travel anxiety

Surviving a Winter Night Alone at a Bus Stop in Italy

How I Survived My Worst Travel Nightmare

I am an incredibly anxious person when it comes to transportation.

I hate being late. Even at home in Portland where I know how long it takes to get from A to B, I will show up 30 minutes early and walk around the block for 20 minutes so that I’m not too early and definitely not late. When I first moved here I actually made a friend practice riding the bus and the train with me for an entire day so I would feel more comfortable doing it–seriously. (Thanks Betty!)

When I thought about traveling solo, in a different country, where I don’t speak or understand the language, where there is a whole new transportation system to learn—anxious doesn’t really do it justice. It was more like terrified! I spent hours watching YouTube videos and reading articles on it to prepare.

I make pasta at a small Italian restaurant and the owners were sending me to Italy to work in a kitchen to learn about the culture and traditions of different noodles. Obviously, I was beyond excited and jumped on the opportunity to go.

Since I was going to be working 16 hours a day in a small village in Emilia Romagna, my boyfriend and I decided I’d go alone because it wouldn’t have been much fun for him. I don’t drive and didn’t want to spend the money on a rental car so I had also made up my mind to take public transportation as well. Which turned out to be a mistake.

The trains were on strike.

Like – not even running at all – on strike.

Can’t use a train even if you pre-bought your tickets – on strike.

Have to use a bus that you didn’t watch hours of videos on YouTube about on strike.

What do you do when transportation doesn’t go to plan?

I died!

Okay, no I didn’t, but I did have a small panic attack where I had to employ my how to keep calm when you are feeling overwhelmed and afraid tactic (courtesy of Emily) to keep from hyperventilating and crying. I collected my thoughts while counting my breaths and put my resting tourist face on and handled the situation. I figured out how to use the bus.

The ticket lady was so nice. She even printed out a schedule for me so I could see the stops and the bus times to get to Cremona, which was the closest town to my end destination, where my friend would be picking me up from the station.

I was saved! I got onto the bus, validated my ticket, sat down, and then I waited.

And waited…waited… and waited…

The bus was not going. 10 minutes past the departure time it still hadn’t left the station. Since I’m an anxious time freak, I was losing my cool again. I ended up missing my connecting bus by ten minutes and there wasn’t another bus I needed for a couple of hours.

Fine. I read and waited at the station. Finally, I get on the bus. After we have been driving for an hour and a half we just stop at a bus stop and wait there for about a half hour. I have no idea why. We get moving again and I continue into the countryside for another hour. At my next stop, I had missed the bus I was supposed to be on because of the mysterious waiting on the last bus.

At this point, I have missed two of my four buses. I’ve been at bus stations and stops waiting for the majority of the day and I am hours away from any town bigger than 30 people. I am two buses away from my destination and I was currently at the last stop that the bus I needed picked up on.

However, it was getting dark and the bus driver looked at me like he felt so bad. He was speaking to me but I couldn’t understand it. I just knew by his face and the sound of his voice that he was pitying me.

This is how I ended up at a lone bus station in the middle of a field with one slab of concrete and a sad, flickering light at 11:30 pm.

Buses don’t run that late in Italy, people!

I was stranded. Round 3 of tears let loose. I cried at the bus stop like a child. It was cold, dark, lonely, scary, and I was hungry.

I had no choice but to try and make the best of the situation. Here’s what I did right and where I went wrong now that I’ve had time to think about it from a safe, warm chair at home.


Solo travel anxiety italy

Things to do when stranded at a bus stop:

  1. Put a hat and scarf on even if it isn’t cold yet. You will need the heat. It gets foggy and damp and breezy. Hold all the heat in that you can.
  2. Keep your backpack on your back and use it as a support. You can’t lose it or have it stolen that way and it also keeps your back warm.
  3. Get a TRTL neck pillow. I had one for the plane, where it honestly wasn’t the best. Having it at the bus stop where I was sitting up straighter, however, was a godsend. It’s made of super soft fleece which also helped keep me warm and it has a small plastic piece inside that nests between your shoulder and your jaw that lets you sleep or read, sitting completely upright. No crook in your neck, no looking like you are obviously asleep and unconscious at the bus stop. It was so nice.
  4. Have a physical book with you. It let my mind wander and be distracted instead of focusing on the negative. Also doesn’t drain your phone battery. Might I recommend the Deborah Harkness Discovery of Witches trilogy? It kept me sane.
  5. Keep self-defense in mind. My boyfriend got me a TSA approved stabbing device to put on my keychain before I left. I kept it in my hand the entire time and it made me feel safe even though I never saw or heard anything (real) that made me feel threatened.
  6. Eat whatever snacks you have. Just do it. It will make you feel better.

Things you shouldn’t do when stranded at a bus stop:

  1. Don’t forget to turn your phone on battery save mode or airplane mode.  My battery was draining and I was starting to worry that if something did happen that I wouldn’t be able to call anyone for help.
  2. Don’t forget gloves. I brought a hat and scarf with no gloves. Dumb packing mistake on my part. Just double check to make sure you have them if traveling anywhere during the winter.
  3. Don’t underestimate the amount of snacks you need.  This is a dual lesson. I had one dark chocolate candy bar “for emergencies” which is the right thing to do, but didn’t include not eating anything at all, all day. I will always bring more snacks than I think I need now.
  4. Don’t forget to pack some kind of water bottle or buy some water when you are traveling. I had one small bottle of juice and it wasn’t enough. I thought I’d get more when I arrived in Cremona, my end destination, but that didn’t happen to plan and I was getting a headache from being dehydrated.
  5. Never forget to always tell someone where you are. I was embarrassed and mad that I was messing up my schedule and I didn’t want to worry my boyfriend so I told him I got to where I was going safely and on time.  If anything had happened to me, no one would have known the last place I was at. This is super dangerous and goes against any and all advice I’ve ever received about traveling. Don’t let pride or worry compromise your safety.

I dozed on and off but never for very long during the night and I was exhausted. The bus came on time at 6 a.m. the next morning and I finally arrived at my destination. I must say that after this experience I felt strangely powerful, even though nothing went to plan. My worst fear had happened and it was way worse than what I imagined it could be, and I came out unscathed. I was a conqueror of fears!

I knew the rest of the trip would be a piece of cake.

What was your biggest transportation fail? How did you handle it? I’m dying to know! It can be incredibly comforting to know that these things happen and we all make it through somehow. Leave your story below in the comments section.

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