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Joanne G.

Who has done a solo land vacation? In Europe?

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I recently booked my first solo cruise (British Isles) for next year.  It was an impulsive decision when I came across a dream itinerary, and I didn't know if I would find anyone to go with.   I am getting more and more comfortable with the idea of cruising solo.  It helps that I have been on many cruises with my sister or friends, so I am familiar with the routines of shipboard and port activities.   I will be flying in and out of Heathrow, which I did for a cruise earlier this year, so I am familiar with the airport and know how I will get to my pre-cruise downtown hotel.  I won't have a language barrier for any arrangements regarding my London hotel stay and/or getting to the port, and English will be the language onboard the ship.  

 

But - I really want to see Paris, and not on one of the whirlwind visits available from my upcoming port stop in Le Havre.  Maybe I can find someone to travel with for a land vacation, but if not, I am thinking of ways to go solo.  I could join a tour group, which would have the advantage of most of the planning being done for me - assuming the activities and schedule are what I would be interested in.   Having a tour leader to take care of logistics is appealing, as I do not speak French.   I would be with other people for some social contact - but being perhaps the only solo in a group of couples might feel lonelier than being alone.  

 

Or I could just go solo.   I have always done a lot by myself, and there is something to be said for being able to do exactly what I want when I want to do it.  I can be as active or as lazy as I want, and I can splurge or be frugal however I want.  Browsing a museum alone wouldn't bother me at all - seems preferable actually than sticking with a group.   Navigating a city in which I don't speak the language is a daunting prospect, however.  But I am intelligent LOL and enjoy doing research.  Surely I can figure out how to get from the airport to a hotel, right?  Millions of foreigners visit Paris every year and they manage.   I can afford taxis if figuring out public transportation seems overwhelming.   But - what about meals?  Sitting at a table by myself in restaurants for a week or so might be kind of depressing - not at all like the social aspect of cruise dining.   And the language barrier will be an issue in restaurants.  

 

Who has done solo a trip in Europe?   How did you do it, and was it a good experience?  Any ideas, recommendations, cautions, encouragement, or discouragements you would like to share?   Thanks!  

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Posted (edited)

London and Paris was my 2nd solo trip 9 years ago and it was FANTASTIC!!! From London to Paris I took the bullet train and from there public transport to my hotel which was right by the louvre. Now, I will say it gave me one of my most laughable moments of trying to get my LARGE suitcase through those turnstyles. If you have a large suitcase, take a taxi lol. As for the language barrier, I didn't, and still don't, speak French but as with going to any foreign country I learned a few key phrases including hi, thank you and goodbye. For the most part people speak a lot of English or you can figure it out. They are also very used to English only speakers traveling there. I think the language barrier would be difficult if you were going to the suburbs but in Paris itself, not an issue at all. 

 

I highly recommend reading Rick Steve's book on Paris as that was so helpful with figuring out where to go, how to get there and interesting things to do. I got around using public transit, only took a taxi to the airport home, ate in the restaurants and had a blast. For the restaurants I would bring a book to read while I waited or my journal and go through my pictures. This way I could delete some and write down what I took a picture of. You'll be amazed at how much you don't remember once you get home. Also, if you are concerned about what you are ordering put the google translate app on your phone so you can easily figure it out. 

 

I loved every moment of it, ate a lot that I still can picture and practically taste (gelato, lemon tart, mont blanc from Cafe Angelique, macarons, tomato/mozz on a fresh baguette, the farmers market cheese) and relished my time there. When I went there was no Google translate, google maps was just becoming, Facebook was sort of there, Instagram didn't get exist, etc. Now you have much more help beforehand and at the ready. Just remember, it's like any big city so you should stay aware of your surroundings and what you are doing. As I like to tell people - just because you are on vacation does not mean others are. I say go for it and have a blast whether someone joins you or not.

Edited by bhsolo
Forgot to add details.

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Paris solo is great fun. There’s an awesome pod cast called Join Us In France and it helped me with my solo trip. If you get lonely you can sign up for tours when you’re there, like tours of historic neighborhoods or gourmet food tours. Many tour companies have skip the line guided tours of the attractions as well.

