How can I plan a Europe trip that won't end in PTSD?
February 8, 2007 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Will I get attacked if I stay alone in a hostel? And other fun questions a very small woman has about solo travel in Europe.

I'm 21 years old, 5'2" and weigh about 95 pounds. None of that is muscle. I have plans to go someplace in Europe this summer to celebrate my college graduation and I'm trying to decide where to go and how to go about it.

My boyfriend is convinced that I will be set upon by every ne'er-do-well on the continent no matter what I do, but that staying in hostels will only make things worse for me. While I think he's probably being paranoid, I only know one other girl around my size and she actually was assaulted in a hostel in Paris. That's 100% of my sample! So, I'm a little nervous. I've never done anything like this before and I want it to be as anxiety-free as I can make it.

I guess I have two main questions. a. Can you recommend continental cities/countries where I will feel relatively safe as a tiny lady? and b. What specifically can I do to make myself feel safer no matter where I am?

For the sake of argument, pretend I'm made of money, but would rather not spend it on frivolous crap.
posted by crinklebat to Travel & Transportation (39 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stay at Hostelling International hostels. They tend to be in safer areas and often attract slightly cleaner cut hostellers. (This is not always the case, but I do compare HI hostels to those that have signs that say, "Please, no shooting up in the hallways.")

You can also stay in women's only dorms, if that makes you feel safer.

Find some travel buddies. Is anyone else planning a graduation trip?

Take cabs or go with other people at night or in quiet areas. (Just as you might in any part of the world, even when you live there.)

Enroll in a women's self defense course before you go. This is handy anyway.

When I went to Europe, I took a personal alarm with me. I figured this would at least let me draw attention to myself in an emergency.

I went to about 13 countries in Europe. I felt safe everywhere except more southern Italy and Greece, where men seemed to reach out and grab me and, at one point, kiss me full on (a 70-year-old man, no less) in the middle of the street. I also felt unsafe when some pickpockets kept bumping me hard in a store in Dublin -- fortunately, as they followed me out of the store, the shopkeeper collared them for stealing something else. (I should note that I was with my then boyfriend in Europe and that the Italy/Greece incidents happened while I was waiting for him on the street outside a hostel and that I was with him when the Dubling incident took place.)

In general, I think Europe is about as safe as any other place. You need to have your wits' about you, though, since you aren't familiar with the terrain.
posted by acoutu at 10:31 PM on February 8, 2007


I would suggest looking for dry/booze-free hostel's if alone. Unisex dorm rooms are definitely not a bad idea. Sharing a 6 bed dorm room with a bunch of piss drunk males highly amused with themselves isn't the most fun no matter what size or gender you are.
posted by Leonard at 10:44 PM on February 8, 2007


I'm a big, brave girl, but my friend was dragged off the street into a vestibule and thrown to the ground by a drunk Spaniard for purposes undisclosed, and her friends had to run to save her. I would carry pepper spray. It just goes along with keeping a money stash and carrying an over-your-head purse as good street sense. At your size, self defense can only go so far. It can happen anywhere, although of course it's unlikely. If you're prepared, you can travel wherever you like. But also, how fun would it be to learn "BACK OFF!" in five or six languages?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:46 PM on February 8, 2007


I'm pretty short and helpless myself, but I've had no trouble travelling through Europe at about your age. Anything can happen anywhere, but as long as you're mindful of your stuff and don't get drunk with strangers in strange places, you should be fine.

in terms of countries - I particularly enjoyed (and felt safest!) travelling through small towns in Holland. same with England. In general, smaller towns will feel safer and friendlier.

in Eastern Europe - Hungary is very safe, and Prague is also pretty safe. I've traveled there both solo and with friends. Eastern Europe has the virtue of being much cheaper (but then again, you're made of money :)
posted by barmaljova at 10:53 PM on February 8, 2007


acoutu touched on a good point, you have until summer. Get your self enrolled in a woman's self defense class. I taught one briefly back in college and I was amazed at the difference it made in my students self confidence when dealing with day to day scary situations. When you know that you are no longer a prey animal; that you have the ability to assert yourself physically, you will reduce your radar signature on two legged predators. Seriously, if you know that you can provide pain-on-tap to anyone who messes with you, you will start moving differently. You will not hang your head, or 'scuttle' (a term stolen from a student). You will stride and have more confidence. These are not things that an idle attacker want to deal with.

