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Solo Safety

June 12, 2010

“How did you manage to convert a saved soul?”

My eyes went as wide and as white as a bone china saucer. Was this guy seriously talking to me? And even worse, what was I doing sitting in the cab of a converted Ford F-350 with him—alone?

The guy in question? S*, a taxi driver I met last year while vacationing—yes, solo—on St. John in the Virgin Islands. I had the unfortunate luck to run into S while he took on passengers from the taxi stand at Cruz Bay. For the next few days he became a nuisance, showing up uninvited at my campground, looking for me. His claim? I had somehow bewitched him, inculcating him with the doctrine of the Church of Marsha. Flattering? Yes. But I had done no such thing.

On my last full day on the island, I finally worked up the nerve to tell him an out-and-out lie: that I had a boyfriend back home who I couldn’t wait to get home to. And as I said it, I painted my expression with the dreamiest of colors, almost convincing myself that my own Mr. Right really existed. S bought it. In fact, he took it much better than I expected and ultimately left me alone. My personal space was mine again and I was finally able to enjoy my last day on the island undisturbed. S turned out to be harmless (and a great story) but as a general rule, how do you know who to trust?

You don’t. Not really. You can only hope the people you meet have good intentions. As a woman, safety is perhaps the number one issue I face when traveling alone. I can be somewhat paranoid and it’s often very seductive to isolate myself from others within my travel environment in an attempt to stay safe. With time, however, I’ve found that it’s those connections you make on the road that enrich the experience.

Like the time I missed the bus and had to hitch a ride from a local woman to get to my kayaking excursion on time. Or the couple I met from Toronto who I hung out with for a couple of days and who taught me how to snorkel. Or the family from Indiana who plied me with drinks every evening at sunset (I mean, how did I know the drinks weren’t spiked?). Each encounter has become a rich part of my memory of those brief five days I spent on the island. I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world.

What I’ve learned? The things you’d do to stay safe at home aren’t much different from what you’d do when traveling solo. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t go out alone in an unfamiliar place late at night. Trust your gut. And educate yourself. I can’t stress that enough. You’ll feel so much more confident and equipped to deal with situations that might (and sometimes do) arise. At the same time, be willing to let your guard down a little. It’s risky, but the rewards can be well worth it.

*Names have been shortened to protect the not-so-innocent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 5:36 pm

    Hi Marsha, my name is Malia and I recently started following your RSS feed – love the solo travel stories, keep them coming! I, too, travel solo quite frequently and spent 5 days in SF a few years ago on my own – loved it just as much as you did. =)

    I just wanted to chime in on this post – I had a similar experience that turned ugly when I was traveling in Chang Mai, Thailand in ’08. A (probably harmless) local guy that I met when he did my foot massage offered to take me to his favorite noodle place, but something just didn’t feel right so I ended up catching a ride to a guesthouse NEAR the one where I was staying (that had better security, and so he wouldn’t know where to find me) and it was a good thing – he got out when I did and wouldn’t leave the area! I ended up having their security ask him to leave and they let me stay there for a few hours, and eventually walked me home.

    That being said, in all the times I’ve traveled solo, it was seriously one of the only times I’ve ever had a problem. Like you mentioned, it’s good to trust your own judgement and follow your gut if something feels unsafe. But it’s awesome that you don’t let it deter you from continuing to travel on your own. There’s so much world to see, right? =)

    • September 24, 2010 9:54 am

      And he did your foot massage? Creepy! Glad to hear everything turned out okay and that your gut steered you in the right direction.

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