Sometimes, I get scared.

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It’s 4:00 AM in Évora and I haven’t slept a wink, despite the heaviness of my eyelids.

I am too scared to fall asleep.  I’m not afraid of anything specific; I just feel a deep, looming sense of dread.  Something is not right, and I can’t allow myself to become defenseless.

Is it irrational?  Some might say so.  How did this all begin?

It started when I arrived and was shown to my dorm room.  There aren’t a lot of hostels in Évora, and this one opened two months ago.  It was a charming building, a genuine Moorish house built centuries ago.

I looked around the dorm room and noticed a conspicuous absence.

“Are there lockers in here?” I asked the owner.

“No, you don’t need them, this is a good town,” he told me.

Are you kidding me?

In Europe, if you’re staying at a hostel, you get your own locker.  It’s a standard.  I’ve stayed in plenty of guesthouses in Southeast Asia without protection for my belongings, and that’s when I use my Pacsafe 20L portable safe.  But even in Southeast Asia, dorm rooms ALWAYS have lockers.

“This may be a good town,” I said, “but you know who I don’t trust?  That person” — I point to one of the bunk beds — “that person” — I point to a second bed — “and that person.”

“There is only one girl staying here.”

“Well, I don’t trust her.”

“She is from a good family!”

She is from a good family?  Well, damn.  That changes everything.

“Look, I have a Pacsafe.  I’m fine.  But if you are going to run a hostel in Europe, you need to get lockers.  Right now, you’re telling your guests that you don’t care about their belongings.”

He ignored me.

If this hostel owner was this lackadaisical about the possibility of theft, he’s probably lackadaisical about other safety aspects.  I don’t expect key-card security from every hostel.  But I do expect the basics.  My dorm didn’t even close all the way.  It’s an old building and while the door is locked at night, someone could easily break in.

Which brings me back to staying up all night.

I went to bed around midnight, but something was uneasy inside me.  And now, hours later, I can’t shake a sense of terror.  I’m not scared of anything specific in particular, but someone could come into this room, easily, at any time.  I’m not protected.  I don’t want to let my guard down for one second, and that means I won’t be going to sleep.

This isn’t safe.  This isn’t safe.  This isn’t safe.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I certainly can’t go to sleep without that running through my mind.

The night before, another girl stayed in the room, and I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary.  But being completely alone makes my fears run closer to the surface.

I stay awake until 5:30 AM, when the sun comes up.  Those hours are filled with the most mindless of web surfing: reading Baby-Sitters Club snark (don’t judge!), leafing through the crappier celebrity gossip blogs, and looking for Berlin apartments for rent for my fall trip to Germany.  I can’t take it anymore and fall asleep for three hours before I have to catch my bus back to Lisbon.

“Get lockers!” I say to the owner on my way out.  He shakes his head and tries to explain to me, once again, that Évora is a nice town and people don’t steal here.

Forget it.  His attitude isn’t going to change.

The Point of All This?

I have a bit of a fearless persona on this site — Adventurous Kate does it all!  She travels the world alone!  She’s scared of nothing!  I am Adventurous Kate — one of the reasons why this site has been successful is that Adventurous Kate is a genuine reflection of my personality, albeit a bit louder and wilder.

But I want you to know that despite this fearless persona, I fall apart on a regular basis.  I get scared, I get lonely, I get stupid.  Travel isn’t perfect all the time, and I don’t travel perfectly all the time.

I’ve agonized over whether to write about this.  This is the solo female travel blog.  I spend so much time trying to convince women to take the plunge and travel solo, showing people that, above all, it is safe.  And it’s worked.  Through this site, I’ve convinced many women to travel solo for the first time, and I don’t want experiences like this to scare them away.

Solo female travel can be very safe — if you research your destination and use common sense.  And one way to have common sense is to listen closely to your intuition.  That night, my intuition was screaming that I wasn’t safe.  I didn’t think that anything would actually happen to me, but I didn’t want to stay there any longer than I had to.

Does this experience put me off traveling?  Not whatsoever.  It was a well-timed reminder to do what I always recommend solo female travelers do — to spend a little extra money and stay somewhere with better security.

Was I an idiot for staying up all night for random fears that were actually unfounded?  Beats me.  But it made me feel safer, and for that reason alone, it was worth it.

Something wasn’t right in this hostel in Évora.  It was time to go where I felt safe.

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76 thoughts on “Sometimes, I get scared.”

