Please sign in to post.

A question about solo traveler safety

Hi, new to the site. Just bought Rick Steves "Europe thru the back door"
I'm planning to go to Europe this summer but am wondering about safety.

A lot of what I've read up on, seams to me people are wearing rose colored glasses. Now I've never been to Europe, but being a Canadian, I've traveled across Canada many times.

Contrary to what they say about Canada, there are some pretty sketchy neighborhoods in the bigger cities. I.E The Bus/ train terminal in Vancouver, B.C. ( Conveniently located next to one of the worst skid rows in the country) Panhandlers, homelessness, drug addicts, prostitution. well you get the point. A lot of the other cities in the country don't fair much better.

Not to be a pessimist, but being in my 30's, I don't look at life the same as I did when I was 18. My experiences traveling throughout Canada, if you don't know the city to well, you could very well wind up in the rougher parts of town as far as traveling by bus/ staying in hostels etc... My experience, getting off a Greyhound bus at 1A.M. in Vancouver and walking to my "hostel" Sketchy, freaky people.

I suppose my main concern would be arriving in a strange city in a foreign country and while walking around looking for a hostel, I wind up in a sketchy neighborhood. With a backpack on my back + foreigner/ doesn't know where he is going= easy prey.

Now everybody seems to say Europe is safe. But would not cities like London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Budapest have questionable neighborhoods with similar social ills as mentioned above?

Posted by
57 posts

Of course, any where you go in the world is going to have it's seedy sections. But you really shouldn't worry about it. I've been to London, Rome, & several of the larger cities in the US (no, not alone -- I find it more fun to have someone to share my traveling experiences with). I've been to the sketchy sections of these cities & not had any problems (I'm a small female in my 20s). Just research, research, research before you leave home. I have been known to memorize maps so as to have a good idea of where I'm going in a strange place (it helps when you don't need to carry an open map). If you look lost &/or worried, you're more likely to make yourself look like a target. Relax & have fun. As an aside -- I live in one of the seedier sections of my hometown & I feel safer walking the streets of larger cities than I do stepping out my front door. You've come to the right place for help. The folks here along w/Rick's books will help steer you in the right direction.

Posted by
1003 posts

I'm taking a 6-week trip and mostly will be by myself, and I'm not only younger than you, Steve, but also female, and I'm a little worried about some cities (Rome, etc.) but on the other hand, I live in LA. I've lived in Houston, ect. These cities are far more dangerous. What's really hitting home with me is the different kind of danger. It seems like, in terms of actual personal safety, you are pretty darn safe in Europe. There, the problems seem to be more the petty theft, pickpocketing type stuff. There are choices to make. I won't be out late at night (even if that means missing some cities' late-night mystique), I have read up on neighborhoods. I have a money belt. I'm not staying in hostels, I have reserved all of my hotels in advance so I can be sure of the neighborhoods, etc. There are simple things to do to help guarantee safety, and it will let me enjoy my upcoming trip, which is really a dream come true for me. Just be careful and have fun!!!!!

Posted by
1003 posts

I want to add something else. "social ills" doesn't mean a place is unsafe. The Red Light district in Amsterdam is a bona fide tourist attraction (but again, prob not late at night). I went to London with a small school group when I was 17 and sure on the main streets there were plenty of vagrants, some even said unsavory things at us, a group of americans, that I won't repeat here, but still, I never felt unsafe. walking through LA's famous Skid Row, I felt unsafe, but no matter where we were in London I felt safe. I'm sure they didn't lead us to dangerous locales, but it's all relative. Just because there are a few homeless people doesn't mean a place is unsafe. It's up to you if you want to walk around at 1am. I won't be doing that. But if you walk around and get lost at 1am, in ANY big city regardless of a language/culture barrier, you are obviously putting yourself at more risk than if you stay in major tourist spots after dark. Get lost on the back streets during daylight :)

Posted by
705 posts

I'm female & travel alone all the time and have never had a problem. I do tend to do a couple of things though. I always walk with purpose - look as though I know where I'm going and with confidence. If I need to look at my map I do so as unobtrusively as possible - in a doorway. I do a lot of homework checking out sites like trip advisor and trying to get a feel for areas. Always have my accommodation booked, never wing it, and work out how to get to it from the aiport, train or whatever. Google earth is great for this. I have generally found areas around the main train station a bit dodgy as they tend to attract some unsavoury types. Personal observation.
When out at night tend to stick to the more populated areas, avoiding dark alleys etc.
I have travelled extensively through Italy and France and felt perfectly safe at night going by "my rules". Not once have I felt really threatened, a little uncomfortable at times but nothing major. Just use your common sense & enjoy.

