Lone Female in France and Italy

Jun 27th, 2004, 01:04 PM
  #1  
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Lone Female in France and Italy

Hello Fellow Travelers,

I'm heading to Europe alone for 3 weeks next month for a little bit of an adventure before heading to grad school. This is my first time traveling alone and first time in Europe. I'll be in Paris, Switzerland,Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. I would appreciate anything you can offer for advice/encouragement, first-hand info would be great.

I wasn't concerned about safety at all until my mom started to freak out after my aunt told her "stories" of friends' experiences: seeing somebody get mobbed by "Gypsies." My mom threatened to come with me, though my dad dissuaded her. Now I am a bit apprehensive about safety myself. I am in my early 20s. I am Asian American and won't be able to blend in, do you think that is going to make me a likelier target?

I did all my research and read almost every guidebook the last 3 months. I have a neck pouch to put all my IDs, train passes, etc. Plus photocopies of everything in my backpack. I will lock my zippers and divide up my money. And I even bought a personal alarm keychain just to ease my mom's tensions a bit. Where would you recommend putting my camera, safest around my neck?

I'm traveling through those countries by train, with several couchette reservations. Rick Steves recommends lone females to reserve couchettes instead of seats because there are supposed to be attendants around checking reservations. Are couchettes safe?

Is it okay to walk around in the above cities until about 9 o'clock in the evening? What about riding the metro in Paris and Rome at night? I know there are some places to avoid: Pigalle in Paris, Santo Spirito in Florence. Know of any other seedy areas that are located close to "must-see" areas that are best avoided at night? I am staying in the 15th arrondissement in Paris, I believe it is a safe neighborhood?

They say train stations are not safe at night. What about inside, past the turnstiles? Are shady characters also lurking on the platforms? My train leaves from Gare de l'Est in Paris at 22:00.

I am most concerned about Naples. Is it as chaotic and unsafe as they say it is? I really want that authentic Italian experience and don't want to avoid going just because I'm afraid of something that isn't there.

Thanks in advance.







muimei is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 02:33 PM
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There are several ladies here who have traveled alone and hopefully, topping this will catch their eye.
I think your trip sounds wonderful and I hope you enjoy every minute of it.
I also think that for the most part, you will be as safe where you are traveling as you are where you live.
At least, that has been our experience.
Bon Voyage~
Scarlett is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 03:12 PM
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I would be more afraid to travel by myself and wondering around at night in the USA, than Europe.
Have fun , watch your surroundings and dont be afraid to walk by yourself..

There are going to be tons of people, doing their evening Passeggiata..
Dont forget to have a good gelato..
kismetchimera is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 03:35 PM
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You'll be fine traveling around on your own. You'll probably meet other people your age traveling alone and can hook up with them for sightseeing and learning the ropes.

The gypsies who surround people outside train stations and other crowded areas are only looking for your money. They're not out to hurt you. Be aware of your surroundings and of anyone standing unnaturally close to you when there's no reason for it. Also stay clear of young children who seem to be on their own and anyone with a newspaper on their outstretched arm. Don't take out your money to give any to beggers.

The train station in Paris will be full of other people waiting for the train so you'll be safe.

Couchettes are very safe. Often they're the only option on night trains. There's a wagon lit conductor in the car and they don't usually mingle the sexes so you'll be in a couchette with other women. Ask for a top berth.

I would use your own judgement in any situation. If you don't feel safe then look for alternatives. This time of year there will be plenty of people out and about in the evening. I would stick to main metro areas (but avoid the huge stations with long tunnels) and not stand on a platform alone. Use buses late at night or taxis. It's worth the extra money for a cab to make you feel safe. I certainly wouldn't go back to my room at 9:00. That's way too early in the evening.

