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Solo travel for women: How to vacation alone in other countries – Insider

Growing up, I always traveled with family and friends. Nowadays as an adult, I take most of my trips solo. Living in New York City, I often travel by myself to visit loved ones in different parts of the world, from Texas to Guam
I also find myself often traveling alone because of my job as a reporter. I’ve taken 30-hour train rides up and down the east coastspent seven nights on the world’s largest cruise ship sailing the Caribbean Sea, and traveled by rail to Niagara Falls, Montréal, and Québec City. On these trips, I explored new cities and unique accommodations — all by myself. 
In October 2022, I took a 2-week train trip through four European countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. While my partner joined me when I got to Italy, I spent the first week exploring Berlin and Vienna alone, taking overnight trains from one country to the next.
I was excited to do it. Europe is a popular destination among solo backpackers, according to Lonely Planet. And after traveling around North America for work, I felt ready to take my backpack to the next step — solo travel on another continent. 
In these last few years, I’ve gotten used to traveling by myself, which often includes getting out of my comfort zone. But my most recent trip to Europe reminded me that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to traveling solo.
 
When taking trips alone, the most important thing to me is staying safe. In my research before I left, I found that some countries seemed to be safer to me than others for solo travelers. 
Bounce, a company that works with local shops to store luggage for travelers around the world, conducted a study about the safest destinations for women traveling alone based on gender equality, crime rates, and violence towards women. Both of my solo destinations, Austria and Germany, made the list.
According to Bounce, Austria is the second-safest country for solo travelers after Iceland because it has low crime rates, and 79% of women reported feeling comfortable walking around alone at night. Germany ranked 25th with 68% of women reporting feeling comfortable walking around at night.
When I visited Austria, I stayed in the heart of Vienna, which allowed me to explore the city streets into the night, and I thought it felt safe, too. In my experience, people kept to themselves, and I didn’t doubt my safety while exploring.
When I visited Germany, I stayed in an Airbnb in Neustrelitz, a quaint town outside of Berlin. I found it relatively easy to figure out the local train system and get to and from Berlin each day. In Berlin and Neutsrelitz, I felt safe walking around on my own. 
But no matter which country you’re in, your safety is never guaranteed. So I recommend that all solo travelers stay aware of their surroundings and use their best judgment throughout their trip, and also research their destination ahead of their arrival.
I’ve recently chosen to travel with just a backpack. It’s become the best option for me because I find I have less stuff to worry about losing or forgetting when getting from one location to the next, and it leaves my hands free when commuting.
Plus, I never have to check luggage and pay the accompanying fee, or feel the anxiety of whether it will make it to my destination.
For my trip to Europe, I traveled with a 32-liter backpack, the largest one I own. Initially, packing for two weeks like this was harder than I thought it would be.
I practice-packed twice before I left to ensure I’d be able to fit everything. I started with my work gear, which includes a laptop, cameras, lenses, and a notebook. Then I packed other essentials like chargers, toiletries, and snacks.
I used the remaining room for clothing, which I stuffed inside packing cubes to take up as little space as possible. After two failed attempts at packing outfits in multiple cubes, I realized I only had enough space in my bag for one packing cube and had to cut my wardrobe in half. This left me with just enough space for souvenirs.
I ended up bringing two polos, one t-shirt, one long-sleeve t-shirt, three pairs of pants, a sweater, a blazer, a dress, and two light jackets. I layered various combinations of these items but still had to repeat clothing a lot. So I brought laundry soap to wash my clothes every few days. 
While I longed for more outfit variety, I was glad I packed so little. It was the lightest I’d ever packed for the longest trip I’d ever taken. I didn’t feel as weighed down as on previous trips, leaving me with more energy throughout the day. 
I live in New York, so I’m very comfortable taking the subway and public transit around my city. But in new places where English is not the primary language, I find it can be daunting and tough to navigate at first since I don’t have a good sense of where things are like I do in New York. 
But in my experience, once I tried out public transportation, it was easier than I initially thought it would be. I was nervous as I stepped into the underground world of Berlin’s public transit system, but found it no different from my home city. The platform looked the same, with signage identifying the upcoming trains.
I also thought public transit apps made it easier to get tickets and plan trips. Both Berlin and Vienna had great public transit systems, in my opinion, that got me anywhere I needed and taking trains and trams helped me have a better sense of each place. I thought the routes were easy to learn after downloading the apps because there were maps and trip planners, as well as tickets. 
When I was riddled with self-doubt about being able to navigate these cities, taking public transit gave me a real sense of competence as I stood among local commuters. 
On solo trips, I think it’s really important to be intentional about where you stay. For my European adventure, I booked a combination of Airbnbs inside and outside of the city center to give me a chance to see what life is like in the surrounding areas, as well as in the heart of the city. 
I found that getting to and from Airbnbs in small villages with my partner later in the trip felt like a little adventure each time, where we could bond over what we just saw or were on our way to see. But traveling alone, these treks felt more mundane to me, like I was just wasting time and energy I could have spent exploring.
In Berlin, I booked a tiny home hotel in Neustrelitz, a small town outside of the city. I traveled to and from Berlin by train, which took about an hour and a half for each leg of the journey, as well as a 20-minute walk from the station in Neustrelitz to my Airbnb. While I was glad I got to experience Neustrelitz, where I spotted the occasional backpacker among mostly locals, it made my trip more challenging. While Berlin offered a mix of English and German signs, everything in Neustrelitz seemed to be in German, which I don’t speak.
Inside my Airbnb, all the directions and guidebooks were in German, too, so I had to use a translation app to figure out how to use the Wi-Fi. I also thought staying far from the city center made my days in Berlin shorter, since I had a long trek home each evening. 
When I got to Vienna, I stayed in an Airstream trailer outside of a hotel in the heart of the city. I thought this made it much easier to explore Vienna from the early morning into the night since I could access my Airbnb anytime to rest. While I didn’t think my trailer was as quiet as Neustrelitz, I left Vienna feeling like I had a better sense of the city than I did in Berlin. 
While staying outside the city can be an adventure, I recommend that first-time solo travelers stay in the center to make their trip easier.
Traveling alone in foreign countries can be really uncomfortable and isolating, in my experience.
I found my first week in Europe to be challenging, in particular. Getting used to navigating and exploring on my own took some time without having someone else to share the process with, making the first few days difficult to fully enjoy.
But by the end of the first week, I felt settled into the nomadic lifestyle and confident in my abilities to navigate cities on my own. I loved having my partner experience the second half of my trip with me, but I left Europe wishing I gave myself more time alone to fully immerse myself in these new places. Each challenging moment I faced gave me an opportunity to grow, which is easier to see now, looking back on the trip, than it was in the moment. 
To those planning a solo trip to another country, especially if it’s your first time visiting, I recommend giving yourself at least two weeks to explore. Because after finding your footing that first week, I think you’ll find the second week will feel even better.
 
