Trust Your Instincts When You Travel

Or how a stringy-haired stranger by the Tiber caused me to do some probably silly things.

Tiber River, Rome

The Tiber’s riverbanks, bathed in the light and warmth of Rome’s winter sun, didn’t seem like the sort of place one was likely to have an unwanted adventure. On the contrary, it looked impossibly inviting and peaceful, especially after the crowds at the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona. And perhaps I just imagined the danger: perhaps the stranger was not following me after all, or if he was, perhaps he had no harmful intent. Still, there can be a thin line between prudence and paranoia, and a girl can never be too careful.

One afternoon, back in February, I was taking this photo…

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Tiber River, Rome

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…when I noticed this one guy — 50-ish, with longish stringy hair — looking at me. Just looking at me. Most of the people on the bridge were passing by, and a few were standing and soaking in the sun and the sights, but no one else was loitering and looking in my direction.

That by itself would have been creepy but not alarming. However, when I resumed my walk, I looked back and the guy was there too, walking maybe 10 meters behind me. I walked faster, more or less attaching myself to a group of older females in front of me. I’d be safer with them, I thought. At some point, though, the women crossed the street…and when I looked behind me, the guy was still there, coming closer.

Again, I can’t be sure if he was following me or if I was just being paranoid. I’m not even sure what I was afraid would happen: a robbery? A racist remark? A dinner proposal accompanied by a leer? (Don’t laugh — that last one happened to me in Nara. Not fun. And I was almost robbed in Paris and Brussels.)

All I know was that I didn’t want anything whatsoever to happen. Didn’t matter what it was, I didn’t want it. But what could I do? My safety net of women were now across the road.

There was only one other thing I could think of doing.

I abruptly turned around and walked back — past the guy, as fast as my feet could carry me, making sure anyone looking would see a great big scowl on my face. I walked an entire block in an almost-run before glancing back.

No one there.

Whew.

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Tiber River, Rome

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The whole thing happened quickly — in fact, in less than half the time it took to write this story. I was able to put it out of my mind almost immediately and spent the rest of the afternoon strolling undisturbed by the Tiber. It really was a pretty place for a walk, especially that afternoon, with the sun shining and the air cool. I think, on that visit, it was my favorite part of Rome.

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Tiber River, Rome

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Tiber River, Rome

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Tiber River, Rome

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It might have been nothing, after all, but I have to say I don’t regret taking possibly unnecessary precautions. When you’re traveling you have to be aware of your surroundings and when something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. This is especially true if you’re traveling solo — after all, who else will take care of you but you? It is infinitely better, afterwards, to feel silly than to feel regret. In some cases, I think, paranoia is definitely the better part of valour.

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Have you ever had an experience like this? Do share.

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Panicked



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