I know a lot of young women are interested in traveling Europe solo, but wonder if it’s actually safe to travel Europe alone as a female traveler.
You might be surprised to know that Europe is a relatively safe place to travel. Of course, you will need to use common sense, like you would if you were traveling anywhere else.
Personally, I can honestly say that I felt safe traveling alone in Europe. There were a few times I felt a little uneasy being alone, but now I try to not put myself in those kinds of situations.
Based on my experience, I’ve put together 8 safety tips for the solo female traveler to help keep you and your valuables safe while backpacking Europe.
1. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
This is probably the most important advice I can give you. As a solo female traveler you have to make sure you are always aware of your surroundings.
It’s easy to get caught up in the sights around you, to feel overwhelmed by the big foreign cities, or even to feel a bit introverted since you’re traveling alone. However, you have to pay attention to the people around you, too. If you start to get a bad vibe, or an uneasy feeling around someone, then immediately walk away.
2. Be wary of anyone who tries to talk you while you’re sightseeing alone.
Now, this may be rude, but I suggest avoiding anyone who comes up to talk to you while you’re out sightseeing alone. Usually, it’s either a scam, someone trying to sell you something, or if it’s a guy… you can probably guess what they’re after.
Honestly, I don’t wait to find out. I tend to ignore anyone who tries to come up and talk to me, if I’m walking around alone. Now, obviously I don’t mean all people. I’ve had other tourists come up to me and ask me for directions. (I guess they thought I was a local!) I’m talking about avoiding people who seem sketchy, or people who give you a bad vibe.
In Paris, I had a cute French guy come up to me and tell me I was beautiful. Now isn’t that the dream? We talked for a few minutes, but something just didn’t feel right, and he wouldn’t leave. I quickly made up some excuse and walked away.
In Istanbul, the guys are literally all over the single, western, female travelers. On my first day there, I had at least three Turkish guys come up to me within a 10 minute period while walking around the Blue Mosque area. They offered to walk around with me and show me the sights. Long story, but I ended up walking around with one of the guys, although I really just wanted him to leave me alone. After an hour of walking around with him (hoping he would leave), he wanted me to come back to his place. He continued to persist after I said “No” several times. Eventually, I just rudely walked away. I felt bad, but some of those Turkish guys are like really good salesmen. They don’t take “No’ for an answer! So, even though it was interesting to get to know the locals, I quickly learned not to even start a conversation with the guys that would try to approach me.
You’ll have to judge it for yourself.
Just error on the side of caution. Better safe, than sorry!
3. Watch your belongings in highly congested areas.
Make sure you always have a hand on your purse or bag while walking through highly congested areas, such as, airports, train stations, bus stations, or while on metros. I highly recommend having a purse with long straps that you can wear as a messenger bag, or to use a small day pack instead.
While standing in a packed metro, I always swing my purse to the front of me, and have my hand cover the opening. If someone touches me from behind, I completely ignore it and grip my purse even tighter. If you’re on a heavily packed metro, chances are someone’s going to accidentally touch you, but you don’t want to take the chance that it’s someone trying to distract you from behind, while one of his friend’s grabs your phone, camera, or money from your purse.
If you have a small day pack, lock the zippers with a small lock, so nobody can steal anything from behind.
4. Don’t fall for the tourist scams.
I’ve heard and read about so many tourist scams that happen in a lot of the major European cities. I’ve also experienced a few.
The purpose of the scams are to steal either your valuable items or your money. Their intention usually isn’t to harm you, but just to trick, annoy, or intimidate you.
You should definitely read this article before leaving for Europe on a backpacking trip: 40 Tourist Scams to Avoid This Summer. It’ll give you a lot of insight as to the type of scams that occur, and that way you’ll know one when you see one.
I have personally experienced:
- the Friendship Bracelet – Men or women will come up to you and offer you a friendship bracelet. Regardless of what you say, they’ll grab your hand and tie a bracelet around your wrist. Then they’ll demand payment.
While in Paris, I noticed some very intimidating guys who stood spaced out on the steps of the Sacre Coeur. I was with a couple of people I met at a hostel, so luckily I wasn’t alone. We all knew who they were from reading about the scams that happen in Paris. We considered not going inside the Sacre Coeur so we wouldn’t have to deal with the intimidating scammers, but we really wanted to see the inside. We ended up walking up the steps, completely avoided eye contact with them, and put out a “Don’t F*** with us” vibe. It worked! They didn’t pursue us!
In Barcelona, I saw this happen to others while I was walking alone on La Rambla, so keep an eye out!
- the Drop and Swap – a cashier takes advantage of the fact that you aren’t very familiar with the currency, and gives you worthless coins back.
I believe this happened to me in Prague. This is really common in the eastern European countries because the currency is all different. If you’re only staying a few days in each of the countries it does get a little confusing. I didn’t even realize the mistake until days later when I was trying to figure out which country some coins were from.
- Rose for your Girlfriend – Men or children will come up to you and hand the guys you’re with roses to give to their girlfriend, or one of the ladies he’s with. Once he accepts it, the men or children will demand to be paid, and won’t accept the rose back.
While on a night out in Istanbul with a bunch of people I had met at the hostel, there were some local kids who started offering flowers to the guys in my group. They were literally shoving the flowers in their faces. One of the guys took it, and then the kids demanded money. The kids wouldn’t take the rose back, so the guy threw it on the ground and we kept walking. The kids chased us down the street forcing us to take the rose back and give them money. Eventually, one of the guys just gave the kids money so they’d go away.
