As a woman who spent two months backpacking Europe alone and about six months planning it, I know all about the information a person embarking on such a journey can receive from frightened friends and relatives. Before I left for my trip I heard some of the most terrifying stories of what could happen to me if I set out to Europe by myself that it made me almost not want to go. However, I always kept in mind that most of these people had ever backpacked before, let alone been to Europe, so what made them qualified to give me such negative advice?
Here are some of the crazy things I was told, along with what the reality of the situation is.
Haven’t You Ever Seen the Movie “Hostel”?
First of all, I would just like to comment that this movie has a lot more to do with sick, twisted ways to torture people than really giving a person any insight into hostels. Hostels are a backpacker’s home-away-from-home. I have not only stayed at them in Europe but also in many other countries, and would choose a hostel over a hotel for traveling any day. For the most part, hostels are affordable, clean, and safe. In most of the hostels I stayed in there is some sort of security measures taken to keep people out, whether it be security staff, an alarm code, or special keys.
Also, the social nature of hostels allows travelers to easily meet other travelers. As someone who was traveling alone, it was extremely comforting to be able to just walk into a room of strangers and instantly have people to get food with, sight-see with, or go for drinks with. In fact, many of the people I made friends with at hostels I have stayed in close contact with, traveling to other places to see one another and planning trips together.
Women Are Extremely Vulnerable
I am not going to lie and say that traveling alone was always easy. But while I sometimes felt unsure or awkward in certain situations being by myself, like when I was unsure of a train stop or how to get somewhere, I rarely felt unsafe. Obviously, you should never walk in dark, desolate areas alone or go out and get wasted at a bar when you are by yourself. However, if you use your head and act responsibly you will stand a good chance of making it through your trip safe and sound.
One thing I will mention is that in terms of crime many parts of Europe are big on petty theft. Just be sure to watch your money and belongings closely. Do not let this deter you from making the trip, though. Instead, take comfort that you can still have safe travels even with a stolen watch.
Don’t You Remember the Movie “Taken” Where the Girls Were Abducted and Sold to Be Sex Slaves?
While I admit that this was an excellent film it is important to keep the things that we see in perspective. This could happen anywhere, including in your home country. Do not give people your personal information or tell your deepest secrets to a stranger. At the same time, do not let a situation from a movie that will most likely not happen to you stop you from experiencing the places you are visiting and meeting new people.
Talking to Strangers is Dangerous
Again, it is all about being aware of your surroundings and using your head. Do not do anything you would not do at home and use your best judgment. However, if someone you have just met at your hostel invites you for a drink or you meet someone friendly at a local shop allow yourself to make new friends and have new experiences. I met the friendliest man who owned a gelato shop Germany. After some small talk, I ended up sitting with him and talking with him about Germany for hours. Not only did I learn a lot about the place I was visiting, I also got free gelato! Furthermore, I met another traveler at my hostel in Amsterdam and ended up in a long-distance relationship with him after we really hit it off and had a great time sightseeing and traveling together. The people you meet along your travels with make a huge impact on how you remember your trip.
Europeans Hate Americans
While I will admit that there are many negative opinions that exist about Americans all over the world, do not think that people will cause you harm or spit at you for where you come from. People will still be interested to learn about places that are foreign to them. Moreover, it gives you a good starting point to start a discussion about the good quality traits that exist about Americans. During my experience backpacking through Europe, I never felt threatened because of where I was from and actually received many compliments about what a “nice American” I was.
Of course, bad things can happen when backpacking Europe alone. However, bad things can happen anywhere. As a person born and raised in New York, I find it ironic that my parents would tell me of how dangerous they had heard some places to be and how I should not ever talk to strangers. For one, anytime I have ever traveled outside of the country I have been asked about how dangerous New York is. Furthermore, you obviously need to be careful no matter where you are, however, a major part of the backpacking experience is talking to strangers.
My advice? Do not let people talk you out of backpacking Europe, with friends or alone, if it is something you want to do. It is a truly worthwhile experience that you will never forget with the rewards outweighing the risks.