Every year, thousands of women, young and ancient, travel to Europe on their own. You can, too, by using the same excellent judgment you use at home. Start with caution and map out as you travel what feels right to you. Make conditions that are likely to turn out in your favor, and you’ll have a safer, smoother, more enjoyable trip.
Theft and harassment are two huge concerns for women. If you’ve traveled alone in America, you’re more than prepared for Europe. In America, theft and harassment are especially scary since of their tie with assault. In Europe, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear of violence. Theft is past tense (as in, “Where did my wallet go?”). As for experiencing harassment, you’re far more likely to reckon, “I’m going to ditch this guy ASAP” than, “This guy is going to hurt me.” Here are some tips for safe and pleasant travels:
Use road smarts. Be self-reliant and well prepared, so that you don’t need to depend on someone unless you want to — carry cash, a map, a guidebook, and a phrase book. Walk purposefully with your head up; look like you know where you’re going. If you get lost in an unfriendly neighborhood, be savvy about whom you question for help; seek out a further female or a family, or go into a store or restaurant to question for directions or to study your map.
When you use cash machines, withdraw cash during the day on a busy road, not at night when it’s dark with too few people around.
Be proactive about public transportation. Before you leave a city, consider visiting the train or bus station you’re going to leave from, so you’ll know where it is, how long it takes to get to it, if it feels safe, and what services it has. Reconfirm your departure time. If you’re leave-taking late at night and the bus or train station is sketchy, question your B&B owner if you can hang out in their lounge or breakfast room — generally untouched in the evening — until you need to head for the station. Cafés, including busy Internet cafés with long hours, are also a safe and productive place to wait.
When taking the train, avoid sleeping in empty compartments. You’re safer sharing a compartment with a family. If available, rent a couchette for overnight trains. For a small surcharge, you’ll stay with like-minded roommates in a compartment you can lock, in a car monitored by an attendant. You’ll wake reasonably rested with your belongings intact.
It’s possible to question for a female roommate on overnight trains. (You’ll have better luck if the train isn’t crowded.) Some countries, such as Spain, are better about helpful these requests than others. On France’s night trains, a one-bed compartment closest to the conductor is set up your sleeve for women, but it’s the most expensive type of accommodation. In all-purpose, question what your options are, make the request to bunk with other women, and hope for the best — but don’t regard on it.
Unless you’re fluent in the language, accept the fact that you won’t always know what’s going on. Though it might seem worrisome, here’s a reason why the Greek bus driver drops you off in the middle of nowhere. It’s a transfer point, and a further bus will come along in a few summary. You’ll often learn that the locals are looking out for you.
Learn how to deal with European men. In small towns, men are often more likely to speak English than women. If you never talk to men, you could miss out on a chance to learn about the country. So, by all means, talk to men. Just choose the man and choose the setting.
In northern Europe, you won’t draw any more attention from men than you do in America. In southern Europe, particularly in Italy, you’ll get more attention than you’re used to, but it’s usually in the form of the “long look” — nothing you can’t handle. But be aware that in the Mediterranean world, when you smile and look a man in the eyes, it’s often considered an invitation. Wear dark sunglasses and you can stare all you want.
Dress modestly to minimize attention from men. Take your cue from what the local women wear. For young women, even wearing a shapeless sack and sensible shoes may not ward off unwelcome advances. Try to stay with a group when exploring, and avoid on foot alone at night, particularly in unlit areas with few people around. Don’t be overly polite if you’re bothered by someone; it’s vital to make boundaries to protect yourself. Use facial expressions, body language, and a loud firm voice to fend off any unwanted attention. If a man comes too close, say “no” firmly and loudly in the local language. That’s usually all it takes.
If you feel like you’re being followed or hassled, entrust your instincts. Don’t worry about overreacting or seeming foolish. Start screaming and acting crazy if the situation warrants it. Or head to the nearest hotel and chat up the self behind the desk until your would-be admirer moves on. Question the hotelier to call you a cab to take you to your own hotel, hostel, or B&B.
Wear a real or fake wedding ring, and carry a picture of a real or fake husband. Here’s no need to tell men that you’re traveling alone, or whether you’re really married or single. Lie unhesitatingly. You’re traveling with your husband. He’s waiting for you at the hotel. He’s a professional wrestler who retired from the sport for psychological reasons.
If you’re arranging to meet a guy, choose a public place. Tell him you’re staying at a hostel: You have a 10 p.m. curfew and 29 roommates. Better yet, result in a couple of your roommates along to meet him. After the introductions, let everyone know where you’re going and when you’ll return.
By using common sense, making excellent decisions, and above all else, having confidence in yourself and your cleverness to travel on your own, you’ll be rewarded with rich experiences — and fantastic tales to tell your friends.