In Italy, I saw this happening to a lot of tourists. Although, they were mostly given out by men.
- Train Thieves – People will board overnight trains, and while you are sleeping they will steal from you. This is common in Italy, and in the Eastern European countries.
I, luckily, haven’t experienced this one, but heard about it from other travelers I met. It’s important to be aware of.
I actually ended up changing my route to avoid traveling on an overnight train from Budapest to Krakow, after I met someone who had been warned to avoid that night train due to gypsy thieves. On all other overnight trains I took, I slept with my money belt on, and made sure I didn’t leave my travel pack on the floor. I either slept with it it my bed, or stored it high above the door to my 6-bed couchette compartment. Apparently, the thieves stick something under the door to grab at whatever they can on the floor.
5. Avoid walking in deserted places
As a solo female traveler, you should avoid walking in deserted places. Stick to the busy streets where there are a lot of people around, and try not to venture down any lonely alleyways by yourself.
Common sense, right?
6. Avoid walking alone at night
As a solo female traveler, you should also try to avoid walking alone at night. The good thing about Europe during the summer is that it doesn’t get dark until around 10pm in a lot of cities. Plenty of time for sightseeing!
Once it gets dark, I usually head back to my hostel if I’m alone. If you want to stay out sightseeing after dark, then go with friends you’ll make at the hostel. I’ve stayed out sightseeing alone after dark in some cities, and felt totally fine. The streets were really well lit, and there were still tons of people out. You’ll just have to judge it for yourself.
Or if you’re looking for a night out, then join a pub crawl! (Some of my best memories are from pub crawls I’ve been on. Plus, it’s a great way to make friends!)
5. Avoid traveling alone at night
For safety reasons, I highly suggest not traveling from one city to the next after dark, if you can avoid it.
You might not even realize when you book your flight or board your train that you’ll be traveling when it’s dark. I know I didn’t realize it until after the fact.
The thing about the budget airlines, like RyanAir or EasyJet, is that those flights tend to leave really early, or arrive late at night, and their airports are usually hours outside the city. If you book those early morning budget flights, you’ll more than likely be leaving your hostel while it’s still pitch black out.
I booked a cheap flight from Barcelona to Paris that left at 6am. I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to leave my hostel at 3am in order to get to the airport on time. Wandering around Barcelona in the middle of the night, screaming TOURIST with a huge travel pack on, isn’t exactly the safest thing for a solo female traveler. The streets were empty, except for drunk locals who tried to talk to me in Spanish. Luckily, I made it to the airport safely.
If you book an afternoon budget flight, it’ll be light when you leave, but there’s a chance you’ll be arriving in a foreign country after dark. Keep in mind that it can take you a couple hours from when your flight lands to actually arrive at your hostel, depending on how far away the airport is. If it wasn’t dark when you landed, it probably will be while in transit to your hostel.
Also, if you’re traveling by train, take into consideration how long your train ride will be before you board. You might be leaving in the middle of the day, but won’t arrive in the next city until after dark. From experience, I can tell you it’s not the safest feeling wandering around a foreign city trying to find your hostel after dark.
I arrived in Budapest after a 7 hour train ride, and it was after dark. I got completely lost trying to find my hostel, and spent two hours wandering around alone with my huge travel pack on in the dark, retracing my steps. Not to mention there were only creepy people hanging out on the streets. I’m not going to lie, I was a tad scared and I had to try really hard to push back the tears. But, it was a good learning experience. Now, I try to avoid traveling alone at night if I can. I also make sure I know exactly where I’m going before I arrive. The street view on Google Maps is amazing!
I’m not saying to never travel alone at night. The cheap prices can be hard to pass up. Just know what you’re getting into, and be prepared.
6. Fake it ’til you make it!
You will probably get lost or feel uncomfortable traveling by yourself at some point during your trip. Probably more than once. How you act at that point is very important.
If you’re in a sketchy area, or it’s dark out, try not to act like you’re vulnerable. Putting forth a positive, confident attitude, even though you might feel scared, tends to let the people around you know not to mess with you.
Fake it ’til you make it!
7. Carry pepper spray or a pocket knife with you.
At first, I thought this was overkill. However, it’s actually not a bad idea for a solo female traveler to carry a pepper spray key chain or a pocket knife. If nothing else, it’ll probably make you feel more comfortable knowing you have something to protect you.
My dad actually bought me pepper spray to take, but I thought it was… well, kind of stupid. I also forgot to put it in my checked luggage, and it got thrown out at the airport. Oops…
You are allowed to bring a 4 ounce (118ml) container of pepper spray, and a pocket knife in your checked luggage. So, I would consider it.
If you plan on flying often while in Europe and never checking your bag, you can always ask the receptionists at your hostels where you can buy pepper spray or a pocket knife. Once you start traveling by train, you shouldn’t have a problem with it being thrown out.
I’ve never been in a position where I would have needed to use any sort of self defense weapon. However, you never know what situations you’ll get yourself into. I’ll probably consider taking a little pepper spray key chain with me on my next solo trip, because you never know when it’ll come in handy.
Hopefully, I’ll never have to use it. And you won’t either.
8. Just Remember…
Bad things can seriously happen anywhere. Don’t let the fear of it prevent you from backpacking Europe solo. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss!