I'm looking at alternatives to studying abroad through my college, one option being an independent trip to Europe on my own, separate from an academic program. I was really lucky as a kid and have traveled in Europe a few times with my parents, who made sure that I was a part of the planning process and learned how to travel economically. So, I'm not worried about being able to plan my trip or get around, however I do have some qualms about being a single young woman traveling alone in Europe, partly because I understand the safety issue and partly because I feel like it might be somewhat lonely. So here's my question - what are some ways that I could take an economic trip to Europe and avoid the issues of safety and loneliness? Would you advise a backpacking group? Staying in hostels? Meeting a travel buddy before leaving? Any ideas are appreciated! Thank you all so much!
With the obvious gender caveat, here's some thoughts: When we travel together, my wife and I sometimes go our own ways for a few days. I never worry about her. If we're together, she's forever going out at night to pick up something, no worries there either. Sometimes she flat has no interest in where I want to go, so it's a solo trip. For these I stay in hostels, but rural ones. They're nothing but a bunch of grins. You can't get lonely if you're in a mob in the kitchen trying to contribute to a pot-luck supper. A couple of months ago a much younger gal and I had a mixed dorm all to ourselves. She palled around with me hiking from one pile of rocks to another a few days - - when the sun went down she was off with some of the ever-changing crew of her own kind. There's no way she could have been lonely. The idea of a travel buddy would give me an acute case of the squirms. I've traveled with people who I thought I knew fairly well and been miserable - - there's just too much you don't know. The one time I tried it with just one person, even though we had similar interests, it was even worse. Traveling with a group means you only have one vote on what's going to happen next. Unless it's a group with a focused interest that matches yours (photography, snail breeding practices, whatever), there's bound to be even more conflict. Go it alone. There's nothing like it.
Good advice so far. I travel solo before and after guided tours, though I'm double your age so I can't really comment on the hostel crowd. If you're feeling lonely, check out walking or day tours where you'll be. You'll meet other people, but not have to commit to them for the duration. For example, in Prague there are several "free" (donation) tours of the city. I did a half day trip to Kutna Hora (about 30 euros I think) and met some fun people (though none of them worth meeting up with later). Art museums have guided tours (often for free). I suspect hostels have people hanging out and desk staff that can point you in the right direction. I address loneliness by keeping a travel blog (to connect with people at home), and keeping very busy on the road (so I'm too tired to notice I'm by myself). As for safety, if you stay observant, go with your gut, and always buy your own drinks, you'll be a-ok. One of my biggest regrets is not doing a trip like you're planning. Go have a wonderful time!
You'll meet lots of people, if not travel partners at least other students who can share a few hours or days with you. Try to find hostels near universities. Check out Lonely Planet's website and guidebooks, lots of students post there. The Travel Partners forum here might be helpful, too. You can keep in touch with old and new friends via Skype if you get lonely, but my favorite antidote for loneliness is to go look at something beautiful.
Europe is very safe. Take typical precautions (namely for a solo traveler, don't keep all your important documents in one place so you are royally screwed if that one thing gets stolen or lost, keep copies stored in your web-based email with copies sent to someone at home, etc. etc.). As for loneliness, Ive taken three trips to Europe at least partially on my own, starting at age 25, and I'm going on my 4th in a couple of months. I never feel alone because people are always out and about and you can always get to know people. I never feel so free and uninhibited as when I'm traveling alone and, frankly, don't have anyone else's preferences to consider. You can do what you want, when you want to, how you want to, and you don't have anything else to worry about except what you're going to do next. In fact I say everyone should travel alone at least once. Personally I do not stay in hostels as having my own bedroom and bathroom are very important to me. I like to think I go one step above that by finding cheap and inexpensive B&Bs. Not including airfare, but including a decent amount of nice souvenirs, transport, sights, and all the (cheap) food my stomach can handle, I figure my two to three-week trips to Europe have cost me about $3,000. If you're willing to stay in hostels, you can probably almost cut that in half. You can also go to less expensive countries (i.e. Portugal instead of Italy) and/or less expensive parts of countries (i.e. Southern Italy compared to Northern), just as examples. If you're willing to plan in advance, you can also save money on longer train trips (for example by booking over 2 months in advance I just booked a train ticket in Spain for 20.50 euros instead of 68 and I have gotten similar savings in the past for Italy). Most importantly, travel travel travel and have a great time!:)
How long a trip are you thinking about? How loose an itinerary? What are your main goals? I ask because you started by implying that this trip would be an alternative to a study program abroad.
Hi by any chance do you go to St Olaf or Carleton? STO is Alma Mater and you could try a J term study abroad. I think that was such an awesome opportunity! With my major I couldn't really study abroad so J term was perfect. As for traveling alone, it is safe. Yes there are neighborhoods to avoid just like any American city (and probably even parts of Northfield!!). Staying in hostels are a great way to meet people. You can try travbuddy too or look on here for partners. It does get lonely but it's part of the experience. You can look into all women hostels. Sometimes I stumble upon nice ones and the owners are usually very nice and tell you about the safe places in the city. Well, any hostel will do that but I feel like the womens' only hostels go out of their way. I tend to not go out late at night when I'm traveling alone. For one, I don't enjoy partying, and two, I like to get up early to see the sites. In the evenings is when I research the next day, write in my journal, and connect back home. Feel free to PM me.