Hello!! I am sooooooo excited to introduce the Faraway Places podcast, a podcast about travel in Paris, France, Europe, and specifically solo female travel! It is an amazing opportunity to hear how weird my voice is and also my genetic inability to say the letters “an” without adding an R to the middle!
Today: 10 strategies/worldviews I use to stay safe while traveling as a solo female traveler — plus, a question — hurrah!!!! — from newsletter reader Sarah, who asked about the best hostel in Paris.
The tl;dr of it:
1. Keep some extra cash on hand (even if our new and basically cashless society)
2. Explore new neighborhoods very slowly
3. See new places with locals through guided tours or Airbnb Experiences
4. Single rooms in hostels offer a budget rate and a hostel’s community
5. Stay in a hotel rather than an Airbnb if there’s any chance of checking in late at night
5A. In order of preference for airport transport to cities: public transport, hotel car service, Uber, cabs
6. Exercise caution with new people
7. Skip Airbnbs with no reviews
8. Uber sucks but offers some security advantages over cabs
9. Practice saying “no” to things you don’t want to do
10. Walk away from confrontations
If you prefer to read rather than listen, please see below.
Faraway Places Podcast #1 (Transcription): How to stay safe while traveling, and the best value Paris hostel
Hey, everybody! Thanks so much for joining me for our very first Faraway Places podcast. The world is an amazing place that is also dangerous in pockets — and these are 10 things that I do pretty much everywhere I go — with one exception that I, nonetheless, strongly recommend coming up first.
Have enough cash with you. I went on my first big trip to London when I was 21 years old, and my mom took 20 bucks out of her wallet and said, “Whatever you do, don’t spend this on snacks.”
Now, obviously I did not listen to her. I immediately went to the airport and spent that $20 on snacks. I think many of us are living a very cashless life at this point, but you just never know what you’re gonna roll into. I remember one time flying into a small, regional airport in Spain and just magically all the ATMs went down as soon as we landed. And if I hadn’t been traveling with my boyfriend, who’s much smarter about these things than I am, I would’ve begging for money from other travelers because I didn’t have enough cash to take the airport bus into the center of the city and we were in the middle of actual nowhere. Just have a little bit of cash, whether in US currency, the local currency, or euros and save yourself a lot of hassle. Low downside, huge upside.
Number two: Take baby steps. Whenever I go to a new place, I obviously do my due diligence. I look at reviews. I read guidebook. I watch YouTube videos. I do all the normal stuff, but there’s no substitute for on-the-ground knowledge.
When I first went to Rio for an amazing, three-month trip, I was staying in an Airbnb. It had great reviews, and that neighborhood, Arpoador, ended up being amazing. But that first night — I’ll tell you what, I got my 10,000 steps in by making 20 little laps around the block where I was staying.
Over time, I added on to that lap, made that lap a little bit bigger every night, until I knew which streets were busy at night, which streets were deserted at night — where I felt safe and where I didn’t feel safe. No amount of preparation is better than taking a look around for yourself.
Number 3: tour groups. I feel like everyone makes fun of tour groups. I’ve had amazing experiences on tour groups. I also suggest Airbnb experiences. There’s no better passport to a place than hooking up — well, not literally. Than connecting with a local. And that local might be giving tours, especially if you wanna get away from like the “tourist areas.”
If you’re in a city, cities are motivated to keep neighborhoods around popular tourist spaces safe and clean because they probably earn a ton of revenue through tourism. But of course, lots of us want to explore away from the main tourist areas. To do so safely, especially in a big city that you’re not familiar with, I really think it pays to take a tour to put some money in the pocket of a local, to take an Airbnb Experience, even though I have a lot of trouble with that company.
I personally have had amazing Airbnb experiences, seeing things that I never would’ve known to look for — without a local, without a car. You’re also in a little group of people, and they might end up being really cool.
Number four: hostels. Hostels are great. I often feel safer in a giant buzzy, big, welcoming hostel than I will as a solo female traveler in a hotel. A couple things with hostels: I feel like hostels are all about determining where exactly your comfort level is. Mine does not include staying in a “mixed” dorm, with male and female travelers.
If I’m going to stay in a dorm, I want it to be female-only. And more likely, if I can afford it, I’m going to stay in a single room. I think some people don’t know that you can actually do like single rooms or even single rooms with your own private bathroom within a hostel. They’re often cheaper than a hotel, and they come with all the hostel benefits of, like, instant travel community. And one of the best things about a single room in a hostel isn’t even just a sleeping experience of, like, knowing you’re in your own space, which I know for many people is a non-negotiable. But also just when you leave to go explore the next day, you can lock that door — you can lock that door behind you and not have to worry about like, getting a locker and not losing your locker key or putting your bag in a bag check or whatever.