[An exercise I encouraged my students to try later in training was to go to a heavily trafficked area and just sit and watch for a while, and knowing what they had learned, to just 'become the predator' for a bit. To look for, if they were going to attack someone, who they would go for, and why. Every response to this was that it was one of the most educational parts of the training.]

That said, identify if your concerns are about being assaulted for your belongings or because you are a woman and act accordingly. If it's a possessions thing, don't be ostentatious; minimal jewelry, no fancy clothes, don't flash large sums of money, etc. If it's because you are a woman, the only piece of mind you will get is to always travel in groups, or to train to be able to protect yourself.

All that scary stuff aside, have a great trip. My visit to Europe when I was a younger man was one of the most memorable and best things I ever did. Enjoy the hell out of yourself.
posted by quin at 11:01 PM on February 8, 2007


If you're made out of money...then why not bring your boyfriend?

I traveled alone in Europe when I was in college, and I had a wonderful time, but I'm a tall dude, so nobody messed with me. You'd probably be fine if you stay smart and don't walk around in the sketchy parts of town. Knowing the language will be the most helpful--so pick a country where you'll know exactly what people are saying around you.

But I think the best advice is to bring along friends. It's not the same experience, but I think some of my favorite memories involve traveling through Italy and France with two of my friends after our college graduation.
posted by geryon at 11:18 PM on February 8, 2007


Also, someone upthread suggested pepper-spray. I don't know about the legality of crossing international boarders with it, so be careful if you decide to go that route, but as a cop once told me, 'If you are going to carry it, you must... Must be willing to use it.' It isn't a magic talisman that will ward off bad people. It's effective and painful, that is the point of it. But if you are afraid to use it, it will do you precisely zero good. The moment someone does something that you view as inappropriate, you need to be willing to give them the goods.

And then you need to be ready to accept that it might mean that you are going to deal with police who want to know why you may-or-may-not have assaulted someone.

Personally, in a foreign country, I would not want to have that conversation if I could avoid it, but then, I am a guy and don't have the same concerns that I'm sure that you do. YMMV though.
posted by quin at 11:19 PM on February 8, 2007


If you're made of money, why are you staying in a hostel?
posted by LGCNo6 at 11:24 PM on February 8, 2007


Why not take your boyfriend?
posted by fvox13 at 11:27 PM on February 8, 2007


The (almost always excellent) GoNomad site has a Women's Travel section that you might find helpful.
posted by occhiblu at 11:27 PM on February 8, 2007


I was around your age and of similar build when I travelled through most of Europe alone. While I did find my fair share of gropers and overzealous men (mainly in Italy), I was mostly left alone. I even did some pretty fool-hardy things (getting sloshed on a pub-crawl and walking around Rome drunk at 3 am), but I came out allright. The key, as said above, is confidence. If you're feeling like you're vulnerable, it WILL show. Get over that "I'm vulnerable because I'm a woman" mentality. The chances of you being attacked here at home are the same as in Europe.

What worked for me was that I didn't have anything of real value with me besides my camera. I always made sure to have that concealed on me along with my money. Dress in clothes that won't make you stand out and keep your wits about you at all times. If you walk into a neighborhood that looks sketchy, get out of there. I'd rather miss the experience of an off-the-beaten path place than jeopordize my safety. Lastly, get yourself one of those neck-wallets and keep all your money and valuable documents tucked in there under your shirt/blouse. Make sure the strap doesn't jut out in any way so it won't be obvious you are carrying one. If you want, you can carry a small amount of cash in your pocket for easy access. But never carry more than $20 if you do that. That way, if you happen to run into pickpockets, you won't lose much.

