I was once a paranoid girl on her first solo trip. Taking every step so cautiously, I didn’t talk to anyone on the road, even in the hostel. “They all are out to get me”, I was so sure one of them would snatch my phone away when I wasn’t looking. But all these didn’t happen, and people of normal mental health won’t do that either. After that first trip, I realized that my trip was merely a series of vain act: going places+taking selfies+ Facebook check in, without the true experience involved. Without engagement, without culture, without new knowledge, that was not traveling, that was just “walking”.
I started to step out from my shield and learned to trust strangers: trust them to tell me where to go, trust them enough to befriend them... It was hard at first, but without the familiar presence of family and friends, I had to. Since then, I discovered something that restored my faith in human connection. People are generally kind, most of them’ll probably go all out to help you if you trust them. Here are some of my experiences:
1. My first CS host.Despite my enthusiasm in Couchsurfing (and I hereby urge you to try it), my first Couchsurfing was a failure.
It was just my 4th day traveling solo in the USA and my first CS host canceled my stay 12 hours before my arrival. I didn't realize it until I only have 6 hours left. I turned to the rest of the CS community and a lady agreed to help me out despite the last minute request. She even came to the bus station to pick me up half past midnight!
2. The Girl Who Missed Hockey Game For MeTraveling solo means you have to look at the map and figure it out yourself. I’ve lost count on how many times I got lost.
There was this 1 time that I couldn’t find the Greyhound bus station in Atlanta (I was used to Megabus but not this company), and my bus was going to leave in just 15 minutes! A girl of my age led me to the greyhound station by taking the underground, changing 2 stations (apparently I strayed too far from the correct line). We ran all the way there and as soon as I got on the bus, the door just shut and the bus left. I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye to that girl. For me, she had to miss her home game and her friends thought she was making up excuses! (I know, I heard her talking on the phone).
I remember what she said to me: “I understand how it felt to be in a new city.” Thank you, angel, and sorry for making your friend mad.
3. The elderly who walked me to Miami bus station.I remember arriving at the wrong address. I wasn’t familiar with the “East/West/North/South” in US addresses, so I ended up getting lost, again. An elderly saw how distressed I was, he approached me and drew arrows on my map, telling me the correct way.
When I was about to run to the station, he came to me again telling me that it was dangerous and that area was particularly shady. It was quite a distance but he insisted on walking me to the station. True enough, there were a lot of homeless and rebellious teens around. God had sent me a guardian angel.
4. The Warming hut, San FranciscoMy phone battery went flat when we were finding our way home. We came across the Warming Hut near Fort Point and miraculously the staff allowed me to sit in the shop and charge my phone even AFTER they closed the shop. She even offered me a muffin.
5. Night in Venice.I went out to take photos of the night view. The fact that I was alone in a foreign land at night scared the hell out of me, but fear doesn't just go away, I went out afraid. While passing through an alley, I met a lovely couple who thought I was a lost teen.
C: girl, you shouldn't be walking alone at night like this. Where are your parents?
Me: I am here alone.
C: How old are you? (obviously, I still look like a kid) It's still not okay to be out alone so late. I am a mom too, and this is not allowed.
They ended up accompanying me until we've reached a brighter area
6. Taxi in NaplesMissing an earlier ferry from Capri, I arrived at the port of Naples at 11pm! I couldn’t find the bus to town as described in travel forums so I tried to ask a family for a ride since they are the only bunch of people I felt safe being with. Unfortunately, this Norwegian family of 4 was also on their vacation and they were thinking of calling a cab.
I had no choice but to walk (probably takes 20-30 minutes to my hostel). I was lucky that the family still remembered me when their cab arrived. They managed to track me down (wasn't too far from where we met) and give me a lift. I offered to pay up but the kind family said they just want to make sure that I was safe.
7. Hitchhiking?I was waiting for the bus near Plitvice National Park. Then after some time a car slowed down and eventually stopped right in front of me.