 

Eating solo is amazing in Paris because you can sit at a cafe outside and watch the world go by. The Eatwith app has hosted dinners with local residents. Most of the time I’d grab a sandwich from one of the hundreds of bakeries and eat in a park or on a bench along the Seine. Language is not a barrier at all, but learn the basic phrases before you leave. Lonely Planet has a good phrase book.

 

As for public transportation I used the citymapper app, I will never delete it from my phone as I have used it the US as well and want to go back to Paris. You plug in your starting point and your destination and it gives you many options with maps and directions. Though Paris has great public transportation it is highly walkable. You can literally walk from sight to sight without needing transportation. I did it even after screwing up my knee before I left for Paris. You can pm me if you have questions.

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I did! 52 year old woman. No problems in Paris at all. For (roughly) $100 total, you can get a 6 day transit pass AND a 6 day museum pass that includes the Louvre, Versailles, and 50+ others and go anywhere you want when you want!

Here are some fun things I did by myself in Paris:

got a hotel in the 5th androissment (Hotel St Jacques) about 3 blocks off the Seine from Notre Dame

became a "regular" at a local restaurant when after eating there for the 3rd time (it was good and cheap), they sent over an aperitif to start

went to Versailles- twice

ate lunch at a two star Michelin restaurant by myself- no way would I have taken a table for two at night when the meal is intended to last all evening with a companion, but lunch was outstanding and about $70 for a 4 course menu.

saw all the museums

went to a medieval castle at the end of one of the subway lines and ate in a restaurant that served the foot on the chicken (not getting that in suburban America!)

I would highly recommend taking the buses above ground instead of the Metro below, only because the hallways from entrance to train are very long underground and I walked more than I rode, plus the scenery and the friendlier people are all on the bus.

 

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Your reports are all so encouraging!  Thank you.   I have made a mental note of the hotel Nancy mentioned, as well as the transit and museum pass, and the citymapper app that Curleegirl likes.   And, like bhsol, I am a fan of Rick Steves and would certainly buy his Paris guidebook.   I think I can see myself doing this, though I haven't ruled out a tour group, either.  Maybe both - a week with a tour group, and then add a few days on my own after I have some familiarity with the city to do things not on the group's itinerary.    

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Get a Eurorail Pass.  I did a 30 day pass and had a blast. I went to several major European cities, stayed as long as I liked, and then went on to the next.

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Posted (edited)

My first Europe trip was a trip that began with three days in Paris and then a trip through the Chunnel on the Eurostar and then three days in London.  It was a great trip.  I also did a solo trip through Italy with Globus that was great.  Yes, solo land travels are a much better way to visit someplace than just a port visit and then gone.  I used to do a lot of solo land trips but then I started cruising and liked not having to pack and unpack each day.  

Edited by travelnap

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Posted (edited)

Solo, for me, is truly solo as in independent. No group tours. But I started that young and as an introvert, loneliness never enters my mind.

As others gave said, language doesn't need to be an impediment. In general people are kind and helpful. You'll do fine.

Traveling by yourself is empowering. You realize just how skillful and resilient you really are. If you are a true extrovert who needs others to thrive, then a multi day group tour may be your better option, however. As you mentioned, do a few days totally on your own and it will give you an idea of just how solo you like to be.

I should add, I am a believer that you control your own happiness, so even if on a tour, have plans of what YOU want to do and where to eat on the unscheduled times. Chances are even if the only single traveler, you will meet others. If you want company, do the inviting for others to join you. If no one joins, you will still be doing what you want to do.....not waiting on someone else to invite you.

Edited by mef_57

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8 hours ago, mef_57 said:

Solo, for me, is truly solo as in independent. No group tours. But I started that young and as an introvert, loneliness never enters my mind.

As others gave said, language doesn't need to be an impediment. In general people are kind and helpful. You'll do fine.

Traveling by yourself is empowering. You realize just how skillful and resilient you really are. If you are a true extrovert who needs others to thrive, then a multi day group tour may be your better option, however. As you mentioned, do a few days totally on your own and it will give you an idea of just how solo you like to be.

I should add, I am a believer that you control your own happiness, so even if on a tour, have plans of what YOU want to do and where to eat on the unscheduled times. Chances are even if the only single traveler, you will meet others. If you want company, do the inviting for others to join you. If no one joins, you will still be doing what you want to do.....not waiting on someone else to invite you.

