After a week snowboarding in the Swiss Alps, I arrived in Amsterdam on an overnight train from Zurich. Though I slept on the train, the 14-hour ride still left me groggy and cranky on this very early morning.
Oh, it was cold as hell.
The first action plan was to meet my couchsurfing host Ilse at the bus stop near her house, which is a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Amsterdam. She gave me specific instructions to arrive at the designated bus stop named ‘Dorp’ in Ilpendam, and as usual I asked the bus driver to let me know when it was my stop. I didn’t know at that time the significance of this information.
Note #1: I have bad karma with buses and always get off at the wrong stop, so I usually request the bus driver to yell out to me when it’s time to alight.
The landscape begins to change 10 minutes out of the city. The buildings start disappearing and fairytale-looking cottages on the right with a hundred grazing sheep on the left start to appear through the bus windows. Who knew a short trip out of Amsterdam would take me into the countryside? It was beautiful.
A last-minute couch for a solo female traveler
The driver let me off at the right stop and I met up with Ilse and her adorable one-year-old son. I was couchsurfing with her out of pure luck. My original host had cancelled on me at the last minute, and in my desperation I had posted a ‘last-minute couch request’ on the Amsterdam couchsurfing forum online a week before. A few creepy old men offered their couch to me, which I wouldn’t have accepted. But Ilse, the only female to respond, saved me! I felt extremely fortunate to stay with her, and I was stoked that she had a one-year-old son, as I had never couchsurfed with a baby before.
I was given my own room with an inflatable mattress to sleep on. As a couchsurfer I’m always grateful to have my own room and anything to sleep on, however I didn’t realize how uncomfortable it would be on an inflatable mattress in the middle of an Amsterdam winter. No matter how long I lay on that bed, I couldn’t stay warm and my toes had begun to hurt.
The next night I decided to have a night in town, and since Ilse was a single mother with a baby, I had to make my own arrangements in term of finding company. Ilse was fabulous and did not mind me coming back in the wee hours of the morning.
As usual when I’m alone and looking for people to hang out with, I post the question on the local couchsurfing forum, asking if any other travellers would fancy a night out in town. On the Amsterdam group, I had a staggering 30 responses, locals and travellers.
Note #2: As a solo female traveller, I always have a pre-paid mobile number with me to get in touch with other people and new friends. Most importantly it’s a safety device in case of emergencies.
Late night adventures!
A Canadian girl Ange was also there for a few days to celebrate her birthday, and when she saw my post, decided to combine our meeting and gather everyone for dinner and drinks.
We all went to a well-known Indonesian restaurant and hit up an underground party later. After a while, it became obvious that some men in the group had ulterior intentions, so Ange and I felt uncomfortable enough to leave at around 1am.
We walked around for an hour trying to locate the night-bus. Ange was also couchsurfing with someone who couldn’t have a night out with her, so thankfully we were on a similar mission together despite different destinations. Finally, we both found our buses, promising to check up on each other the next day.
I hopped on my bus and at that late hour, everything was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything out of the windows. For some reason, I was feeling confident (I blame alcohol) and flouted my own rule of asking the bus-driver to let me off at the correct stop.
It was probably because there was a bus route map on a screen at the front and I was concentrating very hard on all the stops until it reached my stop ‘Dorp’. The moment it flashed on the screen I jumped off the bus.
As I had mentioned before, 20 minutes out of Amsterdam takes you to the suburbs which are almost like the countryside, with scattered houses and very few vehicles. Especially at 2am in the middle of winter!
I got off the bus and tried to retrace my steps back to Ilse’s house. After 10 minutes walking around, I didn’t recognize any of the houses. Panic started to consume me when I realize it was the wrong bus stop. I didn’t know where I was. My phone had run out of credit at the most amazing time. Besides, it was late and I didn’t want to bother Ilse.
There are lots of bikes in Amsterdam!
I thought to myself that the right stop couldn’t be far away so walked along the pitch-black road for a while and thought it might have been the next suburb. However, did I mention it was cold? After five minutes I thought better of it and decided to just walk back to the bus-stop where I got off, and wait for the next bus. It had a light at least, and if I had to wait till the next morning for regular services, I will. It would be silly to walk in darkness without knowing where I was going.
As fate would have it, another night-bus came along after 10 minutes. I waved frantically at it, but it didn’t stop. I continued my mad waving until the driver saw me and stopped the bus in its tracks. I ran furiously up to the bus and blabbered my explanation. The kindly bus driver told me I had just missed one suburb and drove me without charge to my correct stop. Another ‘Dorp’.
Why on earth would anyone name two bus-stops with the same name? It was beyond me, but I was so thankful I got off, said goodnight to the driver, and went back to the right house. Slept till noon the next day.
I told Ilse my story and she listened in horror and scolded me for not calling her. Although it turned out all right, in hindsight it could have been the opposite. It was probably one of the scariest situations I had been in while travelling alone. Still, I was rather proud of myself for having handled it by myself without having to bother anyone.
Note #3: As a girl travelling alone I always listen to my instincts (they’re usually right) and I never panic. Things always work out when I think straight!
This article was originally published on Art of Solo Travel.