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

By Brooke Schoenman on November 3rd, 2016
BootsnAll

You love your 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.  You travel solo and live out your travel dreams on your own terms.

As a frequent solo traveler myself, I could 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 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 your own.

Solo travel has its place, but… sometimes you get into awkward situations. Here are 15 that you’re likely to deal with on the road and how to cope:

Communication Issues

miss your train? There'll be another one soon

1. You try to communicate with a pharmacist to get some medicine, and it results in charades. Depending on the illness 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. Another good tip: bring some basic medical supplies so you don’t have to go the pharmacist for something minor.

2. You can’t get through to your taxi driver.

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. 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 was 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. To avoid this issue, try to always have a map on hand with your accommodation marked or a phone number of someone to call at your destination who can give directions in the local language.

3. You got confused at the train station and bought the wrong ticket or got on the wrong train.  You end up in the wrong city, alone.

What to do:

A little prior preparation can be a real time-saver. Skip the automated machines. Write down the city names and departure times on a card and give them to a ticket agent – then have the agent point you to the right platform to catch your train. If you still end up lost….enjoy the ride. You might discover something even better than your original destination,

4. You managed to order something you can’t or won’t eat..  Do you leave it on the table untouched? Send it back?

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 or won’t  eat. If it’s not an allergy issue, be adventurous and at least try a little bite!

Ready for a gap year on your own?

5. You think you’ve met a kind stranger, but discover they had expectations or intentions that make you uncomfortable.

Michael Hodson blogged about a friend, who didn’t know Spanish well, was being helped home to his hostel by a friendly stranger to then find out his helper 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 bad intentions.

>> Read: 7 Common Travel Disasters: How to Avoid Them and What to Do if One Happens to You

Loneliness On the Road

Sometimes getting lost is a blessing in disguise

6. You’re traveling in remote parts of China for weeks and just really need someone to talk to.

What to do:

Remind yourself of the reasons you started traveling in the first place. Put your thoughts down in your journal. Call or skype home. Try to make friends despite the language issues.

Will your RTW be a Solo Trip?

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, read a book, write in a journal, or chat up the waitstaff. It’ll pass the time and you may make a new friend or get a free dessert.

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

Solo Situations Specific to Women

Female Travelers can have some specific problems traveling alone

8. You get called out for being an “old” and unmarried woman by locals.

Megan Kearney found herself discussing her “fertility with the Tajik ambassador to Kyrgyzstan when he noticed my age while processing my visa.”

Kate McCully wrote about making up a fake boyfriend after pressure to have a boyfriend or husband in Laos:  “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 every culture has its own social norms and your job as a traveler isn’t to change them. You can cry yourself to sleep (which is a waste) or just laugh it off and make up a fake partner.

8. You’re being stalked around town by some guy and can’t lose him to save your life.  

Megan Kearney had an encounter with an older French tourist in Uzbekistan and “trying to get away from him and having to duck into shops” to keep him from following her back to the hotel.

In Turkey, she had a similar experience and was rescued by a group of young men.

9. You try to tell a man that the extra chair at the table is taken, but you’re obviously alone.

What to do:

When a stranger follows you, invades your space, or just won’t back off, make your way to a crowded area and enlist help; stop into a shop, tell the bartender or waiter, head to a busy hotel or restaurant, find a policeman or make a quick getaway in a cab. Another option is making a phone call. Sometimes even the long-distance presence of someone else is enough to encourage an unwelcome hoverer to back off.

>> Read 7 Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked

Feeling Out of Place

Sometimes you'll feel out of place--but it's just part of traveling (alone or in a group)

10. You get laughed at or pointed at by locals because of your towering stature, skin color, or unusual hair or eye color.

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

Christopher Stobbs shares his story:  “I 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. Especially in isolated locations, the locals are bound to be curious about obvious outsiders. If all else fails, put in your headphones and ignore the comments.

>> Read the Art of Traveling Tall 

When there could or should be two or more


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’s back home and you’ve got mixed feeling about leaving them behind.

Matt Long confesses he feels like he’s  “travel cheating” when he takes solo trips.

14. You’re the only solo person on a tour; all the others are couples or good friends.  You’re the third wheel by default.

What to do:

If you can’t change your situation, change your attitude.

Solo travel makes for great travel experiences, but some of those experiences are likely to be little on the awkward side. Don’t sweat it, awkward experiences make the funniest travel stories to tell at your next destination.

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Photo credits:Rawpixel.comJoyseulaySasinTipchai,  E_serebryakovaWilliam Perugini