  1. I’ve learned not to ignore the uneasiness. I once stayed in a completely sketch hostel that felt kinda off from the start, but I didn’t want to be rude and walk right out, so my friend and I stayed there anyway. The dorm doors didn’t lock, I hardly slept a wink, oh yeah, and a strange man totally walked into our room in the wee hours of the morning…

      1. Really nice to read your post!
        I’m Portuguese, but not from Alentejo (Évora is the “capital” of this area called Alentejo). In the main city areas you will need a locker, but not really in Évora. I was similarly surprised when I was there as a turist…but more relaxed, as it is normal, since it was still my country. I just remember falling asleep thinking “if i wake up without my belongings i’m gonna have a chat with mr. safety over there”. But everthing was ok, it is really a very laid back “honest” place. 🙂
        Hope you enjoyed Portugal!

  2. Your readers appreciate honesty. Keeping it real is important. Too many people blow too much smoke. Sure, we have to stay balanced and positive. Nobody reads a travel site to learn about all the places they should avoid. But pretending everything is always easy and wonderful isn’t realistic and it isn’t helpful. It leads would-be-travelers to think the problems and fears they face aren’t shared by the people they see as living their dreams. Better to show that your living your dream despite of your fears. That’s inspiration!

    Nicely done.

  3. Glad you didn’t ignore your gut feelings. ALWAYS go with your gut. This is our body’s warning defense. You say nothing happen, BUT then you didn’t sleep much either. So you well could have deflected anything looming. You were very smart not ignoring your initial feelings and for insisting on them getting lockers. Stay safe and enjoy your travels! And as one writer to another, you write really well. You should put your most “adventurous” travel experiences into a book! We’re praying for your safety always. Angela

  4. I’ve had a few hostel experiences that have left me up all night as well. I definitely don’t think it was “out of line” or being overly paranoid for you to feel this way! It’s important for people to listen and recognize that little voice that tells you something is off; if you ignore it, you may not realize it when real danger is present.

  5. Oh dear! I’m completely with you on this one, Kate. If one doesn’t feel safe, why even bother paying to sleep in a hostel—you might as well sleep on the street or under a bridge. Having said that, the guy is probably right though—I wouldn’t feel unsafe to sleep on the street in Evora—though this doesn’t really make for a good business model for him.

  6. I’m glad you posted this! I get scared too and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one. Sometimes I feel like a total sissy.

  7. Have you ever read The Gift of Fear? It’s a really interesting book and it’s all about learning to trust your instincts even if you don’t have any concrete reason for feeling the way you do. I think it’s especially important for women travelling alone to listen to the nagging fears in their heads.

  8. So let me get this straight. You were alone in a hostel dorm and afraid someone might come in? Don’t strangers come and go through hostels all the time?Isn’t that the point. And your stuff was locked anyways! I’ve stayed in hostels where people arrive in the middle of the night. I’ve stayed in giant dorms in Asia that had no doors….which, come to think of it, didn’t I read on your blog that you stayed in some shitty guesthouse like that in Cambodia? Were you not scared then?

    This post is written like you were trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Wow! You couldn’t sleep because you were alone in a dorm. Seems like if you can’t handle that, how adventurous are you really?

    Yes, being a female alone can sometimes be scary, like if you’re on a bus full of leering locals with grabby hands such as this one time in India. But alone in a hostel dorm where you stuff is locked due to your Pacsafe anyways? Please….

    1. Calm down, Jennifer.

      By someone entering the room, I didn’t mean other guests — I meant along the lines of a rapist or other nefarious criminal.

      This hostel was lackadaisical about security. If the wrong person observed this, they would note that it would be an easy place to break into. Believe me, if I were a criminal, I would break into a place with little to no security.

  9. Great post, Kate. Thanks for your honesty. I completely relate to your experience and it’s refreshing to read someone else sharing about this. I was in a dorm room last night and barely slept because I didn’t feel safe. People were coming and going all night, none of the doors were locked, everything was wide open and the hostel owner didn’t seem concerned about any of it. I’m traveling with a friend and even with him in the dorm as well, I felt uneasy and scared. I worried that I was being foolish but decided to trust my gut, move out and stay at a guest house I knew was safer and more secure, even if it was a little more money. I feel so much more at ease since making that decision. Your blog is a great resource for solo female travelers, and you speaking about the good and the bad gives women a realistic view of life on the road. Keep up the great work 🙂

  10. Yes, it might be true that the town is 100% safe and the locals 100% honest. But it’s a hostel, full of people who presumably don’t live there! Sheer laziness on the part of the hostel owner…

  11. I had the same experience twice this past fall in France. First, my friend and I had a private dorm room in Bordeaux that had been once an apartment building. So there were still people living in the space as well as very few guests. The door wouldn’t close all the way, and the door leading to the street was never locked. I had terrible food poisoning I got in Madrid, so by the time I got to Bordeaux, I told my friend to just go off by himself. I had already been there before and didn’t want him to miss seeing it, but the whole time I was there I was scared.

