On a business trip to Hong Kong last month I had one of the most frightening experiences ever. I found myself lost and alone in a busy, non-English speaking area of the city.
Catching a cab from my hotel to attend a meeting, I handed over the address I had written on a piece of paper to the cab driver. He wove in and out of crowded streets, dodging pedestrians, and after about 15 minutes stopped in a tiny side street.
He pointed at the fare. I couldn't see any office buildings and asked the driver where the building was. He made vague gestures with his arms, indicating I should get out. Panicking, I showed him the address again, and he again indicated I should get out. Unable to understand the drivers Cantonese, and not wanting to upset him, I paid the fare, got out the cab and walked up to a main street.
I couldn't see any signs in English, so I stopped several people on the street asking for assistance. Unable to speak English each person ignored me. Being the only Caucasian in the area, and one of very few women, I was attracting a fair bit of attention. It was now dark and I was scared. Finally I found a policewoman who confirmed I was on the correct street, but a 30-minute walk away.
Fortunately, I made it to my meeting, but I was lucky. Thousands of young women go missing each year, and I had always prided myself on being careful and sensible, but it seems you can never err too much on the side of caution. Below are some travel tips for those of you who may have cause to travel alone.
o Always see a cab drivers license before you get in the car.
o If you are in a non-English speaking country, have your hotel write your destination in the local language for passing to cab drivers.
o Never carry more money than you need at one time.
o Always have a contact number you can call for help, even if it is only your hotel.
o Try to take a mobile phone with you, or at least enough change to use a pay phone.
o Familiarize yourself with the local culture. What we may consider to be rude behavior in Australia is acceptable in different cultures.
o Ensure your dress is of an acceptable standard for the culture to avoid attracting unwanted attention. i.e. in Muslim countries ensure arms and legs are covered.
o Try never to visit unfamiliar areas alone, don't pull touristy maps out in public and ensure someone knows of your whereabouts at all times.
Be sensible, travel safe and Bon Voyage!