Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless.

Every once in a while, I look back at my travels and think of the moments that have changed something in me. Moments that have put me face to face with my deepest insecurities, helped me accept that I’m just passing through this world, and in some ways, made me stronger. Many of these moments are the kind that left me scared shitless, before moulding me into the person I’m constantly evolving into.

Read ‘My Worst Travel Memories‘ (part 1), and behold, more confessions of this not-so-brave girl:

Home alone in Quito, Ecuador

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Love it, hate it, home alone in Quito.

I was both excited and terrified about my first trip to South America earlier this year. Ecuador, though it doesn’t have as notorious a reputation as some of its counterparts, has its fair share of scary stories, especially in the capital city of Quito. So like I always do, I booked an Airbnb, the home of a lady who’s been living in the city for the past few years. When I landed past midnight and just about managed to find her home in a dark alleyway in the artistic neighborhood of Guapulo, she told me she’d be traveling out of the city the next morning – so I’d be home alone – in a city, country and continent I had just set foot on, where people only speak Spanish.

I contemplated checking out and going to a hotel, where I could atleast reach the staff incase of an emergency. But the house, with a view on Cayambe volcano, was so beautiful that I decided to stay on. I figured I’d do some research online, get a local SIM card and be okay. Except that the following morning, I managed to drop my phone in water (you don’t want those details!), phew. So I spent my first day in Quito, disconnected from everything and everyone, not knowing a soul in the city, not sure what areas were safe enough to walk around in, with solo travel butterflies punching me in the stomach.

But after a few hours of moping around, I got my act together, opened myself up to the kindness of strangers, found my way to an electronics market, bought myself a cheap phone with a local sim, and decided to take the city head on. Thus began my love affair with Ecuador!

Also read: My First Impressions of Ecuador

Mugged by a cabbie in San Jose, Costa Rica

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Unexpected costs of a trip to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

An incident that really shook me up last year. After traveling safely and adventurously through some of Central America’s more notorious countries (like Honduras, labelled ‘the most violent place on earth’), I had pretty much let my guard down in Costa Rica. On a hurriedly hailed cab ride to the airport to impulsively catch a flight to the Pacific Coast, the cabbie and I chatted like long lost friends. Closer to the airport, he told me we’d get stuck in traffic so it’s better to drop off a street before and walk; I agreed without thinking twice.

When we arrived, I paid him and got off the cab, only to see him grabbing my small bag – the one with my passport, laptop and everything precious – asking for more money or he’d take off with it. FCUK. I had the equivalent of 50$ in my pocket and gave it to him, shivering at the idea of being left alone without my valuables. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints I didn’t catch; he asked me if I had family in the country, or if I had a local SIM card – pointed questions that should have made me wary. I felt shaken up for days, refused to trust anyone else I met along the way, and found solace in places crowded with other tourists, much unlike my usual travel style.

It really wasn’t about the money I lost, but the trust I lost, and it’s taken me months to rebuild it.

Also read: 6 Months, 6 Countries: Epic Memories from Central America

Crashing my Macbook in Kutch, Gujarat

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Borrowed photos from Kutch. This one from my host, Jugal Tiwari.

As a digital nomad, my Macbook Pro is my lifeline. On a lazy afternoon in Kutch, I managed to trip over the charger and drop my laptop while it was on – and was left with the ugly blue screen. I was days away from the nearest Apple centre, hadn’t backed up my data in months, and the idea of having to fork out cash for a big repair or a new machine was scary for my petty bank balance. I decided to take a much needed (partial) digital detox, worked out of cyber cafes and borrowed iPads, even blogged with my iPhone.

After hopeless trips to authorized centres in Bombay and Colombo, I finally managed to replace my hard disk in New York, lost a ton of photos and notes, and learnt how hopelessly dependent my lifestyle is on technology.

Also read: A Traveller’s Guide to Gujarat’s Best Kept Secrets

Altitude sickness (scare) in Nyerma, Ladakh

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The prayer flags that gave me hope!