    We left Bordeaux and went into Paris to Dt, Christopher’s hostel, which was one of the most awful experiences I’ve ever had at a hostel. ALL the lockers were broken into previously and not fixed. The rooms had a sliding glass door that went on to a fire escape accessible from the street, and they were ALWAYS unlocked. I switched rooms half through my stay due to mice infestation (it was so filthy there), and even the next room had the same problems with the fire escape door being opened. I too had a Pac Safe, but it’s not cool to see a hostel, which is a chain and has other properties around Europe AND be recommended by Busabout, have so many issues with lockers being broken into. I found myself worrying about my stuff when I was out in Paris.

    Just because you worry doesn’t make you non-adventurous like another reader posted above. You have to be smart about your surroundings and if you feel scared, so what… You’re human!

    1. That sounds like an AWFUL experience, Jen. I’ve stayed at a few St. Christopher’s in the past, and a friend has stayed at the Paris one, and the experiences have been mostly positive. That is really, really disturbing that the hostel was that bad!

  12. Great post, Kate. We’re all human and fear is part of being human. Hell, I get nervous to go to sleep in my own apartment sometimes when Sean is working an overnight shift, and it would take a lot of effort and lock picking just to get into our apartment building. There’s no reason other than sometimes being alone can get to you and especially when you’re in new places all the time, I don’t blame you for feeling nervous or vulnerable.

    It’s good to have those feelings. They keep you in check. I think it would be more dangerous to be wandering the world, recklessly thinking nothing bad can ever happen to you. If anyone is questioning your level of adventurousness based on having basic human feelings, I say their guts have shit for brains.

    1. 1) YOU’RE HAVING A BABY!!!!!!!!!!! 24 hours after finding out, I’m still freaked-out-excited for you!

      2) Thanks. I’m glad to know you feel that way, too. And my intuition has always been a powerful thing.

  13. Do you jump onto the booking site you used to write reviews for all the places you stay? Because I would be naming and shaming the hell out of this hostel! Okay, they didn’t have lockers when you were there. Okay, maybe they had no intention of following your advice to get them once you left. But flat out ignoring you? That’s just poor service. Boo to them.

    Hope you got caught up on your night’s sleep Kate x

    1. Meh, Claire, I’m not so sure about that. The thing is, the guy was SO nice to me otherwise, and he has a new place, and I don’t want to ruin him (there are very few reviews up yet). I think other solo female travelers will deduce what I’ve deduced.

  14. Great post Kate. I think it is always good to go with your gut no matter what, its trying to tell you something and i bet you were right on target. Its good to let people know your intermost feelings and its good for you to do that. When you do it gives people a chance to see that everything is not always just fun and games and fear is not a bad thing it is one of the best things we have to keep us a live and alert. Toast to you dear!!

  15. Oh my goodness…trust your gut. I’ve only felt an overwhelming uneasy “Something bad is going on here” feeling a few times in my life, and every time I’ve been correct. I believe that God gives you a sense of fear and intuition beyond anything you can comprehend. I might not understand why I feel like I need to leave a house right away, but there are a million tiny details that my body is picking up on that my mind has not connected. That creeping feeling, it’s real. It’s your body sensing that something is not right. Scared is when you go to a scary movie and jump in the audience. Fear is something real and palable. It might not be clear now, but your body was warning you. Don’t ever stay there again.

    Always trust that feeling.

  16. Nice one Kate. You’ve laid yourself out there, warts and all. Probably one of the best posts I’ve read of yours – a true insight into the mind of a solo female traveller. Something I’ll never have to contend with (a: by being a guy and b: not owning anything worth stealing!)…

  17. I respect your honesty in this article. Everybody gets scared sometimes and it takes guts admitting it and to carry on travelling despite these fears.

  18. I’m so glad you wrote this post. Travel isn’t easy but sometimes the travel blogs portray it as so…. so good on you for revealing a bit more truth!

