I have been thinking about starting a guest post series for a long time now. When Jess from Tripelio wrote me some weeks ago asking if I accepted guest articles as she wanted to write one, I saw it as a sign to get started.
So welcome to my new series; Crazy Travel Stories. If you are interested to be a part of this series as well by sharing one of your crazy stories from your travels, please send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear what crazy things you have experienced on the road.
But now over to the crazy story of Jess.
If I could sum up my travel experiences in one word, I would choose the word LOST. I often find myself not able to find the way to my hotel, lost in translation, or lost in the beauty of a new city. Most of the time I love the new café I find when I take a wrong turn. However, I have had moments where the feeling of being lost becomes terrifying.
A couple years ago I had the opportunity to study abroad in the cute college town of Salamanca, Spain. I immediately fell in love with the tiny cobblestone streets. Every day I found something new hiding in the city. I got lost plenty, but always found my way home eventually. One night I went out with a few friends to a couple of tapa bars. The tapa bars were in a different part of town that I was not quite familiar with, but I made a mental note of the streets I would need to take to get back home.
After stuffing my face with delicious tapas (and gulping back a few glasses of wine) it was time to say goodnight, and start my journey back home. I confidently headed in the direction of my house. As I kept walking, the fog that started out as a light night fog started to become thicker and thicker. I could barely see 5 feet in front of me. I became completely disoriented. Any familiar landmark was hidden from the fog. I continued to walk trying to find a familiar street sign, but continued to fail.
I had the feeling that I was walking farther and farther from home, so I decided to stop, and think about what to do next. As I stood on the street corner I could slightly make out a group of loud men walking in my direction through the fog. Now, in reality, this was probably a nice group of men that would have been happy to help me, or call a cab. But, in my mind, I was sure they were coming to get me. The thick fog, and the feeling of being completely lost made me feel absolutely terrified. So, I did what seemed logical to me at the time, and I ran. In my mind I swore they were chasing me (but, I also think this may have been a figment of my imagination).
My running may have saved me from a hypothetical dangerous situation, but it also made me even more lost. I did not know where I was before, but now I felt like I was in a whole different city. I stood there, having no idea what to do, or how to get home. Then, out of thin air, a car with two ladies comes and pulls up next to me. They saw me running for my life, and stopped to make sure I was okay. In my not-so-great Spanish, I described how I was lost, and being followed by a group of men (well, I wasn’t really being followed by a group of men, but I didn’t want to seem like a crazy lady running through the streets late at night).
The two ladies, whose names I found out to be Pepi and Maria, offered to give me a ride home.
I gave them my address, and thankfully they knew where my home was at. On my drive home I learned that that Pepi works with kids at a YMCA in Salamanca. She invited me to come volunteer there.
I ended up volunteering at the YMCA the following week. Pepi took me under her wing, and became my Salamanca mother. She taught me how to make paella and tortilla Española. Some of my fondest memories in Spain are my times working with the kids at the YMCA in Spain, and the time I spent with Pepi and her family.
Now, I’m not saying you should go and get lost in the middle of the night in Spain. But, I truly believe that sometimes the best things can come from being lost, and being completely out of your comfort zone. However, my story could have had a not so happy ending. If you are extremely directionally challenged like me, here are a few tips on staying safe, and not getting lost abroad:
- Have a list of important and helpful telephone numbers
Sometimes while traveling you are not able to use a smartphone, or any phone at all. Even if you do not have a phone, it is still a great idea to just have a little piece of paper in your wallet full of helpful numbers. Often a hotel, or kind, local will help you call a number if you truly need it. These are the numbers I like to keep on hand:
-Local emergency number
-Number for hotel/hostel/host family
- Invest in a smartphone
Devices like an iPhone or iPad can be immensely helpful when traveling. There are many apps out there to help with navigation or public transportation. Here are a few tips on using a smart phone abroad:
–Unlock your phone
Unlocking your phone can help you access your phone internationally. On certain phones you can even insert a local SIM card to help you not have to deal with international calling or data fees.
-Download apps with Wi-Fi free access
Many map based apps are now adding a feature where you can access maps, and direction help without Wi-Fi. This is extremely helpful when you are traveling to a location where internet access may not always be available.
-Use a VPN
Depending on where you are traveling to, using a virtual private network (VPN) on your phone can be helpful. When I was traveling in China, I wanted to gain access to sites such as google maps and Facebook to keep in touch with family. I used the following apps to help me get past internet censorship, and stay safe.
- Know where not to be
Salamanca is generally a very safe city, but I still probably should not have been walking around by myself that time of night in an area I wasn’t very familiar with. It is good to do a little research before going anywhere. Many countries, even ones that have a bad reputation like Columbia, can be safe, as long as you know where to go. Find out where not to go, and avoid going certain places alone at night. If you feel uncomfortable find a store or hotel you can go into for help.
When traveling in Peru, I felt comfortable in Lima during the day, but did not feel comfortable walking back to my hotel at night. I walked into another hotel. They were extremely nice, called me a taxi, and even helped me give directions to my taxi driver.
If you use common sense, and avoid putting yourself in situations like the one I found myself in, you should be fine. However, as much as we think we are being safe and smart, we still sometimes end up in uncomfortable situations. Just remember, that often those moments that we feel most uncomfortable are the moments you will forever remember. Although there are so many bad things that happen in our world, I am continually amazed by how many kind people there are in the world that are willing to help.
About the Author:
Jess is originally from the US but is a long term expat and traveler who has lived in various locations across the world since she was a child. Jess currently has a day job but writing about her international experiences is her passion and she travels as much as time and budget will allow. Her ultimate goal is to travel full time and see as much of the world as possible. Follow her blog at Tripelio.