Tips for Solo Travelers

November 12, 2006

The freedom you find when traveling alone is hard to match when traveling with companions. Choices roll out in front of you like a red carpet - the activities of the day, where to eat, sights to see, and the luxury of lingering at them for as long as you like.  It’s your trip, your terms.

Traveling alone, however, does carry with it some challenges, such as safety, particularly for women, and the possibility of loneliness. Use the tips below to help ease your concerns.

Staying Safe When Traveling Alone

Fear should never be a reason to forego a solo trip. Isolated events sensationalized by the media often give the impression that entire cities are engulfed in chaos. Additionally, in Europe more people walk as opposed to driving. So, public places are lively and present opportunities for pickpockets. In general, many places in Europe are perfectly safe to travel alone.

However, most European cities have a far lower crime rate than their U.S. counterparts. A little common sense, which you already use at home, and a few extra precautions are all you need to stay safe.

- Take cues from local women on how to dress. Thieves might target you based on your dress or the amount of jewelry you are wearing. If you want to save yourself the trouble of unwanted attention, try to dress conservatively.

- Don’t wear fanny packs full of cash or expensive cameras.  Never count money on the street or fumble with open bags in public.

- Keep valuables and jewelry at home.

- Get directions before you set out. Also, write down the address of your hotel and the neighborhood and keep it with you at all times. You can give it to a taxi driver should you need a ride late at night.

- Display confidence and purpose when you walk down the street. You’ll look less like an easy target.

- Try not to broadcast that you're traveling alone. If you feel like you're being followed, step into a store and wait until the person has passed. Also, ask your hotel clerk to write your room number down instead of saying it when you check in, so that no one can hear which room is yours.

- Know some common phrases in the local language and bring a pocket phrase book. It will come in handy should you get lost and need to ask for help or if you find yourself in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Choosing the Right Hotel

Though staying in an apartment is often more economical for long stays than a hotel room, apartments can be isolating. Large hotel chains offer security and the ever-helpful concierge.

Then again, small, locally owned hotels offer the charm and personal attention that you may be quite welcome during your trip. With small hotels and B&Bs, your stay often comes complete with full breakfasts at shared tables, providing opportunities to trade stories with fellow travelers.  You also get the benefit of a B&B owner who may seek to get to know and personally look out for your safety.

Eating Alone, or not

Eating alone might be the one activity that makes us most self-conscious about traveling solo. But you never have to feel uncomfortable. Look for restaurants near your hotel that have bars where you can sit and have your meal.

At the bar, you’ll be among people who are also eating alone and may strike up a conversation with you. People often feel more comfortable approaching a person who is alone rather than with a group. You can chat with people looking for platonic company without feeling the pressure of a pick up. Also, speaking a little of the local language will go a long way in opening doors to new friendships.

If you prefer to be alone, bring a book, work or magazine to the table. You’ll look occupied and will be less likely to be bothered by someone. Also, if you eat frequently at the same place, the staff may have a chance to get to know you. They might just treat you as their special guest and go out of their way to cater to you.

Making Friends along the Way 

The best thing about traveling alone is the luxury of choosing to share your time with other people or to savor that time for yourself -- something that’s hard to do at home. If you do get lonely during your trip, check out places where locals congregate (such as a piazza in Italy, park in Paris, pub in London.) You may be pleasantly surprised by a local person stopping to speak with you, especially in small towns of Europe.

Another way to connect with a place and other people is through activities. It’s becoming popular to do more than simply sightsee while on vacation. European cities all have activities that appeal to travelers’ special interests - cooking classes, shopping tours, theater performances, whatever you need to indulge your passions. For instance, Paris offers great things to do for solo travelers. And best of all, these activities help to create a trip of a lifetime, a trip that’s all about you.

Planning a solo trip to Europe? Receive Europe trip planning assistance and recommendations.

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