Posted by
15 posts

Thanks for the feedback folks!

Definitely some good points mentioned. I suppose I want to discover Europe in a spontaneous way, but I guess it wouldn't hurt for me to study a few city maps before hand. (It least learn where the hostels are in relation to the train/ bus stations). I suppose that would be better than trying to figure it out once I arrive.
I've always kind of winged it when I traveled in the past. But I think for the Europe trip I'll do some research and a bit of planning.


Posted by
2000 posts

Right Steve! this is the website of the main man for European travel -- our guru Rick Steves! He has many great books that will help you. If you don't see any value in checking them out, I wonder why you are here.

I would definitely book lodging and figure out how you will get from plane/train to it. You may not have the completely spontaneous travel experience you desire, but I think in the long run you will be more satisfied. Rick's advice is down to earth. Plan, Plan, Plan, particularly for your first trip. Then next time you will know the deal, and will enjoy spontaneous experiences for many many years I'm sure -- good luck.

Posted by
769 posts

Id second Bettys suggestion - plan it out - BUT - after a week or so you may feel more confident and want to adjust your itenerary - so dont overplan. leave a bit a day in the middle or so to add an extra day in a town you like - or go off on a side trip you discover en route. Book the hotels whenre you know it will be busy - and try to leave a bit open to discovery once yorue there. Dont be afraid to ask your hotel staff about the town or next stop!

Posted by
1630 posts

Ditto to all the other comments, but I have to especially agree with the plan a little ahead. Train station areas are a bit scary, but the hotel I stayed at in Milan near the train station was well tended and had excellent staff that if I had been concerned about my safety would have come to my rescue (besides, the middle aged prostitutes were far more entertaining than dangerous). I picked the hotel based on online reviews - so do some research!As part of the planning, consider your arrival times (i.e., avoid middle of the night arrivals at train stations). Be aware of your surroundings. Ditch the big bag as soon as you can and use a day bag out exploring - make your day the spontaneous part, not where you stay. Every city has scary parts, and not just at night. One of the scariest places I went was a church in Rome in the middle of the day. It was off the beaten path, graffiti everywhere, and dodgy characters inside and outside. Go with your gut, if it doesn't feel safe, get out!

Posted by
808 posts

Sorry, ran out of space...
Don't forget...If you see a clean washroom make sure you use it. Getting "caught short" can drive you to places it's best not to go. Sounds simple, but very important.
Always try to have smaller bills/change so you're not tempted to ask a stranger for change or get ripped off on the street. Never make
Leave your valuables at home. A $10 watch will get you by. Even keep it in your pocket. If someone asks you the time, it could be a ploy. If you must travel with a brand name camera, cover the name brand with duck tape. Don't flash a fancy camera bag. A well used diaper bag works. I carry a disposable for those times when I want to ask someone to take a picture of me. Better than handing off my camera.
Dress like a local. Beware the large red Cda Flag on your pack, Tim's mug or Leaf's jersey. All signs you are foreign. Dress like the Europeans, too. Mostly blacks, beiges, greys and navy. You don't see a lot of bright colours or Jeans in some places.

Posted by
808 posts

A few ideas for you, Steve...
Pack your patience and common sense. Anything you wouldn't do at home here in Canada, definately don't do abroad.

I've never stayed abroad in hostels. That is a whole world I have yet to explore. Ask for a few businesscards of the hotel so that if you get lost you can show it to someone to help point you home. I would show it at a 4 or 5 star hotel if close because they probably speak English and probably will help you and not lead you astray. From there you could get a cab and use a clean washroom. Or ask young people because they probably speak at least some english.

Careful when telling people what you do for a living. Consider telling aquaintances you are a Police Officer. Be non-specific about where you live exactly. Don't say you are alone.
Check in with friends back home by phone or email when you say you will. Don't worry anyone. Leave a copy of your important documents and itinerary with a trusted friend. Get enough sleep and eat wel

Posted by
311 posts

I'm a 57 year old woman who travels alone and have yet to be afraid. I know that being somewhat spontaneous is fun but save it for daylight hours. My two best suggestions: 1. Reserve your hotel prior to leaving home or at least one stop ahead. Know the address and be sure it is in one of Rick's recommended areas. 2.Plan your travel to arrive early or be sure there is transportation from train/bus station to hotel. Take a taxi if you don't feel comfortable with a bus or walking.