I love traveling alone. I love the freedom of choosing when and where to go, or whether to go out at all. However, being alone can sometimes lead to loneliness, especially when you’ve been on the road for some time, and being lonely may make you vulnerable to shady characters you meet on the road.
It was this loneliness that led to an encounter I had in Berlin (March 2012) that could have turned out differently had I not been very careful of my own safety.
I remember it as being a gloomy day; the sky was overcast and it was colder than usual. My walk around the Museum Island didn’t cheer me up; all I could see were families and couples together, highlighting my solitude all the more. When I had enough of it, I took the subway back to my host’s place in Dolzigerstrasse, hopeful that my mood would lift the next day.
On my way out of the subway, just before the exit, a man suddenly blocked my way. “You’re so pretty,” he said. “Are you Chinese?” In my travels, I had been mistaken for a Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese, but never a Chinese, and with good reason! I’m brown and my eyes are not almond-shaped. It was one of the worst pick-up lines I’ve ever heard.
Before answering, I looked him over. (“My name’s Stefan,” he said.) He was around 6’ ft, in his late 30s or early 40s, well-groomed, and good-looking. What did he want with me?
It turned out he was offering me 300 euros for two hours’ worth of work. He would like me to give him a massage, he said, and I could name my price if I stayed overnight. When I asked him why he picked me, out of all the hundreds of women in the subway, he said that I looked like a backpacker, and backpackers, he added, always needed money.
As a woman, I felt degraded. Did he really think he could buy me? Did I look as destitute as he made me out to be?
However, as a writer, I was intrigued. What goes on in the minds of people like him who see women (and maybe people in general) as something that can be bought and sold?
When he saw that I was willing to talk to him, he invited me to have tea at the restaurant across the subway. For a moment, I hesitated. Would it be safe to go? What if he puts something in my tea or if he forces me into his car?
Then my writer self won out and I said yes. (After all, I told myself, I had nowhere else to go, and at least, he promised an interesting conversation!) As a precaution against being forced onto his car, I told him to go ahead and I would follow. I was also very careful about keeping my eyes on my tea, and I didn’t accept any food from him.
During our 30-minute talk, Stefan tried everything to convince me to go back to his hotel. When he saw that I couldn’t be moved with his offer of more and more money, he tried to sell the idea of it being a “romantic encounter, an experience of a lifetime.”
He had a rebuttal, too, for every one of my reasons for refusing him. When I told him, for example, that I’ve seen the movie Taken, he said that he would never do it to me. His hotel had CCTV cameras, he said, and he would be caught if he would do something to me. Lame, eh?
Pretty soon, our conversation died down. He couldn’t have me with offers of money or talks of romance, and he wasn’t even interested in me as a person, just as a thing that could give him pleasure. The novelty of the encounter suddenly became stale for me and I stood up, thanked him for the tea, and went straight to the exit, not looking back even once.
The encounter was memorable, even if it was a tad distasteful. Stefan told me he has had a lot of successes before; the women he had previously chosen were indeed more than willing to spend the night with him, in exchange for a few more months on the road.
He could be telling the truth; however, he could also be a trafficker, and if I had gone with him, I could have ended up somewhere where no former CIA agent would be able to rescue me.
You gotta love traveling alone. Just remember that occasionally feeling lonely is fine; just make sure it doesn’t lead you to risky situations. Prioritize your safety, be aware at all times, and use common sense, and you will definitely enjoy every minute of your solo travel!
Have you had any similar encounters on the road? Do share!