How To Survive Terrifying Transit Situations While Traveling

In This Post: How to avoid the most terrifying transit situations (like riding alone in a taxi at 2am), and how to deal when they are unavoidable.

Traveling is amazing. But it can also be terrifying. Over the years, I ‘ve found the scariest parts are generally not the parts I can prepare for in advanced. While strolling through slums or abandoned places doesn’t generally make my heart race nor compel me to turn everyday items into weapons (bug spray with Deet can totally double as pepper spray, just saying), there are some other things that do. Like solo transportation. People swarm you. They yell in your face. They offer you low fares. They claim to be taxi drivers. They wear coordinated shirts and questionable badges indicating they are taxi drivers. They follow you and follow you until you can’t take it and go with them! Sometimes there are no taxi stands at all, or it’s 2 am and you’re in rural China and there aren’t even any taxes at all.

As a result, riding in private transportation alone is the #1 scariest of situations for me. I’m usually not even remotely in danger, but that doesn’t change the feeling of abject fear. Below I dive into some of my top transit fears, and how to assuage them — or at least try.

Terrifying Transit While Traveling

I travel solo a lot, so “terrifying transit” (gotta love that alliteration) happens more than I would like. I often feel abject fear when: 

  • I must take a late-night taxi ride from a bus/train station into a city
  • The only option is an unmarked or unofficial taxi
  • Aggressive “taxi drivers” swarm
  • It’s highly unclear if the aggressive “taxi drivers” are actually taxi drivers
  • It’s super late or early (between 11pm & 5am, the “nefarious hours”)
  • I have to go a far distance
  • I am in a remote and/or deserted place

To make matters worse, it’s not even just taxis I’m scared of! I’m no less terrified of rideshare apps or vans/buses where I find myself the only passenger. And don’t even get me started on tuk-tuks and moto-taxis. Of course, my level of fear varies depending on the time of day, location, availability of “legitimate” drivers, distance I’m going, and my general gut feeling. But, more often than not,  when I’m alone I am irrationally convinced the driver is going to kill me, kidnap me, or sell me into the ever-looming sex slavery (which is, statistically speaking, highly unlikely).

Ineffective Actions

Sometimes I freak out, and do things that may momentarily make me feel better but are actually idiotic and not helpful at all. For example: 

  • Grip and repeatedly look at my out-of-service cellphone
  • Take copious notes on my location and passing landmarks
  • Examine the door handle to see if it has a crank lock, and if so prepare to open it and jump out (this isn’t a terrible idea, really)
  • Grip the guide book. Which contains emergency numbers. Which I can’t call given my cell phone does not work
  • Pretend to make a phone call to a “friend” waiting for me at my destination…in a language the driver does not understand

I’ve even gone as far as strapping my passport to my wrist with a hair band, shoving my money into my bra and preparing to jump out an ajar window and run. I’ve prepared a weapon out of a wire from my spiral journal, stashed insect spray in my pocket as makeshift mace. Sometimes, if the driver doesn’t kill me, I give him an extra tip. The reality is that I have never been in danger while in transit alone. Still, there’s something really scary about being in an enclosed space in the dark with a stranger. Especially if you’re a girl (because like it or not, gender does matter when you travel).

How To Avoid These Terrifying Transit Situations

Avoid Solo Transportation Altogether

My best method is to take public transportation whenever possible and avoid the situation of being alone in transit entirely. There is a misconception that public transit, especially buses, is inherently unsafe or sketchy. While I may have to watch my bag, I feel 10x safer on a public bus than in a taxi at night. Because just that – it’s public. You’re not alone. The bus has a route and is accountable to it. There are others around you. If you feel unsafe you can always hop off. Stand by the driver. Scream and yell and make a scene. Befriend a nice family. Public transport eliminates the alone part of being alone.

Take A Trusted (Official or Licensed) Taxi

While I try to avoid lone taxi scenarios (and taxis in general, how pricey) whenever possible, sometimes they are unavoidable. Sometimes you plan ahead to arrive in daylight, but there are some issues and you arrive well after dark. Sometimes your flight is delayed. Sometimes you thought there’d be other tourists and there are zero other tourists. And so, if it’s nighttime and I’m in a less-than-secure transit spot, my first move is to seek out a trusted taxi. Which is sometimes hard or even impossible. It may cost a bit more, but I make up for it by not sitting in abject fear for 45+ minutes.

Approach Strangers & Ask Them To Share

Once in Belize, I took a particularly terrifying taxi ride from the airport to the tourist pier. It was mostly irrational on my part, but I was so shaken by the end I dreaded the ride back my entire trip which kind of put a damper on beach relaxation. Determined to avoid a repeat situation on my way back, I proactively approached an older tourist couple on the ferry and asked them 1) if they were going to the airport and 2) if I could share their taxi with them. This also works well with other backpackers, of course. I always look for others going my way in popular spots (which also keeps costs down – link to save money on transit coming soon) and ask to share.