Is Europe Really Dangerous to Travel? Tips For Staying Safe While Traveling Europe ALONE
One of the questions I receive when telling people of my past experience and my future plans is, “isn’t that dangerous?”
I always found this to be really patronizing because people automatically underestimate my ability and my street smarts. I might come off a certain way, but I am definitely 100% aware of the dangers I face traveling alone as a young woman.
I think my greatest advantage in traveling alone is where I grew up. I grew up right outside of New York City. My family would go to Manhattan every week, and I was allowed to wander the streets as young as 9 years old. Why? Because my parents knew I wasn’t an idiot and they knew the streets of NYC weren’t really as dangerous as everyone makes them out to be. That might seem like a lot for a 9-year-old, but it’s not like I was getting on subways and traveling to the other boroughs. I was simply walking down the street, getting my own breakfast, wandering into Barnes and Noble in Union Square, etc.
So – is Europe really dangerous?
Not if you have your wits about you! Europe is like any other place in the world. Everywhere has the possibility of being dangerous somewhere. You’re at a greater risk in touristic areas of cities, big or small. Read up about where you’re going. Do your research.
I honestly did not have any problems while I was traveling. I never felt unsafe and I never felt like I was in a bad situation because I stayed aware of my surroundings. If you’re walking around with your purse loosely hanging off your shoulder and your phone hanging out of your back pocket in the middle of a huge market square in a major city, you’re asking to be robbed.
Nothing I say is to scare you, but rather to make you aware of the realities of foreign countries where things are different.
You should definitely travel. I’m the biggest advocate for traveling. It’s the best learning experience and it will change who you are as a person; you just have to have your wits about you. Here is my advice for staying safe when traveling alone in Europe:
Don’t look like a tourist
This is hard when you’re literally in travel clothes with a giant backpack that screams, “hello! I’m traveling! I currently have all of my belongings and valuables on me!” but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make yourself a victim to crime. When I say don’t look like a tourist, I mean don’t hold your phone up to your face with a map open, turning in every direction, looking lost. Even if you are lost – I promise you won’t be for long. Always make it look like you know where you’re going.
Rather than keeping my phone up to my face and staring at the walking directions, I’d keep my brightness on low, hold it at my side, and glance at it every once in a while.
Walk with purpose
This point is basically the same as the last one; always make it look like you know where you’re going – even if you don’t! Even if you’re just wandering. Walk with purpose.
Don’t make yourself a victim: practice your “mean mug” (don’t smile) and don’t make eye contact with gypsies, people with clipboards, or anyone trying to sell you something or hand you something.
Now, I am a professional at Resting Bitch Face. It’s my natural look. But when I’m walking alone in a foreign country, it’s enhanced x10. I look mean and unapproachable because smiles are invitations. Strangers in Europe don’t really smile at each other. So, when you’re walking around smiling at gypsies and vendors, you’re putting a target on your back as a tourist and giving them the permission to approach you. Don’t do that.
Basically, don’t trust anyone. If someone tries to hand you something, don’t take it, because they will probably demand money right after. Nothing is a free gift in Europe. Even little kids will come up and try to distract you while someone else is pickpocketing you. People with clipboards are always trying to get a signature for a cause or something of the sort – ignore them and continue on.
People will try to get in your face, sometimes. Just keep walking. Don’t even say “no.” A lot of the time I just glared at them and gave them a “wtf?” look and they left me alone and moved onto someone else. Right outside of the Cathedral in Seville, Spain, these ladies were walking around and trying to put sprigs of rosemary in my hand. If I took it, they would have demanded money. In Rome, people at the airport and all over Termini will be trying to get you in their cabs just so they can overcharge you. People might come up to you in Termini and ask for help; they probably don’t need it. In Paris, people look like they’re just trying to get you to support a cause and ask for a signature while they’re pickpocketing you.
Keep your valuables locked at your hostel / hotel / accommodation
Honestly, I never carried more than 100euro at a time (unless I knew I was going to purchase something expensive) and I never had my debit card with me. Whenever I got to a new city or was running low on cash, I would go out, take out money from an ATM, and go back to my hostel to drop my card off. It takes a few extra minutes, but I didn’t want to risk losing or getting my only debit card stolen.
Keep your passport at your hostel! You do NOT need your passport on you at all times. Keep your normal ID card and a photo copy of your passport with you – NO one should need more of a verification for getting into a club or buying alcohol than that. The only time I had my passport on me was when I was actually traveling to a new place. Sometimes, buying a SIM they will require your passport, but they always took my photo copy.
Stay vigilant with pick pockets
Never let your guard down. Even when you’re eating or enjoying a cup of coffee, have your personal belongings on your lap; don’t put your purse or bag around your chair. You don’t know who could walk in.
Common areas for pick pockets are metro stations, museums, any kind of touristic area, while you’re waiting in line, the beach (don’t leave it unguarded when you go in the water!), and more.
This isn’t supposed to be scary – but it is reality. You don’t have to live in a constant state of paranoia if you’re careful and have your wits about you.
Outsmarting Pickpockets: Travel Safe Purses & Wallets
Don’t keep anything in your back pocket. Not your wallet, not your phone. That’s an invitation. If you only wear loose-fitting shorts with pockets anyone could slip their hand into, you probably want to invest in something a little bit more concealed like a money belt. I personally never wore one because I had a travel safe purse.
I brought with me a travel safe purse. It was slash proof, RFID protected, and the main compartment locked with little “lobster hooks” on the zippers. So, you basically had to hook the zipper closed and unhook it when you wanted to open it. It would be really hard for someone to open my purse without me noticing them trying to unhook AND unzip it. Generally speaking, whenever I was walking around in busy areas notorious for pick pockets, I had my hand on my purse.
I was really hesitant to believe that people would actually slash your belongings off of you, but it’s happened to others. A girl I met had a slash mark on her purse as if someone tried to cut the strap off of her while she was in Paris.
If you’re carrying a backpack, wear it on the front side of your body rather than on your back.
Check your accommodation’s location and safety features
There’s no reason to not look into where you’re staying. Find out the safest neighborhoods and the neighborhoods to avoid.
Hostelworld.com is a great website to look into where you’re staying, if it’s a hostel; the reviews are broken down by solo travelers, groups, male/female, etc., and I’ve actually stayed away from a few places because the reviews by solo female travelers mention them feeling unsafe.
Have locks for your backpack and for your lockers in hostels. It WILL help you in the future and will make you feel a lot safer when you’re walking from place to place!