Getting In Cars With Strangers: Trust And Safety When Traveling Solo

This one time, I planned to spend a summer in Greece. I booked hotels for a summer in Greece, I mapped out all the Greek islands I couldn't bear to miss, and I packed clothes for a summer in Greece (swimwear, shorts, tank tops, dresses, sandals).

And then my travel buddy broke her collar bone and I found myself continuing the adventure on my own. More on that here. I never really fell in love with Greece on my own, and I decided to take the trip in a different direction (North).

I booked a flight to Iceland. The only problem was that I was in Athens, and my flight left from Paris. So I had five days to get across Greece, up Italy, and into Paris. That's another story, this one is about those few hours in Paris.

I arrived at Charles de Gaulle, Paris' central-most airport by train with about 12 hours to prepare myself for Iceland and make my way to the remote, tiny Orly airport on the outskirts of Paris for my flight later that night.

I hung out in the airport for a while, trying to make a game plan using Starbucks' wifi and eating way too many pastries. There was a mall relatively close to Orly airport where I would get some leggings and sweaters and shoes. I may be reckless, but I'm not reckless enough to go to Iceland with nothing but bikinis and sundresses.

When I got off the train "near" the mall, it was just starting to rain. After a few hours wandering up and down the highway getting more and more lost by the minute, it was pouring. I could not find this mall to save my own life.

Red-faced, sore-legged, wet, cold, hot, and sweaty, I lugged my backpack miserably up and down streets and highways, through scary tunnels, and over rickety pedestrian bridges. I even called my mom in Canada and tried to get her to Google where the hell I was and if this mall even existed (it did).

So, there I was, sitting on a concrete pylon, backpack thrown down in the muck in frustration, when a white car approached with three men inside. The driver leaned over and asked if I was ok and if I needed a ride. I assured them that I was fine and that I definitely didn't need a ride. 

They drove on, and I put my backpack back on and continued my fruitless trek. I'd seen Taken, and I certainly wasn't about to get in a car with three strange men. I mean, I'd seen Taken!

Little did I know I was about to get in a car with three strange men.

They returned about five minutes later (it was probably less, but you know how time gets when you're traipsing through the rain on a dirty highway in Paris with a 50 pound bag actively trying to push you down into the mud). They expressed their concern at seeing me on the highway in the rain and thought I might need help. They were kind, non-threatening, and seemed genuinely helpful and concerned.

So, throwing caution to the wind, I got in the car.

I told them I needed to get to the mall to get warm clothes for my trip to Iceland, and my flight was coming up in just a few hours. Their English was broken and my French was no bueno, but we seemed to be on the same page. 

It didn't take long, however, for me to realize that we were heading back into the heart of the city, away from the mall and the airport, to the place I was surely going to be murdered.

I was now wishing I was traipsing through the rain on a dirty highway in Paris with a 50 pound bag actively trying to push me down into the mud. Laughing nervously, I asked them if they were going to kill me.

They laughed and said something in French that I couldn't piece together. Of course, this was no comfort whatsoever, and I sat there for a minute, hating myself for getting in this car. I mean, I'd seen Taken!

My dread grew by the second as we wound our way in the wrong direction. I sat in the backseat, making my plan to jump from the moving vehicle. Would I leave my backpack? Or would it cushion the blow? Should I do it now, or wait to see if they really are plotting my death?

My chest was getting tight, my nails were digging into my sweaty palms, and these psychos were muttering to each other rapidly in French, probably about the effectiveness of wood chippers for body disposal. 

Then we pulled up to an office building and one of the three men got out. The other two took me to the mall and picked me up later to take me to the airport. We still keep in touch. 

Turns out one of them was late for work, and his office was closer than the mall.

The moral of the story? Always get into cars with strangers.

I'm totally kidding. The moral is go with your gut and try not to default to distrust.

You can't trust everyone you meet when you're traveling, but you can't trust no one, either. There are creeps and bad guys everywhere (I do mean everywhere), but there are kind and generous people everywhere (I do mean everywhere), too. And, as a general rule, I think it's relatively easy to tell them apart. 

In closing, don't get into cars with strangers unless you genuinely feel comfortable and safe.

As always, thanks for reading, and don't forget to follow the sloth!

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