Women Travelers: 2008
Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Europe? What are some of the challenges you've faced and how have you dealt with them? Are there places women should not travel alone? How do you stay safe?
- Please don't post questions here. Use our Travelers Helpline.
I've felt safter traveling alone than I do in my own house
Almost everyone I know is aghast when I tell them that I love to travel alone. Last year, I spent four months on a work visa in Ireland, then backpacked around mainland Europe for two months by myself. I'm a little more reckless than most, and I wouldn't recommend that all women do some of the things I sometimes do, although I am cautious and keep an eye out for myself. When people flip out after I tell them about my solo travels, I tell them this story: For six months I was alone in Europe. Trains, planes, hostels, bars, streets at night, hitchhiking, etc. Not once did anything happen to me. NOT ONCE. In fact, I can only remember one or two times that my warning bells went off, and each time, I removed myself from the situation easily. When I got back from Europe, I hunkered down at my parents for a bit. One day, I was in bed with the flu (after burning the candle at both ends, running around Europe for six months, it was expected) when two men broke in and began to wreck the house. They piled up all of our valuables onto my parents bed in a sheet to be carried Santa-style to a car waiting outside in our driveway. Feverish, I thought the voices belonged to the pool man, but when I heard my mothers desk being overturned, I figured it was something else. One of the men entered my childhood bedroom and saw my laptop, but not me. I sprang up from the bed, screaming things that I probably shouldn't type here. Frightened, he ran from my room, calling for his partner. I chased them to the front door and slammed it behind them, hearing their tires squeal away. I called my father, and right as I told him two men had broken into the house, my cell phone died. The men had ripped our house phone from the wall, so I sat and waited for my father to come home. My poor dad called the cops, thinking there were still robbers in the house, and the cops showed up and snuck into the garage. When I heard people moving in the garage, I grabbed my hurly (Irish sporting equipment...kind of like a field hockey stick) and opened the door to the garage to find two police pointing guns at my face. The robbers ended up getting away with only moms cell phone and wallet, and they were never caught. So yes, I feel perfectly safe traveling alone as a woman. I will walk the streets and talk to strangers and cover the four corners of the earth. And when I sleep in my house, I keep my hurley by my bed.
Brooklyn, NY USA Thu 11/13/2008
Prague, Krakow, Berlin...Alone!
I just returned from a 10-day trip to Prague, Krakow and Berlin all alone as a single 29-year-old female. I began with a direct flight from Seattle to Frankfurt Germany then a train trip from Frankfurt to Dresden where I transferred to my train to Prague. If the airfare had been more reasonable, I would have flown direct to Prague, but I think every train ride is an adventure! While in Prague, I walked everywhere, I found the city quite small and comfortable on foot. I can say the proper shoes are a must here…I wore Merrell Plaza Mary Jane's and did just fine. I stayed in an adequate hostel (Old Prague) recommended in Rick's Eastern Europe guide, not the best ever but comfortable and close to everything. From Prague I travelled to Krakow, the train journey was easy until I reached my change in Katowitz, Poland, travelers be warned…there are very few English speakers and no train numbers indicated on the sign board in the station…I was able to guess my train by the departure time…but the event was a bit stressful. When I arrived in Krakow, it was already getting late in the day so I headed to my hostel…right across the street from the main station…Greg-Tom Hostel is by far the best place I have ever stayed, they treat every guest like family and provide a traditional Polish Meal on Saturday evenings not to be missed! I ended my time in Krakow with an evening of Jazz…I liked Prague, but I loved Krakow. Finally, I was off to Berlin, where I stayed in newer hostel, Wombat City-Berlin, this hotel style hostel was in a young-fun artist filled part of Berlin with cheap eats just a block or two away and a Metro (U-bahn) station right across the street. In every city I visited there was at least one other person at my hostel who wanted to see some of the same sights I did each day. I hope that this inspires others to try other parts of Europe and maybe helps others to know that independent travel can be fun!
Tacoma, WA USA Tue 10/21/2008
Just back from 8 week solo trip throughout Europe, check out my travel journal and pictures
I just did eight weeks solo in Europe and prior to the trip, I made the most of the RS website and the graffiti wall and got great advice from you all. I felt well prepared when I set off.
