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Women's Travel in Europe
Europe is one of the most popular continents for backpackers all over the world and it's not hard to see why - transport links are excellent, there are tons of cheap places to stay - including some fantastic hostels for women in Europe - and most countries are very safe and well-equipped for visitors.
Solo female travelers should not experience the same concerns about safety or overcoming difficult attitudes as when visiting the Middle East or Africa. In this way, Europe is also an excellent choice for girls setting off on their first adventure.
Here's our guide for women travelers to help get you started:
Attitudes to Women Travelers
Although Europe is made up of a vast number of countries, each with a very individual culture, women traveling here will, as a general rule, feel safe and at home. Female backpackers will typically encounter liberal attitudes towards women and it is not unusual to see local women also on their own, particularly in the north and west.
Women travelers will, however, inevitably be exposed to new rules of dating and flirting – actions or conversations can be perceived very differently in some countries, and in Italy it's not unusual to be subjected to lewd calls or male harassment.
Some eastern corners of Europe do have a more conservative culture - Bosnia and Turkey, for example, are Muslim countries - so it's still useful to research local customs in the areas you plan to visit to ensure your trip goes completely smoothly.
It's also worth remembering that parts of Southern Europe can be fairly conservative in their family values – women here tend to be less independent and live at home until marriage, rather then with friends or boyfriends.
- The biggest (and most common) problem for female travelers in Europe is usually theft. Be aware of pickpockets, especially on public transport and in crowded areas of major cities. To keep safe, try to avoid wearing jewellery or taking expensive items that might draw attention to you, such an iPhone.
- Money belts (or an ingenious way of hiding money in your bra) can be a helpful way to avoid hassle in urban areas.
- Always keep your ID and cards separate to cash - it's far harder to replace these items from a foreign country.
- And don’t let your guard down in hostels.... Unfortunately, the vibe and attitudes you will find are very different on the European scene to, say, hostels in Asia – there's less of a travel-community feel (especially in the big chain hostels and cities) and you are much more likely to have something stolen from a room or bag here.
- Carry a padlock and opt for a hostel with lockers in dorms for extra safety or improvise at night by popping your valuables inside a pillowcase or the bottom of a sleeping bag.
- Be smart about your accommodation – pay that little bit extra in exchange for a nicer hostel or a room in a nicer area, and ask the receptionist to show you the room first if you are dubious about quality. You are perfectly within your rights to reject any rooms that feel unsafe, such as one that requires a long walk down an unlit corridor or even crossing outside to another building.
- Some large hostels have women only dorms or floors which can be safer and more comfortable for female travelers. You're less likely to be disturbed by snoring roommates, too!
- Try to arrive during the day when moving to a new destination. If your are in a small town or rural area, it can be quiet or a bit eerie at night, whereas big cities are typically more dangerous after dark too.
- When you check in, don’t advertise the fact that you are female and traveling solo to other visitors. Sign in with an initial and surname rather than a Miss/Mrs to be safe.
Places to Avoid
Although Europe is generally very accessible for female solo travelers, Greece and Italy (and other parts of the Mediterranean) are renowned as being difficult, thanks to harassment and forward propositions from local men. Most of the time, women travelers will just experience cat calls and lewd comments, but it's best to be on guard when accepting any invitations (such as a guided tour, a lift or a meal) as accepting can be interpreted as agreeing to a sexual relationship!
Turkish men are also known to be quite aggressively amorous, and some local youngsters still see relationships with Western women as a way to solve their problems (with money or visas) – a preconception which is not helped by large number of tourists conducting holiday romances around the resorts and offering ‘gifts’.
However, in Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia, there have been reports of aggressive behavior and sexual assaults on female travelers, particularly on public transport and overnight trains so exercise particular caution here. If you must take a train at night, try to coincide your journey with fellow backpackers or book a private compartment. In this region, it's best to look stoic or disinterested whilst walking around as a smile can mean you are interested in the person you make eye contact with.
Best Places for Female Travelers
Although Europe is very welcoming of female travelers as a rule, the Netherlands should be highlighted for the overall helpfulness and respectful attitudes of the locals. It also helps that many people are comfortable speaking English, which can be refreshing during a long, solo trip abroad.
Ireland also gets a good write up - getting to know the generous local people is easy, even as a woman traveler, and Irish culture is very family-orientated. Communities are typically very open and inviting to travelers, and it’s a great place for a night out – there's definitely no stigma attached to women drinking here!
Similarly, Scandinavian countries are renowned for their open, friendly culture. Most people speak some English and they are typically proud of their unique culture and happy to share it with visitors.
Finally, France is another great place for female travelers – head away from the cities and tourists and discover a ‘true' country of tight-knit communities, great wine, fresh food and sunshine in Provence.
For help on the most female friendly hostels in Europe, check out our handy guide.
What to Pack
- Pack light, especially if you're interrailing or moving around frequently – you might be visiting stylish cities, but you’ll feel the strain of all those clothes and shoes when you’re traipsing around with a backpack from train to train and station to hostel.
- If you’re flying on a budget airline (the majority of internal flights in Europe will be), it's also a good idea to bear in mind that there are stringent weight limits on baggage.
- Launderettes and laundry facilities are very easy to find in Europe - many hostels will have them - so it's not a challenge to wash a small selection of clothes on a long trip.
- Try to take one item for a night out that folds up small (a little black dress perhaps – it could also be slipped on over a bikini during the day) and some sparkly flip flops (or similar) that can double as beach wear, for a little instant glamour in chic destinations.
- Avoid taking hairdryers and straighteners and lots of make-up; it’s another unnecessary weight. Try a frizz ease serum to help your hair dry naturally and basics like mascara that won’t melt in the heat. For more tips, see here.
- You'll be able to pick up cosmetic supplies in most countries if you’ve forgotten something or run out along the way, so there's no need to stock up too much.
- Take contraceptive supplies and tampons, though – these can be harder to get hold of in some areas and it’s best to be prepared.
- Tie a ribbon or small token to your backpack to help identify it easily – Europe is on the busy backpacking trail so there are bound to be tons of other travelers with the same bag wherever you go!
- Leave out bulky sleeping bags unless it's the depths of winter or you plan to do a lot of camping – instead take a small, easy to pack sleeping bag liner which can be used as a sheet/covering in hostels which do not provide free bed linen.
- Take a big scarf which can double up as a sarong on the beach, a head scarf when visiting conservative or religious monuments, a wrap in the cold and act a pillow on long rail journeys...