“Are you ever afraid to travel alone?” My friend asked me from across the table as we waited for our lunch orders.

“I can get annoyed, but rarely afraid …” I answered.

In truth, fear is not a feeling I associate with solo travel. Freedom, excitement, adventure,  joy of discovery are the positive feelings that accompany travelling as far as I’m concerned. The negative feelings are more along the lines of exhaustion, frustration, and annoyance, but only a small percentage of the time.

My friend is new at solo travel, but her probing got me thinking. Have I ever been really scared while travelling solo? How about creepy or stressful incidents? What are the things I am most afraid of while on the road, and have any of those actually come to pass?

Using my friend’s questions as a starting point, I decided to “interview myself”. This actually brought back to mind events I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I therefore present you the worst travel experiences of my 27 years of travelling solo, in interview form.

Are you ever afraid when travelling solo?

There are a few times when I’ve been “afraid” of missing a flight, a bus, or concerned about the safety of a public vehicle. I’ve been worried about my health a few times as well, especially back in the 90s when I got food poisoning several times while in Asia and North Africa.  And then of course there was the dog incident (see below).

More commonly though, I get annoyed because of things like delayed transport, people giving me incorrect information or screwing up. All of these problems would probably have occurred even if I had a travel companion though.

Sometimes I even screw myself up! Despite all my years of travel, I occasionally make silly mistakes, like that time I missed my shuttle bus to Reykjavik airport because I was waiting in the wrong spot. This actually set the tone for an entire day of frustrations.

Street in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland (overtourism)

Reykjavik (Iceland) is a very safe but expensive city.

When it comes to people, I trust my instinct completely when travelling. If I don’t feel comfortable with a person, a place, or anything else, I move away and remove myself from the situation. I get as much information as possible before heading out in a foreign place, so I know where I’m going and how to get there. You can read some of my best travel safety tips to protect yourself here.

What country do you find has the scariest people?

People are not what I find the scariest while travelling. Every country, including my own, has mostly good people with a few bad apples thrown in.

Having said that, when I first started travelling to the United States on my own, I worried about people carrying weapons. Because of the “right to bear arms” in the US constitution, I imagined that the guy standing next to me and waiting for the train might be concealing a weapon in his trench coat. I eventually convinced myself that I was being silly, but in light of all the mass shootings in that country in recent years, maybe I wasn’t …

Although I’ve never been ambushed or mugged in a dark alley, I have met a few creepy characters in places like India and South Africa. (See stories under the next question.)

However, Egypt takes the cake for the country where I was the most harassed. As soon as my tour was over and I found myself alone in the city of Luxor, hardly a moment passed when I wasn’t approached by some guy wanting to chat me up, sell me stuff, take me to a discotheque or what have you.

The scariest things for me when I travel are not people; it’s actually traffic and dogs. There are many places in the world where traffic is disorderly and loud, drivers take traffic laws as mere suggestions, and pedestrians don’t have right of way. Just crossing the street can be a health risk! Careening around twisty and narrow mountain roads where bus drivers honk instead of slowing down is also one of the things I find frightening.

Annoying Yangon traffic (afraid to travel solo?)

Regular traffic in Yangon, Myanmar. Hardly a traffic light in sight …

Stray dogs are a fact of life in many countries, and while most don’t bother you, I had an unfortunate misadventure with a dog in Argentina, which to this day I consider my scariest travel incident.

In a new place, always be vigilant and keep an eye on your surroundings for stray dogs, crazy vehicles (especially motorcycles), and of course pick-pockets.

When were you the most scared by someone on a trip?

I can’t think of a single terrifying incident involving a person over my 27 years of solo travels, but I had a few encounters I could have done without.

I spent three weeks in India on my own when I was 34 and came across several somewhat creepy individuals. One guide I hired at Fatehpur Sikri kept touching me under every pretext and I had to ask him to stop. Another young guy started following me and another lady as we were making our way back to our hotel one night, insisting that we buy his dirty magazine (!). And another time, I saw someone masturbating on their front porch as I was walking past. I also heard love declarations and requests for kisses from random Indian teenagers.

