Ditching Freaks or How to Get Out of Awkward Encounters When Traveling Solo

by Gray Cargill on February 22, 2011

3 dogs making friends

Being approachable is a good thing...right?

One of the ironies of solo travel is how much easier it can be to meet people because you’re solo, instead of traveling with your significant other or a posse. But if the upside of solo travel is that you’re approachable, then the downside of solo travel is that you’re. . .  approachable. That’s right:  Being approachable is a double-edged sword. Especially for solo female travelers.

Don’t get me wrong: 90% of the time, the people you meet will be fun, interesting, and excellent temporary companions. But every once in awhile, you find yourself becoming a freak magnet. What makes someone a freak, you ask? Take the persistent old drunk dude that kept wanting me to dance with him in New Orleans and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Or the crazy guy who sat down next to me on a shuttle bus in Vegas who thought he was an angel sent to judge the people of Las Vegas. Or the French flight attendant I sat next to in a Paris restaurant who, in the process of hitting on me, asked me if I had ever killed anyone–and proceeded to describe his (probably fictional) career as a mercenary in a jungle somewhere.

These encounters always leave me wondering what the hell vibe I’m sending out that attracts these people. I suppose it could just be the odds. The more we are out in public, the greater the odds we’ll find ourselves in this situation eventually. The more important question is: How do you shake these freaks?

Here are a few of my best tips:

Avoid them in the first place. Most of the time, I am very good at avoiding undesirable situations and people. I pay attention to who is around me, and if they seem sketchy, I steer clear. Yet sometimes, the freaks find you anyway. That’s when these other tips come in handy.

Ignore them. If it’s at all possible, just ignore them and hope they take the hint.

hissing cats

Be a bitch if you need to be

Be rude if you need to be. Women are often raised to be “nice” and “polite” to everyone, and this can really work against us when someone decides to take advantage of that. If you’re in an uncomfortable situation with someone, feel free to be rude or downright bitchy. Some people just don’t get the message otherwise. Besides, you’ll never see them again.

Walk Away (quickly). When I was in New Orleans, I was sitting at a bar on Bourbon Street, enjoying an Abita beer and a great Cajun band. People were dancing, but all I wanted to do was listen to the music and enjoy my beer. An older man came over to try to get me to dance with him, exhaling the fumes of a few too many alcoholic beverages into my face and swaying like an extension bridge in a high wind. I politely declined. He became more persistent. I declined more firmly. The next time he approached me, I was rude. Being drunk, he still didn’t get the message. I tried to catch the bartender’s eye for an assist, but he was too busy making drinks to notice. Finally, when the guy had his back turned, I got up and slipped out of the bar. I hated having to leave, because I was enjoying the music, but I didn’t see any other way to ditch him.

Lie like a rug. Tell them something, anything that will get them off your back. You might say you’re late for an appointment and have to leave. Lots of women lie about being married or that they’re just waiting for their boyfriend. This may not work if you’re a lousy liar. When the French flight attendant/playboy/mercenary started hitting on me, I tried to lie about a boyfriend back home, but I’m sure he didn’t believe me. I really need to learn to be a better liar.

Enlist the help of others. In the case of the French guy, I was prepared to solicit some help from my waiter when it was time to leave the restaurant (I didn’t want this guy following me back to my hotel), but found some unexpected assistance before that became necessary. A black miniature Schnauzer was sniffing around the tables in the restaurant, when he walked between us and stood up with his front paws on me, peering up into my face. As I patted him, a woman sitting on the other side of me exclaimed in a Southern accent, “Look! He’s begging!”

I whipped my head around so fast I almost got whiplash. “You’re American!” I blurted out. The woman and her husband smiled at me. Yes, they were. They were Rhonda and Larry from Houston, Texas, and they became my salvation. I turned toward them and gave them my full attention and we had a nice long chat over our dinners. Mr. Mercenary got the hint and left.

Cause a Scene. I’ve been really, really lucky that I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to do this. It can be embarrassing. But which is worse? Being cornered by a freak or making a scene in front of people you’ll never see again? And who knows–maybe it’ll freak them out if they think you’re crazier than they are.

What’s your fool-proof way of getting out of awkward situations with sketchy people?

Photo credit: Making Friends by emdot, Hissing Cats by ringogoingo.

GRRRL TRAVELER March 18, 2011 at 4:02 am

Being rude (raises hand). Being asian, I can occasionally be a prime target for people to mistake as nice & polite– a good Asian. 90% of the time I am. But I also have no problem turning with a snarl or a firm but serious- “No, leave me alon!” When the guy is kinda nice but just urk-some, I just firmly say, “I’d really like to have some quiet time alone to myself…please remove yourself”. (the latter part of the line is a joke but the first part tends to work well)

Gray March 18, 2011 at 11:06 am

You sound like you could give lessons on this, Christine! 🙂

Lisa E March 3, 2011 at 6:15 am

This is a great post. Excellent tips! I like the one re: causing a scene. Great! One that I tried out last summer in the Middle East was using a (cheap/basic) cellphone I’d bought to pretend I was making a call or texting. This threw off annoying men and taxi drivers.

