Young Woman Alone in Europe

I'm graduating from college soon, and in lieu of finding a job, thinking of spending some time in Europe. I plan on traveling alone, and hitting as many countries as possible from GB to eastern Europe. However, being that I will be a young woman traveling alone I am concerned about the feasibility and safety of such a trip. Has anyone taken or know someone that has taken a similar trip? I would love to hear your experiences and/or advice.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Caroline, It would help to have a bit of further information on your travel plans. For example, how long were you planning to be in Europe, and what type of budget are you working with? Is this your first trip to Europe? When are you planning to take this trip? How much travelling have you done previously? Are you "comfortable" travelling by yourself? Europe is generally "safe", but has a higher risk of petty crime, such as pickpocketing (be sure to wear a Money Belt). If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend reading the Guidebook Europe Through The Back Door (especially the "Rail Skills" chapter). There's also a section in the book on "Women Travelling Alone"). I've spoken with many young women in Europe who are travelling solo, with no apparent difficulties. Some were from North America and some from other parts of Europe. IMO, the most important factor will be adequate planning and preparation. With that in place, there's no reason you can't have a wonderful trip to Europe. Happy travels!

Posted by Richard
Los Angeles
632 posts

It's probably easier if you are really attractive. Then again, what isn't?

Posted by Sydney
Chicago, IL
60 posts

Hi Caroline! That's awesome- go for it while you can! I often travel alone (though I'm a bit older than you :) ) I think you will be perfectly fine as long as you employ some common sense. Ken is right that you are more likely to be pickpocketed than assaulted or anything else. Just remember to remain attentive to your personal belongings, and try and keep them in your sight. I had a friend that had her suitcase stolen from the luggage compartment of a bus when she first arrived, and had to re-buy everything. I'd recommend a crossbody type purse to carry for the day if you leave your luggage in the room. Try not to be too obvious with your money/wallet. I almost got pickpocketed buying Metro tickets in France, because I was paying attention to the machine, not the guy slinking up behind me. That said, I am not one of the money belt advocates, but of course that is up to you. I just try and keep my hand on my bag as much as possible, especially in subways. Also I'd try and make some kind of itinerary before you leave, and leave it with your parents or a trusted friend. I'm sure you will have a cell phone too that you can stay in contact with someone stateside.

Posted by Cait
Burlington, Ontario, Canada
104 posts

Hi Caroline! I traveled on my own after graduating too, and had a great time. A few tips: 1. Stay in hostels. They are cheap, and a great way to meet people. You might be surprised how lonely traveling can be. Check out www.hostelz.com for reviews, or let me know once you want specifics - I can help for London, Bath, Paris, Marseilles, Cinque Terre, Rome, Naples, Florence, Dublin, Galway, Cork, and Dingle. 2. I am a very independent person, who likes solitary activities, and I found that after about 3 weeks, it was nice to see a familiar face - my friend flew into Rome to join me for 2 weeks. See if one of your friends can do the same. 3. Read up on the Schengen rules - there are restrictions as to how long you can stay in certain parts of Europe. 4. Make a plan. Book ahead, especially during the summer, especially if you are going to be picky about hostels. Avoid unnecessary back-tracking by making a rough itinerary. 5. Read Rick's books, do lots of research, and check out the Let's Go series of travel guides - they are aimed at budget travel. Once you have a basic plan, come back here with more specific questions. Overall, I love, love, love traveling on my own - freedom! But it requires a lot of planning too. Hope this helps!

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

Right on Cait - great advice! To the other posters... I really, really wonder about the "you are more likely to be pickpocketed and/or assaulted" advice. Has anyone who says that actually BEEN pickpocketed? Or assaulted? Are there statistics to back that up? I ask because one thing I have learned over the years is that if you look confident, keep your head up, don't look tentative or unfamiliar with your surroundings, you don't get hassled. And I say that as someone who was young and single in New York City for years - taking the subway at all hours, walking alone on the street after the bars closed, etc., etc. CONFIDENCE goes a long way to making you safer, and scaring Caroline isn't going to help her confidence. :o) That being said - Caroline - you should GO for it! I traveled solo in France for a little while, hen I was in my early 20s, and loved every minute of it.

