Europe offers numerous opportunities for solo travellers. From the iconic cities of Rome, Paris, Barcelona, and Vienna to the charming small towns of Gerona, Porto, Assisi, Arles, and many others, this part of the world has something for everyone.
However, despite the ease of travel within the European Union, there are still challenges to be faced, such as transportation, expenses, language barriers, and accommodation. In the rest of this article, we provide our tips for solo travel in Europe.
Decide the speed you want to travel Europe
For first-time visitors to Europe, the desire to explore as much as possible as quickly as possible is understandable. However, Europe is a vast region and you can never see and experience everything there is to see and do in one 3-week trip. Regardless of your travel pace, it is therefore advisable to concentrate on a limited number of destinations.
If you want to travel Europe fast
When making a decision about your travel pace, you have to consider the amount of time you have available. For day travel, you should take into account that travel time will often take up half a day or even a whole day. It is, therefore, recommended that you spend a minimum of 3 nights at every destination. This will provide you with approximately 2 and a half days at every destination before you move on. For a 14-day itinerary that includes travel days at the start and end, you should realistically not plan to visit more than four locations.
An alternative is to allocate different lengths of time to different destinations, balancing it out to what works best for you. In our experience, this approach has proven to offer the best balance between spending time traveling from one destination to the next and sightseeing.
By opting to travel by night train, you can effectively cover a greater distance in the same period. Plus, if it's a long journey you won't have to fork out any accommodation costs for that night.
Trains are an excellent mode of travel in Europe as they offer frequent service, high speeds, and transport to a wide range of destinations. Plus, stations are typically conveniently located in or near the city centre.
While traveling alone and spending the night on trains, it's crucial to keep your valuables secure. Consider using a money belt or a hidden pouch in your clothing for added protection.
Although you might want to see a lot of places as quickly as possible, it's recommended to regularly set aside a few hours to take a break and immerse yourself in every destination's atmosphere. Go to a market, talk to a couple of the local people, or just relax in a park and observe how the locals enjoy themselves. As a solo traveller, these present great opportunities for you to connect with locals and making travel about more than just visiting major tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower
If you want to take Europe slow
Narrow down your travel destinations. Instead of attempting to cover a vast area like the whole of Europe, rather focus on a few countries - such as France, Italy, or Germany. You can even focus on a specific country or even a region within a country. By reducing the scale of your journey, you will be able to better embrace the opportunities offered by slow travel.
For a more authentic cultural experience and to save money, opt for a stay in a smaller city . Or use the hub and spoke method, where you base yourself in one central location and from there take trips to nearby places. As an example, base yourself in Bologna and from there explore the surrounding towns, and perhaps also Florence and Venice.
Also, consider traveling between smaller cities. Instead of buying a Eurail Pass, rather purchase tickets on the cheaper regional trains. You won't have to buy these tickets in advance, while if you want to travel on the fast intercity trains, this will most likely be necessary.
Safely travelling around Europe on your own
According to our travel sources, European trains nowadays follow a similar pricing strategy as airlines, so to save money you will have to book well in advance.
A great idea is to download the RailPlanner app for train travel in Europe. It has all of Europe's train schedules and it's not difficult to use. The app also offers a trip planner - and shows where you can get discounts on tourist services and restaurants if you have a Eurail Pass.
Flying within Europe
Thanks to budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair, flying has become a fast and surprisingly affordable option. Just take into account that they often use secondary airports instead of the major ones, so you have to factor in the cost of transport to get to or from these airports.
If you are flying around Europe by plane, it is important to travel light. You will save yourself many hours in carousel lines and at check-in counters by traveling with just a carry-on bag. With budget airlines, keep in mind though that you will be charged according to the weight of your carry-on luggage if it exceeds the maximum.
Traveling through Europe with a rental car
Make sure that the car rental firm you choose includes all fees in their price, so you don't get any nasty surprises.