On an impulsive flight to Ladakh last month, I totally underestimated the altitude in the Trans Himalayas. Just after I landed, I was scouting the market in Leh to pick up a local SIM card, instead of getting a ton of rest and drinking a ton of water. By the time I reached Nyerma, a little village an hour from Leh, I felt a slight headache which turned into a slight fever and the chills by the evening. The nuns I was living with, could only tell me to get rest; I tried calling the altitude sickness helpline to no avail; I phoned a friend to look up the symptoms online, who confirmed that I should panic only if I have trouble breathing.

Then I started imagining the worst case scenarios: my SIM was still inactive; how would I walk the distance to the nunnery in the middle of the night if I had trouble breathing? I was fine by the next morning, but I felt utterly alone on that first night.

Also read: Heartwarming and Heartbreaking: Living with the Nuns of Ladakh

Lost in a forest with a repulsive guide in the Dominican Republic

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Heading into the unknown.

While hiking in the remote reaches of Valle Nuevo National Park, my local guide began with harmless flirtation, which quickly turned to lewd remarks (“I’ll come to your room and keep you warm at night” kind of remarks, eww). We were deep in the forest, around two kilometers from the nearest signs of civilization.

“No molestar por favor” (please don’t bother me) usually works in situations like this, but it didn’t with him. So I took to silence. I had two choices: put up with his harrassment and hope to reach back in one piece, or run (tase him?) and definitely get lost alone in the forest. I chose the former option, and have never been happier to get out of a beautiful old forest.

Also read: Unexpected Friendships in the Dominican Republic

Skidding off a bicycle in Umbria, Italy

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Cycling on the Umbrian countryside.

I skidded off a pebbly slope while cycling downhill on the countryside of Umbria, and bruised my arms and legs. No big deal, but the scary part was realizing that the bike handle had turned in a strange tangent and I couldn’t fix it; who knows how many hundreds of Euros I’d have to pay if I had broken the bike?

Luckily, Youtube gave me a quick and easy fix – and I was pedalling soon enough to get myself a gelato and recover from the fall.

Also read: Living With an Italian Artist in Umbria

“Random” security screening at Honduras airport

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Advance security for these views!

Those “random” airport screenings are never really random, are they? For some strange reason, I got on this “random” advance security list at Honduras airport; they embarrasingly took me aside, and scanned every single part of my body and belongings, including the keypad of my Macbook! I had nothing to hide, but it was still scary to go through the process. I can’t imagine the plight of the people who stay longer on that list.

Also read: We Travel to Realize Everyone is Wrong About Other Countries

Stalked in Lalibela, Ethiopia

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A window through time, in Lalibela.

The one thing I hated about the Ethiopian countryside was that every other conversation seemed to be aimed at asking for money, directly or in an elaborate way. Atleast 4 kids in different places told me a sob story of how their football tore, and asked if I would consider buying them a new one. Then on the streets of Lalibela, a teenage guy randomly started talking to me, said he was a budding musician, actually started singing songs to me as we walked, and insisted I come meet his mother at their house! I had to cook up a story about how my friends were waiting for me back at the hotel to get rid of him.

A little while after I reached back, I saw him from the balcony of my room, chatting up the (non-English speaking) ladies at the reception area of my hotel. That moment sent a chill down my spine, and I barely managed to sleep that night.

Also read: My First Impressions of Ethiopia

Stranded at an obscure bus stop in Costa Rica

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Another day, another place, riding in the back of a truck!

Manuevering rapids on a river to live with a remote indigenous community of cacao farmers had shot my adrenalin pretty high. On the evening I got back on the mainland, the river had flooded and I had to wade through knee deep water to get to the only bus stop for miles. I waited almost till dusk, only to hear from locals that after the flooding, no buses were likely to head this way. In the middle of nowhere – with no cell phone connectivity and no way to go back to my indigenous friends – I went into a state of near panic. Seeing my plight, a small shop owner asked me to wait for a few hours till he could shut his shop and give me a ride to the next town, where hopefully I could find a different bus.

