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Solo Female First Time Traveler - Scared to Death

Solo Female First Time Traveler - Scared to Death

Old May 16th, 2013, 10:03 AM
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Solo Female First Time Traveler - Scared to Death

Hello everyone! I have been reading this forum for quite some time and decided to post my own for some advice. I am 35 and have never traveled outside of the US. I am at a crossroad in my life & now that I can travel, I'm mustering up the courage to go for it. There is so much to learn going to another country: transportation, currency, language, getting around safely & enjoyably with the hopes of wanting to return again. Although I have planned several successful local trips before, the idea of traveling abroad is a mix of excitement & anxiety. I think the bottom line is I'm just scared to travel alone because I've never done it before. It sounds ridiculous but I am really nervous since all my travels have been with either family, friends and boyfriends & now if I wait for them, I might never be able to see what I've always dreamt of seeing...the world! With limited funds & a desire to explore, do you recommend I go on a tour or should I just go for it alone? I am a capable person and can learn whatever I need to learn. BUT, do you think it's wiser if I take a tour first then return when I'm more comfortable, or should I just go for it and travel like a nomad? I have a little less than 3 months before my visa expires to stay in Europe so I would like to do just that. I have 10K total & given that I'm 35, the thought of staying in a hostel is a bit of a drag. If I need to cut it down to 2 months to stay a little bit more comfortably, so be it. I am open to staying in private rooms in homes from airbnb.com for instance or a safe bed & breakfasts - it doesn't have to be fancy at all as long as it's clean & safe. I am planning to fly into London & take the train to Paris. From there possibly take a train to Switzerland then to Venice, Florence, Rome then Sorrento. Or making a U and saving Venice for last before heading up to Vienna & flying out of Prague. Is this too much? For your first time travels to Europe, I'd love to hear what your itinerary was & tips you may have for a first time traveling female like myself. I don't know why I'm so scared. I live in a big city in the US traveling by car all the time. Public transportation is foreign to me. But on the flip side, these differences are what is urging me to check out. I love food & wine, the arts & discovering historic places & just experiencing a different culture. I don't want to hop around too much aiming to stay in one location for at least 5 days if not more. I might double that in Paris. What do you think? I have ordered some Rick Steves & DK books so they are on the way. Is there a women's travel group I can join in case I chicken out the last minute? hahah! Thank you for all your input, tips & most your time. Please be brutally honest if i sound lame for being this nervous.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 10:27 AM
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No need to be so scared. Travel in major European cities is no different than traveling in ones in the US, other than the language differences. It is not hard, IF you keep it simple.

Personally I would never take a tour because I don't like being in a group. But this is completely a decision each person has to make for themselves. If you want that structure and don't mind the limitations, it might be OK for you.

My first trip was only to Switzerland. I have a friend who lives there, so while I was traveling solo, this trip was basically just visiting a friend.

Second trip Switzerland and Venice solo.

Next time Switzerland, then onto Venice then Paris.

Switzerland only again.

Then Amsterdam, and Switzerland.

I would shorten your time as needed to be able to afford staying in apartments or 2-star hotels, not youth hostels.

It is MUCH easier to plan a trip if you go less places. There's nothing hard about spending a couple weeks in Paris, for example. Just buy a plane ticket, find a place to stay, and GO!

It is harder if your plan is to see a dozen places in a month. Then you get bogged down in the logistics of train, bus, and all various the reservations for a place to sleep.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 10:48 AM
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Thank you for your response! You are right, just thinking about less places is already easing my mind. I might do London for a week, Paris for a couple and a month going north to south in Italy flying out of either Rome or Naples if I visit the amalfi coast & surrounding areas.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 10:55 AM
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I was first solo in Italy when I was 25 (am now in my 60s). I loved Florence and boyfriend didn't, so I stayed and we met up under the Eiffel Tower a week later (no mobile phones in those days. In 2009 I was in Italy for 6 weeks and Paris for a week, mostly traveling solo. Solo is great because you can go at your own pace (I am a slow starter in the morning). The only somewhat difficult thing for me is eating dinner alone--so I try to eat earlyish and not in fancy restaurants. Often you can meet people on walking tours, etc. that you can hook up with to have dinner later.

European short haul airline tickets are half the price of trains, by the way, and much faster in most cases. My train ride 4 years ago from Milan to Paris (which went near Switzerland) was mostly in tunnels. I would fly next time.

You talk about your visa expiring, which confuses me. Are you an American citizen? If so, do you mean your passport? You don't need a visa to go to Europe from USA as a citizen. Secondly, I just read that if your passport is expiring within 6 months of your return from Europe, you need to renew your passport before you go. I was concerned about mine, but mine expires more than 6 months after I get back in October.

