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  • Wendy Byard

Navigating Solo Travel in Europe: Safety Tips for Women

Solo travel is a remarkable journey. It can be both exhilarating, with highs of independence and self-discovery, and the occasional lows of loneliness and unexpected expenses. 

When you search the internet for advice on travelling solo as a female in Europe, you'll find a whole host of posts from amazing young women out there exploring and having a great time. But solo travel shouldn't just be for younger women; there needs to be much more for older women who've enjoyed life and lived to tell the tale!

It's easy to rely on others always being there. Until my father's death, my mother had hardly ever driven a car, and as a woman who always loved travel, all of mine had been done with someone else; I'd never really been anywhere alone. That scared me. I realised that if I didn't start doing things alone, I might be forced to sooner or later, or I'd have to stay at home.

So, here's the first part of my guide for women who want to travel solo with less fear. 

Let's talk about the number one topic of concern... Safety

A happy single woman travelling alone

Guarding Against Petty Theft:

The best way to guard against petty theft is not to take anything valuable when you travel...I know that's impossible, so the next best thing is to keep your belongings in your room safe and not carry valuable items unnecessarily. You don't need your passport with you; keep a photocopy or leave one on the cloud in case you need it. And whilst we're on the topic of room safes', I always do a 'practice close' without anything in my safe just so I'm sure how it works.

For my lovely ladies from the US.... ditch the fanny pouch. Not only does it have connotations to something which we really don't need to discuss here, but it's also glaringly obvious that's where all your money and valuables are. Ok, it's safe there; the majority of people won't try to steal it, but you will draw attention to yourself. Instead, opt for a small crossbody bag with a secure zipper closure, and if you're carrying a camera and lenses, choose a day bag that locks.

Emergency Cash and Backup Debit Card:

Keep a small backup stash of your home currency and an extra debit or credit card in your luggage. Conceal these in different, random places to minimise risk. Many suitcases have those zipped liners; that's a great place. Just remember where you hide things.

Ideally, have two debit cards linked to separate bank accounts. If you only have one, consider getting a debit card from companies like Wise (formally Transferwise). Keep some money in that account, and you can use it if your primary card gets stolen.

Beware of Pickpocketing:

European cities, especially Paris, Barcelona and Rome, have pickpocketing problems in tourist areas. Be vigilant with your belongings when using public transport, hold onto your bags and never leave your bag behind you.

Ignore the Roma. Some Roma target tourists for scams in the popular tourist zones of Europe, whether that's panhandling while holding a sedated baby or poking you to distract you while they pickpocket you. Giving them money will reward a system where the men force women and children to work. No woman or child should be used in this way.

No means No safety sticker

Theft and Harassment: A realistic perspective to safety

You've undoubtedly experienced negative aspects of theft or harassment in your own country or abroad, maybe even in your home town; travelling solo in Europe is no different. The good news is that your fear is 99.9% worse than you will ever experience, and when it comes to Europe, violence is rarely part of the equation. Instead, you might have minor inconveniences like misplaced belongings or managing unwanted attention, but that's it.

Probably one of the most common forms of harassment (which is quite a strong word for this act, but) you are not obligated to tip musicians who play near or in restaurants. Avoid making eye contact or indicating that you're enjoying the music otherwise, they'll expect a tip...but if you're enjoying it, that's great, and a euro is fine.

The Golden Rule of Good Judgment when it comes to safety

The golden rule of good judgment remains constant at home or abroad. Approach each new encounter with caution, allowing your instincts to guide you. Wisdom comes with age.

Here's some practical advice to ensure your journey is safe, seamless, and, above all, enjoyable:

  1. Blend In: In northern European countries, blending in is effortless, and you won't attract undue attention. However, as you head south, you may experience lingering gazes. Fear not; stylish sunglasses can shield you from unwanted advances, allowing you to explore freely. Hold your head high and keep walking.

  2. Dress Appropriately: Dress codes and social norms vary across Europe, but jeans, light trousers, and trainers (sneakers) are worn by everyone. I'm not expecting you to wear heels and a mini-skirt; thankfully, as we age, we understand how to dress and adapt to avoid standing out. Ageing gracefully has its advantages. If you'd like my Definitive Packing Guide for Fabulous Travels, click here.

  3. Assert Yourself: If someone's advances cross the line, don't hesitate to assert yourself. Be polite but firm. Grown women know how to conduct themselves, and your well-being matters. Setting boundaries is essential. 

  4. Know where you're going and how to get there: Looking lost and wandering around frustrates you and attracts attention. I use the Rome2Rio app, an excellent way to know which metro lines will get me to my desired destination, which tram to take in which direction, and which bus stops at the stop I need.

I really hope I've covered most of your safety concerns in this post. If you'd like to ask for specific advice or recommendations, why not join the Going Solo Club Facebook Group, where you can link up with other like-minded women and ask for more specific advice. We'd love to see you there.


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