I have loads more tips, but I don't want to bore anybody. My email is in my profile, if you have any more questions. I'll be happy to help. :-)
posted by arishaun at 11:32 PM on February 8, 2007


Two years ago, I went solo around Europe in hostels and it was fine. More than fine -- it was great. I met a lot of cool people, and had experiences I certainly wouldn't have had on a package tour or at some Sofitel. Once you're in Europe, you will see how silly it would be to fear Europeans more than you would Americans. (Shhh! I think there are Europeans here, on AskMe!)

Here's the thing. Nowhere is safe if you are a woman. People get raped in the hospital, people get raped waiting for a tow truck, people get raped by men they thought were friends, people get raped wherever and under whatever circumstances. I imagine that it would be very hard, after having been raped, to trust people and feel secure alone. If that happened to me, I might very well want to stay indoors after dark, to travel only in groups, to have a definite itinerary, etc. etc.

That is to say, I probably would cut myself off from a lot of potentially fun activities out of fear, if I were victimized like that -- but until I am, I'm not going to victimize myself. Some guy may very well rob me of my faith in humanity in some gas station bathroom one of these days, but until then -- I'm going to go where I want, I'm going to trust people, and I'm going to trust myself to know what to do in a situation. If you stay on a package tour with a bunch of Americans, you may still get raped (or have your passport stolen or... ) but you definitely won't ramble La Ramblas in the middle of the night with an Australian and a Turkish German and meet up with some English expats who can get you into an after-hours bar...

I think being raped is only the second-worst thing that could happen. Not living your own life, and then waking up old -- that is the worst thing that could happen.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:50 PM on February 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm a 5'5" woman. I don't inspire fear in anyone.

Having traveled to a few countries, including Italy, France, Spain, and the UK, just being smart is the best solution. Read travel sites and books and simply play it safe. That doesn't mean be super on guard, since you'll want to be able to relax and enjoy your trip too.

The only incident I had that was safety-related was when three drunken men tried to accost us three 19 and 20 year old women returning from shopping and dinner in Paris outside the M├ętro. Luckily, our hotel was a block away and we all ran like hell.

Rome is also pretty safe. We were out sightseeing several nights and nothing really happened. However, a lot of places close earlyish (11 or so). At one point we went to McDonalds to eat because nothing else was open.

I lived in Madrid for a while and traveled through Spain. Since I'm most familiar with it, I can vouch that it is a safe city. It's very much a late into the night, social, and safe city. I lived very centrally and I walked around at night and went out with friends. It was an easy city to enjoy and tour. I lived alone, by the way, in a studio apartment. I do speak the language, so that likely made things much easier.

Nightlife isn't just big there, it's almost a must, and people eat dinner very late--10pm isn't uncommon--so you will have people (all kinds of people, students, older people, couples, natives, men, women, teens) walking on the streets at all hours.

I was catching a plane out for a trip once and had to walk down the streets alone at 5 in the morning to look for a cab. It was very safe.

I never had any safety incidents in Madrid. Cabs are relatively cheap, so traveling late isn't bad at all. The only real concern was theft, and I just kept a purse slung across my body and held onto it.

I'd also recommend Barcelona and London as cities to travel to. I was out on the streets of London alone on several nights, coming home from the theatre or walking back to my hostel from a friend's flat at 5 in the morning. No problems there either.

I stayed at The Generator hostel in London, in a mixed dorm. I didn't find anyone rude or troublesome. Worst thing that happened to me there was I accidentally left some moisturizer in the ladies' room and someone snatched it by the time I'd realized and gone back.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:53 PM on February 8, 2007


Oh, and just to be clear, the time period I'm referring to is a few years ago. I'm in my mid-20s now, but this was all when I was 20/21.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:54 PM on February 8, 2007


Great advice from everyone. You don't mention where you're travelling from so I'll assume it's the US or Canada. I myself am in the UK.

Only travel by taxi, favouring cabs booked by phone. If you can, SMS (text message) the taxi license plate and driver ID to a friend when getting in, this way if something happens then someone will know where you are and what taxi you got in. I've heard of rogue taxis preying on young women more than hostel attacks.