Last, I will echo what the previous poster said about slower travel. I stayed one month in Florence 4 years ago, and I didn't even get to all the museums in the city and Tuscany day trips. It's great to stay a longer time in one place and just wander aroud, soaking up the atmosphere, or use it as a base to go to others places and have a familiar room to come back to at night. Jumping around from place to place is not all that fun. You have plenty of time in your life to go back to Europe and see new places.

You might want to search for other solo traveler posts on this board who have the same concerns as you. There are quite a few.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:11 AM
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Swoosh, I understand the being scared part, it is intimidating.. and there are things that some people(who have not travelled solo) forget. For instance you always read about people saying " I carry one cc and ATM card and my husband/bf/friend carry the other so if we get pickpocketed we are ok".. well hello, when you are solo the buck stops there, you are totally responsible, there is no "fall back" . I am not saying that to freak you out, but more to acknowledge that yes, it can be more to think about.

I also think that for a first solo trip, less is more, the more actual moving around you the more things there are to juggle.
I am a big proponent of testing the solo waters by limiting your destinations a bit .

Also, don't dismiss hostels, there are some nice ones, not student dorm types etc.. Research is key here. The hostel route does give you the opportunity to meet some fellow travellers and share ideas, tips, advice, and a coffee or glass of wine.. never a bad thing!

Planning helps, I plan as much as I can with tons of research. No, I do not do daily itineraries , I sort of like to wander and see what the day will bring, I make lists of things I want to see though, where they are located and hours of operations, but the real planning time goes into the logistics of getting from a to b.

I have travelled solo and alone with a child.
I kept it simple at first, I had been to both Paris and London before so first solo trip was to Paris and London. That helped . I was in my forties when I first when solo and really although I was comfortable with the travel aspect I had no idea how I would handle the solo part ..

Turns out it was great. I had been on forums like this one and others, ( never limit yourself to one forum or one guide book!) and I had even arranged a few meetings ,, first one was when I took my 11 yr old to Paris. "Met " a lady online who was going to be with her 10 yr old in Paris at same time. It was a bit nerve wracking, meeting a "stranger" in a park, but hey, it was a great afternoon, the kids played in park and we yakked,, it was nice to have an adult to talk to!

Then first solo trip I arranged to meet two other people. One was a lady and her child, I was alone but she had heard of a restaurant ( a Guy Savoy one) that offered a deal to two adults and child for lunch, so we went and had a great lunch , her child was free, and we ended up liking each other enough that we shared a daytrip to Brussels the following week.
The other solo meet was a man, ( and I was happily married so no it was no romance thing, lol ) he is actually a guide book writer and was in Paris leading a tour group of his own at the time. We simply met for coffee and he invited me to join his tour group that afternoon for a tour of St Sulpice. There was no hanky panky, it was a fun meet, and he sends me his tour books !

I have spent the afternoon on a bike tour with a 25 yr old Australian girl who was working as an au pair and had some time off, twenty years between us and we still had a great time chatting.. I learned a lot from her ( her interesting experience working for a Swiss family!) .


Anyways I am rambling, but I really enjoy solo travel even though I have a wonderful partner to travel with now, even our last visit last summer I sometimes longed to be solo, not because of him, but because I LOVED being able to do exactly what I wanted to do everyday without consulting anyone elses wishes.. if I want to spend 3 hours in museum fine, if I want to skip lunch and just have two ice creams in the afternoon , fine, its great to just be on your own sometimes.

Have fun planning, keep it simple, and if you really feel you wish to try a tour I can suggest you look at Rick Steves, not just their regular tours, but they have a new tour that's called something like "on your own" .. they arranged buses between cities, and your hotels but you are on your own each day,, read the reviews by people who have done those types of tours, may be a good compromise. I would do a short tour just to get your feet wet, then spend the rest of your time on your own..
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Thank you for your tips! I am a permanent resident (greencard holder) so no, I am not a US citizen. My passport is good for a few years but I can only stay in Europe for 90 days total within a 6 month period. The transportation system to get to and around the amalfi coast looks so daunting. I am thinking perhaps of doing the bigger cities instead such as Venice, Florence & Rome while in Italy & extending the days there & just taking day trips versus doing Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Capri & Positano. Or would it be a shame not to make the trip when I'm already there?
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:26 AM
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justineparis! Thank you for that insight!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your experiences especially your no hanky panky tour guide friend who sends you tour books!