Luckily, as I waited, a delivery truck showed up at the shop, and happened to be heading in the direction I needed to go. So that’s how I rode out, in the back of the truck, under a fading red sunset sky, with the wind in my hair, through remote Costa Rican villages. Pura vida!

Your turn, what are your worst travel memories?

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  1. Pritish Sahoo says:

    People say travelling teaches us a lot of new things and we are exposed to a lot of new experiences. certainly u have lived it 😊

  2. Really nice post! We all do have our scary moments during travel. Coming back strong and continuing on our path is all that matters in the end! Keep up the good work 🙂

  3. Oh lord. Molestation is one of my worst fears of solo travel. I had to contend with an intrusive restaurant manager while staying alone in a tent in Diu. It didn’t have a lock but I still managed to sleep well after a few minutes of trepidation. The sea was calm and I rationalised that he wouldn’t dare take any liberties with all the other guests on site and a security guard nearby. But I hated being asked questions like had I come alone and how many days was I going to be staying there. I have no idea how they were relevant to him but I had to be polite. Being followed in a remote town sounds the scariest. Please always carry a sharp/heavy object or pepper spray Shivya! And I do hope you can throw a few punches and kicks (not that I’m sure they come handy when you’re taken by surprise).

  4. Loved reading your post! Such scary, yet exciting tales.Would love to see short video snippets of your travel 🙂

  5. Your accounts are simultaneously lively and crazy. It’s especially hard for solo women travelers to wade through any part of the world without some obstacle at some point. But I’m glad you’ve emerged from them all, safe and happy and definitely living your dream!

  6. mravinash says:

    Good One Shivya, I just started my travel adventures and already went on 2 solo trips in India and got the lesson that. Although its great to interact with strangers on your solo trips but at some places its better not to talk and enjoy the beauty of it and leave :).

  7. You are very brave Shivya. It’s a big thing that your trust is still not lost. I have never solo traveled but I still have some scary memories, particularly from times when we went out in girls groups. The scariest being when living in hostels, far from home, we once ventured to a movie hall a little farther and a bunch of boys started following us, pretending oblivious. Which scared us even more. Then we decided to take shelter in a nearby shopping complex and one of the girls father came to pick us all up. What a relief that was !

  8. So interesting to read this. Reading your posts I was sometimes wondering how safe it is to travel alone. I did it when I was young, but the world was different 40 years ago.
    It is really important not to panic, to keep your brains working. You have had really bad situations, but you survived. The most terrible is, I think, is to get really sick and to be in a hospital without a language.
    Be careful!

  9. Stephanie says:

    This post is exactly what a solo female traveler should read–and exactly what we NEVER pass on to our mother. =)

    Thanks for sharing these things. It’s good to be aware and also to see someone get through things.

    Quito is awesome! One of my scariest times alone though was trying to hail a cab right after nightfall. There wasn’t a single one, and while nothing happened to me, I felt like every second it got darker I was at risk. It’s a beautiful city, but definitely not for solo girls out alone at night.

  10. I just wrote about one of my worst travel experiences.

    Well I have had quite a few others too but it was the first time I was traveling alone and that is why it got to me.