If you're carrying cash, split it. If you're mugged then hand over the smaller amount while keeping enough in another pocket or money belt to get yourself somewhere safe by taxi if needed.

As everyone else has said, stick to well populated areas and avoid going out in the dark alone. Know how to identify police and where to find them every time you move to a new area.

Keep your bag / purse / wallet close at all times and be very concious of pickpockets even in supposedly safe cities. People will have a go anywhere if they think they can.

I totally agree with the self defence class - even if you never use it (and don't want to), you're less likely to be a victim if you exude confidence. An attack alarm is also a good idea.

Don't buy ANYTHING from street vendors. There are a lot of scams revolving around street vending and if people haven't identified you as a naive tourist then they certainly will at that point.

Hope you have a fantastic time travelling. It's not half as bad as it sounds, it's just good to consciously consider when abroad the precautions you'd take at home anyway!

Dave
posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 11:55 PM on February 8, 2007


Jeez, this is a bit paranoid, no?

only travel by taxi Or train, or bus. Europe's not that bad. Sure bits of some cities are dangerous, but so are bits of the US. Don't stay in the cheapest hostels, don't catch buses when drunk late at night, don't wander round the red-light district after dark and you'll be fine.

One thing that would really help your safety is to start each city/country staying with a local. Look at joining something like servas, an NGO with the aim of spreading peace through international travel. I've hosted with Servas for a few years now and travellers come and stay with us for two days, and learn a little about the city and customs and so on. You get a real mix of people (retired teachers to 18 year old gap-year kids). If you don't like the idea of staying in someone's house, people do "day hosting" where they won't put you up but they will show you around town. Understanding how to catch a bus, understanding the little local customs and foibles, and knowing roughly the layout of a city can all help you to look more confident and therefore less of a target.

Imagine starting your Rome stay with 2 days at a retired history teacher's house - you're going to get so much more out of it, and you'll have actually interacted with the locals above and beyond the "1 cappuccino, please" level.
posted by handee at 12:56 AM on February 9, 2007


Pepper spray is definetly pretty seriously illegal in the UK - and I suspect it will be elsewhere in Europe - check very carefully before taking any!
posted by prentiz at 2:08 AM on February 9, 2007


I'm small, young, female and European.... and I've travelled a fair bit through the continent, and lived in several European countries. And I've spent most of my life living in the major tourist destinations in the UK (Stratford-upon-Avon, The Lake District, York and London). I've never had a major problem anywhere.

Stay in hostels, especially if you're travelling alone, it's a great way to meet people. You won't be spending much time alone, because you will meet people to spend time with and see things with. Use public transport - it's fun and you get see the people of the city.

Try not to look like a tourist! Don't have your camera, guide book, mobile, water bottle, "I'm a vunereable, just out of College and never been to Europe before" pin-badge, on diplay. Get a small bag with zips, and make sure you can fit everything you'll need for a day out seeing the sights in it. I don't like backpacks, for lots of reasons, and usually have a small shoulder bag, but that's me.

Look like you know where you are going and look confident and comfortable in your surroundings. Before you leave in the morning, plan where you are going to go. Read the guide book, study the maps. Know before you get off public transport which direction you need to head off in. If it's not clear when you get there, don't stop just outside the station to look at the map, walk off like you know where you're going, go into a shop and check it there.

Try not to be tempted by the tourist scams, expensive tours, souvenirs, street vendors... Find out what the locals do. get reccomendations from the Hostel and fellow travellers.

Don't arrange to meet people at night in places where you haven't been before. Meet at stations or busy places that you are familiar with.

Know how you are going to get home before you go out in the evening.

Stay in well lit, busy places at night. If you are not comfortable somewhere, leave. Turn round, head into a shop, get off the bus, get into a taxi...

Know what to do if something does happen. Keep copies of important documents, don't keep all your money in the same place, know how to contact emergency services, find out what 'help' is in the local language, know how to contact your embassy/consulate...

And use your common sense. Ignore all of this advice if it's going to stop you doing something really amazing and fun that you think will be safe.