You all are such inspiration. Yes, I will definitely check out the "on your own" by RS. The thought of being in a rigid schedule doesn't sound too fun but I do appreciate a little structure & tours on the first few days to familiarize myself of the city so I can wander around by myself the subsequent days.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:30 AM
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I don't find solo travel "intimidating". It's actually my preferred way to go. It's so much easier when you are alone, than coordinating with another person what to see and do.

I agree you need to be extra safe & organized because you can't fall back on a travel partner (like if your wallet got stolen or something).

And yes for myself, I have stuck to major cities because that's more my interest, but also I think it's a lot easier. I only use public transportation, never rent a car.

As far as it being "a shame" to miss something. I think that's more a philosophical question. To me I rarely have a "must do" on my list, so my trips go very smoothly without much planning. If you just *must* see such & such a place, then you'll need to plan in a bit more detail.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:46 AM
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Venice is amazing! It is NOT a big city! It is relatively small and was very relaxing after being in Rome and Florence (which is also not that big but filled with motor scooters). In Venice there are no cars (and thankfully no scooters), so you either walk or take the vaporetto (ferry). I found it very relaxing after Rome and Florence and felt cheated with only 3 days there in '09. (So I am going back for a week at end of September!) I had perfect slightly cool weather, however, after a month of high '80s temps and no rain in Florence. This was in early June. Yes, there are a lot of tourists but it wasn't nearly as oppressive as in Florence or of course Rome. Buon viaggio!
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Old May 16th, 2013, 11:56 AM
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Swoosh,
I just wanted to add to what others have already said. I was only 19 when my girlfriend and I went to Europe for the summer. She ended up meeting her boyfriend 7 weeks into the trip and taking off with him leaving me 2 1/2 weeks to travel solo (which included stays in Paris and London). I was a little concerned about being alone at first but everywhere I went, I ended up meeting people (usually during breakfast at the places I was staying) who upon hearing I was traveling by myself, would ask me if I wanted to join them for touring during the day. Of course you have the option of saying no but I ended up meeting some very nice people and the day excursions often ended up with my joining them in the evening as well. Ten years after that (I was 29 then), I was going through a divorce and went back to Europe on my own. I was not afraid this time and again found myself meeting some nice people along the way. I actually met 2 American guys on the ferry to Greece and we ended up sharing a hotel room in Corfu together. I am not recommending that you do that (looking back now it seems a bit risky) but it felt comfortable at the time. If you stay in nicer places like you would find in Rick Steves's books (skip the hostels and cheaper places) you will generally meet nice people. It is easy to talk about where you've been, where you are going, compare stories with other travelers, etc. and you will get a good sense of the people and you can choose whether or not you want to go with them or not. I often chose to just travel around by myself, and that was fine, too. You will not be lonely because even when you are sitting in a café alone, you will find people next to you striking up a conversation. Go, enjoy, and have a great and safe trip.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:11 PM
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Suze I don't find it intimidating either , but fact is, the first time I ever did it I did have some feelings that way,,, most normal people do feel a bit of some trepidation when they do anything for the first time, skiing, singing in public, line dancing, whatever.. I have friends who don't even like going downtown ( here ) by themselves ,, kind of blows my mind, but hey, I blow theirs..

I find its helpful to acknowledge that its normal to find something a bit intimidating if you have never done it, and I find saying you didn't have any issue at all to be a bit disheartening,, like "hey I had no problem , whats yours?".

I think everyone here who has already done solo travel probably loves it though , I don't think some people would even try it to begin with though( well I know some friends of mine would never do it and never really get how I like it) , and just as well for those types that they not bother.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:12 PM
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Another option: Sign up for a language school in a city that intrests you and whose language you'd like to learn a bit of. The day you get there you have 20-25 immediate frienfds in the other students. Stay for two weeks learning the ropes of travel and take off on your own. Worked for me and now my favorite way to travel. Cheap also. The school can put you with a local family which usually is the best part of the whole deal. I've done all over Spain and Central America. Never a bad experience.

BTW: I am convinced that solo travelers always end meeting more locals than couples or groups. Maybe they take pity on us. However, given your gender you probably wouldn't have any problem anyway.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:13 PM
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Does the $10,000 include airfare? That isn't a lot of money for three months of travel and the more you move around, the more it costs. Switzerland and London are particularly expensive as are most major cities. Getting out into some of the smaller towns in Italy can save some money.

If your airfare is $1000, that only leaves you $3000 per month ($100 per day). That's only 77€ per day for lodging, food, other transport (between cities or simply around town), museum entrances, etc. $100 is only 65£. Not much for a city like London. You need to start looking at costs of getting from point A to point B and seeing whether it's really feasible to travel on that amount of money for three months. Staying somewhere very low budget can get old fast.