Solo travel can cause me to get stuck in my own head since I have no one to talk to, which is no fun when I’m lonely. But remembering why I am on the trip and the perks of being alone — like total freedom to do what I want — help me feel better. 
In these moments, I focused on feeling grateful for a job that allows me to travel and take pictures, and remembered that being alone helps me grow and learn more about myself.
My trip wasn’t perfect. There were times when I went to the wrong train station, got caught in the rain, and struggled to sleep. When I dwelled on these mishaps, I felt really negative and incapable of enjoying the experience.
So early in my travels, I made a conscious choice to push through and focus on what I could control, like buying an umbrella, arriving at stations early, and taking extra time to sleep. These small wins boosted my spirits.
When I arrived in Vienna on an overnight train from Berlin, I hadn’t slept at all and was exhausted. I knew I couldn’t check into my until 3 p.m. and that I needed to sleep.
I started going into random hotels to book a room. By the third hotel, I got one. I had to pay for the whole night even though I was only taking a nap, but I thought it was a small price to pay for a safe, comfortable place to doze. 
I framed this as a small win to celebrate. I got out of my head by focusing on positive problem-solving and found exactly what I needed. 
My trip was full of small wins like this, like finally getting to my Airbnb in Neustrelitz on the day I arrived in Berlin, or finding a delicious Kebap cart next to a park while exploring Vienna. These small wins helped me stay positive and I’d highly recommend other solo travelers do the same if they’re struggling.
Sleep makes everything better.
In Vienna, that last-minute hotel booking changed everything. When I first got to the city, I didn’t even pay attention to how it looked or felt, because I was too tired and just wanted to go home.
But after some much-needed rest, I was able to appreciate where I was and take in the unique architecture surrounding me. Walking to my Airbnb after my nap, I remembered why I was there and felt a new wave of excitement about my travels. 
Getting sleep also made me feel more in touch with what my body needed. As soon as I woke up in the hotel, I chugged my water bottle while trying to remember the last time I had anything to drink. I realized that I must have been so dehydrated. From that point on, I took every opportunity to make sure my bottle was always full. 
I learned that when visiting a new country for just a couple of days, it’s easy to pack exploration into every hour without planning for rest. But without it, I find it’s not even enjoyable. Keeping myself in good health was essential for enjoying my solo trip and became a priority for the remainder of my travels. 
While living in New York City exposes me to foreign languages all the time, I rarely need to communicate with people who don’t speak English.
I don’t speak any other languages, and I found that in Europe, I encountered more language barriers than ever before. But that didn’t hold me back as much as I thought it would thanks to gestures and body language.
At first, I was not confident about communicating in different languages, and I approached people nervously, which made it harder for me to ask for help when I needed it.
But once I started making a conscious effort to start with a smile, people seemed more eager to figure out what I needed and help me. When I had to talk to people who only seemed to speak German or Italian, from checking out at markets and stores to asking for directions on the train, they communicated across language barriers by using gestures, like pointing to things around the room, and I learned a smile is a universal gesture that can go a long way.
In Europe, I was six hours ahead of New York. This meant that by the time my partner got home from work each night, I was already asleep.
So we made a plan to keep in touch. Each day during his lunch break, which was around 6 or 7 p.m. my time, he would give me a call. While there were a couple of days when I was too busy, we chatted for about an hour most evenings. We talked a little bit about his day and how our dog was doing, but most of our conversations were dominated by me telling him all about my adventures since our last call. This helped me feel less lonely during my trip since I don’t know anyone who lives in Germany or Austria. 
During past trips, I’ve never made plans for specific times to call people. I just let it happen naturally. But traveling to very different time zone made me realize that I was going to have to make more of a conscious effort to stay in touch with family and friends than I ever have before. 
Traveling solo in new countries is hard, but rewarding. I learned a lot about myself and pushed through uncomfortable situations, which made me feel like a stronger person coming out of the trip.
It also made me appreciate traveling with someone else in new ways. When my partner joined me in Italy and saw how much I’d grown in just seven days, it made me feel even more confident in my ability to take another trip solo, and next time, for even longer. 
If you had asked me if I’d travel alone through Europe again in the middle of my first week, I probably would have said no way. But now that I’ve been through it, I’m more confident than ever that I could do it again and would enjoy it even more. 
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