Northern Europe For Solo Female Travellers – 5 Stunning Recommendations

When I first ventured into the northern parts of Europe (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), I did not realize how delighted I would be with its intrinsic beauty, the lack of crowds and the simplicity of the inhabitants. Even though I’ve explored a bit of the Baltics (read – The Romance of Riga), I still have to see most of northern Europe. Sometime back, I asked my solo travel pals for their recommendations, and here is what they suggested:

Reykjavik – Iceland

Reykjavik (Courtesy: Natasha & Cameron)

Reykjavik (Courtesy: Natasha & Cameron)

Recommendation by Natasha & Cameron – The World Pursuit

“Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, meaning it is fantastic for all solo female travellers. Its capital, Reykjavik, doesn’t feel like your typical capital at all. It’s small, charming, and quiet with no skyscrapers ruining the view. Iceland was one of the first countries I ever travelled to by myself, and I have fond memories of its people, landscapes, culture, and my time in Reykjavik.

Only 120,000 people call this place home. Its small size means you won’t feel nervous or unsafe walking around here – even at 2 am. Honestly, with a country so beautiful, the main danger is Mother Nature, so it’s important to hike and venture out with some knowledge of the land and its conditions. Reykjavik is also such a fantastic capital city because there are so many things to do just outside of it! It still blows me away that only 10 minutes from Iceland’s capital you can find yourself deep in the heart of beautiful nature.”

Vilnius – Lithuania

Vilnius (Courtesy: Nicola Lavin)

Vilnius (Courtesy: Nicola Lavin)

Recommendation by Nicola Lavin – All About Rosa Lilla

“I was blown away by Lithuania’s capital city and the breathtaking design of its medieval Old Town – the largest in all of central and eastern Europe. With its bustling cafe scene, hip pub culture and beautiful architecture, it is not hard to completely fall in love with Vilnius. Despite its turbulent history, Lithuanians are proud of the independence they achieved in 1990 – the first Soviet republic to do so. It was so heartwarming to see the flags hung so proudly, and at night, to watch the buildings lit up in red, yellow and green. Not too touristy, this is the perfect place to be a solo traveller. Nearly everything is within walking distance. I felt completely safe walking the streets here. Also, Vilnius is one of the cheapest European capitals I’ve travelled in, so your Euro goes a long way.

There is so much to see and do in this wonderful city, even if it is just wandering the streets to check out the cool street art. I used to think that graffiti makes a city look messy but I’ve completely changed my mind since visiting Vilnius. They take street art to a whole new level. Think Putin and Trump sharing a joint! There are many beautiful pink baroque churches, and if you fancy something completely different, visit Užupis. Užupis is a self-declared Republic within the city of Vilnius, often compared to the Montmartre region of Paris. Here you will find the funniest constitution that residents follow as you spend the day enjoying the laidback boho vibes of the area. There is plenty to love about Vilnius and I really hope you consider visiting for yourself.”

Dragør – Denmark

Dragør (Courtesy: Anjali Chawla)

Dragør (Courtesy: Anjali Chawla)

Recommendation by Anjali Chawla – Travel Melodies

“A sleepy little cute old town near the sea coast, virgin forests and meadows, -Dragør is a delight to visit. Just 12 km southeast of Copenhagen, this old fishing town is historically, culturally and naturally vibrant. The town offers the taste of authentic Denmark and the best views of the Øresund Bridge as it spans across to Sweden. Its narrow cobblestone streets and colourful low thatched roof houses from the 1700’s seem like a perfect setting for a slow stroll. The cottages adorned beautifully with vibrant flowers add romance to the whole experience.

Denmark has been ranked as one of the safest countries for solo women travellers in the world. Safety-index ranking, friendly and helpful locals, intimate vibe, and its small size (13,000 inhabitants) make Dragør a perfect choice for solo-female travellers. The public transport system is easy to navigate and one of the best in the world. It takes 30 minutes by bus line 350S from Copenhagen and 12 minutes by line 35 from the airport to reach this charmingly quaint town of Denmark. Bicycling around the town and along the coast is the best way to feel the essence of Dragor.”