Remember bad stuff happens everywhere, accept that. There's things you can do to to help stop it happening. Don't take stupid risks, and don't let the horror stories put you off.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:16 AM on February 9, 2007


(I was totally going to be asking something similar to this soon, heh.)

Self-defense classes are good, but it can sometimes give you a false sense of security (depending on your mindset). Same thing goes for mace/other various weaponry. Also, I think a shitload of countries have restrictions against pepper spray (and IIRC, you can't take it from the US, even in your checked luggage).

That said, there are often dangerous parts of most cities. Usually you can guess what these parts are. If you find yourself on some back street where there are no locals, or boarded up buildings, or lots of metal bars on windows/doors, that's a clue that it might not be the safest place to be. Stick to well-lit areas and know how to yell for help in various languages (although yelling FUCK OFF in an aggressive tone of voice seems to translate in just about any language).

I've never felt really skeeved out in various European countries, but I think that just has to do more with mindset than anything else. Trust your intutition: if somewhere doesn't feel/seem right--bail.
posted by sperose at 3:16 AM on February 9, 2007


If you want to limit yourself to countries that have the reputation of being 'fairly safe' in the big cities, try the Scandinavian countries, Benelux countries, Switzerland, and much of former Western Germany.

Though I don't think you should limit yourself so...most of Europe is fine with normal big city precautions.

As in the U.S., smaller cities and towns are generally fine.

My good wife is just like you, a short woman, and she travelled by herself several times in Europe with a backpack when in her 20s, mostly staying at hostels. She did end up hooking up with some guy she met during her travels, and ended up marrying him, so there is that risk.
posted by derMax at 4:54 AM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Um, look, this is just fear of the unknown. Norrthern and Western Europe is virtually no different from the US, except that large parts of it are a lot safer, and Britain has effectively no guns.

You're going to be as safe wandering about alone here as you are wandering about at home. Take exactly the same precautions, use exactly the same instincts and self-awareness and you'll be absolutely fine.

Think what advice you'd give a small person coming from Europe to your city. Then, follow it.
posted by bonaldi at 5:26 AM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I traveled Europe alone for 6 weeks when I was 20 (I'm in my late 20's now). I'm 5'5" and not particularly muscle-y.

My first suggestion is screw the hostels. As fun as traveling alone can be, it is also exhausting, and having your very own room with your very own lock on the door to come back to at the end of the day makes All. The. Difference. You can find plenty of very affordable other options that are better than hostels in every way (unless you're just really wanting the dorm-vibe -- I wasn't). I stayed at a hostel my first night in Paris, but the next day I found a cheap, clean, safe hotel in the 18th arrondissement (Montmartre). The rest of the trip (France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, UK, Ireland) I stayed in hotels, B&Bs, or rented rooms. The key to making this affordable on a backpacker budget is to be willing to go just a little off the main tourist areas (eg Montmartre instead of the center of town). Get a good guidebook, call ahead, and you will have no problem finding places.

People always talk about Italy in conversations like this, but I didn't have any real problems in Rome or Naples (just stares and/or persistent flirting). But in Paris a man attempted to grab me (not groping; I mean he tried to make me go somewhere with him). Due to the wonders of adrenaline, I managed to give the guy a hearty shove, and disappeared myself into the nearest crowded area with authority figures (which happened to be Les Invalides, IIRC). Would have been nice if I had had a self defense class and could have inflicted some pain on the guy, but I did fine without. And I would go to Paris again in a heartbeat. Just be aware of your surroundings and don't be stupid, and you'll be fine. Really.
posted by somanyamys at 5:52 AM on February 9, 2007


I'm 23, similar in size to you, and have spent the last three years (off and on) traveling alone throughout Europe and Eastern Europe -- I've never had a problem, and I've never once felt unsafe.

I think it's important to have confidence, or at least look like you do. People don't bother you if you look like you know where you're going and what you're doing. I second the idea that hostels aren't the all that fabulous -- a great way to meet people, but they're often crappy and after a long day of traveling, sometimes it's nice to have your own room. Affordable hotels are pretty easy to find in most places. I find it nice to do both - hostel for a few nights, and then take a break in a hotel.