I visited Paris, Brittany, Normandy, Giverny, Bruges, Brussels, Malmedy, The Rhineland, Rothenburg, Baden Baden, Bavaria, The Zugpitze, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Appenzell, Gimmelwald, Chamonix, Aix-enProvence, Pont du Guard, Cannes, Monaco, Lake Como, Venice, The Dolomites, Rome, The Cinque Terre, Colmar and the Alsace, Verdun, Disney...
The Rick Steves resources (guidebooks, language book, website, etc.) were invaluable as was your answers to my questions and your advice. Thanks.
I had a couple of scam attempts but was ready for them. I had a fantastic time everywhere I went, met a lot of neat people, got in shape, ate well, saw beautiful places... it was good for the soul.
Please feel free to contact me with questions and visit my online journal and see pictures.
If you'd like to see my journal and pictures go to www.visitmytraveljournal.com and enter the following info: Phone: 447924205223 Name: Margaret password: lynden
Then click on the Travel Journal button. Scroll to the bottom of the page, click page 5 and scroll to the bottom again to get to the first post and work your way up from there.
Thanks again everyone.
Lynden, WA USA Wed 10/15/2008
Are Germans Rude?
I have traveled extensively in Germany, north, south, east and west, and I have seldom met a native of Germany that was outright rude. German people are just like people anywhere,and they can be impatient, cranky, withdrawn, etc., like everyone else. I have found that an effort to learn the language goes a very long way towards winning people over. Understand that you will never speak it like a native, and don't worry about gettings absolutely correct. When I was in Germany, my sincere efforts to converse in German, and my disclaimers that my German wasn't very good, were met with the heart-warming encouragement that my German was in fact VERY good, EXCELLENT! and my errors in grammar or vocabulary were often hilarious to them, causing much laughter for them and embarrassment for me. The Germans may have a brisk, get-down-to-business attitude, and are not as emotional as say, the French or the Italians,and this could be misunderstood as rudeness I suppose, but I have never felt them to be any ruder than anyone else.
chicago, IL USA Sat 10/04/2008
Plus-sized travelers in the heat
I finally found the solution for PLUS SIZED ladies who wear shorts or (better yet) skirts in hot weather during their Rick Steves' tour.
You'll be doing a lot of walking and if you're plus sized you might suffer from chaffing.
You need to where spanx (http://www.spanx.com). There are some other brands but I have only tried this one. This isn't an ad for Spanx. I just am so happy that I've fixed a painful problem!!!
They're light, breathe well, comfortable and you can be a length that fits several inches above your knees.
They eliminate(!) chaffing of the upper thighs and as an added bonus, they are supportive of your mid-section.
If you don't understand this posting then you don't have the problem that needs the solution. :-)
PS - if you don't have spanx and need a quick fix... I found that diaper rash ointment fixes the chaffing and keeps me running smoothly. The downside is the scent (if any), you must reapply, and the back of your skirt might stick to you when you sit. You can work around these problems.
Shoreline, WA USA Mon 09/15/2008
Alone in Munich
Hello, I'm a 28 year old woman who just spent 3 nights 2.5 days in Munich alone. It was a great and interesting experience. My best friend and her family live in Heidelberg and after spending 4 days with them, I headed to Munich on my own. Once there, I walked everywhere around Marienplatz-to many museums and the English Garden. The only strange things I encountered were: a German clerk at a gas station who tried to give me the wrong change, I gave him a 10 and he said I only gave him a 5, and a guy who tried to "pick me up" in the English Garden. I was sitting on the grass watching a drum circle, and he came over and started flirting with me. He offered me a beer. When he went to go get it, a lightbulb went off "What if he slips a drug into the beer?" well he was over talking to his friends and I hopped on the bike I was renting and pedaled away. He may have been harmless, but the attention was unwanted since I have a boyfriend, so I left. Just something to keep in mind-don't take drinks from anyone-get them directly from the store or bartender yourself. Other than that I had a great time and felt safe everywhere I went. By the way, is it just me or do Germans seem very rude? The nicest people I met on my trip were from other countries like Portugal and Spain. While I was in and around Heidelberg with my friends I carried all my money and cards in my wallet in a lumbar pack (they've lived in Germany 3 years and never had a problem with theft). Like a fanny pack that snaps around your waist, but sits above your behind. Of course I was aware of it at all times, and sometimes wore it in the front. While in Munich I used a money belt for my cards, cash and passport, and used the lumbar pack for extras like my trusty Rick Steves guide, hand lotion and a windbreaker. The nice thing about the lumbar pack is you can also wear it thrown across your body over one shoulder.