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

Richard: Whoo! Pretty sexist remark there. ;o) Also - it is NOT easier if you are attractive. In fact, it can be harder. When I was in my 20s, hot (strawberry blonde, blue eyes, BIG... you-know-what) and traveling with my best friend, I got hit on constantly. CONSTANTLY. It was pretty irritating. A few guys even exposed themselves to me. YUCK. For my sweet 16, my Mama and I went to England, and even with her as a chaperone, I got hit on pretty hard. Weirdest hit? A guy approached her on a train to ask if I'd have a drink with him. In his sleeper. Bwa-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah! So I guess I have another note for you, Caroline: just like everywhere, it's wisest to dress NOT to impress if you are young, female, and traveling solo. In my 20s, I was stupid enough to wear tight jeans and plunging necklines. It was not a good idea. My best friend was just as cute as I was, but she got less unwanted attention, mostly because she was sensible and did the jeans/clogs/polo shirt thing.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
744 posts

My 24 y/o daughter just graduated and is on a month long trek thru Europe now - travelling solo. She flew in to London, then Paris, Brussels, Munich, Vienna, Bucharest, Budapest, Prague and is now in Warsaw - she flies home from there tomorrow. Kate stayed in hostels everywhere but Vienna, where she spent 4 days with a friend. Twenty one nights in hostels came to 470 euros. She met other young people at the hostels for day touring and pub crawling. She has a month-long Eurolines bus pass and has taken night buses for the longer trips. She says it was much easier to sleep on the bus than the train. The bus pass was 270 euros. She's been doing a lot of picnicking trying to stick to a budget, but also is trying to sample some of the signature foods in each country. I was hoping she would call or email every other day, but there hasn't been as much communication as I would like. She is very street-savvy and I have been very under-protective with her, but I still always feel so much better after I hear from her. She hasn't emailed since Budapest, but she had no safety issues up to that point. So, my advice to you is when you go, send your parents emails often, even if it just says Hi - I'm OK.

Posted by ed
albany
355 posts

Kira your second paragraph contradicts your final paragraph. Your final paragraph is the correct one. Attractive/unattractive is not what dictates how much unwanted (or wanted) attention you will get from males. But how you dress and act will.

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

caroline. Go for it. But be sure to take enough extra money so that you can enjoy and experience what you see. (ie money to go into attractions and not just look at tem from the street). You should be able to enjoy the local cuisine without paying exorbitant prices

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Caroline, if you're a bit nervous about travelling on your own, another suggestion would be to travel with a Cell phone. There are LOTS of Threads here on the HelpLine covering phones. Your parents would be less likely to worry if they received a text every day. Sent texts are usually only about 60¢ and received are free, so that wouldn't be a huge expense.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1838 posts

You should check out: "Graffiti Wall > Money/Communication
> ATMs: Minimizing Fees" for good information on how to cut your costs down by using DEBIT CARDS tied to a CHECKING ACCOUNT at ATMs in Europe rather than purchasing European currency here in the US where you could pay the worst exchange rate possible. My wife and I go to Europe every summer and she ALWAYS wares a money belt as do I.

Posted by Caroline
College Station, Texas
4 posts

Thank ya'll so much. Your information makes me so excited to start planning. It will also help to convince my mother that I won't end up as another Natalie Holloway, or like the girl from the movie, Taken. In answer to Ken, I plan to go sometime in late February or early March. I would like to stay as long as possible, and the way that I understand Schengen, I can stay in the EU for up to 90 days without a Visa. I plan on flying into London, and then using a EuRail pass to move around the continent. I have done some solo traveling, but only in the states. I am a very independent person, so I think I would really enjoy traveling alone. I have read RS guidebook's and also the Let's Go! series. I don't have a set itinerary yet, but I definitely plan to make one before I leave. Also, (and I know this is taboo to mention on an RS board) I don't like the idea of a moneybelt. I have a nice Coach cross-body purse that zips with a thick leather strap that has served me well in San Francisco, D.C., and New York. As for a budget, I'm thinking about $5,000, covering everything, pre-trip preparations, airfare, etc. I want to make this the trip of a lifetime. Cait-I will definitely use your expertise on Hostels. Thanks so much!

