In her mid-seventies, guest travel writer Arlene Davis shares her travel solo tips.
Be aware and trust your gut
While I talk to strangers all the time, and encourage you to do so, you must always be aware of your surroundings. Never give out your hotel name. If you wander into an area that makes those little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, don’t worry about being the “ugly American.” Just turn around and leave. I’ve never had any safety issues anywhere I’ve been, but I consider myself a smart single traveler. I’m not walking around late at night, I’m careful what I say to strangers, and am always aware of anyone who just ‘gives me the creeps.’ Don’t hesitate to walk into a store or restaurant if someone seems to be watching you a little too closely.
Luggage and pocket safety
I’ve taken the pants that I plan to wear on a trip into a tailor shop and asked them to attach Velcro to the insides of the pocket openings. That way, I can keep my credit card, hotel key, etc. in those pockets and I’m sure to feel it if someone were to try to “pick my pocket”. On the occasions where I took a train from one city to another, carrying my luggage, I stand on the platform with the luggage between my feet, not to the side of my leg. That way I know it’s safe and no one can grab a small bag and take off running.
Learn the lingo
I learned the hard way that European hotels have different definitions of what is the “first floor”, and what constitutes a “single room”. Through emails I ask how many flights of stairs to get to the room I’m asking about, and also clearly state that even though I’m traveling alone, I do NOT want a small, single-sized bed (what we would call a ‘twin’). After some back-and-forth (and sometimes with the hotel sending a photo), I am assured of the accommodations I want. Of course I always ask for “ensuite” bathroom facilities, as I don’t want to share.
I use what the hotels provide. I manage very nicely using whatever shampoo, hand lotion, etc. is provided. That way I don’t have to weigh down my luggage bringing it from home. If my hair isn’t quite as shiny as it usually is, who cares?
Most locally-owned European inns/hotels provide a full, cooked breakfast that carries me through the day. When having dinner alone, I always bring a book. However on many occasions if the adjacent table is close, and they have already received their meal and I haven’t yet ordered, I will casually ask, “Is that as good as it looks?”. This starts a conversation that has frequently led to my being invited to join them rather than sit alone at my table. Many wonderful meals have been spent this way. If they don’t speak English, or don’t ask me to join them, I’m no worse off than when I first sat down. Asking that question is a great ice-breaker and without exception every time I’ve asked, it’s led to some wonderful conversation and a lovely dinner experience.
If you’re going to 14 countries in 8 days, ignore this paragraph. I would rather put a trip off for a year or so until I have enough money to avoid the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” syndrome.
Every city has its collection of statues, obelisks, monuments, etc. They almost all have a plaque or some identifying marking. Read every one of them! You come away with such fascinating information and a feeling for the mindset of the locals who helped get it built.