  11. Balagopal P Menon says:

    This was early 2013. Kashmir had begun to get back on to the tourist radar after years of insurgency and strife. I had booked my 3-day trip there with my wife two months in advance. Days before I touched down in Srinagar from Delhi, Afzal Guru was executed. On the way from Srinagar airport to the houseboat where my stay had been arranged, I found the streets totally empty (and this was around 12 noon). The place looked like a ghost town. The cabbie, Raj, said that there had been protests across the valley and police action near Baramulla had resulted in fatalities. I asked him if it is safe for tourists to move around, and he said, “May be”. And that completely dampened the spirits. But I am ever thankful to the driver to have been honest to me. In any case, I went ahead. But for me, a city is nothing without its people, and Srinagar’s people were invisible then. Two days later, the same cabbie was supposed to take me to Gulmarg, but he excused himself the previous day saying that as he lives in Srinagar and owing to the troubles, he was indisposed to drive there. I agreed and half-heartedly (because I did not want to miss Gulmarg) got my hotel staff to arrange for another car for my trip to Gulmarg the next day. While returning from my evening stroll, I saw a Tata Sumo that was parked in the hotel premises and it had its windshields shattered. The hotel staff said that a family who were staying with them had hired that car to Gulmarg but was attacked with stones by trouble-making protestors and had to make a hasty retreat. There, and I didn’t lose anymore time to decide to put an end to my ordeal in Kashmir, and cancelled my trip to Gulmarg and got myself tickets booked to Delhi and onward to Mumbai where I live. My flight to Delhi the next day (a Friday) was at around 8 AM, but the hotel staff advised me to leave for the airport, only 20 minutes away, by 4 AM, as people would start thronging to mosques by 5 AM, and that’s when the mobs get active. The hotel arranged for a car to the airport early next morning. The driver himself was scared to bits and was looking at all sides while driving through the empty streets, as if expecting a stone or a grenade to be flying at our car any moment. This 20-minute drive to the airport gave me the most insecure moments in Srinagar. Some calm was restored though, when we finally saw an army truck ahead of us and the driver smartly tailed it. Fortunately, the soldiers did not get suspicious that we were militants. At the airport, there was a long line of other hapless tourists, and the security wouldn’t open the gates until 6 PM. It was freezing cold outside but I was, for the first time in my life, thankful that my pleasure trip had come to an end. However, I do feel sad for Kashmir – such a beautiful land, but always known for the wrong reasons (also thanks to tourists like me who don’t time their visits). After I touched down in Delhi, I got a call from Raj (my first driver in Srinagar) who wanted to make a polite enquiry if I had made it to Gulmarg. Here was a Kashmiri, who I had known only for a day and was concerned about my well-being, and I had completely forgotten about him (it occured to me that I hadn’t even tipped him). All I could do was to profusely thank him.

  12. To say that I vicariously lived through those scary moments would be an understatement, S! But yes, very very relate-able; at least some of the experiences. I’m going to use your post as a prompt to write my own out 😉

  13. Hi Shivya, I’m the mother of two adventurous young women and your blog scares me to death even while I love it. In a way, you give the lie to what we read in the papers and see on TV – that wickedness and violence are the norm. Your travels show that they are not, but they still exist: so be careful and stay safe, and enjoy your travels so your readers can too!

  14. Shivya, this is a wonderful post. Cheers to your bravery! I am curious to know who clicks your pictures when you travel solo? I want to start a travel blog. But I am very camera shy, let alone asking strangers to take your pictures for blogging! Appreciate your help 🙂

  15. I loved this post. No matter how much we prepare for the worst, when it does happen, all we have to go on is our instincts. So glad you made it out of these situations!

  16. These are experiences any single traveler could face. The worst part is being in the situation and best part being out, coupled with learning to apply for future travels. Your post, I am sure is precautionary measure to evade certain not so nice encounters for all solo travelers. I am sure its handy to many.

  17. Loved reading your post! Felt to me as if you’re searching for something in these difficult far away destinations thinking what worse it could to not give a try! I like your courage but I would also like to know the feelings that let you wander to such places! 🙂

  18. Pingback: 11 Posts You Shouldn’t Share with your Mother about Solo Female Travel – GoThreeTwentyFour
  19. Wow! You’re so much braver than I am lol. I do my fair share of traveling but never have I ever even traveled to another state alone. I’m sure I never will either. It’s always interesting to see stories like these 🙂

  20. Oh goodness, I salute the traveller spirit that you have even after troubles in such faraway lands. I’ve had some scary moments too, and am sorry to say that those experiences have left me changed causing me to doubt ‘The goodness of strangers’ but as we go along I realise that the world is still a place full of nice people and that these sad times should not let is lose hope.

