To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. -Freya Stark (1893-1993)
[This post was updated in November, 2020]
After more than 18 solo trips to France, I have collected many tips for women who are considering travelling alone in France. While it’s not a new phenomenon to travel by oneself in a foreign country, it is still occasionally looked upon with bewilderment…..that one needs guts to do this.
My travel tips for solo travellers are not usually found on your typical “how-to” lists, but they are “tried and true” tips that have worked quite well for me. They cover safety, tech, dining and other pieces of advice that are, quite frankly, helpful for men and women, first-timers and experienced travellers to France.
Table of contents
- Tips For Meeting People When You’re Travelling Alone
- Safety And Security Tips
- Transportation Tips
- Communication And Technology Tips
- Money Tips
Tips For Meeting People When You’re Travelling Alone
Being alone in France doesn’t have to mean you have to feel lonely. There are so many opportunities to strike up a conversation. Here are a couple of anecdotes where the situations definitely added some variety to my travels.
1. Dinner Conversation
Going to Paris alone is probably one of the easiest places to visit, especially for your first time to France. It’s geared towards tourists with so many famous sites like the Eiffel Tower, so you’ll never be bored. Many “solo travellers” choose Paris as well, so you won’t have a hard time meeting others.
Start talking to those who are seated beside you at dinner. While eating dinner at the great restaurant, Brasserie Bofinger in Paris one time, I wrote about the meal in my journal. With each course I had an engaging conversation with the waiter. Halfway through the meal two women from California who were sitting at the table beside me asked me if I was a restaurant critic because they saw me taking notes and speaking to the waiter. I had a chuckle and explained what I was doing-—just writing in my journal to remember the experience. We had a wonderful conversation about the iconic restaurant we were in, the sites in Paris, and other traveller’s tips.
In Lyon, I was searching for a restaurant and met a couple from Scotland who were doing the same thing. We hooked up, found a restaurant (La Meuniere), and had dinner together. What a spontaneous way to have a great dinner conversation.
Moral of the story: you are never really alone. If you choose to seek out people it can be as easy as talking to the person at the table beside you or people standing at the front of a restaurant scanning the menu. Your entire meal becomes more memorable and enjoyable.
2. Wine Tasting
Many years ago I was visiting a number of wineries in Provence—the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region to be specific. I dropped into one winery for a “degustation” (wine tasting) and was escorted to the back area where I met up with the owner.
He opened a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine and we talked about the wine, the region, and the business–in French. He was an old Frenchman, the type you would imagine seeing in the movies, a bit gruff but charming.
After a few glasses, he said I had to try another wine. This time a Gigondas. So he opened that bottle and I had another glass, followed by more conversation and finally, I said I needed to go. I said I would buy a couple of bottles of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and all of a sudden he said he was giving me a bottle of the Gigondas as a gift. How sweet. See, the French are friendly!
Moral of the story: get to know the locals. They ARE interesting!
3. Take A Course Or A Tour
Some of my favourite “alone” experiences had me attending French language classes. One of the best was at Ecole des Trois Ponts in Roanne, west of Lyon. I have been four times as I wrote about it in this post: I will definitely go back. We were in small classes (ie. 4 students, 1 teacher) and practising our French at mealtime really brought the group (about 15) together. You can’t help but bond when you are all struggling at times with improving one’s French. There was a lot of laughter and a definite improvement in our facility to use the language.
I have also taken cooking courses (ie. at Le Foodist), baking classes (Le Cordon Bleu Making Macarons), and walking tours (ie. Food tour near Canal Saint Martin and the Paris During World War II tour) so there are so many opportunities to learn and speak French.
Moral of the story: you are never too old to learn and taking a class or course can “kill two birds with one stone” as they say—meet people who have similar interests and learn at the same time!
Safety And Security Tips
I would think that the number one question that solo travellers have is this: is France safe for solo travel? My answer: yes, if you are prepared. It’s also my concern. And as a woman, I have to be extra careful. Here are my preventative tips:
4. Leaving Travel Plans With Someone You Trust
I always provide a family member with my itinerary details (including the accommodation phone numbers) so they know where I’ll be and can reach me.
5. Leaving Your Itinerary For The Day
Whenever I leave for the day to explore the city, I leave a note on the table in the place I am staying. It simply states where I am going for the day. Have you ever heard of hikers getting stranded in the mountains and no one knows where they are? I want to be sure that if I am stranded somewhere, at least someone will know where I am.
6. Leaving Medical Assistance Information
I also leave a note in case I need medical assistance. My note provides information about my travel medical insurance and my emergency contacts. It is written in both English and French and is something like this:
IF I AM UNABLE TO CONTACT MEDICAL ASSISTANCE:
Please contact [My Insurance Company] ASAP to ensure my medical costs are covered!
- Call collect: [Phone number] through an operator. [Calls from France: XXXXXXX]
- My Identification Number is: XXXXXX
- My Name: Janice Chung
- My Address: XXXXXXXXX
- Contact emergency contacts and their phone numbers:
7. Contact Information (Hotel, House)
Add the phone number and address of the hotel or apartment/house that you are staying at into your cellphone or at the very least carry it on you. I was once in the Alsace and the gate to the property was closed. My friend and I had to hop a fence to get in!
8. Carry Your Cellphone With You
Carry your cellphone with you at all times. And I mean ALL times—-even taking out the garbage. I know it sounds crazy, but I was paranoid I’d lock myself out of the house or apartment I was renting and the only way back in would be to call the owner.
9. Have Your Identification With You
All European Union (EU) and foreign nationals (ie. Canadians, Americans, etc) must carry a form of identification (ie. passport or national identity card.) on them as police may ask to see it (besides going through borders). Keep your passport locked up in your hotel room. Do not carry it with you. Carry a photocopy of the passport instead.