I've found that carrying a small purse for my money, camera, tickets, passport, etc. has been helpful - something that can easily tuck under your arm or that you can wrap around your wrist. I bought into the whole hidden-money wallet thing on my first trip, and trashed it after a few days because it was so irritating.

Also, I found that I got lots of stuff for free (mostly in Eastern Europe) because people seem to feel bad for solo female travellers. Food, internet, the occasional cab ride. It's great.
posted by drycleanonly at 6:26 AM on February 9, 2007


Good advice above. The only thing I'd add is no to psych yourself out.

I know that the being in a strange country where people speak a language unknown to you can be intimidating (I spent 4 years living and travelling Europe, the Middle East and North Africa), but keep in mind that unless you're going to a war-torn or truly impoverished state, practically any place you are going to go there is going to be safer than any medium or large-sized American city. Use your common sense as you would in Milwaukee, San Francisco or Phoenix.

Just for some peace of mind, however, I would only recommend doing the hostel thing if you have a travel companion. Many cities have perfectly decent and clean hotels that are only slightly costlier than a hostel, and you don't have to worry, no so much about assault, but about petty theft or any other shenanigans which are far more common in such places.

As for getting groped or frotted in France or Italy (it happens, sadly, the overwhelming majority of the women on my junior year abroad program encountered some form of this), there are only two possible responses to this: "encules-toi" or "va te faire foutre!". Be firm, be sharp and be definite, shove if you must. Do not try to finesse or nice your way out of it. These guys are assholes that only understand one form of communication.
posted by psmealey at 6:31 AM on February 9, 2007


One tip: Make sure you either have a room booked before you leave for each new city, or always get to each new city early in the day and find a room, first thing. If you show up alone in the evening in a new city where you don't know the language, don't have a room reserved, and the tourist info center is closed, you are making yourself a mark.

After backpacking around Europe for almost 3 months in 2000 witout any problems, I got a little cocky and careless, and made the mistake of pulling into Budapest at 9 p.m., alone and without a room reservation. It ended up with me having to withdraw $300 from an ATM and pay it to a very large man who didn't take "no" for an answer.

Austria, Switzerland, West Germany, Northern Spain and Northern Italy are all pretty safe. Western Europe is generally safer than the US. Small towns will usually be safe. Most big downs have their seedy areas that you will want to avoid. Eastern Europe, in my experience, can be a little sketchier. Normal people in the East will be friendly to you, but the East has more organized crime elements operating out in the open than does the West (with the exception of southern Italy, anyway).

My 2000 backpacking trip ended in Vienna, a few days after my bad experience in Budapest. I'm still living here (in Vienna). Drop me a line if you make it to town and would like to meet up.
posted by syzygy at 6:52 AM on February 9, 2007


Check out journeywoman.com.
posted by Joleta at 6:55 AM on February 9, 2007


One of my friends, a beautiful yet rather strong woman, was raped in a hostel in northern Europe while traveling alone. The experience has profoundly affected her life. It's just a data point, and I don't know what kind of general conclusions you can draw from it.
posted by caddis at 7:04 AM on February 9, 2007


Lots of good advice here. Two things that bear repeating, and the same advice I gave to my sister when she went backpacking around Europe at 21:

1) Think of advice you'd give to someone coming to your hometown or closest large city. Follow it. Would you carry mace or wear all your money in a special pouch hidden in your belt if you went to San Francisco or Chicago? No? Then don't do it in Paris. Europe is not some lawless haven with rape gangs preying on every female tourist.

2) Avoid looking like a tourist when possible. Carry the same things and wear the same clothes you would when walking around anyplace at home. The only possible additions might be a small guidebook and a camera, which shouldn't require a huge bag. Stride confidently even when you don't know where you're going. Walk into a cafe and sit down and figure it out.
posted by modernnomad at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2007


I have a friend your size who travelled through southeast asia solo. For a year. And she never had a problem. The tips above are great, for the most part. A money belt is super useful. Bad travel stories travel faster than everything but celebrity gossip. Major European cities are vastly safer than major American ones. The smaller ones, even more so. Worry a bit about pickpockets. Use common sense and you'll be fine.