Tallinn – Estonia

Tallinn (Courtesy: Allison Green)

Tallinn (Courtesy: Allison Green)

Recommendation by Allison Green – Eternal Arrival

“If you’re looking for an offbeat travel destination in Northern Europe, you should consider visiting the Baltic States on your next trip. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a great place for solo female travellers. It’s incredibly safe and there are plenty of hostels with nice, modern design where you can easily meet other fellow travellers. Street harassment is very uncommon in Tallinn (and in Northern Europe in general) so you are able to let your guard down a bit, compared to bigger Western European cities.

There are countless things to do in Tallinn that are perfect for solo enjoyment, such as exploring the local coffee shops, window shopping at Telliskivi Creative City, checking out the street art in Kalamaja, browsing the KGB Museum or the KuMu art museum, or just wandering around and photographing the stunning Old Town which has been preserved extremely well from its medieval roots. Tallinn is easily walkable and the public transportation infrastructure is excellent for a city of its size, making it a great choice for solo travellers.”

Vik – Iceland

Vik (Courtesy: Kristin Addis)

Vik (Courtesy: Kristin Addis)

Recommendation by Kristin Addis – Be My Travel Muse

“Vik in Iceland is one of my favourite places for solo travel. It is absolutely beautiful, with several waterfalls nearby. Easy to access along Iceland’s Ring Road, Vik is not too far from Reykjavik if you don’t have a full week to explore the full Ring Road. Besides, Iceland is the safest country on earth right now! That ticks all of my boxes for the perfect spot to travel solo. It is easy to reach on a tour, by public transport, or my preferred method – a camper van.”

Ever been to the Baltics or the Nordic countries?

Have more suggestions for solo female travellers visiting Northern Europe?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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Preserving Your Travel Memories on Travelibro

I was looking back at all of the trips I did last year, and I realized I couldn’t even recall a few! On an average, I had been on at least one trip a month in 2015. If I struggled to remember 12 destinations, I would certainly find it it a task to remember 12 times the-number-of-years-I-live (assumiing I keep up my pace of travel for the rest of my life 😉 ).

As I flipped through my Poland album (see What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), I was suddenly gripped by the fear that I would someday forget all about those wonderful moments I spent there.

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

I knew there were myriad ways I could store all the pictures, but I wanted to keep a trace of the path I took at every place I went. That is when I stumbled upon Travelibro. This site showed me (and quite literally with its video and user-friendly prompts) how I could preserve some practical bits of my trips so I would never have to worry about forgetting anything.

My travel map on Travelibro

My travel map on Travelibro

After I created my account on the website, I could colour the world map with all the places I have already seen (and also pick those on my bucket list). I quickly filled up the list of countries as I went through one photo album after another, remembering my moments in every place I have been.

I stopped at Colombo (see First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and longed to plan another trip there.

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Travelibro created a neat little travel tracker for me with the flags of the countries on a timeline. I have only been to 10 countries so far, and that makes me a “globe trotter” already on the site. 🙂

Tracking countries on a timeline

Tracking countries on a timeline

After I marked my countries, I got to the task of documenting my trips. I started with Latvia (see The Romance of Riga). The process of creating an itinerary is very simple on Travelibro – you pick your country, the cities you have been to, the dates of travel, the type of trip (adventure, budget, romantic, etc.), the places you stayed at, the restaurants you ate at and the activities you recommend. Most of these have preloaded options to guide you. You can then start telling your stories (by each city/town/village) and create a day-by-day plan. You obviously get to upload pictures with captions and finally select the cost of your trip before you publish it for the world to see.

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

I currently have most of my recent foreign itineraries up on Travelibro. Do visit my profile – http://travelibro.com/users/oindrila-de. It will be fun swapping itineraries and taking travel tips from the growing community of travellers and travel bloggers on the site!

For those who prefer flash-packing, do check out their On-The-Go app feature. It lets you create shared timelines with your travel buddies on the fly with simple things such as check-ins, photo uploads and status updates.

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

I understand that many travellers prefer to have their hands held through the tedious process of preparing for a trip (think booking flights, hotels, planning the itinerary etc.). I have also gone through moments when I wished I could outsource the boring stuff to an agent, especially when I was planning a trip to Lithuania (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) – applying for a visa was a real hassle! If you like to relax while someone else plans your trip for you, Travelibro has something that will make you smile! You can choose from a collection of travel agents to bear your headache for you.

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Of course, there are many of us who truly enjoy the task of planning every bit of our trip. (And I belong to this group.) Travelibro lets you search for itineraries (created by real people who have actually undertaken those trips) by destination and type (luxury, business, roadtrip, etc.), so you can look for some inspiration. Do read their blog posts for useful tips!