Get the Let's Go guidebooks from your local library. It's a great source for young, single, budget travelers. They tell you exactly what areas to avoid and what to do to maximize your safety.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 04:18 PM
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I'm a female that has been solo in many cities. It seems like you have the basics covered. In crowded areas like the Metro in paris, carry your backpack on your side or hold in it front. Every once in a while look around and behind you and if someone seems suspicious, look right at them - I find they'll then leave you alone. Don't walk down streets that are empty at night even if that means you have to walk a further distance and definitely take a cab after around 10:00 - it always seems lighter a bit later in Europe than it does here. Also, be very firm at saying "No" if someone, even children come up and try to persistently "help" you in a train station, etc. Being firm helps alot.

I don't think you have anything to worry about - just be firm and look confident. Looking like a tourist is not a terrible thing - looking like a vulnerable tourist can be.

The gypsy kids will distract you while one tries to pick pocket. I've only seen them do this to men actually because men wear wallets in pockets. I've never seen it in Rome but saw it a few times in Florence. Also, I would avoid the Rome subway altogether - it's inefficient and it didn't always feel safe. You can walk most places there or take a taxi. I felt very safe on the Paris Metro. Venice, I was not alone, but was stuck looking for a hotel at 3 am and it was very peaceful and we felt safe. I haven't been to Naples, so I can 't help there. Oh, leave jewelery at home.
hleesa is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 04:52 PM
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go you! you will have a great time. you just have a little pre-trip jitters but believe me you will be very happy once you get there.

My first completely solo trip to Europe was right before heading back for a graduate degree so I can relate! I've done a lot of solos since and have lived to tell the tale.

I think if you act confidently and keep your wits about you (don't do silly things like go out alone late to bars and get rip roaring drunk, that sort of thing) you won't be in harms way. you will meet many fellow solo travelers, especially if you stay in youth hostels. you will also meet plenty of people on trains, so take a corkscrew and be ready to open a bottle of wine and share! (don't forget to take a picnic with you on trains, better/cheaper food than the stuff they will sell you)

by all means, do go out at night, many of the cities you mention are gorgeous at night. in Switzerland and Venice especially - very little chance of getting mugged or the like.

if you can, in Paris, stay in the 5th (Latin Quarter), many schools there, many things to see and do. easy walking distance to the highlights of Paris.

remember most of the places you will visit in July will still be light out until at least 930 PM, maybe 900 as you head south but still later than you are used to here. for instance your train ride in Paris - you will get to the station at say 930 PM, the sun may not even have set yet, or only just set.

good luck!!
flygirl is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 06:30 PM
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Thanks ladies! I've got some new-found confidence! I can't wait, I leave exactly 3 weeks from tomorrow. I'm counting the days!
muimei is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 07:01 PM
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Muimei, you've gotten excellent advice here. It'll be light until about 10 pm, so no worries about being out and around in the dark until much later than that.

One hint, in the US we're used to displaying open, smiling faces as we walk down the street. This may be seen as an invitation to men, especially in Italy. So watch the faces of the women there and adopt their expression.

There are internet cafes all over Europe, so you can arrange to e-mail your mom often.

Have a wonderful trip and post a trip report when you return.
Betsy is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 07:21 PM
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I just got back from a solo trip to Italy a few weeks ago. I walked around Firenze until 2 a.m. some nights and I never had or saw any problems. There are a lot of people milling about at that hour surprisingly enough. As for the train station - the gypsies hang out there in the mornings but, spread out for the day throughout the city sometimes in pairs. Their husbands lounge around the grassy area for most, if not all, of the day. I and a new friend I had recently met in Firenze were waiting for the train to go to Venice one day. We had a bit of a wait and so we were sitting on the wall of the steps that lead down under the train station. There were two young American girls sitting about 4 feet from us to our right. They had their bags below their dangling feet and were reading about places to see in the city and discussing them. I had my dark sun glasses on so that I could watch 6 gypsy women who were passing around 5 bottles of wine off in the grassy area to our left. I noticed a young man sit down to our left, he made the slightest head nod to another young man who sat next to him. I then noticed 2 young men sit down just on the other side of the American girls. I made the comment that we were being surrounded to my friend. He stood up and positioned himself right in front of me while we waited to see what those boys were up to. I realized that they were all honed in on the young girls. So I got up and sat down next to the closest one and told her that those boys were watching them AND their bags. My friend and I got up and walked away while watching the young girls do the same. Ten minutes later we saw 2 of those young men in the train station; they looked at me and I blew them a kiss. We all knew what was going on out there on the wall....... I guess the best advice is to just keep your eyes open and you'll be fine.
As for shady characters hanging around the train station in the late eves-- Unfortunately, I saw them there any time of the day and night. Again, keep your eyes open and keep your wits about you and you'll be fine. I can't speak for the cities other than Firenze and Venezia but, both of those have strong, constant police presence. I met people from all over the world during my travels which enriched my adventure. You are going to have a marvelous time. Soak it all in and enjoy Honey.

