You have decided to make adventure your priority and finally scratch some of those legendary places in Europe off your list. You probably can’t wait to visit the iconic historical sites as well as marvel at the natural wonders the continent has to offer.
Whether you are taking a gap year after college or just taking off after some years of working and saving, this is the time you will spend learning and growing on your own terms.
More and more women decide to travel alone which has brought up many questions on how we can be safe and where the dangers are. As far as traveling to Europe goes, there has been a lot of bad press regarding the current and even past situations from terrorism to immigration politics. We all know that the media will deliver on bad news far more quickly than good news.
Unfortunately, this has painted a rather sinister picture of Europe which is largely underserved. Not to say bad things don’t happen, but they don’t necessarily do more than elsewhere.
I have recently traveled through some places in Latin America and Asia on my own but am originally from Belgium. I haven’t only grown up in Europe, but have also visited quite a lot of it. I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe while traveling on my own through Europe and have never met a woman who did either. That isn’t to say that precautions shouldn’t be taken!
In this article, I will be providing you with an overview of some tips on how to travel safely and travel fun, as well as some beautiful locations to visit. Perhaps some of these were never even on your list!
1. Be Open-Minded
This is the first piece of advice I would offer anyone traveling to a new place. It is, of course, wise to be aware and careful wherever you go, but you should never let it stray into paranoia. Be open and allow the environment as well as the people to leave their mark and change you. You are, in part, traveling to learn and to grow after all.
2. Inform Yourself
One of the first things I research before visiting a new place is not only what gems are hiding further removed from the more touristy paths, but also whether there are unusual or unique traditions a country possesses. Europe has several of these and if you time your trip right, you will be able to experience some of them first hand.
When recalling some of the things we enjoyed doing as a kid, one of them is certainly creating a mess — especially one we never had to clean up ourselves! It just so happens that Spain can help you relive these moments.
Every last Wednesday of August, the town of Buñol organizes the world’s biggest tomato fight, aptly named The Tomatina Festival. Tradition tells the story of a parade gone wrong near a market with vegetable stands in the summer of 1945, ending with a bunch of people pelting each other with tomatoes.
Some boys are said to have reenacted this event the following year and so an odd tradition was born. The number of tourists increases annually due to this festival but make sure to also stop by to visit the enchanting town itself.
Informing yourself also means reading up on what is safe and what is not. Different countries will report on different locations best avoided by travelers and locals both. Make sure you are aware of these. Most people wandering into a bad situation, do so because they do not possess this information
3. Simplicity in Dress and Gear
This I have found to be a key aspect of all of my travels. It is easier for yourself to travel light and simple and it also provides you with a feeling of safety when you choose your clothes in the same way. Dress simply and modestly, not with the intention to stand out but with the intention to make your travels safe and comfortable. In a lot of ways, safety also means not to stand out too much.
4. Common Sense is Your Friend… and a Fake Wallet!
It is, of course, possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when something happens, but most problems can be avoided by just using common sense. When traveling, don’t do what you wouldn’t do in some places back home either. Simple things like not wandering around the cities alone when intoxicated or walking home with strangers.
In other ways, it is nice to have a few tips on how to overcome a bad situation when it does happen to you. Take mugging, for instance. When you put yourself in the position of a mugger, you will realize some things. For one, they are afraid of staying in one place too long for fear of being caught. They will want the whole process to pass quickly.
During my travels, I always keep a “fake wallet” on me. This is a simple canvas Quicksilver wallet and it is actually empty of valuables, sometimes thickened with some paper or even a couple of dollars. But I keep it close to me so that should this situation arise, I can quickly give them this wallet and they would run off with it.
Read my tips on keeping your wallet safe when traveling here.
Another good tip can be to not keep all your valuables in one place and if you do, keep them in a money belt you wear under your clothes.
Here is a great money belt. But when you don’t have to, simply don’t carry certain items with you. I would, for instance, rarely take my actual passport and keep it safely inside a safe or locker at my hostel and instead carry a photocopy with me.
Common sense is your friend! Make sure you always keep this travel partner close to you.
SOME HIGHLIGHTED LOCATIONS
5. English-Speaking Countries
Almost everywhere in Europe, you will find people can speak English, but the threshold might feel a little lower for you when you start your travels in the countries with English as a native language. In this, I would highly recommend Ireland and Scotland. Friendly, beautiful and definitely safe. The rolling hills and ancient castles will charm you as well as the local spirits and people themselves.
Even though you can also visit England, offering stunning countryside and history of its own, Ireland and Scotland are far cheaper to visit and even the larger cities will be less overrun by tourists by comparison.
6. Iceland and Scandinavia
Hypermodern, otherworldly charm, fantastical creatures, and repulsive culinary traditions. These are the things that immediately come to mind when I think about Iceland and Scandinavia. I simply can’t get away from my sheer fascination for these places.