Gray March 3, 2011 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Lisa! That’s a great idea about the cell phone.

Anonymous February 25, 2011 at 6:25 am

Thank you for this. I’m off to Ireland on my first completely solo trip and I have been somewhat worried about the freaks and creeps. I will use these tips without question.

Gray February 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

Well, don’t be too worried, Suzy. It’s nice to have some strategies in case you need them, but most of the people you meet will be terrific, I’m sure. Are you using Couchsurfing to meet locals? And…yay for your first completely solo trip! Have fun in Ireland!

Sk8chic February 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Inventing a boyfriend or husband doesn’t always work, not because you might be a bad liar, but because the “freak” doesn’t care. I used that line once, and the guy’s response was, “So? It’s not like he’s here.”

Gray February 24, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Eww. That’s a really freaky freak. That’s when you need to seek help from others. Or be really bitchy.

Megan February 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I was a victim of a 21 card scam in Saigon b/c I was traveling alone. Alas, no money was lost on my part but my street smarts are in question.

Gray February 24, 2011 at 12:03 am

Oh no! Sorry to hear that, Megan. Don’t feel bad, I bet every traveler has been scammed at one point or another.

Candicewalsh February 23, 2011 at 4:26 am

Lol, can’t say I’ve had this problem yet, but geez! You sure know how to attract them…

Gray February 23, 2011 at 11:13 am

It’s a gift, Candice. 😉

Connie Hum February 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Get yourself into a middle of a big crowd, fast! If you think someone is going to be troublesome, strength in numbers is always a good bet. If they are a local, they are less likely to mistreat you in front of their own.

Gray February 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm

That’s interesting you should say that, Connie. I’m not sure freaks–especially the ones who are clearly mentally disturbed–care too much what others think of them. Because in all of the above instances I cited, I was in very public places, surrounded by people. However, I agree it IS good to be in public, because if the freak moves beyond just bugging you with conversation, you’re surrounded by people who can come to your rescue.

Anna February 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm

On being rude: It’s often not even what you say, as how you say it! I’ve had older men approach me with aggressive pickup lines designed to freak me out – but responding with a loud and disgusted “EXCUSE ME?!” or “LEAVE ME ALONE!” generally puts them off. As a bonus, it usually alerts other solo women in the area. Wherever I go, other solo women are a great help – even if it’s just keeping an eye on that drunk guy on the subway along with you.

Gray February 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Agreed, Anna – Women have to watch each other’s backs. Because any of us could be targeted at any time.

Katrina February 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I think your advice on being rude and causing a scene if necessary are very important. I would add that learning about body language and projecting “fierce” is very helpful, as well.

I am petite, but rarely get hassled, I think because I give out the “do not eff with me” vibe. I did this before the military, but now, afterward, I think I project it even louder. I recommend that everyone, not just women, take a self-defense class at some point. It’s not that I believe it will be necessary for most people (far from it), rather that once you have the tools, your confidence, sense of being centered, and body language become apparent. Timid and frightened people often give off victim signals, making them easier targets; not to mention, it reinforces their idea that the world is a scary place.

An option I generally dislike, but that can be quite effective, is asking a man or group of men for help (choose well — don’t go for the drunken buddies of the schmuck whose giving you trouble). Stroking anyone’s ego is a good way to elicit help, especially if you let them play hero.

Also, think about all of the above tips in advance. If you have the options in your mind, you aren’t as likely to get frazzled or panicked. Calm confidence or quiet threat can be a lifesaver. They don’t know what you’ve got up your sleeve — use that to your advantage.

Gray February 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Thanks for the tips, Katrina. Good advice.

Marsha February 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Hahaha, Gray! This is awesome. Last time I met a crazy was in San Francisco–fortunately she didn’t bug me for too long. How I deal with crazies? Get crazy right back!

Gray February 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm

See, I actually want to try that sometime, Marsha–to “outcrazy” the crazies. Might be fun.

Katrina February 23, 2011 at 9:21 am

I had a friend who would start barking at crazies. Seemed to do the job, lol.

Gray February 23, 2011 at 11:12 am

LOL, that’s great. I love it!

Sabina February 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I think your tips are great. But I guess I don’t have this problem. I keep to myself when I’m traveling, but it sounds like you do too. On the one hand, I’m glad I don’t have annoying freaks bugging me. On the other hand, what is wrong with me? Why don’t annoying freaks like me?

Gray February 22, 2011 at 10:10 pm

LOL, be glad the freaks don’t like you, Sabina. It’s a good sign.

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