your first time traveling alone, backpacking Europe is the way to go.  Europe is steeped in history, and offers some of the world's most breathtaking sights and sublime works of art.  Europe has an efficient public-transportation infrastructure, and its far-reaching network of youth hostels means you'll never want for a place to rest your head.  Europe is also largely modernized and fairly safe.

Find your Inner Social Butterly
Don't be shy when you get to the hostel.  I travel alone frequently, and when I walk into a hostel lounge, I don't see a crowd of strangers; I see a group of brand new friends!  Once you've settled in, just walk right up to someone, introduce yourself, and start making conversation.  Be confident; don't worry that the people you meet will think you're weird, because they won't.  Nine times out of ten, they will look at you in awe and say, "Wow, you're so brave, to be traveling alone!"

Find a Nightime Buddy
If you go out at night, take someone with you, and make sure you return together.  This should be a snap if you've followed Tip 2.  Going out in groups not only offers you some protection, it also helps ensure that you'll find your way back. If you do get lost (which is half the fun), at least you won't be lost alone.  But never lose track of your fellow hostellers, even if you make new friends on your night out; remember, they're placing their trust in you, just as you're placing your trust in them.

Be Alert
Especially when in transit.  Train and bus stations, as well as crowded tourist areas, are rife with pickpockets. Be aware of your surroundings and try to notice if anyone is watching or following you; this is a sign they could be thinking about robbing you.  (Usually, just noticing them will make them look for easier prey).  While in transit, secure your luggage by locking or tying it to a rack.  Making your pack more difficult to carry away discourages thieves.  Keep your most valuable possessions - passport, credit cards, train tickets and cash - in a money belt, or ask the receptionist at your hostel to lock them in a safe.  Carry the cash you plan to spend that day, along with your other necessaries, in a daypack or bag.  Always carry your bag in front of you, where you can see it, and always keep it closed.  Bags should be worn so that the strap crosses your chest.  While in transit, keep your valuables on your person.

Be Wary of "Real" Strangers
Of course, I don't mean the friends you'll make in your hostels.  They're travelers like yourself, and are usually trustworthy.  Be cautious of friendly-seeming strangers who approach you on the street.  Often they are scam artists, looking to get something for nothing.  If a stranger tries to strike up a conversation on the street, ignore them, walk away, and don't feel bad about it.  By the same token, don't accept food or drink from strangers on trains or buses.  Most of the time, these people are just trying to be gracious, but you never know their real agenda.  Stay safe; politely decline.

Ask, Ask, Ask
Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  If you find yourself lost or in trouble, don't be afraid to ask for help.  Your hostel receptionist will be glad to assist, as will your consulate.  If you're on the street, a police officer is your best bet; you'll know them because they'll be wearing snazzy uniforms.  If you can't find a police officer, ask a shopkeeper or find a friendly-looking local.  People under thirty are most likely to speak English, especially in southern and Eastern Europe.  Always remember to inquire if the person speaks English first.

Give'em an Oscar Performance
If someone harasses you, attract attention to yourself.  Scream, struggle, and make as much noise as you can.  Acting like a lunatic will make your attacker nervous, and attracting witnesses will make him go away.

Lonely Hearts
If you do get lonely, be glad of it.  Traveling alone has its distinct advantages, one of which is that you're totally free to do as you please.  You'll never need to waste time arguing with your buddies about where to go or what to see.  And, since you're on your own, you'll never get tired of the people you're with.  Even your best friends can really get on your nerves when you're traveling together.

So, get your gear together and go for it!  The world is waiting.  Even if you get out there and realize that traveling alone just isn't for you, it's no big deal. You can always find someone who's headed the same way.

Marjorie McAtee is a freelance writer living in France