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Shaken Confidence: Finding Myself Again As A Solo Traveler

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Navigating the Aftermath of Being Mugged Abroad

Terrible travel days – we’ve all been there. There’s nothing quite like trauma bonding over a missed bus ride, a bout of food poisoning, or the avoidance of any type of near disaster. As horrifying as these experiences can be in the moment, it seems like (in my family at least) these are the memories that we reminisce about the most. We move on, brush it aside, and know that in the long run, it’ll be another funny story to laugh about over dinner.

This summer, though, while on a solo trip to Istanbul, I was mugged. The ordeal lasted a matter of seconds. At 11 P.M., I was making the ten-minute walk from the bus station to my hotel – a straight shot along a bustling street lined with food stalls and shops. I was pulling my suitcase in one hand and had my wallet and phone in the other. Looking back, I know there are a number of things I could and should have done differently. At the same time, though, as a woman who has solo traveled before, I had always – for reasons right or wrong – assumed safety in busy and lit streets. 

Unfortunately, I’ve learned how precarious these assumptions are. As I crossed an intersection, I felt a tug on my arm and turned to see the outline of a man. I had only enough time to simultaneously understand what was happening and also scream as he pulled my arm again, ripping my phone and wallet from my hand and taking off down a side street.

From there, a group of shop owners and other passersby gathered around me. Someone offered me water and a phone. Another man offered to hold my luggage behind the reception desk of his hotel. Another man kindly took me around to nearby police officers and translated for me as I tried to explain what had happened. I had never felt so naked and aware of my vulnerability  – accepting kindness from strangers and feeling so grateful while simultaneously, suddenly so aware of how vulnerable to their kindness I was. 

This experience would have been easier to digest if I had someone there to turn to. The reality was that I was so, so very alone in a foreign country – and for the first time, I was scared. 

This feeling didn’t fade. While I fought through my initial reaction to booking the first flight home, I experienced Istanbul in pure survival mode. Every incredible landmark I saw and interaction I had was framed with anxiety over who might be lurking over my shoulder, ready to pounce at the very moment I turned a corner or exited a bus. 

I know that this reaction is, and should be, normal. A girl is mugged in a foreign country and then, having to travel alone in said foreign country, feels much more cautious and scared.

But for as long as I can remember, solo traveling has been my definition of the perfect escape – the whole day and the whole world is yours, to do anything that you want with it. So much of my identity has been tied to my willingness to go for things that are wild, adventurous, and a bit crazy. I feel my best when I’m out and about in a new city with no plans and simply hopping from one pretty building or lively street to the next. 

After being mugged, my world has felt like it has physically shrunk. I strongly believe that if you wait for someone to go with you, you’ll be waiting forever – and I have only so long to see all the places that I want to see. It’s this mindset that has led me to travel to countries like Portugal, Israel, and Greece where I’ve met amazing people and had amazing experiences – all because I didn’t let the possibility of being alone stop me from going in the first place. 

Where I once felt nothing but excitement at the prospect of an adventure for me and me alone to curate, this idea is tinged with fear. A phone and wallet are replaceable, but your sense of safety is not – and I’m struggling to come to terms with this.

My hope for myself is that a year from now, I can look back at this article and be proud of myself – not for “getting over” my fear, but for accepting this fear is realistic, valid, and ultimately, okay. I can be the girl who is always down to book a one-way ticket and also admit I’m more cautious about the reality of these experiences than I used to be. My worldview has changed as a result of being mugged; my perception of myself and what I am capable of has not. This isn’t something I see so clearly every day, but I’m working towards it – and for now, this, too, is enough. 

Hi, I'm Julia! I am a senior at UW-Madison, double majoring in International Studies & Legal Studies with a certificate in Chicanx & Latinx Studies. I love to travel and hope to teach or work at a nonprofit abroad someday.