I wouldn't do airbnb (some people have reported problems with it), but others seem to think it's fine. In Italy, convents/monasteries can be cheap places to stay. Many have private baths and some will have curfews.

>>>suggest you look at Rick Steves, not just their regular tours, but they have a new tour that's called something like "on your own" .. they arranged buses between cities, and your hotels but you are on your own each day,, read the reviews by people who have done those types of tours, may be a good compromise.<<<

I can't see the point in paying Rick Steves to book your bus or hotel for you when you can easily do that on your own. Why pay him to do it especially for someone on a budget?

Once you narrow things down a bit, we can suggest budget hotels, etc. Booking a bus or train between cities in Italy is not a big deal.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:14 PM
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Fine, justineparis, I guess I am not "most normal people" then.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:37 PM
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Kybourbon,, many people , thousands and thousands every month take tours( not just RS but the hundreds that are out there ) , they must see some point in it even if we do not.. I never dismiss anyones comfort level if its not like mine..
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:39 PM
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No Suze, perhaps you are exceptionally brave in new situations, but OP did title thread " Scared to death".... so thinking she may has some rather regular qualms about trying something new. Its common is all my point is.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:40 PM
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oh my goodness, cavegirl! That's some serious debauchery in Corfu! lol

I love the learning the language school idea! I will look into that but maybe just for a day? I love cooking and would also enjoy perhaps taking a class for a day and also maybe see an opera.

The airfare, transportation & lodging are separate. The 10K is pocket money for food & sightseeing which puts me at $165/day for 2 months.
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Old May 16th, 2013, 12:58 PM
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Yes, I am scared to death! I have so much anxiety, but I always get this way every time I do something big for the first time. Then in most cases, I end up wanting to do it again. I know I'll be fine. I just need to relax & plan as much as I can to lessen the distress. Technology & forums like this prove to be invaluable in helping me get to the more excited part of the spectrum.

To name a few... I'm scared of...

-losing all my money from pick-pocketers (I have decided to wear a money belt. But that can be tricky if I'm wearing a dress)
-not knowing the language (will study key French & Italian phrases before leaving the US)
-learning the transportation system (will study this too)
-someone raping me! (I wish I could bring maze; that would significantly reduce my stress levels)
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Old May 16th, 2013, 01:01 PM
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I could do it on that if you eat some picnics etc.. lucky you , I am quite envious you have that much time!

I would also try to think about that 165 for what it really is in euros, its easier to me that way.
Its about 128 euros a day.. so it will be tight,, you have to also figure in admission to sites and museums and you don't want to go all the way to Rome say and not pay to get into an amazing site cause your budget is too tight.. figure 10-15 euros a day at least for admissions,, won't have to every day mind you, some days you can just see free stuff, enjoy wandering the towns etc..

I think you should try and keep your accomadation costs down ,, it you can keep it under 70 euros a day you will do ok.

30-40 euros a day food and booze( ok I think some do it cheaper but I like food and booze and afternoon icecreams and geletos can cost like 4-5 euros!)
10-15 euros a day admissions
60-70 euros a day accomadation
3-5 euros a day bus/metro local transport( bus metro)

Costs will always vary from day to day, cheap out some days and splurge on others,, Londons great museums are free, but Tower of London ( a must do to me) are expensive, like 20 GBPs but since other days sightseeing is free, see it all works out..
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Old May 16th, 2013, 01:38 PM
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$165/day is a nice generous budget, you will be fine.

I will address your few named concerns:

pick-pocketers: A money belt is good when/if you are moving place to place on the train and have everything on you at once. But when you are in a city, you can leave the money in your hotel safe, or better yet use an ATM and don't ever have ton of cash at any one time. When you are out and about, just take enough money for that day. I would not wear a money belt in this circumstance, I just use a regular purse (that carries close to your body, preferably with an cross-torso strap). Keep your wits about you and be aware in crowded places like train or subway stations.

language: This is just not a problem. Thousands of English-speaking tourists are in Europe every day of the year. Take a phrase book. Try to know where you are going so you're not stuck having to ask directions from strangers. If you are flustered, find a café and sit down and have a glass of wine or cup of tea and calm down.

transportation system: I stick to walking as much as possible. I do find public transportation systems overwhelming so avoid them myself. I figure if I'm above ground and on foot, there's only so far wrong I can go!

rape: Don't put yourself in questionable locations. Don't get drunk. Don't go off with strangers. This is not going to happen.

My best tip is to always carry the business card for the hotel you are staying at, and have local currency for a taxi ride. That way should anything go haywire, just get in a taxi, show them the address, and have them take you 'home'.
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