Every traveler with a few miles under their belt has a couple tales up their sleeve to share at a dinner party or entertain new friends. This post will be about one of mine. Looking back on it, Mel (the other victim here) and I joke about it, but it truly was one of the scariest nights of my life (and I believe hers as well). I eluded to this night in my Traveling with Friends post, so now here are the tantalizing details. I hope my experience does entertain you, but I also hope you can learn from it.
Mel and I were roadtripping from Philly to southern Kansas during our college junior year spring break. “Why Kansas?” you ask. First of all, I can detect your sass through the screen, so drop it. Second of all, Kansas is dope. Our main reason for the trip was to visit the third member of our trio, Courtney, who is originally from Kansas and was home visiting for spring break.
At first Mel and I kept jokingly telling Court we were going to drive out and visit her (a 24-hour drive each way), and then it morphed into “we’re laughing while we say this but, no, it’s actually happening, I hope you have 2 extra beds.” Conveniently, Court lives in a gorgeous farmhouse with a few spare bedrooms, so our housing was set!
Spring break finally rolled around. I was a week away from tech week for a show and I think Mel and Court were at some stage in the process of each of their shows as well (#theatermajorproblems), but since all the shows were Temple-affiliated, we all had the week off. Court had already flown home and Mel and I packed up and drove to her house late the night before the trip…I want to say it was a Saturday night and we started out on Sunday?
We set off from Northern Virginia, just outside DC where Mel is from (and strangely just a short trip where I am living now ~life is weird~). With about 24 hours of driving ahead of us, we broke both directions of the trip into 2 legs. On the way there, we had booked a hotel in Terre Haute, Indiana (first mistake) through Priceline.com (second mistake). When I booked the hotel online, the pictures looked fine enough and the amenities list was pretty healthy, so we felt comfortable with it.
After a long day of driving, we arrived to Terre Haute after dark, maybe 9pm. We checked in with the front desk and he informed us that our room would be exterior, ground level, meaning the door to our room was along the parking lot. I had never stayed in a room of this style and I didn’t really like the idea of it, so we asked if there was anything else available. They did also have a full building of interior rooms (what I thought I booked), but he claimed they were all reserved. It was pretty much the middle of nowhere, so I’m not sure why we believed that. Either way, we took the key and made the short trek across the parking lot to our room.
As soon as we got inside and I went to close the door behind us, I noticed that one of the two locks on the door was broken. The deadbolt attached to the knob itself worked but the secondary one would not engage. I didn’t like it, but I thought “we’re in the middle of Indiana…what’s going to happen?” We also joked that the only other window in the room, aside from the window next to the door, was this weird, marbled window in the bathroom that you couldn’t even tell what was outside it.
Mel and I got ready for bed, took a quick selfie commemorating the first leg down, and pretty quickly fell asleep.
We were blissfully dreaming of warm Kansas summer nights until…BOOM. My eyes flew open, not quite sure why I was awake but vaguely aware that some type of noise woke me up. I looked at my phone. It was almost 5am. BOOM. Okay, that’s definitely what woke me up. At this point Mel’s eyes were open too. BOOM. Fuck, that’s coming from our door.
“Open this fucking door.” BOOM. “Let me the fuck in!” BOOM. Someone, a man by the sound of it, was body slamming our door. Immediately, I remembered the faulty lock. Mel and I weren’t quite sure what to do yet. BOOM. “Okay, on the count of 3, 1…2…3.” BOOM. Based on the voice and the comments we were hearing, we were pretty sure it was at least 2 guys.
We waited a few seconds to see what he did next. We heard him walk away from the door so I popped out of bed and dialed 911. I inched toward the door while explaining to the dispatcher what was going on.
“911 dispatcher, where are you located?”
“Um, we’re at the Travelodge in Terre Haute…I don’t know the exact address, we just got here tonight. There is a man trying to break down our door”
“You don’t have the address?”
“No, we’re not from this area. We’re in a Travelodge in Terre Haute…um I don’t remember. But there’s a guy trying to break into our room.”
“Okay can you describe what he looks like?”
I then pulled aside the window shades just enough to peek out. I could see him at the door next to ours.
“He’s in a white hoodie with jeans. He’s white and he’s wearing a baseball hat. He’s…ripping the window off the room next to us”
“What is your name and your phone number?”
“AmandaKijakxxx-xxx-xxxx” I rattle off quickly.
I saw only one guy outside the room next door, so still assuming there were multiple men, I immediately started panicking that they’ve successfully made it into that room, so surely ours wouldn’t hold much longer.
