15 Totally Awkward Solo Travel Situations. . . and How to Cope with Them

You immensely enjoy your personal freedom.  You make friends in every hostel you stay in, and you find it easy to  start up conversations with random people on the streets.  For you, the choice is to travel solo and live out your travel dreams in the way you desire – on your own terms.

As a frequent solo traveler myself, I can write a book on the joys of being able to change plans at the drop of a hat or not having to deal with the stress that comes from being around a friend for just way too long.  By going solo, you often open yourself up to experiences you might not have otherwise considered because, really, the only plans you’re breaking by switching it up are yours.

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Solo travel has its place, but… sometimes.  Sometimes you just wish you were with a fellow traveler to help you get through some awkward situations, such as any of the following 15:

Awkward situations when you can’t communicate

1. You try to communicate your ailment to a pharmacist, and it results in charades. Depending on the ailment or the affected body part, this could get really embarrassing.

What to do: Here’s where a phrase book really comes in handy. Write down the problem in the local language, or ask an English-speaking local at your hostel to do so for you.

2. You cannot express to your taxi driver that you’re lost or where to go.

Evelyn Hannon had this exact experience:  “I was in Chennai, India, made my last purchase in a shop and was heading back to the ship I was on. The owner of the shop found a rickshaw driver and told him where the ship was docked. I got in and it wasn’t long before I realized we were lost in the dock area, but I couldn’t explain this to the driver; he didn’t understand. The sun was going down and being lost in the grungy dock area in Chennai was not a good idea. As we passed a policeman I yelled to him and he asked the rickshaw driver to stop. I explained to the policeman where we needed to go and he translated to the driver. The policeman left, and the driver began to shout at me and from the few words I understood, the driver was angry because he thought I reported him to the police. Now the sun is really down and I’m on the dock, lost and with an angry driver. I cajoled as best I could, apologized as best I could and a half hour later I saw the ship lit up in the distance. Thank goodness!”

What to do: If you think you’re being taken for a ride (and not the kind you bargained for), enlist help – a local on the street, a policeman or a hotel concierge.

3. You cannot order your train ticket properly.  You end up in the wrong city, alone.

What to do: A little prior preparation can be a real time-saver. Write down the city names and departure times on a card to give to the ticket agent. If you still end up lost….enjoy the ride. You might discover something even better than your original destination,

4. You think you request your meal prepared a certain way only to be met with a meal you can’t eat.  Do you leave it on the table untouched? Do you try to enter into the miscommunication again?

What to do: If you’re allergic (or just hate) certain foods, have cards made up in the local language that list the things you can’t eat. If it’s not an allergy issue, be adventurous and at least try a little bite!

5. You think you meet a kind stranger, but instead discover they were after something completely different.

Michael Hodson blogged about a friend, who didn’t know Spanish well, getting supposedly helped home to his hostel by a local to then find out the local had something else in mind:  “And off walked a very disappointed local guy that thought Mark had agreed to a night of passion.”

What to do: If a situation makes you uncomfortable, be assertive, and walk away to a safer or more populated area. Be on your guard but not paranoid; most people don’t have ill intentions.

>> Read: 10 Ways to Learn a Language (that Aren’t All Obvious) or 7 Common Travel Disasters: How to Avoid Them and What to Do if One Happens to You

Awkward situations when you’re just plain lonely

6. You’re traveling in the remote parts of China for weeks and just really want someone to talk to (and who talks back).

What to do: Remind yourself of the reasons you started traveling in the first place. Put your thoughts down in your journal. Or try to make friends despite the language issues.

7. You’re seated at the last available table in the house – a table for 8 – with no phone, book or way to entertain yourself in a sea of socialization.

What to do: Concentrate on the food you’re eating, or chat up the waitstaff. It’ll pass the time and you may get a free dessert.

>> Read: 12 Ways to Combat the Solo Travel Blues

Awkward situations when you’re a solo female

8. You get called out for being an “old” and unmarried woman in certain countries.

Megan Kearney mentions this sort of awkward situation when she found herself:  “Discussing my fertility with the Tajik ambassador to Kyrgyzstan when he noticed my age while processing my visa.”