I actually feel like one of the sketchiest parts of coming into a new place is simply getting from the airport to wherever you’re going. So this is number five: I always try to stay at a hotel versus an Airbnb because I actually think there’s nothing sort of trickier or potentially scarier than literally going into like an apartment building that’s totally unfamiliar, meeting a stranger, and doing all that stuff in the dark in a new place. So I always try to stay at a hotel my first night. And then also in terms of getting simply from the airport to the hotel, I have a list — like a preferred ways to do that. Number one, if convenient, public transportation. I generally feel really safe on public transportation — depending where you are, of course, but it can be very inexpensive and as soon as you’re in, like, a community of locals, I feel like you’re just less vulnerable. Obviously I try to minimize my outward signs of being a traveler — I mean, there’s not a lot you can do about carrying a bunch of bags, for example, but taking public transportation if possible after that. If I’m staying in a hotel, I’ll actually try to see if the hotel offers a car service, a car shuttle, versus taking my number three and number four choices, which are an Uber or a cab.
I feel like the worst-case scenario with taking a taxi from the airport is literally just like a guy wandering around saying, “Taxi? Who needs a taxi?” and just like you getting into his random car. I don’t feel safe doing that. I do feel safe taking an Uber. I also feel like the whole thing with traveling as a solo female traveler is leveraging powerful entities on your behalf. And in this case, the powerful entity is the hotel or the hotel brand. And they have a vested interest in ensuring that I, as their guest, safely reach the hotel. And that can mean that they contract with safe, reliable drivers who are going to be on time, who are going to be respectful, because they don’t want their hotel to get bad reviews.
So, in order: public transportation, if appropriate. Car service from the hotel, an Uber and then a taxi.
Number six — I guess this is sort of just like a way of being in the world. Now, I have made friends while traveling. I have certainly ended up in long-term relationships with people I’ve met on the road — I’m talking like multiple-year relationships. But I feel that I practice an extremely high degree of caution around new people. I hate to be like all stranger danger, and we’re adults. Hopefully you are traveling with a high degree of intuition about people who make you feel comfortable and not comfortable — and whenever you feel uncomfortable, walking away from those people. This doesn’t mean that I don’t start conversations with strangers. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be a friendly and engaged and engaging person at a bar, restaurant, or a club or wherever I might go. But as soon as I feel uncomfortable, as soon as that person feels fake or manipulative or maybe just too complimentary, as soon as that person just gives me the ick, I’m out. I feel like you need to practice zero tolerance for any sort of shenanigans or weirdness around people that you don’t already know. I feel like this is where bad things can happen. It’s certainly not the majority of experiences with other people, but it does happen and I just want to say no thank you to those situations.
Number seven: This is very specific, and very specific to Airbnb. There are a lot of random people on Airbnb. I feel like everyone’s pretty hip to like not staying somewhere with a poor reviews — but I just want to say, I view no reviews as equally damning as poor reviews. I will not stay at a Airbnb with no reviews. Like, sucks, I’ve been there — I’ve had an Etsy shop with no reviews, and everyone’s like, Oh, that seems like sketch. But I will let someone else — someone bigger and braver and maybe a guy — have that experience first.
The last time I stayed at an Airbnb with no reviews, I ended up in a house in Austin that was perfectly safe, but had no floors and was in the middle of a giant remodel and had a bathroom in the backyard, and it was just like kind of overall crappy. It wasn’t dangerous, but it did suck. So I’m gonna say an Airbnb with poor reviews: obvious, no. But no reviews: equally obvious no.
Number eight. I hate Uber. Uber has done tremendous harm to long-established industries that probably needed change but didn’t need to be nuked. So I have a lot of trouble with Uber, but when I’m a solo female traveler, I feel like prioritizing my safety means taking an Uber over a cab.
Uber has a digital trail that is just useful. If anything messed up happens, people will know who you rode with, where you started and where you went. It’s just helpful information to have should something weird happen.
Number 9 and number 10 are grouped together — and I think especially relevant for Americans. We are raised to say yes. We are raised to be friendly and positive and “How are you?” and “How can I help you?” I think we’re, like, truly a legitimately helpful people. If I was going to have a personal emergency anywhere, I’d want it to be in New York because I feel like as a former New Yorker, I just think New Yorkers are culturally trained to aggressively offer help. I have often been the beneficiary of true help from bypassers in the United States, I think probably more than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
That said, all that friendliness, I think, can get us into trouble. It can make us feel obligated to say “yes” or “sure” or “okay” to situations that maybe feel a little bit off. I would just say if you’re struggling to say no, just lie. If you’re struggling to say no to an invitation or a drink or an offer or a dance or anything — if you feel like you’re being coerced and you don’t wanna have to say no — which I know for a lot of people can be very difficult — just make something up. You have an appointment, a boyfriend, a dog to walk, a headache, medicine to take. I have used probably all of those lies while traveling just to get myself out of situations. We don’t have to be 100% honest with people we’ve just met if they’re putting undue influence on us. I don’t owe anyone that and neither does anyone else.
