Cultural Miscommunication or Stranger Danger? Learning to Trust Your Gut While Traveling

Miscommunications can happen frequently while traveling, especially when traveling to places where you do not speak the local language or understand local cultural norms. However, your gut always knows when you are in a safe situation with mere miscommunications due to a language barrier and when the miscommunication is more than a mere miscommunication and your safety is at risk. After traveling to 55 countries, many as a solo female traveler, I have never actually been in a situation where I felt like I was almost taken until I visited Transylvania, Romania, last month. Here’s the story of how my friend and I almost got taken in Transylvania, which will hopefully show you that while it is not always easy to tell the difference between cultural miscommunication and stranger danger, learning to trust your gut while traveling can be a life saver.

How We Almost Got Taken in Transylvania

After arriving at Rasnov Castle in Transylvania approximately 30 minutes before closing, my friend and I made the short hike up from the parking lot to the castle. Having completely missed the sign for the entrance into the castle, we walked around the exterior, taking in the views, when a worker shouted to us in Romanian from inside the castle, asking if we were trying to get in. My friend, who is fluent in Romanian, responded that we were, and the worker directed us toward the side of the castle, which we assumed was where the entrance would be.

Still not seeing the entrance and in a state of confusion, I was glad to see the worker again, who had now come out of the castle. He chatted with my friend in Romanian and directed us to follow him toward a side entrance since apparently the main entrance was located on the opposite side of the very large castle. At one point while we were walking with the worker and he was conversing with my friend in Romanian, my friend gave me a weird look, but I had no idea the reason for it, as I don’t understand Romanian and had no idea what was being said in their conversation.

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I later learned that the worker had offered to let us in the side entrance for 10 lei instead of the regular entrance fee of 12 lei, which my friend thought was strange but presumed was because the castle was almost closing and we wouldn’t have very much time to explore the inside, so he was doing us a favor and prorating our ticket. In retrospect, this was a very odd and unprofessional thing for the worker to offer us when he could have just as easily walked us to the main entrance and made us pay the regular fare there.

Learning to Trust Your Gut While Traveling

The worker eventually led us into a side door, which opened into a small dingy room with a staircase leading up to an area with what appeared to be a bunch of old furniture. We did not see another door anywhere else in the room that could potentially lead into the main part of the castle’s interior. The door we were led through was secured with an old fashioned sliding lock, which the worker slid closed after my friend and I were both inside. Sensing that something may not be right after failing to find an actual entrance into the castle from inside the dingy room, my friend was already starting to feel slightly alarmed when we saw the worker take out a padlock with a key and start to put the padlock on the sliding lock. As soon as my friend saw the worker do this, she grabbed the sliding lock, slid the door open, and the two of us bolted out of there.

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We then walked toward the actual entrance, hoping to see more workers or tourists that would make us feel less alone and more at ease after a nerve wrecking incident. Unfortunately, we only saw one other worker at the entrance who was talking on the phone when we arrived. We waited a bit, and my friend tried to eavesdrop and hear what the worker was talking about, since she understands Romanian. As we were waiting, we saw the worker who let us into the side door walking toward the main entrance through the interior of the castle. Knowing that we did not want to be alone inside the castle with that man and starting to feel uneasy yet again, we decided to leave and make the trek back down to the parking lot.

What We Would’ve Done Differently

As we walked back toward the parking lot, we could see the two workers standing at the edge of the hill talking and watching us walk away. Of course, this could have all just been a misunderstanding, and the worker’s only intentions really could have been purely charitable, but my friend got a bad feeling in her gut, and at the end of the day, I am very glad we trusted that over any sympathetic analysis we could have made about the worker’s actions.

In retrospect, we should’ve gotten out of there as soon as we had that initial bad feeling. That would’ve saved us from going inside the dingy room at all. We contemplated returning the next morning during daytime to tour the castle, but there are so many other beautiful castles in the area that we didn’t feel it was necessary to risk our safety to see this one.