Solo women travellers often pair (or group) up for short (or long) stretches of their time travelling. If you make a friend with another traveller, ask her where she's going next. You'll probably find her itenarary similar to yours. This is very common. I'd reccomend staying in hostels as you're more likely to meet people to travel and wander around cities with. It's safer and more fun this way.

There are a couple of websites with great listings and reviews of hostels. Information travels very fast, especially with internet access at pretty much every hostel. You can read comments and select places that sound safe and have good locations.

And go to Granada, Spain.
posted by thenormshow at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2007


Pepper spray is not legal in most of Europe and don't bring it on the airplane unless you wan to be banned for life and possibly spend some time in jail. Seriously bad advice.

I've traveled all over Europe and North American and Mexico other places and rarely encountered something that made me feel more uncomfortable than the average American frat party. Except in the northern UK. Northern english towns after the bars let out are nuts! I was hit on a lot in Athens, Borat style. I find that a firm "go away or I will call a policeman" with eye contact to be very effective.

I liked hosteling when I was younger and would often meet some other women and we'd end up traveling together and staying in pensions for a while or renting little house together or whatever. It's one of the funnest parts of traveling and on your first trip you should probably at least give the hostels a try.
posted by fshgrl at 7:46 AM on February 9, 2007


I'm similar and have traveled alone to Western Europe several times, staying in hostels every time. I haven't had problems yet, knock wood.

My thoughts:

* The hostel route has been great for meeting people and for not feeling alone and alienated (plus for getting good tips on what to see). For safety I'd go with the official Hosteling International hostels rather than indy backpacker hostels. Also, bring locks and lock up your stuff when you're away from it or asleep.

* When you're walking and traveling, dress for safety, escape, and blending in. I wear just ordinary jeans, sneakers, and logo-free t-shirts/flannels/sweaters. I don't wear high heels, revealing clothing, or clothes that require me to put my valuables in a bag (everything important in my pockets, please!). Plus, not wearing high heels lets me walk more confidently and I don't have to worry about twisting my ankle on some cobblestone sidestreet. (Then again, my goals for travel are "walk around and look at stuff", and I aim for maximum chameleon-ishness!).

* Keep your wits about you. Pay attention to your surroundings - if you're alone, don't zone off into iPodland or get completely engrossed in a book on the subway, for example.

I have felt completely safe while traveling alone in these countries:

* Switzerland
* Iceland
* Germany (Rhine Valley and Munich, can't vouch for other parts of the country)
* Ireland
* England
posted by cadge at 8:25 AM on February 9, 2007


I have a friend of your exact stature who has traveled across Europe and a bunch of Asia without a problem. Don't let paranoia get to you. It's hard to find a city in Europe that is more dangerous than the average mid-sized US city.

The only exception I would note is Amsterdam. Splurge on a good place to stay and don't walk around alone late at night. Anyway, staying at hostels you will meet tons of people and only be alone if you want to.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:35 AM on February 9, 2007


This is ridiculous. You'll be fine. Just don't take any chances you wouldn't take in an American city. I am a small girl who traveled alone for six months around Europe (mainly Eastern Europe) and Turkey, with no problems. The great thing about hostels is usually there a lot of people around who are up for hanging out. You're probably more safe in this situation than wandering around a hotel or a city alone.

As a side note, men in France and Italy (and somewhat in Spain) are relentless. Don't make eye contact.
posted by lunalaguna at 11:00 AM on February 9, 2007


Another small female here who travelled alone in Europe. Mostly in Paris, Rome, and Dublin.

There's a ton of variety among hostels. Location is important. My first few nights in Paris, I stayed in a hostel in a not-so-great arrondissement. Later, I stayed in a school dorm that was vacant for the summer. Huge difference between the two.

Also, read up on cultural differences for the countries you're travelling to. Body language has different meanding and can send VERY different signals depending on where you are.

