Heading out on your own for a solo adventure is a great way to experience Europe. However, it can present unique challenges that you don’t face when you’re on the road with friends or family — especially if you’re not used to striking out on your own.
One of the biggest obstacles can be price. That cheap hotel room meant for two suddenly isn’t necessarily such a bargain. That rental car to explore the countryside is quite expensive when there’s only one credit card to cover it. And those fun dinners where you share five of the best dishes off the menu? That’s going to be financially trickier when you’re on your own.
However, traveling alone offers some benefits not available to those sharing their journey with others. And if all goes right, you’ll come back from a solo excursion with a few exciting stories, fun photos, and maybe even some new friends. Here are a few tips to help you master the art of solo travel and save along the way.
Related: Tips for traveling solo in Paris
12 tips for solo travel in Europe
Why even travel alone?
There are countless upsides to traveling by yourself. It’s fun to make your own schedule, change plans on a whim, and just go wherever the path leads you. You are free–and as I’ll point out below, this freedom extends to what you eat, where you go, and even with whom you socialize. You’re in charge.
Traveling alone can be beneficial for introverts and extroverts. I’m happily married, but as an only child I learned to enjoy spending hours on end by myself. As a result, spending a few weeks traveling solo in Europe might seem less daunting for me than for people who are used to constant companionship. However, even super social personalities who like to be surrounded by companions can benefit from taking off alone–shaking up your routine (even your social routine), can be a very rewarding experience.
A note for solo female travelers
I should point out right off the bat that, yes, I am a man traveling by myself. Other than a few sketchy characters and close calls with bags being stolen, I have always felt safe when traveling in Europe. Female travelers, of course, should also feel quite safe traveling solo, but they do have to be mindful of other safety issues that I might take for granted.
However, most of these are common sense concerns that you already follow when you’re not traveling (and we’ve chronicled them before, for example in these articles about solo female travel in Barcelona and Dublin). Europe is, over all, a very safe place for women to travel by themselves (and, in terms of crime, safer than traveling in the US).
For much on this topic, check out Journeywoman.com for great tips for both group and solo female travelers.
1. Get outside your head and meet people
Although some argue that it’s easier to meet new people in a group setting, I believe that when you travel on your own, it forces you to make a decision really fast. And I’m not just talking about, “Should I go to the Louvre or Versailles today?” I’m talking about something philosophically deeper: Do I spend my whole trip inside my head or do I jump at the chance to interact with those around me?
My advice: Get outside your head. It’s great to be contemplative, of course, but when you’re ready for it, look around and open up.
Just read the situation in which you find yourself. In a smoky bar in Berlin in the middle of the day where everyone is sitting alone? Probably not a good time to start up a chat. But if you’re at the convivial pub at happy hour and the locals are just settling in for a drink, then you can probably trust that you will find a welcome patron with whom you can strike up a chat.
My best advice for socializing on your own? Push outside your comfort zone. Don’t be shy. Put down your phone. Crack a smile. Attempt a “bonjour” or “ciao”, and just go with it. (Seriously, put down your phone.)
2. Book a small single to save
Accommodation can be the hardest place to save money when you go to Europe on your own. While one way is to opt for a dorm bed in a hostel (see below), what if you want your own room at a place with a bit of character? I recommend going for a small, independent hotel that offers deals on smaller single rooms.
While most chain hotels charge almost the same (if not exactly the same) price whether you are two or one in a room, luckily, in Europe, many of the classic cheapo hotels that we love offer reduced rates for one person. And if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom, you’ll save even more. Check out these favorite hotels in Paris, Rome, or any of these cities in Europe. (Above, the Hotel St-Andre-des-Arts in Paris offers cheapo singles.)
If you’re staying in one of these small, family-run hotels, try to book something with an included (or at least moderately priced) breakfast. It can offer a great chance to meet fellow travelers and exchange tips. You might also (if you want it) wind up hanging out or dining together.
3. Mix and mingle at a hostel
By design, staying in a hostel is a very social experience that’s open to travelers of all ages. From the moment you check in, you are part of a community that loves the traveling way of life. Every hostel is different, but you can usually find people hanging out in the common areas or lobby, planning their day or chatting away.
You can also try to strike up a conversation with a dorm mate. Even if you book a private room, you still get the social aspect of a hostel by mingling or checking out a happy hour or special social event. Many hostel employees are great sources for local advice and can book cheap tours or local experiences that you might have missed staying at a traditional hotel.
We list hostels all over Europe (do a search for your city, then filter by “hostel”), but some favorites include the Stayokay Amsterdam, Circus in Berlin, Living Lounge in Lisbon, Barnacles Temple Hostel in Dublin (pictured above), and Generator Hostel in London and Paris.
4. Throw a picnic…
I don’t usually enjoy eating dinner at restaurants by myself when I’m on the road. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it, but with my philosophy, I actually spend a lot less on food when traveling alone. Grabbing street food, visiting local markets, and picking something up at the supermarket is more than enough to get a taste of the local cuisine in the evenings. In fact, having a picnic on a park bench is one of the best ways to experience a city and enjoy tasty food for only a few euros.
