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APR 19, 2023

Serbia was my fourth country. I left Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina and up next was Belgrade, Serbia! There are quite a few challenges when traveling through so many countries by motorcycle. Since most of the Balkans are not in the EU (European Union), each of them have their own wireless telephone companies. This means sim cards don't work when crossing borders. And if you're like me, when crossing them at night after all the shops are closed, this provides challenges when navigating for directions as your GPS just all of a sudden stops working.

I was still figuring my system of border crossings in the first few countries. I had not yet built the habit to pre-emptively download Google offline maps prior to entering the next country. So as I crossed the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia, my Google Maps stop working and I followed the main road as much as I could before pulling over into the most tiny village. It was already 8pm and dark. Luckily I find a little kiosk in the village. In the Balkans, there are little kiosks that carry many of the same items as a liquor store would: candy, drinks, snacks, magazines, cigarettes, and most importantly, sim cards! I purchased a sim card and tried to install it on my phone. Most of the activation instructions and prompts are in the local language, so I always need help to do this.

The kiosk employee tried to help me as best she could, and even called her friend who spoke English to help, but alas, we could not figure it out. For some reason, my phone was not reconfiguring to the new wireless company network and I was stuck. It was 9pm and I was trying to connect to any unsecured wifi in the area. I noticed a bunch of teenagers, a group of about 15, a block away hanging out around a motorcycle. It was dark and my fear started to seep into my mind. I didn't know anything about Serbia and didn't want any trouble. As I was trying to connect to the wifi to get back on the road, I see out of the corner of my eye a figure approaching me. Then a second, third, fourth...the crowd of young men had surrounded me. I thought, Great, this is it Crystal. This is what all your friends and family warned you about traveling by yourself. At least I made it to 3 countries. As I nervously looked up and made eye contact with one of the teenagers, he asked me in broken English, "Do you need help?"

I started maniacally laughing.

"Yes! I need help! I need wifi." What a relief! The only thing I could do was laugh in this moment. The mind is our own worst enemy and mine created this fear that I was going to get jumped by this crowd of young men. Possible? Yes? Rational? Yes. I guess that's the risk of solo traveling. Things can either be a good story to tell later or a terrible experience. The teenager said, "I can tether you through my phone." I spent the next 20 minutes communicating with these wonderful Serbian boys with Google translate. They asked me questions like what my name is, where I'm from, what am I doing by myself. I asked them what they're doing out in the dark on the street. It's just how teenagers hang out out here. They were quite adorable and wanted to take photos with me.

After the conversation, I found directions to Belgrade and said goodbye to my new helpers. I wish I had take a photo with the whole group, but this is the kind young man who approached me and asked if I needed help. I'm so grateful for his random act of kindness for a dirty biker.

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