This summer I packed up a Rick Steves’ backpack, got on a plane and traveled Europe by myself. When I left, my dad was terrified and most of my friends thought I was crazy. BUT traveling alone was the best thing I’ve ever done and through trial/error/hangovers, I learned a lot. Here are some tips for making your solo European trip as fun, safe, awesome and as cheap as possible:
1. Realize what’s important in a hostel
One of the reasons why traveling alone is the best is that you get to make new friends nearly every day. However, a key factor of this is choosing what hostels to stay in. You might think you’ve scored big time when you book a fancy hostel (complete with bar! food! pool!) for cheap, but I would recommend being weary of such accommodations. When hostels feel like hotels, travelers tend to be less social. What’s actually important? Kitchen, atmosphere (somewhere in between chill and party) and communal lounge areas. Major bonus if you snag free breakfast.
2. Find friends at your hostel that you can trust
The least sketchy way to start out an evening is going out with people you at least slightly know. Now that being said, you can still barely know them. For example, in Scotland I went outside out of boredom and ended up tagging along with some fellow travelers and it turned out to be a great night. But knowing they had my back (to an extent at least) allowed me to enjoy getting reasonably drunk. Example number two, while out with a large group from my hostel in Paris, I got SMASHED (believe me, the caps is justified), but because I was with a great group of people, and a really nice Australian (thanks Michael), I didn’t get robbed and/or taken advantage of.
3. Come up with an Alias
There are most definitely going to be creepers, because although in the states getting a man is about as easy as performing a root canal, in Europe they’re everywhere. Sadly, not all that attention will be welcomed. Therefore, you must have an alias–most importantly a last name, so they won’t know anything too personal about you.
Go with something realistic (a.k.a most of them won’t be stupid enough to believe your name is McLovin), also pick something that’s not already taken (they also won’t believe your name is Angelina Jolie). Get to know your alias so it sounds natural when you respond to their questions. Give this alias a fake city as well, preferably one you know something about. My name in Europe was Christine Benson (common last name) and I hailed from San Francisco (I have been there enough to be able to convincingly lie straight to peoples face).
4. Learn how to avoid creeps without actually saying no
The last thing you want to do is piss off the drunk Scotsman at the bar. So instead of saying “fuck off” like you want to, try to be a little more discreet. Since you probably don’t have cellular phone capabilities, expect them to ask for your name so they can stalk you on Facebook. Creepy, right? Good thing there’s a trick! Use this line: “my name is really common, let me get yours.” Say this even if your name is the most unique name on the planet (besides, your alias should be common). This way, you’re not saying no, but they also won’t be stalking your profile pictures/sending you messages in which they are overly interested in your whereabouts.
5. Pack lightly
Everyone will tell you this and you will ha-ha at them and say, “duh, I already know that”. But really, PACK LIGHT. Bring clothes you love so much you want to sleep with them, and then wear them over and over again (also helpful because there will probably be a lot of nights when you’re too drunk to take off said clothes before passing out). I thought I packed light, but still had to ship back an 80 Euro package to make my bag fit within the Nazi like limitations of RyanAir.
6. Bring your student ID
Nobody told me this! Nobody! To my friends who’ve been to Europe I ask: what kind of friends are you?!? Bring your student ID even if you don’t remember the last time you cracked open a book. It can get you cheaper drinks, free museum admission and pretty much everything at a discounted price.
7. Find a grocery store
Unless you want to sit alone in your hostel and cry, you are going to have to spend some money. However, in some aspects you will have control over the amount of money you spend. Food is one of these. I would suggest finding your nearest grocery store and getting real familiar with tortellini (cheap, delicious, protein filled) Spend your food money where it counts: scotch in Scotland, a nice dinner in Paris, authentic pasta in Italy, Tapas in Barcelona, etc. The rest of the time, eat all the baguettes you can find.
8. Have flexibility to leave/stay
Saying this is going to make me sound like an ungrateful, uncultured snob, but I hated Rome. The second I stepped out of termini station (and was greeted by a vomiting homeless man) I had a bad feeling about the place, and after the first night I was ready to leave. But I still had three more full days before I departed for Barcelona. I wish I’d had more flexibility to move around as I pleased instead of being at the whim of an airline. You do have to be careful of prices rising the longer you wait (BUY A CHUNNEL TICKET ASAP IF YOU’RE GOING FROM LONDON TO PARIS), but sometimes moving on with your journey, or staying where makes you happiest, is worth the extra cost.
9. Dress/act like yourself
You are going to constantly be putting yourself out there, meeting new people, asking for directions in a language you don’t speak, going into fancy museums. My best advice for dealing with any un-comfortableness associated with these things: be yourself. Not only will this make you feel more at ease, but it will also help you attract the kind of people you actually want to hang out with.