Top 10 Tips for Solo Women Travelers in Europe
Traveling alone can be an incredibly liberating experience. A bonus for women traveling solo in Europe is that the region is fairly safe. Of course, no place is perfect, and you need to use common sense. Consider the following travel tips to help you make the most of your solo voyage:
1. Be Light At Heart & In Luggage
Packing is a great way to get excited, but remember to keep it light. When traveling solo, there is no one to watch your stuff when you need a bathroom break, so only pack what you can carry into a stall with you. If you plan to fly within Europe, remember that discount airlines charge baggage fees.
There are a few “must-haves”: travel size toiletries, a journal and a camera. But remember, the list of the things you really need is shorter: cash, credit cards, your passport. Anything forgotten can be purchased while abroad.
2. Planning Ahead
Some travelers spend months planning. Others, like me, book days before leaving. But one thing you should always book in advance is your first night’s accommodation. Consider your price range. Hostels are cheap, but hotels can be affordable. Convents and university residences are great alternatives too.
Have an idea of the vacancy rate in the areas you plan to visit. Events like the running of the bulls in Pamploma, Spain draw busloads of tourists, and unless you want to sleep on the streets, you may need to book a hostel up to a year ahead.
3. Stay Healthy
You won’t leave Europe very happy if you end up sick. Purchase travel health insurance before you leave, especially for a long trip. Pack medicines and vitamins in their original labeled containers. Take care of yourself on the road: remember to eat, even when you’re busy, drink lots of water, and wear sunscreen.
4. Stay Safety Smart
Even in Europe, women need to stay safety smart, and as a lone traveler, you have to be especially careful. Go with your instincts. If you don’t trust someone, avoid telling them that you are alone. You can always pretend to be meeting a friend or to be married (some women even wear a fake ring).
Guard your belongings. European cities are notorious for pickpockets. Money belts are helpful and should be invisible under your clothing. Lockers can be robbed, so keep your passport and money with you at all times. Always ask an attendant at your hostel to point out the bad parts of town. If you need to use a map, be discrete so you won’t appear lost. Most importantly, walk with confidence and stay aware of your surroundings.
5. Learn Travel Skillz
If the phrase “gets lost in a paper bag” applies to you, consider learning some travel skills before you leave, like how to orient a map and use a compass. When you are lost in the middle of Venice (and you definitely will be), knowing your hostel is north is helpful.
It’s also useful to know a few phrases in the local language. It’s considered more polite to ask if someone speaks English in their own language (“Parlez-vous Anglais?” goes a long way in Paris). Another helpful phrase: “excuse me, where is the bathroom?”
6. Talk to Strangers
It might seem counter-intuitive, but traveling alone is a chance to break that childhood rule and talk to as many strangers as you please. Meet locals, meet other travelers and never be afraid to ask questions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked for directions and ended up receiving an invitation to an event or a free tour.
7. Have A Back-Up Plan
In case even your best plans go awry, always carry a calling card, a photocopy of your passport, and a stash of emergency cash in a place other than your backpack.
Remember: emergency cash is for EMERGENCIES. Sometimes money is your only escape from an unpleasant situation. Say, for example, you arrive at your hostel in Nice and head out for a day of beaching. Upon returning, you find your dorm has been invaded by leering men. Don’t be nice in Nice. Trust your instincts: pull out the cash and upgrade to a private room.
8. Stay in Touch
Staying in touch begins with a call to your bank and credit card companies, letting them know to expect a list of charges crisscrossing Europe. And don’t forget to bring their numbers with you for emergencies.
It’s also wise to bring contact info for your nation’s embassies. Consider calling ahead to let embassies know you are in town – sometimes you will get invited to lunch.
Stay in touch with family and friends too, so they know you’re safe. But remember that you came to travel – don’t idle away your travel time in an internet café.
9. Don’t Let the Naysayers Get You Down
Many people are mystified by the idea of a woman traveling alone. These people think of loads of reasons you shouldn’t have fun. “Aren’t you lonely?” and “aren’t you scared?” are common questions. Don’t let the naysayers get you down – traveling alone is about you, not them.
10. Indulge Yourself
Traveling alone is a chance to do what you want to do. There are no rules that say you must visit three museums per city, or that you can’t return to your favourite places. After falling in love with Paris, I rearranged my train schedule to return three more times during my trip. Impractical? You bet. But every time I went back, I remembered why I love traveling alone: the absolute freedom to create your own journey.