I know that I’ve written a lot about how the media portrays certain regions of the world, like South America, in a negative light, and how inaccurate this is. I like to write about how the world is accessible and full of life lessons for the solo traveller, and that most places are no more dangerous than your hometown. I don’t want to suggest that travelling is mostly dangerous or that bad things will happen to you if you venture outside of your country. However, there have been several times when I was genuinely terrified while travelling.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes while travelling. Sometimes, due to poor planning on my part or situations outside of my control, things happen to me that are genuinely terrifying. These are the incidents that stick in my brain, and tend to come up in conversation when people ask me about certain aspects of my trip.
1. I was terrified while travelling in Bali and my knee dislocated with no one else around.
The second time that my knee dislocated in Bali, I was sitting alone in my guesthouse with my mobile phone on the opposite side of the room. I had no way to contact the owners, and my body was shaking uncontrollably from muscular shock. I don’t know if any of you have ever dislocated your knee, but it is easily an 8/10 on the pain scale, and your body completely goes into shutdown to cope.
I knew that I couldn’t move to try to pop my knee into place, and that I desperately needed help from the guesthouse owners. The only way that I could think of possibly getting their attention was by screaming at the top of my lungs. It took what felt like an hour, but was probably only five minutes, for someone to come bursting in and find me shaking on the bed with my knee cap off to one side and tears streaming down my cheeks.
This was probably the time that I was most terrified while travelling, because I truly believed for several minutes that no one was coming to help me. I have very low pain tolerance, and I don’t know if I would have had the courage to try to pop my knee back into place without assistance. I have since had surgery to stabilise my knee, but there is always this fear in the back of my head that it may dislocate again some day.
I now always make a point of having my phone directly next to me when travelling alone in case of medical emergencies like this. It is so completely terrifying when you are travelling alone and feel helpless in this kind of situation.
2. When we lost the apartment key in Tokyo, and were accosted by police in Kyoto.
In lieu of having a large party to celebrate my 21st birthday, my ex-boyfriend and I travelled to Japan together for two weeks. Even coming from Australia, Japan is an incredibly expensive country for travelling, and so we relied on cheap AirBnB’s to mitigate the cost of accommodation.
Our first terrifying incident was when my ex lost our apartment key while we were out exploring during the day. We tried to call some of the places that we had visited, but none of them spoke any English and hung up on us. We contacted the owner of the AirBnB, but she said that she didn’t have any spare keys, and that we would have to try to find it. Tokyo is an absolutely enormous city, and we were so terrified that we would have to spend a night in a hotel and not be able to get access to our belongings.
We managed to solve this problem with the magic of Google. By using street view to look for the Indian restaurant that we had lunch at, we managed to find the one that we recognised. We called them up, and luckily the owner spoke English, and told us that we had dropped our keys there! We were so incredibly lucky that day, and came so close to being locked out of our apartment and away from all of our belongings in a foreign city!
AirBnB is not really legal in Japan, and so many hosts asked us to avoid talking to neighbours, and if asked, to say that we were staying with friends in their apartment. Many residents don’t like the idea of foreigners having access to their residential building, but we didn’t fully realise this until a neighbour called the police on us in Kyoto.
The AirBnB host was unable to meet us directly, and so she sent one of her friends to help us into the apartment. Unfortunately, she gave her friend difficult instructions, and so we spent some time trying to open the apartment with the wrong key. Shortly after, a police officer appeared, led by an angry resident who lived a few doors down and presumably thought we were trying to break in.
My ex and I don’t speak any Japanese, so we were terrified to be caught in the middle of this heated exchange between the resident, host’s friend, and police officer. The police officer requested our passports at one point and wrote down all of our details without telling us what any of it was for.
Eventually, the host’s friend told us that there was no legal basis for us to be refused entry to the apartment, and told us to go inside and lock the door for a couple of hours! The rest of the stay there went smoothly, but I was so terrified while travelling the rest of the country that we might be arrested!
3. I was terrified while travelling alone in Kota Bharu, Malaysia, and a local man was masturbating while staring at me.
I have dealt with a few cases of sexual harassment while travelling, but the I was most terrified while travelling at the age of 18 and saw a local man masturbating while staring at me on the streets of Kota Bahru in Malaysia.
There are not many foreign visitors in Kota Bahru, let alone solo female travellers, and so I was something of a novelty with my blinding white skin. However, this usually just resulted in curiosity, not the public masturbation that I encountered in this instance. I freaked out and ran down the road, but he kept following me while riding his motorbike. My heart was leaping out of my chest, and I immediately ran back to my hotel room and locked myself inside for the rest of the night.
As I have written about before, sexual harassment happens all over the world, and definitely isn’t restricted to when you are travelling. However, a nasty experience like that was enough to traumatise me as a young woman and made me pay much more attention to my personal safety. Women should be free to walk alone and not be harassed or assaulted, but unfortunately that just isn’t the case for so many women all over the world.
4. When I got lost in the ricefields in Munduk, Bali.
Munduk is my favourite place that I visited in Bali. Situated in the middle of the island, it is a tiny village surrounded by twisting mountain roads, rainforest, waterfalls, and rice fields. It is a wonderful destination for hiking, enjoying nature, and finding peace away from the madness of much of southern Bali.
The village of Gesing is about 10km away from Munduk, and is locally well-known for housing the giant and sacred banyan tree. The banyan stands at 85m tall and 70m wide, and is a place for prayer and spiritual healing for the locals.
It took me almost 3 hours to walk the main road to Gesing, and so on the way back, I asked a local man if there were any shortcuts back to Munduk. He assured me that if I followed a route through the rice fields, it would only take me half an hour of walking.
Needless to say, about two hours later, I was completely lost in the rice fields and bawling my eyes out. I was so completely terrified while travelling in these remote parts of the island, because there was no one else around, and I had no idea what direction Munduk even was anymore. I had no map and no phone credit to call for help.
I followed my intuition and found my way back to Munduk after about four hours of walking through rice fields, and I have never felt so relieved to find a main road before. I’ve learnt from this that I have a terrible sense of direction and should never rely on vague directions!
5. When I arrived at a dodgy bus station at 4am in Armenia, Colombia.
Overnight buses are not my friend. I struggle to sleep on planes, let alone on a bus that is moving and throbbing with the loud salsa music of the driver. However, sometimes they are a necessary evil to save travel time on long trips.
I was promised that the bus ride to Armenia from Bogotá would be at least six hours long, and so I was prepared to arrive at the destination at around 6am. I was travelling to the coffee zone of Salento, and Armenia is the main transit hub en route.
My bus driver drove like an absolute madman. He was tearing around tight mountain roads at 70km/h and regularly overtaking on blind corners. I didn’t sleep at all because my backpack was regularly thrown on the ground from the bus jerking around corners, and I was terrified that I would be next. Because of his extreme driving, we arrived in Armenia at around 4am.
I’m not a fan of bus stations anywhere, but this was a particularly bad one. It was fully exposed to the elements, and scattered with people either sleeping on the floor or huddled in the corners. The earliest bus to Salento didn’t leave until 6am and so I had to sit in a corner by myself for two hours and pray that no one came up to me. Maybe I was being paranoid, but it is truly a time when I was terrified while travelling through Colombia.
Most of the times that I was terrified while travelling, it was due to poor planning on my part, rather than people deliberately targeting me. I think that everyone has scary experiences while travelling, but we always get through them, and they make for great stories later!
Have you had a time when you were truly terrified while travelling? Share it with me in the comments below.