Case in point- I was doing a solo cruise thru Greece (great deal on MSC) and had dinner at an outdoor café  in Mykonos, reading my trusty Rick Steves guidebook for the next days stop in Athens. I had already downloaded the audio Acropolis tour and the audio walking tour.. A young couple came up to me and asked if that was the Rick guidebook. Yup. They mentioned they loved his books but lost theirs prior on the trip. During dinner, I wrote down the directions of how to get to the Acropolis on public transit and then gifted them the guidebook since I already had the audio tour loaded. I ran into those kids up on the Acropolis reading that book. And then several times more on the ship. It's the little things that can change a vacation.

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Posted (edited)

Yes, I've done solo in Europe (and some in Asia too). 

 

Paris is easy to get around. They have a good metro that covers most of where a tourist would go. Generally, I find metro (Subway and light rail) systems easy to use anywhere that has them because stops are well marked and on most maps (or more modernly, map apps), there is generally good signage on system maps and fares.

 

For Paris, I believe you can get a day ticket that can save money & simplify travel. There is a line that serves CDG so, if you travel lightly, you can even take the metro between the airport and your hotel. Last time I was there, the ticket machines would only accept chip cards. Other cards worked with the agents in booths but some stations only have machines. That should be less of an issue now that most US cards have chips.

 

Even busses are easier to use in strange cities now that many have displays showing the next stop. 

Edited by new_cruiser

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On 7/14/2019 at 8:46 AM, mef_57 said:

 . . . .Traveling by yourself is empowering. You realize just how skillful and resilient you really are. . . . .

 Again, thank you all for your encouragement.   I would like feeling empowered!

 

I am an introvert, and I have always been comfortable in my own company.   Yet I can be sociable when the occasion calls for it, especially on vacation - though not overly sociable, being aware of personal safely issues.   As long as I can overcome the (probably irrational) fear of having some problem, or getting lost, or just needing to order in a restaurant, and not being able to find anyone who speaks English, I think I could do this.   I haven't decided for sure, but it is now an option I will seriously consider.  

 

 

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I'm anticipating an extended solo trip to Italy this year. Solo is no problem for me as I have some rather esoteric interests and when on my own, I do whatever appeals to me. When with a group, I frequently visit sites already visited or that have little interest to me.

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12 hours ago, Joanne G. said:

 

 Again, thank you all for your encouragement.   I would like feeling empowered!

 

I am an introvert, and I have always been comfortable in my own company.   Yet I can be sociable when the occasion calls for it, especially on vacation - though not overly sociable, being aware of personal safely issues.   As long as I can overcome the (probably irrational) fear of having some problem, or getting lost, or just needing to order in a restaurant, and not being able to find anyone who speaks English, I think I could do this.   I haven't decided for sure, but it is now an option I will seriously consider.  

 

 

There are apps for that....😉  If you have a smart phone, then there are apps to help with translating, and you may end up communicating by reading the other person's translation app as well.  Also Google Translate will translate written text. You hold the camera part of the phone over the menu and some translation comes up.  Same with signage. 

Also, consider what women travelers did in the last 2 centuries.  They still travelled, but with language dictionaries and Baedecker travel guides.  Maybe they hired a local and others didn't. So if they could do it without smart phones or a stronger global awareness, then you can do it too!

Also, remember pretty much any hotel will have an english speaking staff, and most young people will speak english too. 

Seat61 dot com is a geat website for train travel, particularly for Europe. The author is a Brit, so he writes explanations of how to get from the UK to??? location. He has videos of trips, photos of trains and stations, and takes a lot of uncertainty out of it.  He may even show signage.  You can use YouTube for videos of stations to see signage to see what you may need learn to understand in French.

Also, write down what you need.  If you need a taxi to take you to an address, write it down and show him the paper.  If you  need help finding a train station, write it down and show it to someone.  If you have a pen with you, and paper is large enough, sign scribbling on it for them to either draw a map (carte) or write instructions (that hopefully you can translate later).

This day and age with so many videos, Google Street View, visual maps, there is so much you can review before actual travel that will provide some level of familiarity before you leave the comfort of your home.