  21. shaji a.k says:

    wowwwwwwwwwwww dear Shivya nath, i so much proud of you, you travelling a lot  and also it is alone wowwww amazing no one to helps you … wonderful. i think you may learn alot while you travelling especially alone .. is it ???

  22. Suzanne Fluhr says:

    I’m the mother of a 20-something travel blogger son. Even though he inherited his wanderlust from me, so I understand why he travels, I prefer to hear about incidents involving knives and rescuing a woman in his Istanbul hostel from a would be rapist—after the fact.

  23. Lydia@LifeUntraveled says:

    Hi Shivya – so glad you got out of all these situations unscathed! I haven’t really had any potentially scary/dangerous situations except for an encounter with stray dogs in Yangon (Myanmar) earlier this year. My boyfriend and I arrived really late in downtown Yangon to find the streets empty save for many, many stray dogs. Stray dogs are not rare in underdeveloped countries and I’m not usually afraid of them but these dogs were vicious!! They not only barked violently but showed their teeth, howled and began to run after us. This was a group of 4-5 medium-size dogs. My heart began to race and I started to shake looking for a safe place (everything was closed). Luckily, a cab drove by and stopped when he saw our dire situation. He said that stray dogs are a big problem in Yangon – I can confirm!

  24. Reading this gave me such strong wanderlust! Terrifying experiences but incredible stories to tell! I just came across your blog today – definitely coming back for more. Love it!

  25. Amazing stories. So inspiring. I am just starting on this journey of blogging, just handed my notice in at work to travel the world, so I will be taking a lot of inspiration from here. If you could please head to my blog, I would be forever in your debt!

    Thanks again

  26. You have had some really interesting trips. I am feeling inspired and a bit scared!

  27. This is an incredible read. I have been to many places you have had bad experiences in and I traveled solo too in most of them.. You area very brave girl! I got completely mugged along with my passport, phone, suitcases, IDs, money and everything in Puerto Rico and still managed to fly back to Atlanta in the States. It was a horrifying experience!! I got mugged for money with a knife from 3 men in Paris, mugged in a car in Ibiza in Spain and have had bad baggage handling experiences around the world. I think this only made me a stronger person and I love to travel a lot!! Just got back from my solo backpacking trip from China and Myanmar 2 weeks ago and I miss Asia already so much. I am your fan and have been following you very religiously I must agree. Kudos to you and keep the world inspiring by your stories! Sending lots of love and good wishes on your way!

  28. great travel story from a passionate travel blogger! I fall in love with all your writings.

  29. ‘Love your stories and your courage.
    I’ve been mugged in Egypt, fell off a horse in the Dominican Republic, got attacked by a monkey in Bali, had the worse night of my life on the overnight train in India, had a B&B disappear, along with my money in Scotland, slept in a casino in Prague, forgot which expensive hotel I booked and paid for in Italy! The list goes on, but it doesn’t and hasn’t stopped me travelling!

  30. Yes! Keep training that intuition:) Doing what you love. Adventure. Risk. Fear. And, the thrill of having made it through! I cannot imagine paying enough for some life experiences.

  31. To be Short and Precise READ first two and last two,
    Well i was in Norway , searching for some castle through the jungle on my Lumia(my love) offline maps, which was around 8 km from when i started post lunch 1:30, charged my cellphone till 54%. figured it was okay to go and come back to city. boy i was so wrong. lost my way to castle,saw some b’ful houses, met some loving people all the way, seeing my backpack , half of them stared and rest talked for a minute or two offered me to sit and rest a minute, saw a church , abandoned house, tried trekking left of mountain(noooo!). well around 6:30 i decided to go back and a light rain for 5 minutes made me return.
    Lumia was at 12%. it usually shuts down at 7%. i lost my way. god knows what animals were there(couldn’t pronounce what they told me to look out for).
    i started running for nearest roads. and then i took the road to the nearest town or village for any place to sleep. saw few houses but it was too interior to couch at.
    i didnt mentioned the temperature, it was -4 and increasing to -12 by midnight in feb 2016
    i had a place but by 10:30 , any place will do. when i was sure it was 2 km from there at 11pm. isaw i walked 1-2 km extra, and met the known road, felt like home is near, i couldnt walk, wet inside and outside, -4′ less air to breathe, none on the roads.
    well being a guy i asked the drivers who were there to get me a place. they were from next city, decided to sleepover, got 3sleeping bags. and some hard liquor, and little agressive personality.
    i did got a wooden floor to sleep at -12′ freezing cold.
    now being homofcuked, being robbed and least being drunk was the thoughts. i was happy cause
    being killed was not one and i will reach home momma, bro, lover, anyhow,
    later they praised gandhi , nehru and Sikhs… i had the best sleep then