Kate McCully wrote in a blog post about the times she was questioned in Laos for not having a boyfriend or husband, to the point where she made up a fake boyfriend:  “I find that creating a simple story of a faraway boyfriend defuses the situation, lets locals see me in a socially acceptable light, and allows us to get back to better conversation topics: our lives, our families, and how much I love Lao food.”

What to do: Accept that different cultures have different norms. You can laugh it off or do as some women do, and make up a fake partner.

8. You get followed by an interested foreign fellow and are trying, at all costs, to lose him.

Megan Kearney mentions the awkwardness involved in:  “Allowing an older French tourist to have dinner with me in Uzbekistan but then trying to get away from him and having to duck in to shops to get rid of him from following me to my hotel.”

She goes on to tell of another similar issue:  “Being followed by a man in Turkey (when I was 22) and finally having a group of young men come to my rescue and totally tell him off in the middle of a busy street.”

9. You try to tell a man that the extra chair at the table is taken, even though you are completely alone.  You both know this fact.

What to do: When a stranger gets a little too friendly, make your way to a crowded area and enlist help; stop into a shop, tell the bartender, find a busy hotel or restaurant, find a policeman or make a quick getaway in a cab.

>> Read 7 Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked

Awkward situations when you’re sorely out-of-place

10. You get laughed at or pointed at by locals because of your towering stature or bright red or blond hair.

11. You get laughed at or picked on by locals for no good reason.

Christopher Stobbs shares his story:  “I’ve had a group of young kids throw stones at me in a village in Uganda.. In that situation I think I having another traveler would only have made me feel less alone. I don’t think it would have stopped them from throwing stones, I’m sad to say. Wrong place wrong time of day basically.”

What to do: Develop a thick skin and a sense of humor. As an obvious foreigner, you may be an item of curiosity to the locals.

>> Read the Art of Traveling Tall or The Tribal Bible: 10 Commandments of Etiquette with Tribes

Awkward situations when there could or should be two

12. You get asked by the hotel staff about when your partner is arriving.

Durant Imboden recently had this experience:  “On a recent solo trip to Italy, the staff on all three of the hotels where I stayed seemed surprised that I was traveling alone (even though I’d booked single rooms). Maybe I look like someone who’s old enough to require a companion?”

13. You’re traveling solo while your partner is back home.

Matt Long blogged about this topic:  “I have to confess, I feel like I’m travel cheating on him when I take these solo trips. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to go on them, I will, but it is definitely an aspect of solo travel that doesn’t leave me with warm fuzzy feelings.”

14. You lose out on money by not being able to book an accommodation to share when all the hostel beds are booked.

>> Read: 8 Ways to Avoid the Solo Supplement

15. You are the only solo person on a tour; all others are couples or good friends.  You automatically become the third wheel to everyone.

What to do: If you can’t change your situation, change your attitude.

>> Read: Solo Travel Pros and Cons or How to Make Friends on the Road Without Hosteling

Solo travel makes for great travel experiences, but sometimes those experiences are a little on the awkward side.  Do you have an awkward solo travel situation you’d like to share?

Read more on solo travel

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Leave a Comment

  • Kim Hunter said at 2011-09-14T17:08:51+0000: My first time traveling solo I brought six books for a week-long trip out of fear that I would be alone the whole time. Needless to say, I made friends within a few hours, didn't touch any of the books, but did learn my lesson by having to pay $100 in overweight baggage fees because of them...
  • Vitra Singh said at 2011-08-19T15:24:17+0000: I've been in a situation in Singapore where I think I said Hi or Thank You to someone and they took that as a sign for me wanting him to follow us! He actually followed me for blocks and blocks and then actually into the 24 hour shopping mall. Luckily, I was with a friend, and she got tired of it...turned around and politely asked him to stop following us. He got the message and left.
  • Carrie Garzich said at 2011-08-19T21:01:25+0000: Unless you happen to be traveling with someone who's fluent in a lot of languages, most of these issues are not actually solo travel issues.