I know for some, the biggest hurdle is eating alone.  I tend to take a book to read, others do their journals or review their photos (just remember to never leave camera or phone on the table without your hand on it and purse on your lap).  Or for the first day or two, eat in the hotel restaurant where you will become familiar (and chances are menus will be in english). Or don't mind bringing a picnic meal back to your room if it is comfortable.  After a day or two, you will be more comfortable with your surroundings or abilities and you can venture to a bistro or brasserie for a more local 'french' meal.

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Most restaurants I've been to in Paris have an English menu available if you need it. Generally, you can find someone to help you in English too - though I've found people are more helpful if you at least make the effort to acknowledge the local language by using some tourist French - even just the small effort of saying bonjour and merci. 

 

I started traveling alone long before cell phones. Smart phones make it a lot easier. With Google maps or a maps app, you need never be lost. (But you might want to take along extra power by carrying an external battery as apps using gps tend to be power hungry.)

 

If you are still hesitant to go on your own, you might look into small group trips. I used Intrepid Travel in China and the trip was wonderful - a good balance of planned time and time to explore on our own. Max group size was 15 but our group had 7 plus our trip leader. I was with my husband; the others were solo. That company will pair same-sex solos sharing a room so may attract more solos than ones with a high solo supplement. The trip leader would give us an orientation to each city as we arrived and would help with advice or arrangements if needed - it was very enabling. 

 

I've heard good things about Road Scholar. They have small group trips (though I inquired and they said their max small group size is 24 which is a bit larger than my ideal). 

 

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A friend and I didn't have trouble communicating in port stops in the south of France, Italy, and Greece on a Mediterranean cruise when shopping and ordering lunch and wine, so I shouldn't be so concerned in a cosmopolitan city like Paris.   I was able to order "kaffe & chokolade"  in Copenhagen without knowing a word of Danish on a Scandinavian cruise with a different friend.  Somehow it seems more overwhelming if I am alone, but I really should just get over that.  I will get familiar with all the apps that can help.

 

Having breakfast and dinner at the hotel is a good idea.  Taking a book is another good idea, or these days, simply having a phone will provide adequate distraction.

 

I appreciate all of you taking the time to share your experiences and provide practical advice.  One way or another, I am getting to Paris!  

 

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Preparation is also your friend. The more familiar you are with the areas the more confident you will feel. What I also do is prepare an idea of each day. One must do in the morning, another in the afternoon and find things to fill in (restaurants, random places to stop, etc). Plus this way I understand the transit. I usually keep it pretty loose but it helps me to go with a plan instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything. 

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Did you know Rick Steves also runs a tour company?  I've done his 1 week Paris city stay (with my mom) which was great.  I'm doing his England bus tour soon, this time "solo".  I paid reasonable (compared to cruises) single supplement, but you also have the option of roommate sharing. If you're comfortable traveling independently, then go for it!  But if you'd like a little hand-holding your first time, then check out the tours at his website.

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Yes, I have checked out Rick Steves tours and am giving serious thought to one of his 7-day Paris trips. At first I was turned off by the apparent requirement for all of his tours for packing carry-on luggage only.  I am well aware of all the tips for packing light, but that was still a turn off for me.  Is that enforced?

 

But then I got to thinking - his tours don’t include air, so no one is going to be at the airport checking out my luggage. And since the 7-day Paris tour doesn’t involve bus transport between cities, no one is going to be handling my luggage but me. So I figure I can check a bigger bag if that is my preference. 

 

I agree that his single supplement fee is reasonable, compared to the usual case for solo travel. 

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2 hours ago, Joanne G. said:

Yes, I have checked out Rick Steves tours and am giving serious thought to one of his 7-day Paris trips. At first I was turned off by the apparent requirement for all of his tours for packing carry-on luggage only.  I am well aware of all the tips for packing light, but that was still a turn off for me.  Is that enforced?

 

But then I got to thinking - his tours don’t include air, so no one is going to be at the airport checking out my luggage. And since the 7-day Paris tour doesn’t involve bus transport between cities, no one is going to be handling my luggage but me. So I figure I can check a bigger bag if that is my preference. 

 

I agree that his single supplement fee is reasonable, compared to the usual case for solo travel. 

RS tours strongly encourage light packing  but as long as you can carry it, luggage size is up to  you. Ideal for a stay put city tour.