“Please, someone needs to get here now. They’re going to get into our room any minute.
“I SAID, what’s your phone number?”
“xxx-xxx-xxxx!” I say back. “Can you tell me how far away the police are?”
“I cannot. They will be there shortly. Bye.”
AND SHE HANGS UP.
At this point, the guy came back to our door, so we retreated from the window. He was back to body slamming our door. My mind went blank. Looking back on it, I had my knife in my bag, we had furniture we could have put in front of the door, but I was in full on flight mode, and none of these thoughts came to mind. We didn’t want to risk getting any closer to the door in case THAT was the moment he got in. So Mel pulled me into the tiny bathroom, locked the door, and plopped herself in front if it. I sat on the toilet and we both just kind of sat there in silence. Add to the adrenline the fact that the bathroom did not have any heat and it was flurrying outside, we were both shaking.
The whole time we were just hearing BOOM. BOOM. “Open the fucking door!” BOOM. as he repeatedly and rhythmically threw himself against the door to our room I kind of pawed at that marbled window, but quickly decided there was no way to open it. Mel looks at me and, somewhat saucily asks, “What? Do you want to break it?”. “Kind of,” I answer. To this day she claims she wasn’t being saucy, but the tone was there.
I quickly googled “Travelodge Terre Haute”, hoping to contact the front desk, and called the first number Google gave me. It ended up being the main customer service line for the chain and the rep who answered DID NOT CARE that we were in the middle of an attempted robbery/murder/idk. She wouldn’t give us the number for the front desk or transfer us there. At that point, Mel had found it and was on the line with the overnight guy, so I hung up. She stayed on the line while the front desk attendant went outside and shouted across the parking lot that there was no one in the room and that there were cops on the way.
Apparently hearing that there was no one in the room was sufficient for the assailant, because the attendant told us he got back in his truck and drove off. We waited a few more moments, then slowly crept out of the bathroom. We could see flashing red and blue lights through the curtains so I went outside the talk to the cops. I was still barefoot and in skimpy pajamas and it was still flurrying. I gave them the description of the guy and the attendant described his truck and which direction he headed. THE COPS DID NOT MOVE, WRITE ANY OF THIS DOWN, OR RADIO IT IN. They literally just started at us, nodded their head, and waited for us to finish. I asked them if they would stick around or if anyone would loop back around every once in a while in case he came back. I was met with an exasperated sigh and an “I guess…”
I went back inside and we Mel and I sat on the bed for a few minutes, then agreed there was no way in hell we could fall back asleep in this room. We packed up all our stuff and headed to the main lobby. Upon demanding another room, suddenly one freed up that wasn’t available before and he let us into one of the interior rooms. Eventually Mel and I got another hour or so of sleep (I’m pretty sure just I did and that she never closed her eyes). We got up again, had the shittiest excuse for a continental breakfast, and hit the road, weary and still pounding with adrenaline.
The rest of the trip was uneventful in terms of life-threatening happenings, but best believe we told that story a million times over after we got home.
Looking back on that night, there are so many things that I have learned and always advise other travelers:
- Know where you are. If you are staying in a hotel or AirBnB, know the address and what room you’re in. At the least, know what street or highway you’re off of. In this day and age where you can use GPS to get somewhere without ever having to even see the address, this is something that takes active awareness
- If something doesn’t feel right, demand a change. We did not like the idea of an exterior room but we went along with it because we didn’t want to cause too much trouble. Then, in the room, I REALLY didn’t like that the lock didn’t properly work, but we were already all checked in and I didn’t want to go back out. Had we acted on either of these feelings, the night wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.
- Have a method of self-defense or escape. This is going to be highly personal and dependent on where you are. For me, my potential weapon was my knife, but because I hadn’t packed it for that reason, it didn’t really come to mind. Whether you’re a gun owner (be sure of all local laws when traveling with it), a knife carrier, or you’re trained in some type of combat or self-defense, it is important to at least consider how you will protect yourself in violent situations until proper help can arrive. Since that night, I’ve taken some martial arts training to better prepare myself. Also be aware of all the escape options wherever you’re staying.
- Don’ be afraid. This applies to so many points in this story. I shouldn’t have been afraid to demand an interior room (what I booked) or a replacement room when the lock didn’t work. I shouldn’t have been afraid to make the dispatcher stay on the line until the cops arrived. We shouldn’t have been afraid to make noise. Maybe if we had yelled and screamed, that would have scared the guy off or at least alerted someone else that we were in danger.
Have you had any scary encounters while traveling? What have you learned? Share your advice for staying safe while traveling in the comments!