For those who fear traveling alone, not knowing who to trust can be petrifying. Trust is a major aspect of solo travel. Trust in one’s own gut instinct, intuition, or whatever you want to call it, is vital to a solo traveler. I think it’s vital to anyone but it becomes even more important when traveling alone in a foreign land. Knowing who to trust comes in handy.
But how do I know who to trust? Whether I’m completely lost or just in need of basic directions, because I am generally speaking directionally challenged, I need to trust someone to help me out. I need to believe in the kindness of strangers.
I need to have trust in a lot of people just to get through a day. I need to trust the driver, pilot, the boat captain, or whoever is transporting me from one place to another.
Fear traveling alone? Be aware of tourist scams
Staying at a hostel in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul I was hanging out at the rooftop terrace chatting with other travelers. A young man from Latvia joined the group I was sitting with and he told us about his day.
He had just arrived in Istanbul and had been walking around the neighborhood. Near the Blue Mosque he was approached by a friendly local who started chatting with him and telling him about the sites of Istanbul. He offered to show the newcomer around.
They took a taxi to another neighborhood and stopped to get something to eat. A group of other locals joined them and they all ate and drank. When the bill arrived it was given to the young tourist to pay in full. He didn’t want to be rude so he paid. This went on for a few hours and a couple hundred dollars later the young man finally found the courage to escape a bad situation.
He could not escape earlier because he wanted to be polite, it was his nature to be polite and he had manners, he did not want to be rude.
Now the young man told me he couldn’t trust anyone. He said he had always been very trusting but now he would trust no one. This was a big learning experience for him and since it cost him so much emotionally and monetarily he will likely remember the lesson forever.
A general rule that I now follow is that if I am in a tourist area or I can be easily identified as a tourist I do not trust people that approach me and offer me unsolicited assistance. Particularly in bigger cities there will always be scammers who need to make a living and the easy choice is the unsuspecting tourist.
Solo travel life lessons – learn from the mistakes
My learning experience was very mild compared to the young man from Latvia. I was in Rio de Janeiro, staying in the beautiful neighborhood of Ipanema – yes that one – the one in the song The Girl From Ipanema. Just down the street from my hostel there was a fruit market. I wandered over and began looking at all the delicious offerings.
A smiling fruit vendor approached me and offered me a small portion of fruit to taste. Then another small sample of fresh fruit. It was all so fresh and tasty. I ordered a papaya, strawberries, and a portion of watermelon from the friendly fruit vendor.
I gave him a 50 real note (approximately 28 USD) and he said obrigado (thank you) and didn’t offer me any change. I knew the fruit should not cost anywhere close to 50 real but I had not even asked the fruit vendor how much it cost because I trusted him. He was so kind and friendly. He was my buddy. He wouldn’t rip me off!
I realized my error immediately. Always ask how much something costs before you hand over any cash. Novice error. It was too late. I complained to the fruit vendor and made a fuss but he wouldn’t return the money even if I gave him back the fruit. That was an expensive fruit salad. Lesson learned. And a very small tuition paid. Don’t take candy from strangers. Always ask how much before handing over money.
I must add that in all my travels this is the first time a food vendor of any kind has ripped me off. The vast majority of them are honest, hard working people.
Basic travel tips – who to trust while traveling solo
Getting back to the question Who do I trust? There is no exact formula but let me offer you some basic tips:
- Follow your gut instinct. Always. You may sometimes feel like you are being too suspicious or pessimistic but if you gut is telling you that someplace is a bad scene or someone cannot be trusted then always, always follow your intuition/gut instinct.
- Do not trust people in tourist areas that approach you with offers. Chat with them if you like and enjoy the interaction but take note of the types of questions they ask you. Don’t tell them which hotel you are staying at. They may be sizing you up and trying to calculate how much they could expect to extract from your wallet.
- Check with your hotel or hostel for recommendations on tours and such rather than trusting the touts in the street.
- Ask the price before you hand over any cash for a purchase. Bring some small bills/coins when shopping in markets.
Like much of life, knowing who to trust and when to trust them is a balancing act.
More posts in the series Fear Traveling Alone?