beelady is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 10:00 PM
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Thanks Betsy and beelady also. I have definitely received great advice over here. I love this site!

muimei is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 01:58 AM
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I've done solo trips to Italy (Venice, aged 20) and France (Normandy, Paris and the Tarn Valley; aged 23) and never had any trouble (unless you count the arguments with my mother to convince her I'd be fine). And this year I'm going to Estonia, Russia and Finland (although I am joining a backpackers tour for most of it).

I think you've got some great advice here.

I've done a fair bit of travel on night trains, both in Europe and in Asia, alone and with others. I don't tend to sleep - no matter what sort of seat I get, but that's more because I'm afraid of missing my stop than anything else! You should be fine in a couchette.

My advice, if you are waiting for trains in the evening, is to wait near the ticket office (if it's still open) for as long as possible, rather than going in past the turnstiles.

Use your common sense, and you should have no problems. Above all, make sure you have a good time!

-- Viola
violagirl is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 02:49 AM
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I've traveled all over Europe solo, both when I was in my 20's and more recently in Italy multiple times. I have had that experience of being surrounded by gypsies once, in Rome, near the Colosseum, years ago. But that was the only threatening experience I had, and as mentioned by another poster, they were after my money, not out to injure me. Your message sounds like you have done good research about personal safety, and once you get there, you will be able to relax more and enjoy what sounds like a wonderful trip. Enjoy yourself, it will be an unforgettable experience!! As far as blending in for an Asian female, I am smiling, because the day I went to visit the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, there were many, many more Asians than anyone else! Have a great time!
sognatrice is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 03:05 AM
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Beelady, how funny! blowing a kiss, that's perfect.

Muimei, I just checked, in Paris on July 15 the sun set at 10 to 10 so it will be light until after 10 PM, and in Venice, (the farthest point east you appear to be heading) it sets at 9 PM on July 15 so even there it will be light until after 9 PM.

have a great time and take a ton of pictures!
flygirl is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 06:26 AM
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I am 19 and living this year in Germany and have done a number of little travels on my own, including 10 days in Italy (Venice, Rome, Florence, of the ones you'll be seeing). I've also been to Switzerland, though only on a short visit. I felt quite safe the whole time, even returning from late dinners, except for one incident in Rome where a man old enough to be my father was hitting on me. Simply be ready to fend them off, and be careful not to encourage them. Make sure someone knows where you'll be, and report back to them every few days so they don't worry too much. Just be careful, and you shouldn't have any problems. Like other posters have said, I would feel more comfortable in European cities than American ones.
Vickitty is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 07:03 AM
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muimei, it is scary contemplating all that can go wrong when you travel solo.
A work mate told me this horror story today about Rome.(I'll be in Rome on Saturday)...she and her brother in law were standing waiting for friends outside the Colosseum. A nun approached them asking for a donation for a children's home. Whilst he was busy declining, the nun kept asking...he felt a slight movement over his shoulder...and yes his carry bag with passport etc was taken by a young man who jumped onto the back of a waiting vespa! He attempted to give chase to no avail...the nun was also no where to be found!
In Paris, I had a very well dressed lady come up to me asking for directions. Whilst I was explaining that I was a tourist, she was busy pulling out a large map...and all these small children were surrounding me...they did not get anything but it is extremely tiring being in your guard all the time.
In spite of all this, you will have a great time and probably will meet some great people on the way. Bon Voyage
kimerley is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 12:48 PM
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Since you seem quite well prepared, I'll share this one tip only... try always to convey confidence in your manner. Any pickpocket will want to choose a victim that appears an easy target... someone confused, or with too much baggage, or not paying attention to their surroundings. Be especially aware in dense crowds like train stations or the Metro.

