In honor of International Women’s Month, we bring you two different stories of fearless females traveling by bus in foreign countries to highlight the unique, eye-opening, and sometimes scary experiences solo women can have on the road. Mostly, these stories remind us that more often than not, the world is full of good and sometimes you can put your apprehension aside because there will be someone to have your back.
I spent a week in Istanbul with a friend in 2008. I felt pretty safe because I wasn’t alone, but after a week of safe friend time, Jenny had to continue on to Asia. I was suddenly by myself, and I was heading out of town on a night bus.
The bus was almost entirely empty, but I found myself sitting next to another young woman. She didn't seem very happy to have me next to her, and after a couple of hours I picked up to move to a double seat to sit on my own and try to sleep. Immediately, the steward rushed up to me and insisted I move back. I assumed this was because the bus was getting ready to pick up more passengers, but no one else got on for the rest of the night.
A week or so later I was on another bus, this one from Antalya down to the south coast to catch a ferry to Cypress. I was sitting next to another young woman, but as the bus was pretty full, I didn't think much of it.
Suddenly the bus pulled over and men with machine guns climbed aboard demanding passports. Two guys at the back of the bus were taken off the bus amidst lots of shouting, and then the bus just carried on down the line, and none of the passengers seeming bothered.
Once aboard (the ferry), I was once again seated next to a young woman travelling by herself, though the crowd was sparse and there was plenty of space all around the main cabin. As they handed out little puke baggies, I asked her if she knew why we were assigned to sit together. She explained that it's the way it is when girls travel alone: they can't sit next to men who aren't associated with them, and if they are alone, they have to sit next to another woman.
While it could be seen as restrictive and controlling to always be placed next to another woman when you’re a free and independent traveler, in this case it felt different. It felt like the way the world feels about women. That we can be trusted, and that while we are on our own out there, we’ll help each other.
Molly on her travels
I was in Kuala Lumpur about five years ago and it was hot. Like, "my traveling companion doesn't want to leave the air-conditioned hostel room ever again" hot. But I wanted to go see this site called the Batu Caves, and I psyched myself up one afternoon to go even if it meant heat stroke and an afternoon on my own in a new country with a language and culture completely foreign to me. So I planned out a public bus route that would get me there for about $2 over the course of several hours.
By the time I finally found and boarded the correct bus (after a few missteps), I felt wilted and exhausted. Not only that, but I, the solo female traveler in shorts and a pink tank top, was the only passenger on the bus. The driver pulled away from the curb and I felt that special knee-jerk dread you get when, as a woman, you're completely on your own in a totally foreign place you just got to yesterday.
I made my way to the back of the bus and sat there, nervously silent, as we passed stop after stop without picking up any other passengers. Eventually, the bus driver called out to me and motioned for me to come sit up in the front row of seats. It wasn't until I got up there that I realized the driver was younger than I was and had the kind of wide, friendly smile I was unaccustomed to seeing aboard public transportation back home in New York. He spoke to me in English, asking where I was from and where I was going. He told me he was studying English and wanted to practice speaking it. And so we talked about his family, the Malaysian education system, and the unique local melting pot of Hinduism and Islam that makes KL such an incredible place.
When I got off at the end of the line - still the only passenger on that bus - he gave me walking directions to the caves, told me to mind the traffic, pointed out the pick-up spot for my bus back, and rattled off the next couple of pick-up times. I caught the last bus back that day. I was the only passenger again, but I wasn't scared this time.