As far as anecdotal evidence, I felt very safe in Paris. The few times I had someone harass me it was either much much older men who just wanted to see what they could get away with, or, a few times I had men bothering me in bars or restaurants and another man would come over and pretend to be my father or boyfriend until the "bad" guy went away.

OTOH, in Dublin, I *was* attacked. Which I'd rather not go into detail about here, but the same thing could have happened in my hometown.

If you want any more info about being a woman alone in any of the three cities I mentioned, feel free to email me. My email's in my profile.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 11:26 AM on February 9, 2007


Try this: Walk around your own hometown and imagine you're a foreigner who has never been there before, and you don't speak the language or know anybody and don't know where anything is. Pretty scary, huh? Everyone's out to get you, there are pick-pocketers everywhere, etc.. Of course you know otherwise, because you live there, but the point of the exercise is to show yourself how bad your mind can psych you out when you're in an unfamiliar place.

Sure it's good to be cautious and smart when traveling, but don't let your imagination get the best of you.
posted by afx114 at 11:29 AM on February 9, 2007


I've gotta chime in on the suggestion to relax. Your biggest danger, to my mind, is your own anxiety.

Like many of the contributors to this thread, I'm a (short) woman who spent some time travelling in Europe in my early twenties. I never had any problems, except for the odd old guy in very tourist-visited towns in Ireland, and even then it was pretty harmless. I stayed in a wide range of hostel-type accomodations, and at most of them I found company if I wanted it. I think you'll find that at any given time, in any given European city, there are a fair number of people following similar walk-around-and-look-at-stuff plans. You'll run into the same people over and over again. Why not join up? It's extra fun when you run into those people again in another city/country/continent.

Why don't you ease into hostelling? (I am making a lot of unsupported assumptions about where you are coming from.) Stay somewhere more private/secure when you first fly in. Acclimate a little bit to not knowing the languages, settle down, etc., and then switch to staying in HI hostels. After a few nights in an HI hostel you just might be ready to stay somewhere with more personality.
posted by janell at 12:02 PM on February 9, 2007


I have pretty much the same things to say as everyone else. As a 5'2" 120lb girl (oh, how I miss being 19), I had NO problems doing the Eurail thing when I was a couple years younger than you. I didn't really have any problems. I will say, however, that I found the men in Spain and Italy to be more aggressive than elsewhere so if you (or your boyfriend) are really concerned, you might be most comfortable in Northern Europe (I particularly found the people in Denmark to be super nice, but maybe I caught them all on a good day!).
posted by echo0720 at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2007


I had NO problems doing the Eurail thing when I was a couple years younger than you. I didn't really have any problems.

Preview, echo0720, preview!!!

posted by echo0720 at 1:34 PM on February 9, 2007


I'm 5ft 2 and I've backpacked all over the world over the last 10 years and I've never had a problem.

Hostels are a great place to stay if you're travelling by yourself. It's so easy to meet other likeminded people to travel with without the obligation to do exactly the same things. Meet a couple of Kiwis in Berlin, travel with them to Vienna, they're heading to Hungary, you head off to Prague with an Argentinian girl you meet in Vienna... etc etc. If you're staying in hostels, you're never travelling alone, unless you want to. If you're open and friendly, you'll never be short of travel companions.

To get the most out of travelling, you need to be open to new experiences and be willing to go outside your comfort zone. If that's a problem for you then maybe you need to rethink your plans. I understand your concerns, but travelling per se isn't any more risky than living wherever you live.

Basic common sense applies though - keep your wits about you, and go with your gut instinct / intuition - if you're feeling unsafe with a person / in a situation, then leave. Try not to stand out as a tourist.

But most importantly, enjoy! Travelling is an amazing experience, you meet so many interesting and inspirational people if you're open to it. Have a great trip!!!

P.S. re-reading your post, it sounds like your boyfriend is more worried about the idea of you travelling alone than you are. Is is possible that he doesn't really want you to have a good time travelling and is trying to put a downer on it in some way or even stop you going? I hope not, but it was something that stuck out on reading your post.
posted by finding.perdita at 4:59 PM on February 9, 2007


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