I use disposable cameras, light, compact and with no value to attract a thief.

If Naples is a concern, maybe you want to skip it. With only 3 weeks travel time you listed 5 cities plus the entire country of Switzerland. My last trip to Europe was 3 weeks too, spent only in Paris, Venice and Vevey/Montreux area. That was perfect for me.

Take a paperback novel. Good company at the end of a busy day. And good decoy if you don't want to talk to people (like on a plane or train).

Oops that's way more than one tip!
Bon voyage, Susan
suze is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 03:01 PM
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From one Asian American gal to another: When I embarked on my solo European trip 2 years ago, I didn't tell my mom till a day and a half before I left. She freaked out and threatened to come with me, too!

Anyway, like everyone says, just look alert and confident and you'll do OK. I remember at least one instance where I saw gypsies coming toward me and I braced for potential pickpocketing, but they walked right past me and looked through me as if I were made of glass. In my travels I have mostly only seen men get pickpocket attempts, but that does not mean it doesn't happen to unobservant women.

More than a few times, I had men come up to me while I was walking or eating and they would strike up conversations with me. I was friendly but cautious--fortunately, they were not necessarily trying to pick me up, but were just interested in conversation. Really!

Particularly in Paris, I found that being a solo female got me better service all around.

How exciting! Have a good trip and just don't forget to be aware of your surroundings at all times!
MelissaHI is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 03:28 PM
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Hello

I am headed to Italy this week. My first trip to Italy and I am doing it solo as well!! Have a great time!! Always act like you know what you are doing!! Have a good time.

Jeanne
jeannep99 is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 05:59 PM
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Re: Naples, stick to the center and the real touristy areas and only until sunset. I think it could get sticky there for a single female.

Re: couchettes, my husband and I got robbed on an overnight Brussels-Cote D'Azur (we actually think it might have been the staff who did it)..Good to take few precautions: always make sure you lock your cabin when coming back into it during the night; Try to share a cabin with another female you can trust; put your money and your documents under pillow (next to head), preferably top bunk; and block the door with a heavy object or object that would topple when the door moves (there is a real loud white-noise of train moving in the cabin that prevented us from hearing anyone enter at all). That last one sounds like a precaution that is a little over-the-top, but we were surely sorry we did not do it...
sempronia is offline  
Jun 28th, 2004, 06:04 PM
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Hi Ladies! Thanks for everyone's advice and encouragement.

I've been going to the gym(!) the last couple of months to get in shape. I'm ready to kick butt if necessary... or at least ready to run away quicker. And good luck to the pickpockets who want to go through my bag for my wallet, I have trouble fishing it out myself!

jeannep99 and kimerley, be safe, follow your own (and others') advice and have a great time!

Suze, I'm only staying in the Jungfrau area of Switzerland, not the whole country. But very true, 3 weeks is actually too short a time to genuinely take in so much... but who knows when I'll get to go back again? Grad school + responsibilities await. And yes, I'm going to read "Under the Tuscan Sun" on my trip.

sognatrice, I heard about the throngs of Japanese tourists. I guess whenever I'm in doubt, I'll just join them. Safety in numbers!

flygirl, good to know when it gets dark over there, was thinking if it would be safe to visit the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

MelissaHI, you go girl! You didn't tell your mom until a day before! I think I'm going to have to call mom everynight to check in or she won't be able to sleep a wink for 3 weeks... sigh...

Vickitty. Ah, the "older men." Got those over here too. Ignoring them works well here, I bet it would work over there too.











muimei is offline  

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