I wanted to travel the world, but my friends didn’t. They had newfound jobs, graduate school, and boyfriends, while all I had was wanderlust.
So I embraced my singleness and lack of responsibility by moving to France (alone), then embarking on a mini world backpacking tour, (also alone).
Most people are perplexed to learn that I’m a solo traveler. Some can’t understand why I’d willingly subject myself to lonely Euro-Railing, or solitary walks along the Seine. Others, perhaps influenced by plot of Taken, assume that all sightseeing women are magnets for roving gangs of local crime lords. Despite these concerns, my trip has been decidedly un-lonely, totally engaging, and 100% crime lord-free. If you’re woman enough to join the pack of solo female travelers, here are some tips to make your trip even better:
Book At Hostels
When you stay in hostels, you’re never truly alone. An abundance of amazing youth accommodations in France and throughout Europe offer everything from “design boutique” decor to private rooms, buffet breakfasts, and nightly social activities. Be warned: the standard rooms are co-ed. If you’d rather not end up with a male bunkmate, make sure to request the female-only dorm room.
Be More Cautious
When you’re having fun and everyone is so awesome, it’s easy to become a little too comfortable. No matter how nice of a neighborhood you’re staying in, it’s always best to forego that last cocktail and walk home sober. Stick to the advice mom gave you: no dark alleys, never put your drink down, and walk back with a friend.
Try a Work Exchange
If you’re looking for an immediate connection with locals, check out websites like Workaway and WWOOF. There are over 2,600 French organizations and families on Workaway offering farm work, vineyard jobs, restoration projects, English teaching and more in exchange for room and board.
For those specifically interested in farming, there’s WWOOF (World Wide Organic Farming), to connect you with regional farmers throughout France.
Say You’re Meeting Someone
If you meet someone who seems a little too interested in the fact that you’re alone (i.e.: asking repeatedly and excitedly about it), don’t hesitate to invent a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend that you’ll be meeting later on. When my creepy-encounter radar starts blaring, I just explain that I got here first to find a good table, but my awesome and totally real friend is on their way.
Get a Cell Plan
If you’re staying in France for more than a month, invest in a cheap sim card. Companies like Orange or Free Mobile offer plans starting at just €7 and €2 a month, respectively. You can keep your family posted on your whereabouts and post your sunset selfie at l‘Arc de Triomphe—win, win.
Arrive During Daylight
That midnight Ryanair flight may look tempting, but the few bucks saved on travel won’t seem so important when you’re stranded in Gare du Nord at 3am with all your luggage. While budgeting is important, so is realistically assessing how comfortable you feel navigating a new city when it’s late, dark or generally disorienting. I try to pick tickets with morning or afternoon arrivals, giving me enough time to misread the metro map, get lost, sweat through my clothing, and finally arrive at my hostel minutes before magic hour.
Check Your Accommodations’ References
Websites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing offer great options, but not always for female traveling alone. Start by reading reviews of your hosts to find out what kind of experience they offer their guests. It’s important to know that Couchsurfing is free of charge, which means that hosts are doing it for other reasons besides money. Some of those reasons can be, ahem, unsavory. Reading other backpackers’ feedback can weed out the weirdos.
For Airbnb, it’s a best to stick to tried, tested and well-reviewed properties.
Focus on the Place
When walking around in groups, I find myself focusing on the conversations, often letting a city take second place to my interactions. On my own, I notice more, both accidentally and on purpose.
Being on your own means making your own itinerary—no compromises. If you see a beautiful Haussmannian terrace, feel free to stare at it for an hour. Eat lunch at that little street vendor you know your friends wouldn’t like. Go on a quest for the best patisserie in Paris.
Be selfish—it’s your adventure.