So if you feel pressured, say no. If you can’t say no, make something up.
And number 10 is sort of an odd corollary to this. When we travel, we, enter the realms of all kinds of people who are struggling with all kinds of things. And if you find yourself in a confrontation that you can walk away from — if someone’s fighting in the street, if they’re fighting someone else, if there’s a physical altercation, if there’s a march happening and you feel like it’s getting a little out of control, down to someone unwell is yelling at you on the street or on the subway.
If you’re in the subway, move to a part of the subway with other people where you feel safer. If a lot of people are getting off, get off with them. Go somewhere safe. Go into a store. If someone’s yelling at you on the street, walk away, walk toward people. If someone’s yelling at you and it’s a deserted street, turn on your heel. I’ve run away from people because they made me feel uncomfortable, and I know it looks ridiculous and you feel stupid and you feel like you’re overreacting, but I honestly think it’s kept me out of some hairy situations.
I would say with all 10 of these tips, dial your intuition up to 10. And as soon as it tells you that you’re not happy with the situation, you’re in, extricate yourself from it, no matter if it feels unpleasant, like saying no, or looks ridiculous, like literally running. I’ve only done it a handful of times, but I’m glad I did because you never know what people have in mind for you.
Okay! So on that super dark note, I am so excited to say that we have a question from reader Sarah B: Which is the best value hostel for a single female traveler to stay in Paris?
My answer is gonna be super annoying, and I’m so sorry, because I haven’t stayed in that many hostels in Paris. I’ve stayed in hostels all over Europe, but not in Paris because I’ve had an apartment there or I’ve had friends there. I do, though, want to give a shout out to a brand that I really like, and that’s Generator. Generator has hostels all over Europe. I’ve stayed at them in Dublin, Venice, and Amsterdam. They have them in Berlin. They just opened one in Times Square. I think they have one in Miami.
The Paris Generator is in a great location, in the 10th arrondissement, and super close to the Gare du Nord. If you’re coming from the airport or you’re coming into the city by train, it’s right there, on Place Colonel Fabien, which is right in the middle of all the cool spots in the 10th, which is super fun.
Something I love about Generator is that they put tons of money into their communal areas, so there’s a great terrace cafe. Their reception areas are always like super busy and super fun, at least when I’ve stayed there.
Now this is like the asterisk with that recommendation, and it is that hostels in Paris can get super expensive, especially in the summer. For me personally, I always look at hostels in, like, big Europeans capitals that might get expensive, like Amsterdam, Venice, for sure, Paris, the Scandinavian capitals [in the off season]. And then in the summer, when prices go up, I transition into Airbnb shares. Especially in Paris, it is amazing, having a Parisian friend or contact who can tell you what bakery to go to and what cafe is good and what cafe is garbage.
Also, it’ll probably be cheaper. I think Airbnb shares [prices] fluctuate, less than hotels and hotel prices coming into the summer. So just looking at Generator [Paris], they actually have rooms tonight, April 2nd, for 35 euros, which I think is really good. That’s a dorm bed in a shared room. But I think that’s a really good place to start. Those prices really do go up. I put in June 9th just as a sample date, and they have — let’s see, a bed in a 10-bed dorm for 78 euros. That’s really pricey. That goes up to 88 euros for a bed in a female-only dorm.
You can get a superior twin with a shared bathroom — and I do, you know, outside of like really problematic public health situations, a shared bathroom is a 100% the way to go, €190. That’s two people so that’s actually not that much more expensive, divided by two, than the the female dorm.
And then it really hikes up at the deluxe twin and queen, with private bathrooms — those go as high as €300, which is pretty wild.
So like I said, it’s complicated. I actually recommend taking a close look at Airbnb shares if you’re open to that. Um, And if you’re into hostels, but not into this one, my personal first choice is always hostelworld.com. And I always set the filter for hostels with a nine-star rating or higher. And then I only look at the last number after the decimal point. I feel like the difference between a 9.0 hostel and a 9.9 hostel is really substantial.
But I would say welcome to Paris! Have an amazing time! And if anyone has questions for future editions of the Faraway Places podcast, or about travel in Paris, in France, in Europe, and especially for solo female travelers, please ask! (By emailing us at email@example.com.)
Okay, have an amazing day! Go Hawks! Go Hawks. Go Caitlin Clark! And I will see you soon. Take care.