Smart Solo Travel: Why You Should Never Underestimate the Old Boys

I’d only been in Sardinia for three days and I’d already been propositioned. Before you go jumping to conclusions and thinking the same thing that everyone back home did before I left (“You’ll have to watch those Italian men – they’ll love you with your blonde hair and fair skin”) let me explain. I was not propositioned by some beautiful, charming Italian man; in true, continuing ‘weird-things-just-seem-to-happen-to-me’ style, I was bizarrely hit on by an 80-odd-year-old Swiss man…named Roland.

Port Santa Maria Navarrese 2

Before I tell you more about Roland, I should say that this isn’t the first time that I’ve been completely taken aback by someone’s seemingly innocent (grandad) appearance and then had to extract myself from an uncomfortable situation – a very similar thing happened in Barcelona (although I’m pretty sure that one was even older and that if he had tried to follow me, he would have given himself a heart attack) when an old Spaniard took a liking to me on the top of a hill in Parc Guell. What started as him offering to take my picture ended with him stroking my hair and attempting to feel up my leg. Luckily, an English-speaking French couple appeared at that point and I asked them to take my photo (sending them a quick “please help me” look at the same time) before managing to ditch the old boy as I walked (quickly) back into the main section of the park. Don’t get me wrong – he was completely harmless and the whole thing turned into a hilarious tale to tell when I got back home (resulting in my friends and family nicknaming him my “Spanish boyfriend’) but this most recent one did creep me out…

Santa Maria Navarrese Beach 1

At the beginning of the week, I took a couple of days off from my phone, laptop and basically any form of technology or communication so that I could completely switch off and enjoy exploring my new base in Baunei, and the nearby beachside town of Santa Maria Navarrese.  The town is entirely a tourist resort, and as the season is winding down in Sardinia, the place was almost deserted. After a lovely, relaxing afternoon spent sunbathing and reading on the beach (read more about Santa Maria’s beach in the Sardinian Beach Guide post coming soon!) I wandered down to the marina to enquire about boat hire for later in the week. As I walked past the near-empty bars and restaurants, I noticed an elderly man sitting alone, staring at me.

Port Santa Maria Navarrese

I didn’t think much of it (when you’re by yourself, people staring is something you get used to) and continued down to the marina where I found the information office for boat excursions still closed (Sardinian businesses close for most of the afternoon/early evening) so I ordered a beer at the small bar next door. That’s when I realised that the elderly man had appeared next to me. Apart from an English couple a few tables down and the bar staff, the place was empty – but the old man continued to hover near my table. I pretended that I hadn’t noticed him, continued drinking my beer and pulled a book out of my bag to look busy. He disappeared inside the bar and a few moments later reappeared at my table…with gelato. He asked if he could sit down. He looked like your stereotypical grandad with glasses and he was eating gelato…what possible harm could an old man eating ice-cream be?! I said that was fine and he began asking me questions, lots of questions…about where I was from, where I was staying, why I was travelling alone, what did I do for a living etc… and for a while we chatted about politics, travel and the world in general. He said he was on holiday with two of his six children, five of his eleven grandchildren and that he had run a small organic farm just outside of the capital in Switzerland.

Santa Maria Navarrese Beach

By this point, I was almost finished my beer and was running out of polite conversation. I was trying to get the waitresses attention when Roland said “Are you happy with your life?” Bit weird, but okay, I’ll go with it. I replied “I’m at the start of the biggest adventure of my life, how could I possibly not be happy?” He looked at me, laughed (in a creepy enough way that alarm bells started going off in my head) and then said “I’m going to tell you something, and it wasn’t easy for me to approach your table but I believe in destiny…have you heard of Tantra? Tantric?”

Hold on, double take…did an 80-year-old Swiss grandad just ask me if I’d heard of Tantric Sex?  Yep, that’s what I thought. I looked at him in complete disbelief and then at the English couple to see if they had heard too, but they were completely oblivious. I laughed, awkwardly, and then said “Okay, well I’d better be leaving” but apparently Roland wasn’t finished. “Let me tell you, because I wish I had known earlier, that I learned Tantra five years ago and it has changed my life. To live in the moment, to not always be rushing to an end goal – it is the way to true happiness…don’t you agree? Don’t you want to live in the moment?” Now seriously creeped out and trying to decide if this very old man was trying to impart his life wisdom or if he was point-blank offering me an invitation, I stood up, politely held out my hand and said “It was very nice to meet you Roland but I’m going inside to pay now.” Before he could say anything else, I darted inside and made a fuss of not being able to find my purse in my bag for long enough to make sure he had gone. I then went into the ticket office, which was (thankfully) now open and chatted to boat guy for way longer than I needed to (hilariously, I’m pretty sure the boat guy then thought I was hitting on him!), double checked the coast was clear and then made a beeline back to the main beach.

Fiona McNicol

Roland was nowhere to be seen but it got me thinking about being smart whilst travelling solo…or if you’re out on your own anywhere really. Uncomfortable or bad situations don’t come with warning signs, nor do they always look like the stereotype you, or I, or others will have in our heads of what is dangerous. Meeting new people, hearing their stories and learning about their lives is one of my favourite things, whether at home or whilst travelling…and it would be insane to avoid talking to strangers on the off chance that they turn out to be a creep – just make sure you listen to, and trust, your instincts…and that you know how to get yourself out of an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation should you need to.

As for Roland, he told me he was only in Sardinia for a few days, which means the streets of Santa Maria Navarrese are safe to explore again without the fear of being invited along for some grandad tantra…

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