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On 7/14/2019 at 7:23 AM, Joanne G. said:

I am a fan of Rick Steves and would certainly buy his Paris guidebook.   I think I can see myself doing this, though I haven't ruled out a tour group, either.  Maybe both - a week with a tour group, and then add a few days on 

 

I would encourage you to check out Rick Steves' tours! I went on the Paris, northern France and eastern France tour as a solo and it was fabulous! I went to Paris 5 days early in order to see more...was a great plan.  There were 6 solos on our tour so we had lots of fun together. 

 

The only thing I wish I had done differently is to pay a little more and get my own room. I roomed with a heavy snorer and eventually got a new roommate because I wasn't getting any sleep. 

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1 hour ago, Go-Bucks! said:

 

I would encourage you to check out Rick Steves' tours! I went on the Paris, northern France and eastern France tour as a solo and it was fabulous! I went to Paris 5 days early in order to see more...was a great plan.  There were 6 solos on our tour so we had lots of fun together. 

 

The only thing I wish I had done differently is to pay a little more and get my own room. I roomed with a heavy snorer and eventually got a new roommate because I wasn't getting any sleep. 

Thank you for the encouragement.  Happy to hear you had a fabulous time. I absolutely would  get my own room.  His single supplement seems quite reasonable. I bet it would be a good idea to book early to be assured of single room. 

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So I am doing a 7 day cruise to Norway from Southampton next July and I'm seriously thinking that as long as I'm in Europe I should try to stay a little longer and mark off something on my bucket list.  I am thinking about Scotland as I just watched Outlander and I'm reading the books (I know I'm late to the party).  There are a lot of land tour companies out there and in the past I have been on three of them so I know what to expect.  You might want to look at Gate 1 as they are very economical and they are always running specials. 

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My mom and I did our own independent travel in China and it was the one time I wished we had gone on an organized tour. There was a gate 1 group in the same hotel and they were having a good time. We spoke with a number of them at breakfast and that's who I would likely take for a guided tour in the future.

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I've done 2 solo independant trips (not organized tours) to Europe -  and several more to other places - and they've been wonderful.  The lack of people speaking English was not a problem, and I found that I could manage to communicate perfectly well with people who didn't speak English by using body language, hand gestures, and drawings (if need be)......people were very helpful as long as I made an attempt to be polite and tell them the problem was that I didn't speak their language (as opposed to them not speaking my language). 

 

  • Learn the basics of polite words in their language (please, thank you, excuse me, I'm sorry, I don't speak [whichever language], do you speak [whichever language], etc.) and a few helpful words like "bathroom" and "tickets".  
  • Make sure your cell phone is unlocked, and buy a local SIM card for it -- some countries have packages designed for tourists and give you lots of data for a few weeks or months.
  • Ask at your hotel or the local tourist information center what the local equivalent of 911 is. 
  • See if you can get a transit pass for a few days (again, some places have these, designed for tourists) so you can easily use public transit without worrying about having the correct cash.
  • Most vending machines for things like trains and subways have an English option - look for a language button or option that either says "English" or has a Union Jack symbol
  • Remember you can always "get there from here", so don't be too worried about getting lost - you can catch a cab, a subway, or a bus, etc to get you back where you need to be.   Don't panic - use Google maps on your phone  (that's why you want a local SIM card).  In Tokyo, Google maps even told me which subway station I would need to connect to which bus that would take me to where I wanted to go. 

 

In the last 10 years, I've done (independent, solo) a 2 week trip to Spain, a 2 week road trip in Portugal, a 10 day road trip in New Zealand, and several 3-4 day trips before or after cruises in various places around the world.   In a few months I go on a 4 week trip to Italy - that will be my longest solo adventure.  The world is waiting: get out there!   (The only places I'd consider joining an organized tour would be to countries that are majority-Muslim and so have restrictive opinions on solo women, even at my age (mid 50s) - it would be possible, but I think I'd be happier in a group.)

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On 7/17/2019 at 1:06 PM, Joanne G. said:

I am well aware of all the tips for packing light, but that was still a turn off for me.  Is that enforced?

 

It was on my tour, but I was on a 2 week tour all over the northern part of France... and we did have to carry our own luggage. But its totally doable to pack for 2 weeks in a 22" carryon...I did it.

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