    And come to Berlin already 😉

  19. I think it’s always important to listen to your intuition. And sometimes it’s better to be over the top careful than to risk anything. That said I always enjoy reading about your adventurous travels. But it’s a huge difference to live a “no risk no fun” life or to risk something out of stupidity. So keep up the adventurous travels and be careful when your intuition tells you to.

  20. thanks for this. it’s nice to know that you are human 🙂 I mean… that it is normal to be scared sometimes, it happens to everyone, and I’m not just a freak if it happens to me.
    this morning I woke up when someone tried to open my guesthouse room with a key. the guy just got the wrong room number, was trying to use his key to open what he thought was his room, but it scared me bad, waking up from deep sleep hearing that sound.
    this is one reason why I like to keep to the tourist trail as a solo female, I know I cannot trust people just because they are fellow whites, and I have nothing against Asians, I have lived here for 8+ years, it’s just that we are going through more or less the same experiences, language barrier, hassle from taxi drivers, safety issues…. and also, the guesthouse owners know how to deal with us, most of the time.
    btw, I managed to get a pacsafe in the last moment, very limited (nonexistent) choice here, so I had to get something that’s too big, so I need to get used to the logistics changes that come with it. thanks for the tip. I’ll make sure though not to chain it to a bench on a boat, just in case it starts sinking and I want to grab it to take with me :-))))
    (heck… you remember, we all had the remains of our stuff tampered with there…. nobody thought we should keep our luggage locked on a boat trip like this!)

    1. I don’t blame you — I’ve been through that before, crazy (sometimes drunk) guys picking the wrong room — haven’t been walked in on yet. (I’ve also heard some hostel stories, like a guy in a leopard print thong peeing in a girl’s new luggage…)

  21. I think your absolutely right. It’s normal to be scared, everyone does. It’s the way you react and learn from it that changes everything. Thank you for being so honest with us. By doing so, the experience of travelling solo seams to be accessible to all who wants to try it.

  22. Intuition is one of the greatest parts about being a human. There’s a reason why we have it…and it’s definitely good that you honored it. Too many people have that nagging “this isn’t right”, feeling, but don’t do anything about it. Glad that you listened to your intuition and found a safe place to go.

  23. Kate it’s so funny because on my blog I have he opposite of a fearless persona! I’m scared of loads of things and cry in public and I’m generally just a bit of a mess to travel with sometimes! Even so, there have been times when we’ve been staying somewhere and I’ve just gotten this awful feeling that something terrible was going to happen. Often it’s absolutely nothing but not being able to shake that feeling and sleep is the worst.

    It’s shocking that the complacency of this hostel owner you encountered is probably making not just you, but lots of other travellers, feel uncomfortable. He really needs to change his attitude.

    It’s actually really nice to read something from you where you’re not fearless – makes me feel a lot more normal haha!

  24. Excellent words of wisdom Kate. Even travelling as a couple I get scared. The problem is I am often not scared for my own safety, but that of Adela’s. I am always sketched out about places that look a little seedy as I am meant to be this “protector” I guess. Worried that one day I might not live up to my own high standards! Fingers crossed it never happens.

  25. Hi Kate,

    I’m on the run (thankfully not from the law) and was only able to briefly scan your post — but I will tell you from many years of experience, trust you senses — they will keep you safe and at the very least you’ll get a good night’s sleep.

    Will try to read more later. Hope you’re okay.


  26. I have huge respect for you travelling solo, its my ultimate dream to travel the world and the feeling grows everyday and it annoys me I am not doing it yet but I admit going solo is scary, Ive had a few experiences in the past with stalkers and am very wary when on my own (which is highly irritating as I am very independant and its an issue that is bugging me) so Id love to do what you are doing, I feel like I need a group to experience it with but everyone seems to be settling down/getting married/established careers and Im just the misfit wanting to go bohemian travelling haha, I just need the finances and a huge kick up the backside to begin haha. I think if Id been in your situation here I would have feng shui-ed the room *translation…..moved heavy objects possibly even the bed in front of the door*.

  27. Sam Blonde @SamBlonde

    PS – After reading this I now know if/when I do go travelling I will bombard any hostels/hotels/guest houses with questions about security/insurance in future to try avoid all these pitfalls so thanks for this blog as it does make you realise about asking these questions before bookings to avoid the stress. Shame you couldnt ask for a refund after you got there and realised the situation and then found somewhere else.