  32. Very nice post, thanks for sharing your terrifying stories! I travel alone as well for most of the time, and now I’m just looking back after reading this post and thinking…shit! I had loads of those while in Asia. However you might not think about it that much…few “scary” moments in your life. Thanks for inspiring, love your blog.

    Feel free to check my travel pics!

  33. Really traveling make us more mature . The depiction of your situations were enough to draw a parallel in few cases with my own experience.

    Still with all odds traveling is fun.

  34. God this post is worth of reading …. but imagining your situation at that time is quite scary … well thanks to god that you are safe.. and thank u for inspiring me more about travelling…. 🙂

  35. If those are your worst travel experiences then you are truly blessed! Thankfully I haven’t had any really bad experiences but then again I have barely left the US LOL. I travel vicariously through people like you until I can get out there on my own. Thanks for the adventures. Stay safe!

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  37. SO many interesting travel stories! Love this post!

  38. Unlock Holidays says:

    Great travel story from a passionate travel blogger! I fall in love with all your writings. thanks a lot for sharing this great Article

  39. You are really very brave, otherwise our Indian girl dont go even out of there city.
    You do that’s why you have a amazing life.

  40. First off, amazing blogpost as usual…
    Here’s my travel story which left an indelible mark on me.

    It was 25th January, 2018. My friends and I decided to utilise a long weekend and visit Mawlynnong and later Dawki (Meghalaya). After attending classes, three of my friends and I caught a cab from Guwahati. The cabbie was a nice garrulous man. He drove safely and steadily. It took us 2 1/2 hours to cover the distance between Guwahati to Shillong, but more than that to navigate through the straight 20km stretch inside Shillong. That’s when we realised we were gonna be really late. We frantically called up our hotel in Cherrapunji, only to find that they would not take us in if we failed to reach before 10:00pm.

    It was 8:30. We pleaded with our driver to drive a bit faster once we got out of Shillong. He obliged. But half an hour out of Shillong, we get a call from one of our friends who was biking to turn around, since they were cold and hungry and would not be able to drive upto Cherrapunji.

    Our driver looked visibly relieved. He turned the car around and drove down the hill. Now, on our way back, we overtake a car. The moment our car came in front of the other car, it’s cabbie started yelling at us. He sped and tried to overtake us, but couldn’t. Then, we saw another car in front of us. That cabbie heard the one behind us yelling and tried to block us off on the road. Our driver managed to swerve around it and we continued, now frantically, down the hill. Both the cabbies behind us kept yelling.

    Then finally, there was a tata magic which we came upon. This time, the driver heard the other two drivers giving us chase. He blocked us. We couldn’t move.

    The other two caught up with us. It was bone-chilling but we broke out into a sweat. The three drivers circled our car, trying to open our doors. (But we had them securely locked) . Our driver opened his window and tried to talk his way out of the situation, but they were having none of it. They opened the drivers door and punched him. Repeatedly. He tried reasoning with them but it only made the situation worse. They broke his nose. Then, to satisfy their remaining anger, they unhinged the driver’s door. Then they let us go.

    We reached Shillong in 10minutes and complained to the police. After that we were escorted to the police station…
    The rest is history.

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