For some, solo travel in Europe sounds intimidating, daunting and a little scary. But overcome those feelings, and you could have the most empowering experience of your life. Don’t be put off by thinking you’ll be lonely or worrying you’ll get lost. These are all things that you can overcome with a little extra planning.
Think, you can do whatever YOU want to do. No compromising your bike ride in Amsterdam because your friends want to visit the Van Gogh museum. No debating over whether to eat street food or dine at a restaurant in France. And no more arguing about choosing cheap train seats over luxury ones when travelling from Germany to Austria. Everything is your choice.
Europe is the perfect destination for solo travel, especially if you’re new to the game. It’s one of the safest parts of the world, it’s common for people to travel solo, and it’s relatively easy to navigate. Public transport is reliable and fairly cheap. But if you’re still a little apprehensive, here are our top nine tips for solo travel in Europe.
1 – Talk to people
The prospect of feeling lonely is (from my experience) a common misconception about solo travel. Travelling by yourself is so common in Europe that it would be harder to be alone than it would to find company. All you need to do is be approachable, and chances are someone will strike up a conversation–then boom, you have a new travel buddy! Hostels in Europe focus on helping people meet by providing common areas and lots of happy hours. Travelling solo actually makes it easier to make friends than if you’re travelling in a group. Put the shoe on the other foot. Would you be more inclined to approach a single person for a chat then infiltrate a group of close friends?
2 – Don’t be scared to dine on your own
“How do you eat on your own when travelling solo?” is one question that crops up time and time again. To keep costs down, I tend to stick to eating out once a day. Breakfast is often included in hotels and hostels, and the best prices in towns can usually be found at lunchtime. Europe is fantastic for lunch deals! You can often get two courses and a glass of wine for €10! The atmosphere in the day is much more casual than in the evening too, so it feels less awkward being on your own. Plus you’ll get a real burst of self-confidence! Pro tip – be wary of restaurants with lots of pictures and numerous translations in the menus – they won’t be authentic at all. Do some research and eat in traditional restaurants. For example, in Italy find a local ‘trattoria’, in France, search for a neighbourhood ‘bistro’.
3 – Learn the language
Although most locals in Europe’s Western cities speak English (you’ll be fine in Italy, Netherlands and Germany) you’ll find that when reaching the more remote areas of Eastern Europe say, Romania or Bulgaria, they may not speak much English. As well as being helpful for logistical reasons, learning a few key phrases in the national language does wonders for getting on the good side of the locals! They may be more inclined to help you out or give you a good price for a souvenir.
4 – Join a guided tour
Guided tours are a great way to meet other solo travellers and provide the perfect opportunity to get your nose out of that guide book! They are a casual, carefree way to get your bearings on a city. Usually run by locals, you’ll often get great inside tips on hidden gems in the city. Guided tours are useful in cities with narrow, windy roads that often look very similar at a first glance – for instance Amsterdam and Venice. Best of all, most of the time they’re free!
5 – Take time to do your thing!
Travelling solo is a great excuse to indulge in your hobby and Europe is one of the best places to do that! If you’re a huge foodie, find a local meetup group that try out restaurants in London. If you’re really into independent cinema, seek out the old cinema houses in Paris. If you’re a massive bookworm, there are libraries made of dreams dotted all over Europe. Whatever makes you tick, you’ll find a network in Europe to tap into. It’s also a great way to make new friends along the road who share similar interests.
6 – Leave the valuables
The majority of Europe is pretty safe, but things can happen wherever you are so you always need to have your wits about you! Be careful in popular tourist spots especially, such as the metro in Paris, St Petersburg market in Russia and the Charles Bridge in Prague. Don’t carry any valuables with you to these places and make sure not to wack out a load of cash in the street for any reason. They key to safe travel is to not make yourself a target!
7 – Go on a night out!
Want to explore the famous nightlife of Berlin but you’ve been warned not to go out at night alone? One of the main concerns of solo travel in Europe is being alone at night in an unfamiliar city. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out! Staying in a hostel means they’ll be lots of other solo travellers around and chances are, they want to go out too. Try not to be shy and begin gathering a group of people from the hostel so you can all go out together. Safety in numbers as they say! Of course, remember that you have only known these people for a short time, so going out on mass doesn’t mean it’s safe to get completely trollied! Just have some common sense.
8 – Use overnight trains
Night trains are one of the best ways to save time and money when travelling solo. It cuts out the cost for a bed for the night and shaves a lot of time off your itinerary. Trains are also particularly swish in Europe, compared to other regions like Asia. The standard is high, they are pretty cheap and reliable and are easy to navigate. One tip – if you’ve decided against buying a Eurail pass, book the trains in advance. The prices significantly increase the closer you are to the departure date.
9 – Keep your family in the loop
No matter how much you reassure them, family and friends will always be concerned when you travel solo. Keep their minds at rest by sharing a google sheet which you can update with names of hostels. It’s a simple thing to do and an easy way of keeping your mum’s mind at rest!
Roxy is part of the marketing team for Tucan Travel. She has been travelling solo for years, predominantly around Asia, Indonesia and Europe. You can find her on LinkedIn here.