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

The site also interfaces with Skyscanner for flight search and Homestay for accommodation search. Now, you can’t even blame laziness for not taking that long-pending trip! 😀

We are never the same people when we travel. It changes us in beautiful ways. If you ever forget how fulfilled you felt when you just returned from a trip, you will thank yourself for storing your memories on Travelibro.

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

I read my own itinerary for Czech Republic a while back and remembered I haven’t written about it on this blog yet. Now, I know I won’t have to wrack my brains to recollect all my experiences there.

How do you record your travel memories? Let me know by commenting below!

Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad

I had been running various long distance stretches for almost two years, and half marathons in particular for about nine months. I did not think I was ready for what I was about to do in September 2015. But I took a leap of faith in myself and decided to do it anyway. A little more than a month before the D-day, sitting in my room in Mumbai, I booked my slot for the Vilnius Half Marathon. And that, my friends, is how this story started!

The pacers gather before the marathon

The pacers gather before the marathon starts

The Quest

For someone who had never run outside of Mumbai, this was BIG! I had not even run in a different Indian city or even Asian for that matter. One fine afternoon, when I was possessed by the idea of vacationing in Europe and running while I was at it, I started searching for half marathons in the continent. I had to park various marathons because they were either too expensive or had a qualifier which I did not meet or would have water/snack stations more than 5km apart (I just need something to sip/eat every 2km). When I came across the Danske Bank Vilniaus Maratonas, I had a feeling this one was made just for me – affordable, no qualifier, snack stations every 2 kilometers and also an English version of the site (and that is rare for European marathon sites, believe me)! 🙂

Who wouldn't want to run on roads like these!

Who wouldn’t want to run on roads like these!

The Litmus Test

I had a few challenges to conquer before I reached Lithuania. Firstly, the Lithuanian consulate in Mumbai does not do visa processing. But more on that later (in a different blog post). Secondly, if you participate in extreme sports (and marathons are considered extreme sports), you need a special kind of visa and your travel insurance amount goes up. I only had about a month to get to Vilnius and I had so much to do – book flights, plan my stay, arrange for documents for the Schengen visa… sigh! Administrative worries aside, I would also have to train for the run. With a full-time job that ate up most of my weekday time, I barely had weekends to get any running done. (And we all know weekends are sacred days meant for resting, partying and catching up with friends! 😛 )

The Neris River which flows all the way from Belarus!

The Neris River which flows all the way from Belarus!

Silver Linings

With the challenges though, came innovative solutions. I figured out my visa and tickets and everything bit by bit. I realized it is very easy once you tackle just one thing at a time. And for the marathon training, I joined a high-intensity cardio and pilates workout class in my office building. It did not seem to make much sense in the beginning. (Why would I waste my time worrying about flexibility and upper body strength when I would actually only need strong legs!) I thought initially that the post-work sessions were doing little else than raising my heart rate for those 45 minutes. But as the days progressed, I found that I was running better as my core muscles strengthened. My strides had become longer due to the increased flexibility in my legs. And as I had expected, my heart learnt to cope better with a faster heartbeat for prolonged durations. I had never trained for any run like this before. I would only rely on running, and simply more running. But only time would tell if this new regime would make a difference to my finishing time!

First Impressions

When I was finally in Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania), my Airbnb hosts were delighted to learn that I was going to be running. When I went to pick up my race-packet, I could feel the excitement building up. The volunteers wanted to take pictures with me and the locals were excited to see a foreigner from a faraway country. I must tell you now that I was the only Indian (and possibly the first one ever) to be participating at the Vilnius half marathon (I still can’t believe I hold that record 🙂 ).

Vingis Park from a bridge above

Vingis Park from a bridge above

The Goody Bag

The running kit had the usual suspects – my running bib, instruction sheets for the half marathon and some freebees (beer can, porridge mix, cod liver oil tablets, ankle guards and cold gel for pain relief). I was really thrilled though to see them give a complimentary energy gel. It is so hard to find one in Mumbai’s sports or medical stores. (I have been hunting for carbo snack gels for many months now, hoping some store would finally stock up, but no luck there.) You can only hope to order online or if you are one of those wealthy elite marathoners, buy gels from your trips abroad.