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Do you think this was a cultural misunderstanding or stranger danger? Do you have any stories or tips about learning to trust your gut while traveling? Let me know in the comments below.

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Hi, I’m Diana, the big sister in the sister duo. I left my job as an attorney in March 2017 to pursue the work-from-anywhere/travel-everywhere life aka The Dream. I blog about off the beaten trail travel destinations, adventure travel, immersing in local cultures, and publish plenty of travel guides for all you who are too lazy to plan your own trips. I’ve traveled to 53 countries to date, and some of my recent adventures include hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, visiting a child I’ve sponsored for over 10 years in Rwanda, and exploring the Middle East.

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12 Replies to “Cultural Miscommunication or Stranger Danger? Learning to Trust Your Gut While Traveling”

  1. I have SO been in this same spot many times Diana. I intend to feel if a person is acting from fear or love when such situations arise. Most of the time it is fear LOL, even if the person has good intentions. They are looking for a quick buck and their dishonesty shows. So I feel any guilt and simply avoid such folks. Rocking message, fab post!

  2. When traveling abroad can be difficult to fully understand dangerous/strange situations. Having a person speaking the same language of your host country is a big plus. I have never been in a similar situation but for sure the worker behaviour was truly unprofessional.

  3. To be honest, good thing your friend was speaking the language. But also, no offense, but only for 2 dollars, that was really not smart. I think as travellers, many tend to put themselves in dangerous or uncomfortable situations just to save up a few bucks. This attitude needs to change in travelling. Sometimes it’s worth to pay more for safety and not cheap out.

    1. I totally agree, Mimi! Just to clarify, we weren’t after the discount at all. That was just an aside that the worker said to my friend after we had already started following him toward the side entrance. That’s when she gave me a weird look, even though I didn’t know what it was for at the time since I can’t understand Romanian. Money definitely wasn’t what lured us in – we really just put too much trust in the fact that he was a worker and couldn’t possibly harm us!

  4. It’s really amazing what your gut can tell you about a certain situation. Despite language barriers you might face, I agree with you about trusting your gut because it can somewhat read a situation and alert you if somethings not right. I am so glad to hear you both are safe. What a scary situation to have been in!

  5. Oh my word, what a horrible experience! I know that cultural miscommunications do happen, but your story gives me goosebumps and I wasn’t even there! I think I would have done the same. At the end of the day risks like that are not worth taking. Most people when you are travelling are trying to help you but if your gut says they aren’t then definitely trust it!

  6. What a strange situation to be in but handled well. Language can cause issues sometimes when travelling but a person who can speak the local is always very handy. A great story and thanks fir sharing. Done key points to learn for every traveller from this post.

  7. Absolutely trust your gut! I think you made the right decision in getting the hell out of there! It does seem rather strange and if I saw someone trying to padlock a door close I would be freaking out! I’m glad your friend acted so quickly. I think always trust your gut – I have had several ‘near miss’ experiences that I believe I avoided because I trusted my gut. You never know for sure what could have happened – but is it worth waiting to find out? Glad you are okay!

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. This sounds so scary. I would do the same in your situation also. It’s better to trust your gut than feeling regrets later.

  9. Language plays an important role while traveling but in a country where nobody understands our language then it is really a trouble. It was sad that you were locked in dingy room and it is glad that you escaped from it. Though the worker’s intention were not clear but you should always listen to your gut in new situations. I totally agree with you on listening to our guts when in trouble.

  10. Hahaha! I live in a country right now where I don’t speak local language and I moved here when I was pregnant. Trying to find a new hospital, new doc with cultural & lingual miscommunication at 3rd trimester is harsh and today its funny to look back at it!
    Your situation is scary… Very right of you to bolt!

  11. I don’t think the worker had any bad intentions, but the right thing to do was to tell you to pay the `normal` entrance fee. It was shady because he wanted to pocket the money for himself. Other than that, you know what they say, better safe than sorry. If you felt uncomfortable in the situation, it was better to walk away.

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