If you have been keeping up with me on social media you may know I was in mountains in Serbia recently and you might have also seen me talk about facing some struggles.
I will preface this by saying I knew that coming to Tara alone would be tricky for a number of reasons
Firstly, I knew that being alone I would mainly be sticking to shorter walks instead of longer hikes for safety reasons – there are brown bears in Tara for one and safety in numbers is generally a good idea for hiking. Secondly, I was not willing to rent a car, so I knew I would be relying on a group tour happening if I wanted to see all the main sites of the park. I decided to combat these problems by staying in a hostel – it was highly rated and I figured I could meet people and at least combat the first problem and if I was lucky maybe there would be a tour. Unfortunately, there were only guests for one night (out of my seven nights) who were lovely people but they arrived very late and left the next morning. So, it was just me and the hostel volunteer for most of the time. When realising I would be ‘alone’ for most of the time, I accepted it and decided it would be a great opportunity for relaxing walks, reading, photography and for just enjoying my surroundings.
But I was stuck with alone with a hostel creep
I have discussed ‘hostel creeps’ in an earlier blog post about surviving hostel life and on this occasion, I came across new, unchartered hostel creep territory. I have come across many hostel creeps in the past, who can be more easily avoided in group situations but for the first time, I was totally alone for most of the time with the hostel creep who was actually the hostel volunteer.
Over a number of days, the hostel volunteer slowly crossed the line with me by talking inappropriately with me and eventually trying to have unwelcomed sexual discussions and not respecting my wishes to not discuss those things with him. He only stopped when I angrily told him that he was disrespecting me and he apologised – at this point, he had completely tested my patience and I had enough. I avoided my hostel for the rest of my stay and I cried uncontrollably, publicly in a nearby hotel where I sat to have a coffee every day, I felt defeated and disempowered. I left Tara prematurely despite really loving the actual hostel and the town I was in. I initially tried to just ‘stick it out’ but I couldn’t and in the end, my friends and family encouraged me positively to move on. Also in hindsight, days after writing this I feel rather silly because as soon as I realised the situation that I was in (alone with a strange man in a hostel) I had a bad gut feeling but I rationalised it, thinking I was being prejudiced. It is very important to ALWAYS listen to your gut especially when you are travelling alone. Things could have been a lot worse for me and I am fortunate that I walked away from that situation relatively unscathed. I am also very sad as a female traveller that I came to a place that I really loved but I was essentially driven away by sexual harassment AND from the worker at my accommodation.
So, if you want to visit Tara my recommendations are
If you can, travel with friends or family
This is the easiest way to combat most of the problems I faced.
If you are flying solo
-If you choose to stay at a hostel contact the hostel ahead of time to check that there will be either a) guests (even though my friend actually called for me in advance and the manager told him there would be other guests when I arrived and weren’t any!!!!) or b) group tours.
-You are more likely to come across more travellers in mid-late Spring and Summer. IF it is within your budget, I would recommend organising a private tour. You can even organise group tours from Belgrade of varying lengths.
If you are unlikely to meet others or do a group tour I don’t recommend visiting Tara alone – unless you are happy to spend your time mostly chilling out.
For all visitors
–Make sure you pick up a sim card from a VIP mobile centre in a bigger Serbian city. This was very important for me as I was alone and my hostel had no Wi-Fi. These sim cards last for a set amount of time, they are great value for money, giving you a large amount of data and some credit to make phone calls for a fairly small amount of money.
-To work out your bus route use Rome2Rio, you cannot book your ticket online unfortunately so I would suggest going in advance to the bus station and purchasing it. You also normally need to pay in cash and there is normally an ATM at the bus station. If you have luggage you are charged an additional fee by the driver before they store it in luggage. My one-way ticket from Belgrade to Tara cost slightly less than $16AUD and the luggage fee was less than $1AUD.
-If you are taking the bus from Belgrade the bus sometimes stops and you have to get on another bus in a town. My bus driver got an English speaking man to tell me this and he also bought up google translate to let me know of a break we were having and another passenger told me this in German.
For vegetarians visiting
Traditional Serbian cuisine is typically very meat heavy so if you stay in a smaller town be prepared to cook and bring some things to ‘beef up’ your meals especially if you plan to stay for a week or more – for example, I bought with me some tofu sausages and some vegetarian pre-prepared meals from DM and I was so glad that I did. The stores in smaller towns can sometimes have a limited variety of all types of food including types of vegetables, in this case, you just have to be a little creative.
I highly recommend ducking out of the bigger cities to enjoy the beauty of Tara
I do want to highlight despite my experience being muddied by a creep and being limited by being alone I really loved Tara itself – it is an incredibly beautiful part of Serbia. The bus ride from Belgrade to Tara Mountain was fantastic too because I had such incredible views of the countryside – I saw a shepherd herding his sheep with one of those old-fashioned hooks for the first time in my life, charming mountain villages and went past the turquoise blue Drina river. If you stay within the national park you will also have great opportunities for star-gazing, I counted several shooting stars which was amazing. The scent of jasmine and pine in the forest were also heavenly!
I share my story reluctantly but I want to be honest
I hate to share beautiful pictures with an ugly story but I want to be real. Sometimes on social media people share only their highlight reel but I think there is merit in sharing when times are tough too. Travelling solo especially as a woman comes with extreme highs and lows, it won’t always be ‘perfect’ and that is just the truth. I also wish to highlight that most of my problems with men while travelling have occurred with other foreigners and travellers. I have had men make the assumption that because I travel alone and I am foreign/a Western woman that I am promiscuous and they expect that I will jump into bed with anyone including themselves. I will share a post and go into more depth about what it is really like to travel alone as a woman from my experiences eventually.
Have you faced struggles (big or small) when travelling alone? I would be very curious to read about other peoples stories.
If you haven’t read my blog post about Belgrade yet, I wrote quite a comprehensive guide to the visiting the city – the link is here.