Known to be some of the safest countries in the world and blissfully void of any terror alerts, these countries can top the list for anyone wanting to combine safety with a fascinating history and unparalleled natural beauty.
When I was a child, these places spoke to me because in their legends they were home to creatures like trolls and elves. Now, admittedly, they still speak to me for that reason, but with the added thrill of knowledge and adventure.
They are a bit more expensive than your average European country but if you can budget for them, visit them. You will not be disappointed.
7. History and Nature in Typical, Tucked-Away Places
Yes. Europe is the right place for any history buff. With a history full of war and violence but also enlightenment and stunning works of art, you can pick and choose to visit whatever interests you or look to make an exciting combination of everything.
For me, Florence will always have a special place in my heart. I will never forget the first time I arrived in this city. It was late, it was raining, and the magnificent Renaissance buildings were all lit up, turning my mood from tired and grumpy to utterly captivated.
Florence is, of course, part of those rather typical Europe destinations anyone has on their list. But if you feel confident to try something new, don’t hesitate to visit the still largely ignored Central and Southeast Europe. From Transylvanian castles in idyllic landscapes to the tragic histories from recent memory in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, a similar diversity can be found here. Suitable for those on a much smaller budget, rich history and beautiful nature can be found in abundance.
Be sure to visit the Czech Republic, home to some eerily beautiful national parks and the inspiring city of Prague. Expand your travels further towards the east and south, if you wish it. Pass through the countries of Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and definitely make a stop in Croatia as well. Visit the distinctive Old Town in Dubrovnik, the coastal city known Split, draped over 4th-century Roman ruins and terraced lakes joined together by waterfalls, …
The best way to discover these countries, known for their rather expansive natural beauty and towns and castles tucked far away, would definitely be by car. You will be able to reach those more remote places you would otherwise find no access to and get the most out of your trip.
HOW TO TRAVEL
If you are looking for a great way to combine safety with an authentic experience, consider couchsurfing. You will be received by people who are passionate about their country or city and willing to show you their culture through a local’s eyes. This will be extremely valuable for obtaining some cultural wisdom a well as giving your wallet a bit of a break.
If you are looking to forge your own little community while traveling, stay at hostels. Here you are far more likely to find like-minded people who also stay there just to find fellow travelers to share some moments with. This can also add greatly to your own safety and perhaps you can decide to visit more remote places with a group of new friends you met while staying here.
You will likely have your choice between rooms with men and women and just women. Choose the rooms exclusively for women. I have a friend that gave me that tips after she chose the mixed gender rooms a few times and kept having unfortunate things happen. Just pick the all women room for that extra piece of mind.
10. What to Pack
I pointed out briefly before that embracing simplicity is the best way to go for any traveler. I have always been a light traveler and only take what I need for some basic comfort. Remember that as long as you have the necessities, you are perfectly fine as anything else you feel you are missing can always be picked up during your travels.
If you are a wise shopper, you can even do this in a way to help local communities instead of contributing further to mass production.
A budget traveler in heart and soul, I would cheap out on many things but never when it comes to hiking equipment or backpacks. I have had trips where everything broke but my hiking boots and backpack because they are the only two things of high quality that I own. They will be expensive, but they are investments worth making.
For those of you looking for tips in this, my backpack is a Deuter Aircontact (it is so comfortable, it literally feels like it is part of your body!) and my hiking boots are a waterproof Timberland ankle boot for women. Click the links to check them out!
11. Study Abroad
Many students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or a year. If you can, don’t hesitate. If you are studying Spanish, study in Spain for a while. From here you can visit some other countries in your time off as well and experience the pleasure of making new friends on the other side of the world.
Studying abroad will contribute hugely to your education as well as personal development. You will have been exposed to diversity and an international environment at a young age, which will only benefit you in the future.
12. Work Programs
If you definitely want to travel but want to immerse yourself in the local culture as well, look into work programs available in Europe. Many women opt for the job of Au Pair. A wonderful job and the children will certainly teach you a lot, but perhaps rather restricted if you are looking to be introduced to different classes and different types of people.
If would like to work in your own field or even pursue a passion, you should definitely try to find something in that. When I was younger, I was obsessed with horses. This obsession was passed on to me by my aunt. I remember her telling me stories about her travels and these around Europe were funded by her working on different farms and stables across the continent. I always found this very inspiring and have pursued some projects around the world based on my passion as well.
If you find this sort of thing a little risky and would like something a bit more organized, look into internship options or maybe even seasonal work in tourism or fruit picking. Think about what you would most like to do and explore your options from there.
One site that offers such programs is Workaway.info
13. Just Have Fun
The most important part? Just enjoy yourself. Take the required precautions and always stay aware, but don’t let it keep you from getting the full experience you desire. Whether it is history, wilderness, a cultural immersion or all of the above, this is your trip and you should definitely make the most of it!
Thanks for reading!