If you book a car by phone, you will be able to cancel right up to the day you are supposed to pick it up. If you book it online, they will ask for payment in advance, and you will not be able to cancel less than 48 hours before the time. If you cancel 24 hours before the pick-up date, you will have to pay a cancellation fee.
In certain instances, it might cost less to pay for two weeks than 12 days. You will not be charged if you bring the car back after 12 days - but you will also not get a refund for the two remaining days.
It is important to take note that there are a few countries in Eastern Europe where well-known Western European car rental firms do not operate. Our experience is that Avis does allow certain destinations in Eastern Europe but Budget-Rent-a-Car does not. Always call ahead for more details before you book.
Where in Europe to stay as a solo traveller
Accommodation costs can quickly inflate the price of any foreign trip. While that is less of an issue if you are able to share the cost with someone else, it is a bigger issue for solo travellers.
This is why we recommend that a single traveller stays in a hostel or B&B when visiting Europe. They are typically not only friendlier than large hotels but more reasonably priced as well. Many solo travellers also like to stay at Airbnb venues. Before choosing this option, just make sure it's not situated in a remote suburban destination, far from public transport.
Where to eat while touring Europe as a single traveller
Europeans love their food. Since Europe is such a cultural melting pot, the variety of food available will simply amaze you. You can find delicious meals in even the smallest European village - and the bigger cities offer a large variety of quality dining options.
There is one little problem though: Depending on where you come from, you might find restaurants in Europe very expensive. This is most likely to be true if you choose to eat every meal at a stylish restaurant right in the heart of the tourist area. Not only will you pay more, but your chances of striking up an interesting conversation with a local are very small.
This is why we recommend that, when it comes to eating out, solo travellers should venture a little off the beaten track and try to find an eatery with a more local flavour on one of the smaller streets. The prices are more likely to be reasonable while the quality is often as good, if not better than anything you will find in a busy tourist restaurant. Plus, you will have a better chance of running into some genuinely interesting locals who don't only have the time to meet foreigners, but who also the inclination.
How to stay safe during your solo travels across Europe
Finally, let us look at a couple of tips that can help keep you safe, not only while traveling in Europe but in any other part of the world.
If at all possible, do not arrive at a new travel destination after midnight
In some cases, you might find a cheaper bus or train if the arrival time is late at night. There are many reasons not to do this, of which one of the most important is safety.
We know that generally speaking Europe is a very safe destination. For a single foreigner to arrive in a strange town or city late at night could be dangerous, even here. The few Euros you are going to save are just not worth the stress over what might possibly happen to you in a dark alleyway on your way to the accommodation venue.
Keep friends and family members back home updated about your travel plans
When you are having fun on a strange continent, it's easy to forget to inform your family or friends back home about your travel plans for the next day or two.
Traveling solo on an itinerary nobody else knows anything about is not a good idea. That is why it is very important to ensure that your loved ones know about your travel and accommodation plans. If an emergency should ever come up, knowing where you are will enable them to reach out and help in whatever way they might be able to.
Learn a few words of the local language
Not everyone in Europe speaks English. While it's not practicable to try and learn every single language spoken in the countries you will be visiting, it is important to at least learn a few basic words, for example, greetings and asking for directions to the nearest police station or hospital. You will almost certainly never need the latter, but being safe rather than sorry has never been a bad idea.
Don't walk around proudly displaying expensive equipment or other valuables
Before leaving your accommodation establishment, ask them to lock up your passport, computer, or any other valuables. As we said earlier, the majority of countries in Europe are relatively safe, but petty crime can happen anywhere in the world.
Carry your smartphone with you wherever you go
Your phone can be your lifeline in case of an emergency. In the unlikely event that you urgently have to call the police or emergency services, you will be glad you followed this seemingly insignificant piece of advice.
Keep up-to-date with travel notices and requirements
Solo travellers are advised to keep up-to-date with the latest EU travel notices, which are subject to change as security and health rates develop.
Also, starting in 2024, ETIAS will be a required travel authorisation for those able to visit the Schengen Area without a visa. You can check how ETIAS may affect your travels by visiting the ETIAS assessment check.