The female driver in her 50s wind down the window and the first thing she asked was “How old are you, girl? 16? ” I haven’t got a chance to answer. “Where are you going? We are heading back to Zagreb,” she said while pointing to her daughters (I assumed) at the back. “Thank you for your offer, I am actually waiting for the bus. I’ve bought my bus ticket.” “Oh, I thought you are hitchhiking like him,” pointing to the guy holding a cardboard with the word “Zagreb” clearly written. “I think you are standing at the wrong spot, the bus stop is back there under the sky bridge.” All that while I did not realize that I was standing at the wrong place, glad I did not miss my bus! She drove away after telling me to “Take care, don’t make your mom worried about you.”
8. Losing my bag and my passportI lost my bag at the Chamonix train station and the staff at Mount Blanc Chamonix “went the extra miles" (literally a 45 minutes drive to my location) to return it to me! And best of all, my phone, camera, passport, bank cards, residence ID were all there.
Read more: Nightmares came true-- I lost my passport
9. Scam on the trainI am not sure if this can be considered a scam or it was just a case of miscommunication but I’ll share it anyway. When I was on a long train ride (5 hours), I was being accused of riding without a valid reservation. I was asked to pay the fine. However, I refused to pay, firmly stating that "this train ride doesn’t need a reservation", as stated on the Eurail/ Interrail website.
He insisted that I pay it up until a group of 5 locals came into the same box (I was alone). I tried asking for help from one of the locals who knew a little English to explain my stand to the ticket inspector. All 5 of them talked to the “inspector” while I stood there totally clueless. The man then walked away as the locals reassured me that "everything is okay now".
10. The Free Metro TicketI was sitting in the train towards Budapest, searching for coins to buy a metro ticket as soon as we arrive at the station. But the thing is, it was at the end of my trip and all I had was 5 Euros.
Sitting in the same cabin was a Hungarian man who doesn’t speak English. He used google translation and asked me to follow him to the ticket machine, I thought he was going to teach me how to buy a ticket… He then bought 2 metro tickets for me, walked me to the entrance of the metro line and walked away.
11. Rainy VeronaI was quite lost when I first reached Verona. I forgot to plan my day coz I was too tired the day before. When I was in the bus I asked a girl for direction and she offered to bring me around. It was drizzling but I didnt mind because I am used to cold weather. However after crossing the road, she stopped to buy an unbrella and said to me "I bought this for you, don't walk in the rain." We walked through the shopping streets together and she dropped me off at the Juliet's balcony.
12. From France to SwitzerlandWho would have known, a random guy I met on a day trip in Southeast France would saved me from being a homeless in Zurich? On the day we met, he offered to host me and my friend in Zurich. Perfect! I was actually thinking of skipping Zurich because I was running out of money (I believe I don't have to tell you how expensive is the city). Together with his wonderful housemates (2 cool travel girls as well), we spent 2 days together exploring the city, trying good food. A week later, I stepped onto the wrong train and ended up in Zurich again. If it wasn't for them, I'd probably slept on the street.
13. P. Ramlee in Rotterdam Train StationFeeling a little sick, I went to the paid toilet at the Rotterdam Train Station (normally I would search for a free toilet ). The guard saw my ill-stricken face from the CCTV and called out to me when I was going to exit the place. He made me a cup of hot tea. I was thinking whether I should accept it because mom says never accept gifts especially drinks from strangers. I think he knew what I was worrying, thus he allowed me to make my own tea.
Due to some last minute changes of plan (canceling my Antwerp day trip to meet Catherine a day earlier in Amsterdam), I had to stay overnight in the train station. A staff behind the counter saw me and decided to cheer me up with some P.Ramlee Songs (he knew I am from Malaysia). So, imagine P. Ramlee songs playing in a Netherland’s train station!
14. And all other kind people who I didn’t manage to list down in this article.
Off to you! Share your traveling tales with me. Have you met a stranger who went out of his/her way to help you?
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