There are times when solo travel can be awkward.
There can be uncomfortable situations and prying questions. How you handle them can make all the difference to your pleasure traveling solo and your safety.
Here's an example. One day I was sitting in a pub in the Lake District and someone asked where I was staying. I told them without telling them anything specific. That was that. A few days later, I met them again in the same pub. They were curious and asked how I could feel safe traveling alone. Well, I responded, I have developed certain skills. For example, I keep important information to myself.
They looked at me quizzically. I pointed out that earlier in the week they had asked me where I was staying and were happy with my answer. They agreed, that was true. But then I asked, “do you know where I'm staying?” They were all surprised to realize that they didn't and understood completely that I do have a few skills up my sleeve to keep me safe.
Below I'll share my strategies for awkward solo travel situations.
Strategies for Awkward Solo Travel Situations
Here are a few awkward situations that solo travelers encounter and how to handle them.
- Eating alone. This is a big deal for some people and inconsequential to others. If you find eating alone at a restaurant awkward, have a book with you or something interesting on your phone. But, truly, there are a few approaches that are a little more fun. Read Eating Alone is Easy When You Know How.
- Dealing with unwanted attention. This doesn't happen often but it can depending on where you are. If you're out to see music at a bar, yes, you can receive unwanted attention. If you're in a country where a lot of people hustle to get tourist business as a guide or driver, you can feel overwhelmed by all the attention. Both situations can definitely be awkward when traveling solo. These are times to stand up straight and look confident. This will either avoid the situation entirely or help you deal with it should it arise. See Solo Travel Safety: 10 Ways to Look Confident.
- Being the odd person out on a tour. People are often concerned about being the only solo on a tour. This is a worry that needn't happen given the number of companies catering to solo travelers now. Check out our list of companies and their tours that are especially for solo travelers.
- Managing your luggage. There are times when you'd really like to leave your luggage behind and run to the bathroom or pop into a store without being encumbered. This can be a tricky one, especially since luggage unattached to a person is often questioned. The key is to choose your luggage and pack carefully. Read Bare Minimum Packing: Here’s Your Packing List and How to Plan Your Travel Wardrobe for Comfort and Style.
- Getting a good picture of yourself. This can be looked at so many ways. It's an opportunity to meet someone by simply asking them to take your picture. You could get a great picture and someone to have a coffee with. Or, you could get a terrible picture and meet no one of interest. Because so many kind people have taken terrible pictures for me I often decline the offers. Learning to take a good selfie is very worthwhile. Read How to Take a Great Selfie and Why.
Polite Answers to Uncomfortable Questions
Most people who ask questions of me as I travel are simply curious. Their questions are innocent. But, on occasion, they may not be and it's possible that my answers could be overheard by the wrong person. So, when answering awkward solo travel questions from the curious, I play it safe.
- Where are you staying? “In the ____ district.” You want to give an answer that doesn't sound evasive but also doesn't give people any specific information. You can also talk about how the B&B owner has taken you under their wing. Any elaboration will take the conversation in a new direction.
- Can I drive/walk you to your hotel? “Thanks, but I've already called a cab.” If you expect to be in this situation, take a bathroom run and call a cab before the question comes up. That way you can honestly express gratitude for the offer but not accept the ride. By accepting a ride or even sharing a taxi you are shifting the control out of your hands and revealing where you are staying.
- Are you really traveling alone? “Yes, I know what I'm doing. I check in with home often and have lots of support to keep me safe.” Give people the impression that should you go missing for a minute, people would know.
- What are you up to this evening? “I have plans.” To spend the evening without this person, keep your response as vague as that. If you wouldn't mind spending the evening with them, meet in a public place away from your accommodation and return via taxi so that they don't feel obliged to get you home.
- How old are you? (or some more subtle variation) “Old enough.” Very young and older travelers can be targets for con artists so try to present yourself as if you are in your 30s, 40s or 50s.
If a simple, pleasant response to an apparently innocent query doesn't work, if a person digs deeper for information, you really should question how innocent the question is. If they're persistent, be assertive and say that you don't reveal that information to people you have just met.
For more safety tips, have a look at these articles:
- Solo Travel Safety: The Fundamentals for Safe Travel
- Solo Travel Safety: 50 Tips
- Solo Female Travel Safety: Answering a Stranger’s Question-Or Not with lots of input from members of the Solo Travel Society.