You’ve all had that moment when you’re sitting next to a stranger on a bus, standing uncomfortably in an elevator, or many other travel situations where conversations are initiated.
Sometimes a stranger is a friend you haven’t met. Other times you just don’t feel like talking.
Most unwanted conversations can be politely avoided with a brief answer and a curt smile. If they still insist on talking, a few stronger words may be necessary.
In the worst case scenario, you may even sense something off about the stranger. Perhaps even dangerous.
Ideally, we want to avoid the possibility of violence and the unnecessary use of self-defense as much as possible. Here are a few tips that might help you avoid confrontation and keep control in critical situations:
1. Befriend others
While waiting for your train or bus to leave or for your plane to take off, try to chat with people, even if you think they are uninteresting. Do this even if it’s out of your comfort zone.
This is valid especially when you need to sleep at night in a train station or in an airport: it’s better to find a boring companion than become prey for undesirable people.
2. Refuse with a smile
When someone insistently offers to help you or give you something, trust your gut. If you’re unsure whether to trust that person or not, refuse the gift with grace. What really matters in these situations is to avoid making enemies.
3. Pretend you don’t speak the language
I have used this technique multiple times (including my home country) and it is my favorite by far. When you pretend you don’t speak the language you become an uninteresting target not only for conversation but also for robbery.
Why? Many robbers approach people in a friendly way in order to gain their trust: if you can speak their language but don’t tell them, you’ll be able to discern their true motives before they actually commit them.
4. Look shady yourself
Changing looks is one of the best ways to push away annoying people. Anyone can transform into a unapproachable person just by rumpling their clothing, messing up their hair, and generally appearing in a state of disarray.
Chatty or dangerous people may move on to more amicable looking targets instead.
5. Act unpredictable
I know this one might sound weird, but it really works. I know a guy who uses this technique not only while traveling, but also to skip the line at the post office.
Nothing scares people more than an unpredictable person who gives them blank looks or chats loudly with an imaginary friend.
6. Talk on the phone
How about being engaged in a fake conversation on the phone? This technique always works, especially when you are alone. You can talk about anything: just make sure you don’t keep looking around as if you were suspicious yourself.
7. Run away
No tip is as effective as this one. If a situation becomes too hard to handle, just hold your breath, raise your heels and don’t look back.