Flagstaff, AZ USA Wed 08/27/2008
I have never felt unsafe traveling alone in Europe. I dress the same as I do at home in Chicago, in jeans and sweaters etc., with no flashy jewelry or accessories, especially a big flashy purse that screams "Take me!" Maybe my urban lifestyle has given an innate awareness of my surroundings so I remain alert to possible trouble. I have never carried a money-belt, and I carry my cash for the day plus my passport and my atm card in a boring cosmetics case buried on the bottom of my bag. Of course, I have copies of my atm card, my passport, and airline tickets stashed in an inner compartment of my suitcase, and the phone number to call if my atm card is lost or stolen. I also notify my bank before leaving home, and get the number of a representive I can call should anything happen, and if I need to I can access my savings account by going to a major bank. This has never been neccessary. I like to spend the time before I go on my trip planning, planning, and planning some more, for any eventuality, and I would really hate to, and never in fact do, feel paranoid. I leave anything expensive or irreplaceable at home. I think it just takes some common sense to remain safe, and being able research everything thouroughly online these days is a huge help. If you know, for example, approximately what the cost is for a taxi ride from point A to point B, which you can research online, you'll know when your'e getting ripped off. By remaining sensible and alert, not over-excited and gullible, a solo woman traveler decreases her chances of getting ripped off or in danger. Forget being an over-packed diva and travel light!
chicago, il USA Sat 08/16/2008
to Jacqui McCargar
WOW!! even after someone offered you shelter and was nice enough to drive you to the airport you STILL hate Italy? For me that just shows that you may just be having a difficult time seeing the positive. I have been ripped off in London and NYC, AND PARIS and the people left me stranded. in my opinion you were very luckly, and yet, that is normal here in ITaly. Italian people are very accomodating and kind, and don't like to see people suffering. I am surprised that such a great experience with local people didn't seem to sink in. Oh well, have fun in France.
Rome, Italy Sun 07/27/2008
Tampons in France
Buy your tampons at a pharmacie in France, they're not going to sell them in the grocery store. They're sold in France, don't worry, I've bought them there.
MN USA Thu 07/10/2008
forget the tampax
I'd like to add to the "traveling/packing light" list that, in addition to the Divacup(silicone), there is also The Keeper reusable menstrual cup, which is made of natural gum rubber (latex). (The Keeper has been on the market since 1987.)
You can find more at www.Keeper.com.
Oak Park, IL USA Tue 05/27/2008
I've found it helpful to wear a simple gold wedding band even though I am not married. It's especially helpful while I am working and don't want to be "picked up". I wear it on my right hand and discreetly switch to my left if I'm being bothered. I make some excuse about my husband being "just over there somewhere". It has gotten me out of a few jams. Some guys can't take no for an answer. And single woman are often seen as Green Cards to some guys looking to come to Canada or the US.
I also leave all flash jewellery at home. I don't want to play the part of "the Wealthy Tourist". I don't travel with what I can't afford to lose. That includes items of a sentimental nature and not just monitary value.
Canada Sat 05/17/2008
Forget the tampax
Forget the tampax. Before embarking on a 5 month backpacking trip in Europe a friend told me she had been using a DivaCup, and it was a life saver on her trip. You only need one and they are sold online or at places like Whole Foods for 30 dollars. The concept of using a cup during your menstrual cycle may seem foreign at first, but trust me after the first use you will never go back to icky tampons or pads. You cant feel it, and with proper use it wont ever leak and will only need to empty it when you shower once a day. Also it is great for the environment and better for your body!
Orange County, CA USA Fri 05/09/2008
Women-Only Accommodation in Europe
Women-only accommodation lists as well as tourism, health and personal safety links galore for women travellers at this site:
Oslo, Norway Wed 04/23/2008
Tips for women traveling alone
When you're traveling alone, it's especially hard to keep a constant eye on your stuff. Even going through security at the airport is better with two people. Who's on the other end of the security belt? Don't count on the guards to watch your things, they don't know whose stuff is whose. ??Get all your bags and bins ready to go through the belt, but don't let any of it through until you're completely ready. Then hold it back until you can almost immediately walk through the metal detector, so you can meet it promptly on the other end. Neither do you want it to sit unattended on the starting side. It's tricky business, when you're alone.??
