I’ve traveled solo all over the world-from Thailand to New Zealand to numerous places in Europe. And I encourage other people, especially women, to travel solo.
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “Is traveling alone safe?”
I always answer with a resounding YES!
I’ve felt more comfortable in other countries than I have felt at home in the United States. And as a general rule, I believe people are good, willing to help, and don’t have ill intentions.
With that being said, I have done some unsafe things while traveling. Most of them were unintentional, although some I have to take full responsibility for my stupidity.
It’s important to understand that unsafe things can happen anywhere in the world.
We’ve all Done Things that were not Safe in our Lives.
I recall the time I climbed up a tree and decided to perform a series of acrobatics that I had no business performing; thankfully I came away without a scratch.
Sometimes, our ignorance drives us into unsafe situations; like that one time I ate meat that had been in the fridge for a week and got food poisoning (I don’t cook and had no idea you couldn’t eat cooked meat after leaving it in the fridge for over a week).
Thankfully, both of these situations are pretty tame, but I’m sure one way or another everyone can relate to being in an unsafe situation at some point in their life.
Traveling has presented me with an interesting assortment of somewhat unsafe situations. I won’t pretend that these are incredibly dangerous situations, and I’m sure people have endured far worse, but these are my experiences.
Before I traveled alone, there were so many warnings that I heard from family and friends; and so many warnings that I read online from other bloggers or travel websites.
The message was the same: be safe when traveling.
Luckily I wasn’t the recipient of some messages so commonly heard by female travelers: females shouldn’t travel alone, it’s unsafe for women to travel, you’re going to get kidnapped, you need to travel with a man, ect ect ect.
Most of the advice that I received or researched seemed like common sense: don’t get drunk by yourself without people who will take care of you, don’t go off with strange people, don’t walk alone at night in bad areas. Heck, most of the advice could be for women, in general, anywhere in the world, including the greater DC metro area, where I called home for 23 years.
But despite all the great advice, I still managed to find myself in some unsafe situations while traveling. Some were intentional and I got lucky that nothing bad happened to me. Other situations I just sort of fell into and didn’t really think about. So without further ado, a few unsafe situations that happened while traveling.
#1 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It was a Friday night in Amsterdam and I decided to grab drinks with an Australian girl and Swiss girl I met in line at the Anne Frank museum. We wanted to go out to a coffee shop, or bar, and just have a relaxing evening.
As we wandered around, we noticed that a lot of the coffee shops were already closing, it was a little past midnight. So we went in search of a bar to grab a beer. By the time we finally decided to call it quits it was about 130 or 2 am.
We found ourselves in a back alley near the red light district when a man approached us. He started telling us how beautiful we were, then starting making comments like, “I love your ass baby, I love the way you walk, baby”.
Me, being assertive, and possessing what I consider above average strength, I told him to get lost and redirected my two friends in the opposite direction.
But the guy followed us, backed us into a corner.
He said he wanted to fuck us and told me he liked passionate girls, with fight in them. This is the point where I started freaking out, I kept trying to get away from the guy but he kept at us. My two friends were frightened into silence, luckily, I wasn’t.
I started raising my voice, “Get away from us, man,” I said with a firm voice.
Then, the guy told us that he and his buddies would rape us. Then, he said he would kidnap us and sell us. He threatened us with a knife.
That was when I hit the roof. I know now it was probably all talk, but he freaked me the fuck out. I was terrified. But I started screaming, “IF YOU DON’T GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM US I WILL CALL THE POLICE.”
Then, I took it a step further, “HELP!” I screamed, “POLICE, THIS GUY WON’T LEAVE US ALONE.”
By this time, I had stumbled into a few other men who started to approach this guy, and luckily, the crazy man took off.
All three of us were a little shell-shocked; we walked back to our hostels, terrified.
The mistake I made:
Being in the wrong area of town, at night, with no other people around.
Sure we were just off of the red light district, but I’m sorry, that place creeps me out at night, the men and the atmosphere is just weird. Plus, we were wandering around back alleys trying to find coffee shops and bars, there were not a lot of people around. We were wearing pretty dresses and not carrying anything with us, we looked like tourists.
If you go out at night, make sure you go with a group, make sure you know where you’re going, and take precautions. I now carry a swiss army knife and whistle wherever I go in order to alert others that I’m in danger, or to scare off unwanted attention.