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

Hey Ed: I see your point, but I was answering the rather sexit comment about "being attractive." And yes, the "raw material" also counts. I've experimented. But you do make a good point. Looking like a "slut" is a bad idea either way. :o)

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1174 posts

Regarding your budget of $5,000 to include everything (including pre-trip preparations?) like airfare, lodging, food, sightseeing, train pass, in-city public transit: Let's say your roundtrip airfare is $800 (you're going off season - so maybe you can find something at this rate - although you never know what the airlines will do when it comes to rising fuel costs), now you are down to $4,200 USD for your trip. At today's exchange rate, if you allocate about $100USD per day (recommended), you are getting about 69 Euro to spend to cover all your other expenses. Look carefully at the train pass idea. Depending on your proposed itinerary, a pass may not be the best/cheapest way to get around. I did a round the world solo for a year. Europe was the most expensive leg of that trip. I really do not recommend budgeting less than $100USD per day. (continued)

Posted by Caroline
College Station, Texas
4 posts

Ceidleh, Thank you for your advice. I know it's a tight budget, but fortunately I plan to stay with relatives in London and friends in Switzerland and Greece. Forgot to mention that. :)

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1174 posts

(continued) Good to know you have some free lodging! Hostelworld.com is another good website for reviews and ratings on lodging. I also don't like using a moneybelt, it's entirely your choice - risk vs. comfort. I tend to keep cash and credit/atm cards stashed in different areas so if I did get pickpocketed or leave my purse someplace I don't lose everything. Look over Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guidebooks in addition to the Let's Go you already reviewed. Both have a lot of good recommendations for people on a tight budget when it comes to eating and sleeping. Being fresh out of college, clubbing and nightlife are a big part of travelling. But when you travel solo as a female, you really need to keep your wits about you even more so than if you are home with your friends. Drinking too much or taking drugs are really bad ideas. If someone wants to buy you a drink, just make sure you watch the bartender pour the drink and that you keep it in your hand the entire time (don't leave it on the bar to dance or go to the bathroom or turn your back to it while you talk to some new friends you just met). Certain countries are worse when it comes to unwanted attention from aggressive men. If you are getting unwanted attention, you basically need to be enough of a bitch that you make it abundantly clear in no uncertain terms they must get out of your space and get lost. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Caroline, Thanks for the additional information. Regarding use of a Railpass, one important point to note is that these do NOT include the reservation fees that are compulsory on some trains (usually the fast trains such as the TGV in France). You'll have to pay separately "out of pocket" for those). Regarding Hostel stays, you might want to get an inexpensive membership with HI HOSTELS. They have properties in most places in Europe, and I've found these to be fairly consistent from one location to the next. Having a membership provides slightly cheaper rates and preferred booking (although that likely won't be an issue in March). To expand on the point raised by Ceidleh, if airfare costs US$800 your remaining $4200 will be equivalent to ~€2900, or about €32 / day for a 90 day trip (if my math is correct). Even for a frugal and optimistic traveller I'm not sure that will be possible, especially as that doesn't even cover the cost of the Railpass! Although you have friends to stay with in London, your meagre budget will be less than that for expenses in the U.K., as the exchange rate on Pounds Sterling is higher. I really think some "revisions" or a larger budget will be necessary! Good luck!

Posted by Richard
Los Angeles
632 posts

Kira,
Of course my comment is sexist and that's the point. A single women traveling anywhere can be a magnet for sexist pigs (such as myself). She would have to be more aware and vigilant than a male traveler. Insert "traveling abroad" joke here.....

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

March/April are likely to be cold and /or wet. To me May is the start of the nice weather in Europe, grass is green, flowers etc. (Ps always expect some rain).

Posted by Cait
Burlington, Ontario, Canada
104 posts

Hi again! I agree with some of the other posters re: your budget. I spent $5000 in 5 weeks, and I ate almost exclusively picnic-type meals, and did very little shopping. You want to be able to go into museums and other sights, to climb the Eiffel Tower, etc. Don't forget costs like laundry, internet cafes, etc. That said, you can do it for $100/day + all travel costs (airfare, trains, buses, etc). I spent about $40/night on a hostel bed, breakfast included, $20/day on sights (yes, lots of sights are more than this, but some days you won't spend anything at all), $25/day on food, and $15/day on extra stuff - laundry, shopping, etc. For a railpass, the more you plan, the better deal you can get. For example, a 2 month Youth Global railpass (I'm assuming you are 25 or under?), which covers most of mainland Europe, and Ireland (but not England or Scotland) is $1107. This means that you can travel on the train as much as you want for those two months (it doesn't cover reservations though). Or, if you make a plan, and find that you will be traveling 15 days over the course of 2 months, you can get a Youth Flexi Pass for 15 days in 2 months for only $765. Even if you travel more than 15 days, some of your trips will be short and cheap, and so you can pay for those out of pocket. The passes come with various coupons and stuff too. Also, take a look at the ISIC cards - if your college student card hasn't expired yet, you can get one and get cheaper entrance fees into some sights. I found it really helpful in the UK.