10 Common Awkward Travel Situations & How to Handle Them

10 Common Awkward Travel Situations & How to Handle Them

Save yourself from the most embarrassing moments while travelling.

Travelling is one of the most rewarding experiences, but going out of your comfort zone also means opening yourself up to things that could go wrong, whether it’s language barriers, cultural differences, or financial mishaps. Sometimes, it’ll be funny, other times it’ll be a bit scary, and many times it’ll just be awkward! Don’t worry; the occasional faux pas is part of the travel experience. That said, it’s best to be prepared. Here, we’ve come up with a list of ways to deal with the most common awkward travel situations that you may find yourself experiencing on your next vacation.

1. When you’re a vegan or vegetarian and there’s nothing to eat

Awkward Travel Situations When Dining

Image credit: Luisa Brimble

As a rule, it’s generally not cool to be a picky eater while travelling. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, though, you don’t have much of a choice — and this goes for anyone else with strict dietary restrictions for health, ethical, or religious reasons. In certain countries and more rural areas, expect it to be more challenging to stick to rigorous diets. Even restaurants will have limited options. And if you get invited to a local’s home for a meal, turning down their food may come off as rude or ungrateful.

How to deal: Scour the internet (or ask hotel staff) about vegan-friendly spots in town. When it’s appropriate, let your hosts know about your dietary restrictions ahead of time and explain the reasons behind them. Talk mindfully, stay polite, and always be respectful of local customs and their way of life. Some travellers are willing to compromise on their diet when abroad — if you are, figure out what lines you are willing to cross.

Also read: 10 Instagrammable Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Bali That You Have to Try

2. When you’re the only solo traveller in a sea of rowdy groups

Travelling Group

Image credit urbazon via Canva Pro

Even if you are used to navigating the world on your own — and even if you like it — it can still be a little (or a lot) awkward being alone in a room full of families and groups enjoying one another’s company. Dining solo in a busy restaurant can be an uncomfortable experience for many people, but it’s even more awkward when you join an intimate small-ship cruise and then realise that all the other passengers are loved-up couples. *Flashbacks to high school.*

How to deal: If eating out alone makes you feel like you’re in the spotlight, head for the bar or bar-type seating where it’s easier to blend in with other solo diners. It’s harder to avoid loneliness on a tour or a cruise, though. So, focus on the sights and the exhilaration of travel instead. A good book in hand and earphones plugged in are great ways to keep yourself occupied on your own (or if you want to avoid small talk with fellow tourists). 

Also read: How My Cambodia Solo Trip Taught Me to Embrace Travel Experiences

3. When you don’t know whether to tip or not

Image credit: Sam Dan Truong

Here’s the thing: Tipping is cultural. It is expected in many Western countries. For instance, in the United States, it can be considered insulting not to leave a 15–20% tip on top of the bill. On the other hand, in some Asian countries, waitstaff often refuse such gratuities. Tips are widely appreciated in most countries, but the standard rate varies wildly from place to place.

How to deal: Each country has its own take on tipping, so research before your trip to avoid getting caught in awkward travel situations. It’s always better to find out about local tipping practices — even if you don’t personally believe in tipping culture — rather than offending someone or fumbling with your wallet while out for dinner with other people.

4. When you run out of money

It’s the middle of your vacation, you open your wallet, and… oops. You’ve blown through most of your cash, and you still have a couple of days left in your trip. Maybe it’s fine for anyone travelling with a buddy, but if you’re all alone abroad, it could spell major trouble.

How to deal: Keep track of your finances diligently before, during, and after the trip. Take some time at the end of each day to tally how much you’ve spent and how much money you have left. Even if you don’t have a strict itinerary, you should know where you’re going the following day and how much cash you need to bring for the next day’s activity. Don’t forget to consider a little extra, just in case. That way, you’ll always know when you need to make a trip to the ATM.

Also read: 10 Universal Tips on Saving Money While Travelling

5. When you get into budget disagreements with your travel buddies

Traveller Group in Awkward Travel Situations

Image credit: joka2000 via Canva Pro

Travelling with family and friends is all good and fun — until it’s time to split the bill, right? Well, not necessarily, but money can be a touchy subject in group vacations and lead to awkward moments while travelling together. Especially if a few people are eager to splurge on their well-deserved break while others are on a strict budget.

How to deal: Avoid the awkward moments when travelling with a group by being upfront and discussing how much you are all willing to spend before committing to a vacation. Go through all the expected expenses and ensure everyone is on the same page. If not, that’s okay! Make compromises and don’t be afraid to split up, like booking separate flights if some people prefer to fly first-class and the rest want to stay in economy.

