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What to Do if You Are Stranded as a Traveler

Setting out on a solo travel adventure takes courage, bravery, and a sense of adventure. Good solo travel also requires that we spend some time thinking about contingencies and backup plans. For example, some of you may have read my article about what to do to prepare for the possibility of theft while traveling as a solo traveler.

In this article, we’re talking about ways to and plan ahead so that if you find yourself stranded somewhere without recourse to get home, you’ll have a game plan to get yourself back to safety.

What is it mean to get stranded as a solo traveler?

Getting stranded as a solo traveler can have a range of meanings. Perhaps you’ll find yourself at a point of interest without a way to get back to your lodging, or perhaps you might find yourself stranded in a foreign country missing the paperwork required to return home. Whatever stranding you might find yourself encountering, these tips can help prevent your experience of being stranded as a solo traveler from being a devastating travel experience that ruins the idea of solo travel for you in the future.

What to do if you get stranded as a solo traveler

1. Call or text your emergency contact

Before you do anything else, immediately after you realize you are stranded let someone know.

If you have your phone, call or text one or two people you trust. Tell them your location and the situation that is occurring. Even if you feel pretty powerless to change you situation of being stranded as a solo traveler, informing others of your situation and getting them on your team can help. Once they know you’re in trouble, they can work on their end helping to resolve your issue and get you unstranded.

If you do not have your phone due to loss, theft, or being out of signal, find another person and make a connection. If you’re in a place where there are employees, ask an employee to contact your hotel or hostel. If you’re staying in an Airbnb or in a private residence where others in the area would not know how to contact the person, you may want to have them reach out to another business that you’ve used lately like a tour guide or travel agency. Getting connected with someone – anyone – who you know in the country can be a helpful way to start getting unstranded.

Man in yellow jacket alone in the snow - if you find yourself planning to spend christmas solo, consider booking a ticket to these destinations for a christmas solo travel adventure.

2. Don’t panic

In the book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why  Laurence Gonzales explains that in his research, most people freeze or panic when they feel threatened, and typically it’s precisely that response that makes it much harder to survive difficult situations.

Instead of panicking, try and take a step back and think through how you got stranded as a solo traveler and the steps you might need to take to get back on track. Losing your money, your phone, or bumping into bureaucratic hurdles keeping you from returning home can feel like a disaster but many people have survived the same experience. Keeping a level head can help you get your solo travel back on track.

3. Know your backup plan and use it

Many times, when our brain has that “oh crap, I’m stranded” moment as a solo traveler, the reality is that we aren’t actually stranded, we’re just in a bind.

Maybe we missed the last bus to get back to our hotel or lost the money and cards we needed to pay for the next leg of our trip. Most of the time, getting stranded actually is just an inconvenience rather than a travel disaster.

Put your backup plans in place- that means:

  • giving yourself permission to make mistakes
  • booking emergency lodging overnight until the first bus in the morning
  • using emergency funds or backup credit card to purchase a replacement phone, or
  • borrowing another traveler’s phone to message a loved one back home to wire cash to the nearest Western Union (yes, the fees will be brutal, but you’ll be safe.)

4. The kindness of strangers

Most human beings are deeply empathic people. While modern life has segmented us and seeded distrust, you’d be surprised how many people respond compassionately to authentic requests for help.

If you’re stranded at a destination, point of interest, or even in a country, ask for help. Listen to your intuition, study the people around you, and approach someone who looks trustworthy and kind (kids in tow are often a good sign!). It might take a few tries, but you might be surprised by how many people can identify with the fear and panic of being a stranded solo traveler and will be moved to action to help.

Overcoming the challenges of solo travel.

My experience getting stranded in Chile:

As I wrote about in my article on visiting the Cuevas de Antoza in Arica, Chile, I’ve had first-hand experience being a stranded solo traveler. As a traveler who navigates 99.5% of the time without a rental car, I assumed the rideshare service that got me to these remote sea caves would also deliver me back to my hotel (spoiler: it did not). After walking up a remote sea highway for several miles hoping to get a cell phone signal, I gave up and returned to the small booths of security guards who watched over the caves and the wildlife and petroglyphs inside. In broken Spanish, I asked for help and, well, you can read how that turned out in my article on the sea cave trip.