    1. I’m glad this was helpful to you, Sam!

      As for the refund, I didn’t feel uncomfortable until very late on the second night, so it seemed to make the most sense to just stay up all night.

  28. It’s interesting to read about this side of things and great of you to open up about it. What I’m curious about though is what kept you at the hostel? Why didn’t you leave and find another if your gut instinct was to be that afraid of the place?

    I recently read the book ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin de Becker and it’s all about trusting your intuition even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why you are feeling a certain way at first. I think you definitely did right to stay up but I think you would have done even better to find a different hostel!


    1. The thing is, by then, it was past midnight and in a small town. Most hotels would be outright closed. I measured the circumstances and felt that staying up all night would be a smaller price to pay than upending everything, repacking, going out into the night, getting a new room.

      One thing that I want to mention that I hadn’t mentioned in this piece (and should have) was that the guesthouse owner was SO nice — invited me out to a bar, insisted I have some of the lunch he was making, showed me all around time. A very nice man. Which I guess makes sense — he believes in the good in everyone a bit more than one should.

  29. Interesting entry. I don’t think that female solo travelers have a monopoly on “fear”. I find that very occasionally I just have a “bad feeling” and can’t sleep (or can’t sleep well). Or for that matter don’t feel comfortable during the day.

    We should all pay attention to those bad feelings. They are an evolutionary adaptation. We are here now because we inherited that sensitivity from our ancestors, who obviously had it long enough to survive to raise their offspring.

    And as a blogger I think you do your readers a service by talking about it – or would be doing them a disservice if you didn’t. People want to know that the hostel in Évora doesn’t come up to snuff and makes experienced travelers feel a little uneasy.

    Key is not letting the fear rule you.

  30. Lockers are a welcomed addition to a hostel, but I won’t give up a nights sleep because there are none. I’ve slept with my passport & wallet strapped around my stomach in one of those secret-pouch-things in dodgy hostels, with dodgy looking roommates.

    For the most part, I was fine with just a couple of padlocks on my bags. I could leave the bags unattended in the dorm room, but locked together.

    I had things stolen, but not from a hostel. And there were lots of people that left their laptop or ipod charging in the dorm all day while they weren’t there. I just left a note on their gear saying it was a bad idea. I could have checked out and taken their things with me.

    Most thieves (especially in a dorm situation) are not professional, they are just opportunistic. Taking reasonable safety measures is good enough. But you learn these things with experience, as I did… like when someone went in my tent in Pamplona and stole my sleeping bag. Leaving me with nothing to sleep on for a week. Wankers! Tent locks after that.

    I stayed in a few hostels that didn’t lock the front door, and didn’t have locks on the dorm rooms. I am more worried about people walking in off the street than a fellow backpacker rifling through my things.

    …whatever helps you sleep at night I guess 😉

    1. It wasn’t because of the lockers, Ian. It was the attitude of the guesthouse owner — the thought that nothing bad could happen here. That’s naive. And someone who honestly believes things as naive as that is likely to be lax in his security everywhere.

  31. Kate:

    I am really glad you shared this. It’s a really relatable problem and I love how you admit that sometimes you feel scared – but that it doesn’t stop you much on this grand adventure!

    Keep it going!!

  32. Oh Kate I have so been there. But if anything I think it’s important to share that it’s normal to be sad/homesick/scared/lonely at times on the road so when other people experience it they realized it’s not a sign to go home but to work through.

  33. brokegirltravelling

    I’m about to travel for the first for the first time and have been reading your blog non stop for the last few days. While reading it it’s made me nervous for the first time as I’m thinking to myself ‘Oh flip, this chick is so fearless, I’m not like her’ i really love your blog but i especially enjoyed your honesty in this post, its made me realise that sometimes its okay to be scared 😀

  34. A lot of comments here already…
    I just want to add that as a reader I appreciate it if I hear about the good and the bad, the happy moments and the sad or fearful ones…
    It what makes your site credible and real.
    So thanks:)

  35. Maria-In Search of Wonder

    I love reading your articles. My husband and I are doing our own RTW this upcoming March. He’s very grateful I have my Colombian sixth sense as far as dangerous situations that he can’t perceive since he grew up in a crimeless town in Indiana. I grew up on the streets of Bogota and I’m pretende good about identifying danger. Sometime though, I can get into the same “non-sense” fear state you just got into. Not a rational explanation makes sense when you are in that mindset. Any advice?

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