How to handle the worst case solo travel scenario
Solo travel can be uplifting, inspiring, and can help develop a sense of self-confidence and independence. Of course, it can also be lonely and occasionally dangerous.
Everyone who has ever told friends and family that they were traveling abroad by themselves has gotten some variation of the “it’s not safe” speech. And though often the concerns of loved ones are exaggerated, they can occasionally be worth more than the casual dismissal the seasoned traveler usually gives them.
One need look no further than last weekend when an American was killed while walking alone in Rome to see that the world is not always a safe place.
So what happens when you find yourself in this kind of dangerous situation during solo travel? What do you do when all the worst case scenarios of solo travel come together and you are alone and lost in a part of the world you don’t know but seems a little dangerous? Well, to illustrate I think a story of personal experience would be helpful if only to show you what not to do.
A few weeks ago, I was traveling to Budapest by myself, you know, as one does. I booked a bus that would have had me arriving in the city at around 8p.m. I didn’t really want to get there after dark, but luckily European summers come with pretty long days and the sun wouldn’t set until 10p.m. or so. Plenty of time to make it to where I was staying.
This was my first mistake. I did not account for the possibility of delays, which is why when my bus was delayed by five hours due to what must have been the worst traffic accident in the history of the Czech Republic, I found myself being dropped off in a bad part of Budapest at 1a.m. in the morning.
Now, originally I thought I would get a taxi, but I didn’t have any local currency, just Euros. Mistake two and three. I should have considered how I would take a taxi without having the currency, and even when I didn’t have any Hungarian Forints, twenty Euros is worth around 6,500 of them and any taxi driver would have gladly taken the Euros.
But stubbornly I insisted on walking. Luckily, I had remembered to get directions from the bus station on the Google maps app and since the app can store a little bit of information offline, it had the directions to the place I was staying ready to go. Not so luckily, the destination was five miles away through some pretty shady looking suburbs. Again, at 1a.m. in the morning. And my phone had only 2% battery.
So, I started on my way, giant backpack swaying temptingly for any prospective muggers. I prepared for the eventuality of having to dump it and run by unclasping the support straps, which was my only smart move of the night.
I walked through underground passages lined with the forms of sleeping vagrants, through dark streets with confusing Hungarian names and poor signage, and past creepy medieval cemeteries and the groups of idling young men who chose to hang out in front of them in the middle of the night.
I passed a number of hotels, several of which seemed to be open. I considered maybe just booking into one, but my desire to save money seemed to overpower my desire to not be stabbed, so I kept going. Mistake number four.
As I walked, my terror was gradually supplanted by steely resolve. I could do this. I was halfway there and still had 1% of my battery left for the crucial directions. A taxi drove by, it’s lit sign tantalizing me. “Forget it,” I thought. “I don’t need a taxi. I am going to see this through.”
Just then, the street lights went out. Everywhere. The power to the whole block seemed to have been cut, plunging me into inky darkness. It was here that I really regretted not getting that taxi.
I made my way through the dark streets, illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars that would occasionally drive past, seemingly for the express purpose of blinding me.
Finally, around 3a.m. in the morning. I stepped onto a busy street near a train station and looked around. It was still dark, but there were some signs that remained lit up, including one for my hostel. I had made it.
But I could’ve just as easily not made it. The suburbs of Budapest at two in the morning is a dangerous place to be and it was only luck that prevented something terrible from happening.
The American killed in Rome last weekend was in a similar situation. He was walking home late at night when he foolishly got into a scuffle with a stranger who robbed him and pushed him into the Tiber.
So what should you do when you find yourself in a similar solo travel situation? Don’t let cheapness or stubbornness prevent you from taking the right measures. Your safety is worth more than money or pride. Find a safe place to wait it out. Don’t speak to anyone, even if they try to speak to you. Don’t try to walk through a city you don’t know late at night. And please, take a taxi if you can.
Use the common sense that I failed to use when you solo travel, and you should be fine. Either way, don’t let the possibility of danger stop you from living life. Solo travel can be a great experience, as long as you are careful.