Want to fit in as a solo female traveler? Meet the locals

July 5, 2009

Do I look blissed out or what? Here I am at my favorite Villefranche-sur-Mer restaurant, Le Cosmo ... in a photo taken by my favorite waiter, one I've gotten to know during two trips to this gorgeous Mediterranean town.

Do I look blissed out or what? Here I am on the outdoor patio of my favorite Villefranche-sur-Mer restaurant, Le Cosmo ... in a photo taken by my favorite waiter, who I've gotten to know during two solo trips to this gorgeous village on the Mediterranean Sea.

Rather than just OBSERVING the scene -- such as this oneoutside the hip La Vinya del Senyor wine bar near Barcelona's famed Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar -- why not meet the locals hanging out here? Even simple conversations with a place's residents can make your overseas trip much richer.

Rather than just OBSERVING the scene -- such as this one outside the hip La Vinya del Senyor wine bar across from Barcelona's famed Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, in the El Born district -- why not chat with the locals hanging out? Even simple conversations with a place's residents can make your overseas trip much richer.

Those of you who’ve visited UrbanTravelGirl know what a passionate ambassador I am for solo travel. So is Beth Whitman, whose Wanderlust and Lipstick Web site is a treasure trove of info for those chicas who like hitting the road, whether with girlfriends, kids and families, or on their own.

I often am asked by friends—and friends of friends—for tips on visiting foreign countries when you’re female and rolling solo. In fact, I’d planned to write a post with some suggestions… and one of those suggestions is to be open and available to meeting local residents wherever you go. But Beth beat me to the punch, and has a great recent Web site post on “Meeting the Locals: 5 Tips for Solo Travelers.” Be sure to check out her five tips on doing this with purpose—and it’s obviously worked for her, as she’s become friends with folks she’s met on her travels. I’ve done the same, having met and shared my 40th birthday dinner with a charming Irish couple on the French Riviera. I’ve become pals with Parisians I’ve interviewed for travel stories and have developed and maintained real friendships with B&B owners I first met several years ago in Rome.

Of Beth’s five tips, my favorite is her first: “Become a regular.” As she says, “If you’re staying in one location for more than a few days, you can often make local friends if you frequent the same place for coffee or meals (or milkshakes!). It should go without saying, but you’ll have a better chance of being remembered if you are warm and friendly.”

My own corollary: Women traveling solo should ALSO make friends with the waitstaff at these spots. Not only will you often receive more attentive service and great tables from male waiters and bartenders (a HUGE self-esteem boost, especially when they’re cute!), but they’ll look out for you and “protect” you from potentially annoying men who might approach a single woman dining or drinking alone. They’ll stop by your table and chat, making you feel less lonely and loaning you some “street cred” with other patrons, wondering who YOU are to merit such special attention! 

During my two trips to Villefranche-sur-Mer, for example, I’ve become friends of a sort with a gorgeous Gallic waiter (mentioned several months back in a previous post!) at Le Cosmo. I’ve struck up fun and flirty conversations with café baristas near Rome’s Piazza Barberini—one of whom became particularly friendly upon learning I was staying at nearby B&B for several days. And during my early relocation days in Florence, Italy, I made sure to visit the same nearby ristorante and got to know the friendly waiters (while being comped a glass of good Brunello di Montalcino from time to time). They took good care of me every time I stopped in.

If nothing else, you’ll have someone to say bonjour or ciao to when you walk by that restaurant, café or corner market on your way to the next sightseeing adventure… and that CERTAINLY will help you feel much more at home, no matter where you are in the world.

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13 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. kellyecarter  |  July 6, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Great tip Urban Travel Girl! Unlike in Los Angeles, where the waiters and bartenders are wanna-be actors and can’t be counted on to be on the job a week later, often times in Italy at least, this is their career. So chances are they will be there the next time you go back and the time after that and the time after that. When traveling solo, especially to somewhere you’ve visited before, there’s nothing better than having the people you encountered before remember you. It makes it seem like going home to your second family.
    I became friends with waiters in Florence when I visited in 2000 and hung out with them after their shift ended. Three years later when I moved to that city, those same waiters were still working the same restaurant and they always took care of me.
    I love traveling solo. I always take a book or magazine and ask for a table with good lighting. I tell the waiter that I am not in a hurry and give me time between courses. Other travelers always want to know who is the mysteriously confident woman out dining alone. Pretty soon, they’re inviting you to share a bottle of their good wine or sending you an after dinner drink.

  • 2. urbantravelgirl  |  July 6, 2009 at 2:04 am

    Ciao, Kelly — SO true!!! And thanks for mentioning that in so many other places such as Europe, the waiters and baristas at your favorite haunts do this as a CAREER, meaning that you can look forward to seeing them on subsequent trips. And you’re so right that once they meet us and all our fabulousness :-), they certainly remember us when we return! Perhaps it’s because they’re not used to seeing confident, beautiful black women traveling alone that often — but it’s also because we’ve made a point to chat, to flirt, to engage them during our visits.

    And speaking of confidence… ladies, it’s your best accessory. Yes, a pair of great heels and sunglasses never hurts, but that feeling of comfortable belonging transcends languages and cultures the world over. It’s not arrogance, but a sense of self-assuredness that says you’re exactly where you want to be, with the some of the best company you know: YOUR OWN!