Everybody talks about the many pickpockets in Rome, Prague, Barcelona, and it's true: there are many. In those cities and elsewhere. Everybody knows to watch out on public transportation, at train stations, in the metro, and in crowds. As a professional "thiefhunter," I'd like to volunteer a few observations and tips. ??First, I hope that everyone realizes that for the most part, it is not the locals who steal from visitors*. Many cities' thieves are mostly people from outside. I hope you don't think that you'd recognize these thieves, because you won't. They blend in neatly, unless you train yourself to watch behavior. Then they will stand out.??
Do you think it can't happen to you? If so, it probably will. Do you carry a purse? If so, you're in danger. I encourage everyone to travel, see the world, and walk everywhere. But I say: stow your stuff safely before you go out so you don't have to worry about being pickpocketed. Best place to stash your valuables: in a pouch under your clothes. There's tons more at Pocketology 101 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/theft-thwarter-tips/pocketology-101/ and Purseology 101 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/theft-thwarter-tips/purseology-101/??
While on the road, leave your flashy jewelry in the hotel safe (or buried in your largest luggage, if you must). Notice that I said "flashy." Even if it's fake, leave it off. The thief can't tell it's fake. He probably won't try to grab your CZ earrings, but he gets the message you're sending: that you're an affluent tourist with a wallet worth stealing. Dress down. Don't send signals that you're worth the effort. Let the thieves go for someone else. There's lots more at Thiefhunters in Paradise http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters??
*Of course there are cities where the thieves are locals. Naples is one of them, so are Lima, St. Petersburg, and others. On Naples, you might like "How to Steal a Rolex" http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/2008/03/how-to-steal-a-rolex/
las Vegas, NV USA Wed 04/09/2008
You can get Tampax in Poland at Carrefour, so check at the Carrefour stores in Europe.
USA Fri 03/14/2008
I am not sure where Julie looked but I bought Tampax at Monoprix so I know you can get them in France.
Atlanta, GA USA Sun 03/09/2008
I went to Paris last summer and found out the hard way that they do not have tampax in france. they have these odd little flat cotton circles. i did the best i could with it, but i still don't know if I was using them properly or what the heck they are called. does anyone know? and is there tampax for purchase anywhere in europe?
long story short: if you really are wedded to your tampax, you will need to pack enough for your trip. you cant buy them over there.
Colorado Springs, CO USA Wed 03/05/2008
Nasty Toilets No More
Hey Ladies – I am sure you must be tried of having to hover and balance like a gymnast over some disgusting, unsanitary toilet or hole in the ground just because you were born female. Well a new day has dawned. At www.REI.com I found this nifty pee cup (for lack of a better word). It's made of plastic. Below are the specs: • Lightweight, palm-sized device is reusable and comes with a carrying case • Requires minimal undressing for discreet use • Sani-Fem Freshette F.U.D. Now you can be free to go camping, hiking, traveling, or just about anywhere without planning out a bathroom break. Make friends with a bush on a hiking trail or road side tree like a guy and stand up tall and proud and pee!!! Happy Peeing!!!
Newport Beach, Ca USA Wed 02/27/2008
Women Solo Travel
Thanks to everyone for your informative and helpful comments! I am planning a trip to Italy in Sept '08 and as of right now, am going alone. My family is disconcerted by this. I will be 41 by then, am 5'8", and am a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo. I've been reading Rick Steves Italy, have been learning Italian, doing other research, and know a native Italian who can hang with me for a portion of my trip. It sounds like being vigilant and knowledgeable is the key, and I will be. Thanks for RE-setting my mind at ease, and for helping me convince my family that I'll be fine! :)
Junction CIty, OR USA Tue 02/26/2008
Women Traveling Solo
Robyn, tell your family not to be disconcerted. I'm going to Italy in November and I'll be 58 by then - just a baby compared to some other solo female travelers I've seen. This will be my 3rd solo trip to Europe. It's really a wonderful experience especially if you've had a less than positive one traveling with others. You'll be free to stay as long (or a short) a time as you like and get to eat where you choose and not feel guilty if something you've suggested fall short of your expectations. Although I absolutely love traveling with friends, being unafraid to travel alone gives you the freedom to go when others can't.
lexington, nc USA Tue 02/26/2008