However my weirdest experiences have been with people who seemed nice and interesting at first, but quickly turned into complete assholes.

In Bangkok back in 1995, I came across a young novice monk who asked me to help him practice his English. Intrigued I accepted, but found myself unable to get rid of him for the rest of the day after it became clear that his aim wasn’t really academic after all. I wasn’t scared, but became increasingly annoyed as you’ll see if you read my whole weird Thai monk story.

The young monk sitting in his wooden "room" (monk story)

The robe doesn’t make the monk

In Cape Town (South Africa) in 2006, I started chatting with the guy who prepared the breakfast omelettes at the hostel. He was friendly at first, offering to show me around and so on. However, he quickly turned weird and creepy, becoming mean and verbally abusive if I disagreed with him or said something he didn’t like. The creepiest thing he said to me was “I can make you cry…”. Still gives me shivers.

The thing is, whether you travel solo or not, or even just stay home, you’re likely to encounter some scary, crazy, or creepy people at some point in your life, unless you live under a rock.

Have you ever had your passport (or money) stolen?

No, luckily I haven’t. I’m always quite paranoid about protecting my passport, cash, and cards. Whatever I don’t need for the day, I hide inside my bag or suitcase, which is locked and stored out of sight in my room. If there is a functioning safety box in the room, then I use that.

In cities with higher crime rates (like Rio de Janeiro, where I’m going in January), I always hold my bag or purse close to my body when walking on the street, preferably on the side away from traffic (to avoid snatching by motorcycle thieves).

I also keep photocopies of the ID page of my passport, as well as both sides of my debit and credit cards inside my luggage. The passport photocopy is usually what I take with me during the day, leaving the real passport in the hotel.

Has your passport expired?

I am very very protective of my passport!

I’ve written more about safety tips to protect your stuff here.

What are your main worries when you travel solo?

It depends a lot on where I go. Some countries like Iceland, Taiwan, and Japan are very safe, so I don’t have many concerns except trying to avoid getting a cold, and catching my shuttle to the airport!

In less developed countries, as explained above, I’m usually more concerned about traffic and stray dogs (and huge holes in the sidewalks in some places!)

Right now my dad is getting on in age (late 80s) and I worry about him getting sick or passing away while I’m on a trip.

Of course there is always the possibility that I will get sick or injured myself while away, but I don’t worry about this too much. I always make sure that I have medical travel insurance and carry a small medical kit with the essentials. If travelling to a developing or third world country, I may also renew my IAMAT membership (to access trusted English-speaking doctors) and register on my government’s website (to get email alerts and also let them know where I am).

Overall, whether I travel alone or with someone, my worries are pretty much the same.

Final words …

As you can see, nothing totally horrible has befallen me during my almost three decades of solo travels. Incidents do happen, just like they do in regular life, and you have to deal with them.

Travelling solo in New Zealand (afraid to travel alone?)

New Zealand is a great solo travel destination

If you’re afraid to travel alone, narrow down what it is exactly you’re afraid of, and take measures in advance to reduce the risks of those things happening.

For example, if you’re worried about loneliness, make sure you can easily connect with your friends at home, and perhaps stay in a hostel where you can meet other travellers. Join a day trip or a guided hike, and make sure you don’t do these 10 things.

If you’re worried about theft, follow common sense precautions and manage your valuables as I recommend in my safety tips.

If, like my friend, you’re still mostly worried about encountering the wrong people, try to develop an assertive and confident attitude while on the road. This basically means: don’t be afraid to change your mind, leave a situation, or stop talking to someone if things don’t feel right. Don’t worry about hurting somebody’s feelings if you think your safety may be at risk. Your job is to protect yourself, not somebody else’s ego.

To get you started, here are my top choices for solo travel destinations, as well as some solo travel tips I’ve picked up along the way. Now get out there!

Enjoyed this article?  Sign up for my newsletter or “Like” my Facebook page to be notified of new posts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email