Also read: Let’s Be Honest: You Don’t Really Know Your Partner or Friends Until You Travel With Them 

6. When riding taxis become problematic

Taxi Ride

Image credit: Dan Gold

Taxis are usually the most convenient mode of transportation available, but hopping in one has its fair share of risks, especially when the driver doesn’t speak a lick of your language. Miscommunication can often lead to getting lost or ending up in the wrong place. Other times, cunning drivers could take you on a convoluted route back to your hotel to jack up the fare while you’re sitting at the back with no idea where you are.

How to deal: Bring a map with your hotel marked whenever you’re in a new place so that you can get a sense of your route before getting on a cab. Besides a map, carry your hotel information on you. If the taxi driver is having trouble grasping your words, simply show them the hotel brochure or card to let them know where to take you. And when things take a suspicious turn, make sure you have someone to call (like the hotel reception) who can translate or give directions in the local language.

Also read: 7 Tried and Tested Language Apps to Help You in Your Travels

7. When encountering pushy and aggressive people

Travellers Eating Out

Image credit: Syda Productions via Canva Pro

As a people pleaser, I know how excruciating it can be to have to say no. It’s especially challenging as a traveller when you’re extra vulnerable in a strange place surrounded by complete strangers. After all, there’s no shortage of pushy people out there, from street vendors trying to sell a product, to other travellers trying to join your dinner table.

What to do: Although it’s important to be polite and to never be disrespectful — you don’t want to get on anybody’s bad side — being firm and confident is a must. After all, tourists are easy prey in foreign countries! Smile, say “no, thank you,” and look or walk away. If you’re really not interested, don’t engage in further conversation.

8. When you lose your luggage

Travel Bags

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Losing luggage on the road is a nightmare and could lead to awkward travel situations when you get to your destination with nothing but the clothes on your back. It’s especially mortifying when you’re on a business trip with nothing appropriate to wear to an important meeting or a networking event. And if you’re on a holiday in a remote destination, shopping for new clothes and other essentials isn’t as easy as you may think. 

How to deal: Personally, I prefer packing light so I can keep my stuff right next to me at all times — call it paranoia. But if this isn’t possible, make sure you’re not in a position where you have absolutely nothing by stuffing at least two sets of clothes in your carry-on. That also goes for all the essentials, such as medication, chargers, and important documents.

9. When you receive unwanted attention

Woman Traveller

Image credit: Geronimo Giqueaux

Making connections with locals or fellow travellers is one of the best parts of travelling. However, getting unwelcome attention in a foreign country puts you in an uncomfortable position. It’s easy to brush off the casual compliment from a tuk-tuk driver, but it’s harder to fend off the persistent ones. For instance, strangers asking too many personal questions always get my alarm bells ringing.

How to deal: Try to be more aware of your surroundings and the people around you. If you feel like you’re being followed, step inside a well-lit cafe or shop ASAP. Tell a waiter, bartender, or policeman if you’re truly concerned, or call a friend you can talk to while walking in a dark alley. And don’t be afraid to lie if you feel like you have to. Telling pesky strangers that you’re planning to meet friends or a partner is an easy excuse — and the prospect of other people will likely discourage anyone with bad intentions.

Also read: Dear Female Travellers, You Don’t Need to Be Polite All the Time

10. When you’re stuck with a travel companion you don’t like

Most travellers explore with people they already know they get along with: friends, family, or even colleagues. But there are also times when you’ll be thrown with strangers, whether it’s roommates at the hostel or fellow backpackers on a shared tour or cruise. When luck is on your side and you’re clicking with everyone, it’s all good! When you’re stuck with someone grating, it gets old very quickly.

How to deal: There are plenty of hostels and hotels in most tourist cities, making it easy to find another one if you find your roommate’s company unbearable. If you’re not in a position to leave, set off to explore on your own. It’s also worth learning to leave conversations gracefully, like introducing them to other guests before slipping away. Alternatively, be honest and let them know when you’re planning to spend the day by yourself. Most people are more understanding than you think, especially fellow solo tourists who probably enjoy spending time in solitude as well!

Also read: 7 Real-Life Violations of Travellers in Foreign Countries

Awkward travel situations aside, travelling should be fun so don’t sweat the small things! It’s all part of the overall experience, and while these moments can be cringe-worthy right now, they’ll make for a great story once you get back home. What’s your most awkward experience while travelling? Feel free to tell us all about it on our Facebook page

Featured image credit: mokuden-photos via Canva Pro

About Author

Celia Grace Nachura
Celia Grace Nachura

There are very few things Celia won’t do for a good story, but her favourite ones always involve the beach, animals, or any type of outdoor activity. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember, and can usually be found typing away at home with her cute dogs at her feet. Away from work, she spends most of her time trying out every hobby she can get her hands on, from running to crocheting to baking (she’s pretty okay at most things that don't involve cooking).


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