  • 3. Vicki Kunkel  |  July 9, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Hey Maureen!

    Great piece! I’ve traveled solo to a lot of places, and always found the experience invigorating!

    (On a side note: I tried to respond to your email to me, but the server keeps rejecting your email address. I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you! :))

  • 4. urbantravelgirl  |  July 9, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Ciao, Vicki — good hearing back from you!

    Yes, I agree… there’s nothing like hitting the road on your own — no matter where you go — to get you back in touch with yourself. Too bad more women don’t know, understand or appreciate just how special that “alone time” can be. Guess we’ll have to be the satisfied ambassadors spreading the word!


  • 5. LaShawn Williams  |  July 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    ANOTHER great piece! You are doing wonders for my plans to get ready for my solo ‘excursion’ for my big “4-0′ next August!

  • 6. urbantravelgirl  |  July 13, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Hey, Ms. LaShawn –
    Glad you’re still inspired! Don’t want to keep you from sharing the big 4-0 excursion with the girls (or whoever else)… but it’s just good to remember that you can and WILL still have a fabulous time even if you’re rolling solo!


  • 7. Sharon  |  August 9, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I did a solo trip and stayed nine days in Florence, Italy this year. It was the BEST! I’ve been to Italy before with a travel group and did all the “touristy” things. I turned into a local fast. I ate like the locals, took afternoon siestas, did tons of walking and just plan enjoyed myself. I did go to a winery and to a private residence for a cooking class — I learned how to make pasta from scratch. I’m an african american who LOVES to travel. I’ve been to Italy, Greece, Quebec, a lot of USA traveling, and spent nine weeks in India. My next stop is France [Paris, Provence, and the South of France], can’t wait. Since I’ve come across your blog and website Maureen, this will be a wealth of information.

  • 8. urbantravelgirl  |  August 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    BRAVA for you, Sharon — a “sister signora” after my own heart! LOL Good for you, not being afraid to hit the road on your own. And I’m thrilled to hear you spent nine days in Florence, my former home in Italy! Just this week, I was sharing some of my favorite local dining spots with a work colleague on her way there — I’m so jealous and wish I could tag along!

    And NOW I’m jealous b/c you’re heading to my OTHER favorite place of the world — France! Paris is my favorite city in the world, and as you’ve seen from my blog, my two most recent trips overseas were to the south of France, with which I’ve fallen madly in love.

    When are you going? Let me know if you need some travel suggestions for Paris, Provence or the south of France/French Riviera. Hopefully I can offer some tips to you and other UrbanTravelGirl readers who want to explore “La France!”

  • 9. Soon2Be30  |  October 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I will turning 30, and at first I was in the process of planning this FABULOUS party, but the more and more I thought about it I came to the conclusion that I could take that money and have a FABULOUS vacation. I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, and I want to go by myself. I would love some suggestions. Florence, Rome, Milan. I really don’t have a lot of time to be a way…4 or 5 nights at the most. HELP PLEASE!! Where to stay, where to go, where to party…where where where. Thanks!

  • 10. urbantravelgirl  |  October 24, 2009 at 2:22 am

    BRAVA to you, Soon2Be30!!! How cool that you want to celebrate your 30th birthday with a potentially life-changing EXPERIENCE! Not that there’s anything wrong with a party, but I think the “big birthdays” — you know, the ones that end in a “5″ and especially a “0″ — deserve something super-special. I

    ‘ll share some tips in my next response (it’s nearly 2:30 am here and I really should get some sleep!), but here’s something to think about. Florence, Rome and Milan are great cities, but if you’ve got five days at the most, you might not be doing yourself the most justice by just breezing through these places. On the flip side, if you’re just doing a “sampler,” then you’ll see where you like best and where you’ll want to return (and you WILL!) on another trip.

    But immediately, I’d suggest you choose two of these at the MOST. Florence and Rome are just 90 minutes apart by Eurostar (the fast train); Florence and Milan are just over two hours. It’s always easier to fly from the States to either Rome OR Milan, as those are the country’s two major airports. So perhaps start in one and then travel to one of the other cities.

    Florence is the smallest of the three and filled with great art and lovely boutiques (not to mention wonderful food). Milan is a big, somewhat sterile city, but might offer more nightlife and certainly great (but pricey) shopping. And Rome has all the incredible millennia-old architecture, fascinating people, wonderful food, AND is a large, major city with more to do than you can fit into a month.

    So think about this and I’ll offer some more specific suggestions in my next post. I’m so psyched about your big birthday plans!


  • 11. hitch mount bike rack  |  May 31, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Your article seems interesting, i have noted it my digg and stumble account.The point you are making is easy to understand and effective.

  • 12. Krista  |  November 1, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    I travel every year to a place I’ve never been. A few times I knew of a friend traveling at the same time so we met up for New Years Eve once in Paris and another time in Berlin. It always helps to knowHello, please, thank you and do you speak English in the language of the country you are visiting. P.S. I have always traveled alone and I’ve not had a bad experience yet and I write in a journal everyday :o)

  • 13. Ginger Kolacki  |  November 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for the post. I thought it was interesting.

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