Travelling alone while female is a topic that has been well-trod basically since the first woman left her house with no chaperone and galloped right out of town, shocking everyone. Personally, I’m a fan of the solo travel experience – I know that many people of all genders are not for a variety of reasons, but travelling alone allows you to become uncomfortable and subsequently comfortable with yourself, with being by yourself and having no one to bounce ideas off of, with having no one to make decisions with, and ultimately, with having no one to answer to. I recommend it. I’ve been a solo female traveller in the Pacific Islands, in South Korea, parts of Europe and America – of course, I recommend it!
But there’s always a ‘but’. Last week I went to Paris alone for a few days. It was not my best trip ever, much of it because I was sexually harassed multiple times (something I reflected on here), but despite that, Paris is and always will be wonderful, and having a few bad experiences is not enough to swear off going places alone.
It got me thinking that there are some general tips for travelling solo while female, but there are also some that are more specific to Paris itself. I do not agree with the overly adamant assertion that woman don’t need to take extra precautions that men do not have to take when moving through the world, or that common sense will solve all problems – that’s never been true domestically and it sure as hell isn’t true when you’re travelling, no matter what any travel blogger tries to tell you.
In that spirit, some ideas for travelling alone in Paris while female:
Practice your resting bitch face
Unlike some other countries, eye contact alone is enough for many a man in Paris to feel validated in pursuing you. Even a shake of the head after accidental eye contact may not deter them straight away, so sunglasses and a resting bitch face are a great investment to avoid the whole rigmarole all together.
There will be touching
Yep. It sucks. But be prepared for men to grab at you – your arms and hands and shoulders in particular. I’m a blonde, and blondes in many parts of Southern Europe, but also including Paris, get a lot of unwanted attention thanks to our lovely locks. So if you’re in the blonde family, gird your loins.
Be firm and don’t stop walking
There is a certain….resilience to the men in France when it comes to really digging their heels into their sexual harassment. What I’ve found is that while someone may try to spit some game at me in America or elsewhere, they generally won’t follow me down the street, or refuse to drop my arm so they can kiss my hand repeatedly. Expect this in Paris. Be firm, say no, and don’t stop walking. Oh and some French terms to help: laisse-moi tranquille – leave me alone; ne me touchez pas – don’t touch me; va t’en – go away; casse-toi – Fuck off (that last one is pretty rude so use it wisely, I guess!)
Like any good Girl Scout would be. Know generally where you are heading to avoid getting a map out, keep your wits about you (don’t use headphones with loud music, for example), be aware of your surroundings to make sure you aren’t being followed, always have a spare battery or a charger for your phone, and when possible, let someone know where you will be, even if that person is at home. Never keep all your valuables in one area in one bag, and make sure someone at home has a photocopy of your passport page, driver’s license, and bank card/credit card.
Research before you go out – what are the common scams in that area? In France there are a few common ones- bracelet scammers at the Sacre Coeur, gypsy children asking you to “sign a petition” in Montmartre and elsewhere, water sellers who “accidentally” give back the wrong change in a variety of coins hoping you won’t notice. Preparation is key and will help you complete avoid a few tough spots. How do people dress? In France, they generally adhere to a more covered up policy when it comes to women’s fashion – you won’t find much cleavage on display, or short shorts. I am NOT saying that you need to dress any certain way (rock that short short/crop top combo if your heart tells you to!) but if your hopes are to blend in, keep the local style in mind and aim for that as it will keep you from standing out as much, and thus prevent you from becoming a target for any unsavory types in the area.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Some people are horrible. But lots of people aren’t. France and Paris in particular, is one of the best places in the world to go solo – cafes and museums galore, a culture that doesn’t think twice about a person eating alone, a general “live and let live” attitude that has always made me love the country and its people. It’s very chill. That same mantra also makes it a great country to be by yourself in. But if you are uncomfortable, ask for help. Go to the police (who are everywhere!), go into a bistro or brasserie and ask to be seated somewhere out of sight. Do what you need to do to feel safe.
Be extra picky with your lodgings
Aim for a hotel that is in a somewhat crowded area and near a metro stop (but not a major train stop, as there are lots of pickpockets and scammers around those – Gare du Nord for example). This is particularly important if you plan on being out late and getting home after dark. Maybe spend a few extra quid and go for the solo room or ladies only section at your hostel. And do what you can to keep your room safe. At my hotel, I made sure that my door was double locked and then also put a chair in front of it. Some women invest in door stops to prevent entry, which is also a great idea. And don’t tell strangers where you are staying!
Trust your instincts
Really, trust yourself. If something feels icky, get the hell out of there. If a dude is nice, but in that “nice guy” way and you’re feeling bad vibes, GTFO. You owe no one anything. Take care of yourself. Be cautious. But be open to meeting new people – there are so many helpful and friendly people in Paris (and in the world). Be open to that side too.
This could seem like Paris is full of lechers waiting to snatch you up, and it truly isn’t that way – Paris is a great place for travellers, and for solo female travellers in particular! I have just found that it’s risks are slightly different than other places that I have been alone. #NotAllFrenchMen in case that needs reiterated. Have fun in Paris, and be safe!