#2 Nice, France
After spending almost a week tanning on semi-nude beaches in France, and indulging in all kinds of gelato and pastries, my friend and I were on our way to Switzerland. We had booked a ticket on a bus from Nice to Zurich, and needed to get to the pick up location by a certain time. We allotted two hours to get to this bus stop when really we only probably needed 30 minutes, famous last words.
Everything started going south when the sky opened and rain poured from the sky, walking to the bus stop was rather difficult, we were soaked. Luckily, I have a waterproof covering for my backpack, so my stuff stayed pretty dry.
We had to stop by a shop in order to print our bus tickets. Luckily, it was right outside of the bus stop. I had a wonderful conversation with the two men who owned the place.
My friend and I were outside waiting for our bus; and our bus never showed up; literally, we waited for over an hour and nothing. At this point we were getting worried because we had to be at the other bus station in order to make our bus to Switzerland. Anyone who has traveled before knows this to be true, everything that can go wrong, often does go wrong.
I’ve missed trains due to last minute platform-changes; had trains delayed and had to ride a full train, sitting on the floor by the bathroom sleeping on my luggage; I’ve been charged for not validating my train ticket; riding in trains with no air conditioning as sweat drips down my face, the list goes on and on.
But you develop this problem-solving mode. Okay, bus wasn’t coming. What next? A taxi? Really expensive. Then the two men spoke up. They would take us to the bus stop for 20 euro. We stopped and debated for a while but in the end took the guys up on their offer.
The whole trip I was fine, the guy got us to our stop on time (the bus ended up being an hour late, go figure), we paid the man his money, and we left.
What I didn’t get was how scared my friend was, and how I should have at least been wary.
First, the guy who drove us spoke very little English. Second, my friend had qualms about where the guy was from, although, I’m not from Europe so I don’t understand the stigma surrounding people from certain areas, it worried her. Third, we were alone, neither of us with a form of communication should something go wrong. And lastly, he was driving us in some sketchy, off the beaten track roads through neighborhoods.
I’m sure there will be people who disagree with me, but I think I got lucky. I know there are wonderful people in the world, but I know I probably shouldn’t have gotten in the car with a complete stranger. It ended up working out, but I worry that I didn’t think twice about doing what I did.
Don’t get in a car with strangers. Duh.
#3 Devil’s Town, Serbia
On a dare I climbed over the safety fence of a natural wonder in Serbia. It wasn’t really a dare, more a reaction to a comment about how my friend did something when he was little, and I decided that I, too, had to do the same thing.
I was yelled at by a Serbian guard and scolded by my friend.
I also think I gave them both minor heart attacks.
The truth is I could have easily fallen off the steep cliffs. I deliberately climbed over a fence, ignored a warning sign, and put myself in jeopardy. Safety barriers are there for a reason people.
Not following the rules and being my dare devil self.
Heed warning signs and barriers at all times for your own safety and the safety of others.
#4 Prague, Czech Republic
This isn’t really a good story. But one night, I did wander into a non-touristy part of Prague late at night. I was walking home, it must have been about 1 am, from a bar, where I had a few beers, alone. Not the best combination.
I feel like my problem sometimes is that I feel invincible. I never felt unsafe in Europe. And I think I flaunted the fact that I was a female, traveling by myself, in a foreign country. I could do it all, no rules applied to me.
False, all the rules applied to me. Walking back from that bar in Prague, I got lost, and ended up wandering around for about two hours until finally making my way back to my hostel at around 3am.
While walking I encountered less than savory people, but I was always around others, so I never worried, but at the same time, it could have been a disaster. Tourist, all alone, lost in a not-so-great area.
My Mistake: Sometimes these things just happen, but I should have planned ahead to go to a bar closer to my hostel, or walk back with someone I knew. Or to have a map on me and not rely on my sketchy memory.
If you’re gonna go out, have a plan!
I would never want to scare anyone into not traveling. I think that all the destinations I have visited are extremely safe. However, don’t abandon your common sense while traveling.
If you would not do something in your home town, or in a major city in the US, or in your home country, DON’T DO IT ABROAD! Don’t do it when you’re traveling.
It’s pretty simple advice, but it works.