Thanks to my female staffers and their friends for assembling their top tips for women traveling on their own. — Rick Steves
For the most part, the upsides of solo travel (independence, self-discovery) and the downsides (loneliness, extra costs) are the same for women and men (see my general tips for solo travelers). But two major concerns tend to affect solo women in Europe more than men: Theft and harassment.
That said, every year, thousands of women, young and old, enjoy safe, rewarding European travels all on their own. You can, too, by using the same good judgment you use at home. Begin with caution and figure out as you travel what feels right to you. Create conditions that are likely to turn out in your favor, and you'll have a safer, smoother, more enjoyable trip.
If you've traveled alone in America, you're more than prepared for Europe. In America, theft and harassment are especially scary because of their connection 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 think, "I'm going to ditch this guy ASAP" than, "This guy is going to hurt me."
Of course, if you never engage with strangers during your travels, you could miss out on a chance to learn about the country. So, by all means, talk to men. Just be choosy, and consider whether you're in a safe 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 may get more attention than you're used to, but it's usually in the form of the "long look." 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.
Standards of dress and modesty vary across Europe; to minimize attention, take your cues from what the local women wear. Avoid walking alone at night, particularly in unlit areas with few people around. Don't be overly polite if you're bothered by someone; ditch them as soon as they annoy you. It's your prerogative to set boundaries that feel comfortable.
Use unambiguous facial expressions, clear body language, and a loud, firm voice to fend off unwanted attention. If a man comes too close, say "no" (or the local word for "no") firmly and loudly. ("Basta!", meaning "Enough!", works well in Italy.) That's usually all it takes.
If you feel like you're being followed or hassled, don't worry about overreacting or seeming foolish. Yell if the situation warrants it. Or head to the nearest hotel and chat up the person behind the desk until your admirer moves on. Ask the hotelier to call you a cab to take you to your own hotel or next sightseeing stop.
There's no need to tell men that you're traveling alone, or disclose whether you're 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, bring a couple of your roommates along to meet him. After the introductions, let everyone know where you're going and when you'll return.
If you take an overnight train, avoid sleeping in empty compartments. Rent a couchette for a small surcharge, which puts you with roommates in a compartment you can lock, in a car monitored by an attendant. You may be assigned to an all-female compartment as a matter of course, but if not, ask for female roommates. Certain countries, such as Spain, are better about accommodating these requests than others.
By using common sense, making good decisions, and above all else, having confidence in yourself and your ability to travel on your own, you'll be rewarded with rich experiences — and great stories to tell your friends.