If you haven’t read why every woman should travel alone at least once in her life, you may be wondering why the emphasis on solo travel. While I am a huge advocate of traveling with loved ones, I don’t allow the fact that nobody can go to stop me from going: and you shouldn’t either.
Last July I was fortunate enough to spend 2.5 weeks in Europe- predominantly Paris with a long weekend away in Brussels and Amsterdam. This was my second visit to Paris, and although my coworkers were also staying in the city (thanks, Lose It!, for the awesome benefit), I spent the majority of the time by myself.
For this trip, I traveled by train and stayed predominantly in hostels. European train travel is a must; it’s a quick and fairly inexpensive way to get around and the views are beautiful. Here is the solo travelers guide to key things to see and know for each city!
Naturally, there are things you need to do in Brussels that only come with being there. For starters, I recommend getting a Belgian waffle, covered in Nutella, and taking a walk down the busy street to see the mannequin pis, which may be wearing a costume in the early part of the day.
After that, I hopped on one of the big red city tour buses that took me out of heart of town to see the Atomium, the palace, and a few other trademark locations. I returned to the same location and made my way to city centre, which is absolutely breathtaking. After walking around and looking at all of the street art, I popped into the Belgian Beer Museum, where I watched a short film on the making of Belgian beer before enjoying one in a cute, underground cafe. I then walked around some more before settling into a cafe that overlooked city centre for some wine and charcuterie.
Brussels was by far one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited, and I had an amazing stay at the hostel 2GO4, which was only a short walk from the center of town. The best part was the people I met: 3 Canadians, one English girl, an Australian and myself hit it off in the common room before heading out for an amazing night of dancing, karaoke, bar-hopping, and of course, French fries.
The train ride to Amsterdam was equally quick, and the station itself was a work of art. My hostel, DAM hotel, was in the heart of the hustle and bustle, and my last minute reservations had only guaranteed me a bed in a 12 person shared dorm. I dropped off my backpack before heading out to adventure.
On my travels, I passed the Anne Frank house; though I was unable to get in since tickets were sold out for months. I walked on along the Amstel river and found an enormous market of hand-made products, where I spent some time (and money) before continuing my walk down the quaint streets of the city.
It amazed me how many bicycles there were and how few cars, but it made sense for the compact, heavily populated areas. The city itself looks like something out of a Christmas card, with beautiful architecture and flower covered bridges, it felt ethereal. I also had the opportunity to take a boat ride through the city, which was a really great experience and highly recommended.
Oh, Paris, how I love you. This trip brought me there for the second time, but the first time alone. I spent the majority of my time here, occasionally meeting up with colleagues but mostly wandering through the city.
I think that’s my main recommendation for Paris: just walk. Most days I would have a location in mind I wanted to reach, but instead of catching an Uber I’d just want and look for hidden gems along the way. As a lost generation fanatic, I spent a lot of time at Shakespeare and Company, picking up a couple books and sitting in their library, thumbing through old books and wondering who else had done the same.
I walked along the Seine, looking at all of the things the street vendors had to offer and buying a few. I ate so many baked goods and drank so much wine while sitting outside a cafe, people watching. I did the touristy things like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Jardin Du Luxembourg, and was fortunate enough to be there for the Tour De France. As much as we don’t want to feel like tourists when we travel, these things were worth seeing.
Things to Be Aware Of
Apart from being an amazing cultural experience, this trip taught me a major lesson in research. Upon arriving at my airBnB in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, I quickly realized that I was staying in an abandoned building.
Do Your Research and Read Review
Nope, you didn’t read that wrong. The owner had renovated the top floor of a four story, 200 year old building. This wasn’t as noticeable when I checked in midday, but it came to my attention when I got back from dinner after dark to an entirely pitch black building. The climb up those stairs with the assistance of my cell phone flash light was one of the longest climbs of my life, and you can only imagine how little sleep I got. I got ahold of the owner the next morning and upon request he refunded me in full, which I then used to book new accommodations.
The main thing I learned was to look at reviews! I had glanced briefly at them, but had I dug further I would’ve learned of other peoples’ concerns. This applies to hostels too; hearing what other travelers say is more important than anything.
Beware the Gypsies
Gypsies are everywhere in Europe; the modern day con-man in the world’s oldest cities. You will typically be approached by a woman, and she’ll usually come equipped with her ‘hungry baby’ or an equally sad story. I.e., on my first encounter they approached me with a signup sheet, collecting money for “The Deaf and Blind Children’s School of Paris”. I watched them approach tourists all around the Notre Dame, sneakily celebrating every time they ‘got’ someone.
The best way to deal with it is to kindly say no and walk away. You don’t want to end up ‘hustled, scammed, and bamboozled’ like Ja Rule.
Trust Your Gut
Intuition is a thing. That feeling in the pit of your stomach and the tingle as the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; even if our mind wants to reason our bodies warn us when something is off. Don’t ignore it, trust this feeling. During my time in Europe, this feeling came about when walking through a new area alone or being looked at in a way that made me uncomfortable. Just be aware!
Questions on places to visit or recommendations for places you’ve been? Email me or ask in the comments below!