One of the scariest things about traveling alone is the possibility that something bad could happen to you and no one would be there to help. You can also be taken advantage of more easily. With no one there to talk things through or bounce ideas off of, you’re left with only one perspective and it’s sometimes hard to know if it’s right. But there are definitely good things about traveling alone, too. You can do what you want, when you want and you don’t have to compromise on anything. Some of my best stories have happened while I was traveling alone, which you can read about here and here.After spending a few weeks in Morocco with a friend, she flew home and I went on to Tunisia by myself. I was pretty nervous because it’s a 3rd world, Muslim, North African country that didn’t really have a lot of solo, women travelers of any nationality, including it’s own. Upon arrival, I made the rookie mistake of not knowing what my taxi driver was charging me for the trip to my hotel and definitely overpaid. I was tired from traveling all day (and a near meltdown at the Marrakesh airport when they couldn’t find our reservation) and a bit nervous about being on my own, so I was just thankful to be safely at my hotel and didn’t really care too much. The next day, I decided to take a train to the ancient Punic city of Carthage and eventually on to the charming town of Sidi Bou Said. It was a local train and very rickety. As I got on and found a seat, a group of about 8 young men, around 18-20 years old, sat down and took a keen interest in me. All I could think about was, if they wanted to do something to me, there was literally nothing I could do about it. I was terrified.

But it turns out, all they wanted to do was ask me questions. None of them had ever met an American before; they were just some alien creatures they saw on TV. I was such a novelty to them. They wanted to know what America was like, if I’d ever heard of Britney Spears or Akon, how I liked Tunisia, and where I was going that day. I tried to explain to them that I was going Carthage, but they couldn’t understand what I was saying. After saying it several times (seriously, I don’t know how else to say it!) they finally understood, “Ah! Cart-age!” Well, that explains it. As we approached my stop, they tried to get me to stay on longer, that there was nothing worth seeing, just a bunch of old ruins. They didn’t get that that was exactly what I came to see. Weird Americans. I bid them farewell and headed to the first site.

As I was walking up the road to the museum, a taxi driver stopped and offered to drive me to all the important sites of Carthage, tell me about them, and eventually take me on to Sidi Bou Said. I was pretty skeptical at first, knowing that I could do it on my own and not have to worry if this guy was serious or trying to kidnap me. But it was also a billion degrees out, I knew that traveling by train was slow and not always easy, and it would be nice to see some places not on the train route. We agreed on a price (not making that mistake again!) and off we went.

Antonine Baths

The sites varied between the mundane (the Military and Commercial Harbors) and the awesome (the Antonine Baths). There was an amphitheater which seemed small, but used to hold up to 30,000 people, and more mosaics than I’ve ever seen in my life. While much of the ancient city is now upper class coastal suburb, there is still a lot to see, and worth every dime and second. You can easily imagine Hannibal and his elephants marching off to war, or Aeneas seeking shelter from the fall of Troy in Queen Dido’s arms before breaking her heart to found Rome. It’s a magical place full of history and legend.

The amphitheater
The main square of Sidi Bou Said
A colorful back alleyway.

After visiting nearly every site in Carthage, it was time to head to Sidi Bou Said. This small, wealthy suburb of Tunis is known for it’s white buildings with blue trim, and Islamic art and architecture. There isn’t a lot to do or see here, but it’s nice to walk around and have dinner. As I got out of the cab, the driver said he was leaving. What?! How was I supposed to get back to Tunis?! I sat and argued with him but he was insistent. He said he only agreed to take me to Sidi Bou Said, he had to get home to his wife and kids. I could hire another taxi to take me back or take the train. I was annoyed, but what was I going to do?

Beautiful door with Islamic detail

It was now evening and things were starting to close. I walked around town, taking pictures and looking for somewhere to eat. I honestly can’t remember if I found any food or not, I was too worried about getting back to Tunis! After wandering around this charming town for a bit, I finally found a cab to take me back to my hotel. He didn’t speak any English which gave me a chance to use my French, which was clearly not as good as I thought it was, as he couldn’t understand even the name of my hotel, La Masion Blanc. After driving around lost, he eventually pulled over and asked someone to help translate. From there, it was a quick trip and I was finally home! It was a long and sometimes stressful day, and I was still annoyed with my tour guide taxi driver, but one thing I found out that day, and the rest of my days in Tunisia was that everyone there was incredibly friendly, delighted to help a foreigner, and thrilled to meet a real American. It was completely opposite of what I expected and I felt so thankful that I had the opportunity to hopefully make a positive impact on them. They had definitely done that for me.

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