5. Spring for a prix-fixe lunch…
However, when I do decide on a big meal for the day, I almost always choose lunch. Not only are the tabs cheaper, but the scene is usually more relaxed, and I’ve enjoyed many more pleasant interactions with locals and staff on a weekday afternoon than any Friday night. Plus, many lovely restaurants across Europe offer incredible lunch deals.
In fact finding a meal for €10 or less (including a glass of wine!) is not uncommon. Check out some of our favorite spots in Barcelona, Stockholm, and Paris. Just be wary of very touristy areas: If you see a menu in 20 languages with photos, keep walking.
6. Or eat at the bar
When you do eat dinner by yourself, don’t be intimidated by what sometimes can be a single-unfriendly scene. Go in, ask for a table for one, and make yourself at home. I find that it’s helpful to bring along a newspaper or book. This can also be a good time to catch up on your travel journal.
If you can eat at the bar or counter, it can also be a great spot to chat with other single travelers or with the bartender (and maybe get a nice top off on that drink!).
7. Grab a drink after dinner
Rather than spending too much money on an expensive meal after the sun goes down, I save my euros and pounds for a few drinks at a local bar, where your cash will go much farther than back home. A single beer is New York is now hovering around $7. That’s usually two rounds in Europe! You see where I’m going with this. Plus, a friendly pub is almost always a better spot to strike up a conversation than in a restaurant. And if you don’t drink, many bars serve a decent espresso.
If I’m feeling less social, I might just bring a pack of postcards, grab a table in the corner of a pub, and spend a few hours connecting with people back home the old-fashioned way. It’s much more fun than typing an email on your smartphone.
8. Trains: Head to the cafe car
Buses may often be cheaper than trains in Europe, but trains are the perfect transportation for the solo traveler. You almost always sit with at least one stranger, so you might have a chance to make a new friend or learn a few local tips.
When you need to stretch your legs, you can head for the dining car. One sure way to strike up a conversation is to buy a glass of wine or beer in the dining car and hang out for a while. At some point you’ll find someone in the same situation looking for a chat. (Read more about trains in Europe.)
For public transportation, buses can be a fun way to see a city. In London, the double-decker buses are a great choice for the solo traveler, especially if you can snag the front seat. Break out your camera and enjoy the ride.
9. Learn the language (at least a few words)
Knowing even a few phrases can go a long way in Europe and certainly help the single traveler socialize a bit. Even though many Europeans speak at least a bit of English (especially in the most tourist-friendly destinations), when you get to smaller towns or explore more off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods you can’t expect your barista, shop owner, or bus driver to speak English. Why should they?
Spend some time learning a few basic words, to not only help you get around, but to also show your respect for local customs. You’d be surprised how a little effort can go a long way. Plus, knowing the right words can save you a lot of money when placing orders at markets and restaurants. Here are a few phrases in French and Spanish to get you started!
10. Join a guided tour
A guided walking, bike, or bus tour can be an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of local culture and history, and offer a chance to meet new people along the way. Just make sure you’re prepared to commit to the duration of the tour (they can sometimes eat up several hours of your schedule). You can also book super social tours that include meals and bar stops, as well. These can be great ways to bust out of your shell, if you’ve been feeling a bit introverted.
I prefer to roam and wander on my own, but I have taken a few tours that have really opened my eyes to new places. Museum tours are highly recommended to get an overview of a collection, especially when your flying solo and want to get your nose out of a guidebook!
11. Find your scene
What’s your “scene” back home? You can probably find something related to it wherever you travel–but with a twist. Whether you love the theater, art, music, or tango dancing, most big cities in Europe will offer a community that you can tap into. These can offer wonderful opportunities for meeting people and experiencing what you love, but with a new twist that’s specific to the place you’re visiting.
For example, I’m an independent cinema buff, and Europe is a paradise for this. While many small theaters have died off in the US, cities like Paris boast beautiful movie theaters where you can see everything from classic revivals to new indie films. Seeing Federico Fellini’s “Roma” in Rome on my first trip to Italy is still one of the highlights of all of my travel experiences.
12. Get out of your comfort zone
Traveling with a friend or a significant other is, of course, wonderful–and it’s how many of us spend most of our time traveling. However, when traveling with others it’s easy to get into a routine, similar to that of your normal non-traveling life, that might also shelter you from new experiences.
When you’re traveling solo, however, you have the chance to do something different. Push yourself outside your comfort zone to try new experiences. If you usually sleep in, try getting up early on your trip. You’ll see a totally different city at 7 a.m. than 10 a.m. when the city is buzzing with people rushing to work. You’re normally a bit introverted? Push yourself to start up a conversation with the guy at the table next to you.
You’re traveling on your own. Take advantage of the fact that right now, this very second, you’re free to break your own rules. Go for it.
Your tips for traveling solo?
Do you have any tricks for traveling on your own in Europe or any stories from your adventures? Let us know!