View from the bank - Vilnius cityscape

View from the bank – Vilnius cityscape

It’s All About Money, Honey!

People think running is the cheapest sport one can pursue. What does one need after all, save for a decent pair of shoes? Let me debunk that myth for you. As you have more runs behind you, you realize the importance of shoes with special features – extra cushion at the soles and ankles, form and memory retention, pronation-control, and what not! These sort of shoes from big brands cost you upwards of INR 7000. And because you don’t want to wear only one pair out, you invest at least in two. Then there is the question of good running clothes – tees and shorts/track pants made of sweat wicking (ordinary cotton can absorb sweat and become heavy) and anti-chafing material (most fabrics will cause rashes when they continuously rub against your skin). Depending on the brands you hanker after, this should set you back by another few thousand rupees.

The expenses rise if you are a woman. You additionally have to invest in some excellent quality high-impact sports bras (the yoga-variety simply won’t give you enough support). And because we like to be fashionable, the colour and design element will make it impossible for those to cost anything less than 3 grands. Many pro runners wear fitness bands, waist belts and hydration packs and carry all their gatorade, water and carbo-gels on their person. Some special trail marathons also require you to have a Road ID which can only be imported from USA. (Looks like I’m digressing from my theme.)

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Marathon Day

Few moments compare to those I experience when I am running. On 13th September, 2015, I woke early and prepared me a nice meal of oats with yogurt. Vilnius was unusually cold for its summery September that morning. It must have been 9 degrees Celsius outside. For someone who had only run in humid Mumbai with the temperature seldom dropping below 20, it was fricking cold! I was almost about to wear stockings, but I stopped short of such buffoonery and got on with some thick moisturizing. When I stepped out of the temperature controlled house, I was hit by the gust of icy winds. Maybe I am exaggerating, but how else do you feel in flimsy sweat-wicking clothes when you’d rather wear an overcoat.

On that lovely morning, all modes of transport had been closed around the marathon route. That meant, I would have to walk 3km to the starting tents. It was good in a way as that gave me a chance to warm up well and adjust to the cold. Even the local runners found it cold! When I reached Cathedral Square (where all the runs would begin), I was dazzled by the carnival-like atmosphere! That day, Vilnius truly was a “marathon town”! There were runners from so many countries! Hundreds of locals had come out to cheer for us. I met a Polish girl who was running a half marathon for the first time in her life, and was the only runner from her village. We had decided to run together.

The amphitheatre inside Vingis Park

The amphitheatre inside Vingis Park

The Route

Despite such a huge international crowd, the announcements proceeded in Lithuanian. We knew it was time to run only when the runners before us started running. 😛

By now, you must have had a view of some of the places that my half marathon route took me through. I was so mesmerized by the natural beauty and old-worldly charm of Vilnius that I just had to stop and take a few snaps. We ran over bridges with the River Neris looking up at us from below, through the Vingis Park – the largest and most imposing park in Vilnius, past a stadium, an amphitheatre and a church, up a hill, on a forest trail with trees lining our narrow path, and up and down the undulating cobblestoned roads of the Old City. The run did not feel boring for even a second. We were entertained by several international bands, drummers, percussionists and dancers along the way.

And...this is how I became the first Indian to run the Vilnius Half Marathon

And…this is how I became the first Indian to run the Vilnius Half Marathon

After the Run

The Vilnius Half Marathon was easily the toughest one I had run so far. Notwithstanding, I clocked my best ever time! 🙂 The credit goes not only to the new workout, but also to the clean air and the resounding support of the volunteers and spectators.

I did not have the energy after the run to wait for a free massage or stand for my turn in the shower-truck, so I stopped to buy a kibinai (a local delicacy) and after that filling snack, started for my long walk back to the flat. That morning, I had walked/run for more than 27km! When I reached my host’s place, she had a little surprise waiting for me! 🙂

My host made me comfort food for after my run! :-)

My host made me comfort food for after my run! 🙂

It was the sweetest and the most useful thing any host could do for a tired and hungry runner! She had made me cottage cheese and potato pancakes and left a couple of cute notes on how to eat them.

Vilnius saw me through my very first international marathon. I will hopefully go on to run many more runs abroad. But this one will always be the first. Always the most special – where it all started. I don’t have more pics from the run, but you can watch this video to see what it felt like:-

Have you ever run outside your home country? Or been on a “runcation”? I would love to hear your experiences! 🙂