I have had long and short journeys by car, train, plane and a few problems along the way, so here’s how you can avoid getting into sticky situations like I have on occasion:
10. Paris Metro
I know a lot of us like to pass the time looking at our smartphones when we are in lineups or just waiting for something. Do not do this on the Paris metro and definitely don’t do it if you are sitting by a door. I have heard of groups of thieves who will suddenly grab your phone out of your hand when the subway makes a stop. They’ll dash out and hand it to one of their accomplices.
11. Train Travel: Seats
When booking your seat on a train, be careful which seat you choose. They don’t all face in one direction. You could be in a two-seat configuration that faces another two seats. Fine if you know the people, but much less privacy if you don’t.
12. Train Tavel: Double-Check Which Platform
Confirm your destination and that you’re boarding the right train. I always double-check with railway personnel on the track and a passenger on the train. I made the horrible mistake of getting on the wrong train once. It was headed south from Paris but not as far as Barcelona a few years ago. I had to get off partway through the trip and buy another ticket. That was a costly mistake.
13. Renting A Car
Be sure to pay for roadside assistance. It is NOT usually included even though your key fob may have the phone number on it. Check out my experience with using roadside assistance.
14. Leasing A Car
It’s a better deal if you need a car for longer than 21 days. Check out my post on “Leasing a car” to see all the benefits it includes.
I purchased a GPS many, many years ago and would often bring it with me because the car rental agencies charge a fortune to rent one. It’s usually not included in the car unless you are leasing the car. The downside is that it takes up room in my luggage but the upside is that it always alerts me when I am going over the speed limit. Just something to consider. Perhaps borrow a friend’s if you can. The worst case is that you use your smartphone.
16. Google Maps
Use both a GPS and Google Maps when driving. I did this because reception in the countryside is sometimes spotty and your Google Maps just won’t work well. But GPS tends to be better. I like Google Maps especially when I am in a town as it tends to be more up-to-date and easier to use (ie. nearest bank).
17. Discourage Car Break-ins
Remove the cover to the car trunk and keep the trunk empty. When driving to tourist spots or even just parking my car rental, I wanted any overly curious people who passed by to see that there was nothing valuable in the car. Sometimes rental cars will have a sticker on it, basically highlighting that it is a rental car. So you’re an obvious target for thieves.
Communication And Technology Tips
Thanks to technology I am always connected to family and friends when I travel. Here’s what I do:
18. Get A Cellphone
I know a lot of travellers just rely on wifi to send emails and make calls (ie. using What’s App); however, let me make a case for getting a mobile telephone plan with data and the ability to make calls. The calls outside of France might be a bit pricey but in an emergency ti will come in handy.
When I rented a car and was having problems, I needed a cellular line because not all companies accept data calls. In fact, it turned out during my “roadside assistance” nightmare [LINK] that I was unable to reach Hertz because my plan would not allow me to do 1-800 numbers. So, here are some ways around that problem.
19. Get Skype
Get a free Skype account and add $5.00 and use it to make calls. It was a godsend when I had to change flights when I was in France during the Coronavirus. Calls are incredibly cheap (ie. cents) and it was so much easier (and cheaper) than using my cellphone plan.
20. Calls Using Data
Do sign up with What’s App or use Facebook Messenger or some other plan that allows you to make phone calls using data. It will still come in handy.
21. “No” To WiFi
Do not use Wifi in airports, hotels, or restaurants. It’s too easy for thieves to “spoof” a Wifi network. You “think” you’re logging into your hotel’s Wifi network, but is turns out it isn’t. Instead, use your cellphone plan’s data.
You’ve spent thousands of dollars on a trip, taken vacation time, and meticulously planned out your itinerary. The last thing you want are financial problems. I’ve run into them more than once but I have learned what to do and not do.
22. Important Numbers On Hand
List of important numbers: when I took a 2 month trip to France, I made a list of all my important numbers (ie. credit card numbers, passport numbers, etc) and made photocopies of those cards/documents.
I gave my sister this list and copies in case I forgot or lost the information. And in case I had to call her, we agreed to a “code word” so she’d know for sure that it was me. You might have heard about long lost grandchildren supposedly calling their grandparents for money because they are stranded in another country. I didn’t want this to happen to my sister.
23. Notifying Financial Institutions In Advance
I called my credit card companies and banks in advance notifying them of my travels. Nowadays, many companies will say you do NOT have to call them to notify them of your trip; however, I do anyways. Sadly, even though I did this, Scotiabank really screwed up and cancelled my card because they said I did not reply to them about a foreign purchase. Turns out their fraud department never did contact me AND it was cancelled at the end of my trip after I had used the card for 9 weeks. (Check out my post about all the problems I encountered with credit and debit cards during that trip and how I had to deal with resolving them)
24. Carry More Than One Card
Carry more than 1 credit card (and debit card) based on the previous problem. A few years ago I discovered the Le Bus Direct machine at Charles de Gaulle airport did not take Mastercard, only Visa. Glad I had one of each. [The Le Bus Direct website now shows that Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Diners Club are accepted, but I am not sure about their machines or if things have just changed.]
25. Hide Those Extra Cards And Cash
Your extras bank cards and Euros should be kept separate from one another, and possibly in a money belt where the items are ‘hidden”. Never put valuables in your luggage when you are on the go (ie. flying, taking a bus or train). It’s too easy for things to be stolen.
Travelling to France and around the world by yourself can be an amazing experience and while it can take you out of your comfort zone sometimes, it does make you grow. I hope these tips have been helpful and beneficial.
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