Your Awkward Travel Conversation, Sorted.

What’s more stressful: packing or traveling?  

Like most people fear the dentist, I fear lapse in conversation. A comfortable silence is one thing, but reaching an extreme conversational drought is my straight-up phobia.

When said phobia actualizes, it can get ugly. I overcompensate with chat. I grasp at any (any!) topic that enters my mind, filters be damned. I will ask you where you got that scar. I will tell you what day my cycle is on. In fact, I get so desperate to fill a silence that sometimes I just make noises. Not so absurd like quacking or neighing – no – more like a suggestive hum to denote that I’m thinking carefully and will soon follow up with something verbal. This scenario usually results in an unsaid mental instability diagnosis.

To avoid this, I’ve learned to circumvent scenarios that lead to silence. But learning is a continual process, and while I was traveling in India with my mother earlier this year, my phobia reared its ugly head.

The propensity for this happening during traveling in a duo is high; spending a condensed amount of time with just one other person lends itself to a complete draught of new topics.

We were fine for the first two weeks. It was around day 15 when we both slowed down. We eventually came to a muted standstill, resorting to sounds or singular words each time things grew too quiet: a “wow” when looking out the window, an exhaled “hmm” to denote we were still alive.

The breaking point came when I pretended to be asleep so I wouldn’t have to talk.

Of course, the best solution was admitting that we didn’t need to be partaking in a dynamic discussion around the clock, and that what we were experiencing was (probably) normal between all traveling partners.

The second best solution, however, was devising a list of topic starters for reference next time there was a painful lull. And you know what? It was a conversation in itself.

– “If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go to right now?” Hopefully your travel buddy doesn’t answer, “Anywhere but here.”

– “Where is your next holiday?” Because nothing is more exciting than planning a holiday while the one you’re on hasn’t even finished. It’s like planning breakfast while eating dinner.

– “Do you think that animals have accents?” Think about it.

– “I like/don’t like your shoes. Where are they from?” The following response will be stimulating.

– “Living or dead, what five guests would you invite to your dream dinner party?” An old classic. Bonus points for meal plan discussion. Double bonus points if you imagine all guests without eyebrows or teeth.

– “What’s the best thing you’ve won?” Nothing gets a person talking like making them feel like a winner.

– “What do you think canned sardines talk about?” They seem like close-proximity-conversation-professionals.

– “You’ve got a bug on your head.” At the very least, action ensues.

And my personal favorite,

– “So. What should we talk about?”

Bring something to the table – what’s your bottom of the barrel conversation suggestion? The holidays are here, which means loads of travel. Better to be prepared than awkward.

Illustrated by Max Dower of Unfortunate Portrait.


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  • Leandra Medine

    I usually start with, “Guess what? I have a marsupial in my carry on”

    • BK

      …what kind of marsupial

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  • Aydan

    This is excellent! I am often the creepy person sitting next to you on the plane attempting to see the title of the book you are reading. This only worked in my favor when it turned out the man next to me was also reading The Martian and we proceeded to race-read the rest of the book on the flight. Nothing like a little reading competition to get your blood flowing pre-vacay!

    • Charlotte Dallin

      I’m the creepy person sitting next to you on the plane/train/bus who can’t help but assist you with the crossword you’re doing in the newspaper. Nothing gets a convo going like, “5 down is avalanche.”

  • Lucy Korn

    This is so real. I take a 15 min ferry ride too and from work each day and basically I live in fear that I am going to get stuck trying to make small talk with some one I sort of, kinda knew at Uni. For 15 minutes. On a boat.

    • Molly

      Oh man, being stuck in/on various modes of transports is the worst! The ultimate is when you’re in the car with someone, not only having nothing to say but an awkward as shit radio ad comes on. “Soo, ah, premature ejaculation, how about it?”

  • hahahha some of the questions are really creative!! There are whole stories that could be told form them.

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  • Elizabeth Tamkin

    I revert to talking about my dog which is why I have no friends? Just kidding I have tons of friends YOU GUYS!

  • Adardame

    If there’s an awkward silence in the conversation, it’s probably because I got distracted looking at the inside of my head. Sorry about that. What were you saying?

  • Raven

    Grazie per aver condiviso

  • Lua Jane

    I believe it to be one of the perks of the smartphones, that one can be constantly amused by them, without having to pester or annoy those that are in our close proximity even while travelling. Also music helps a great deal. Put some headphones on and let others do the same.

  • Mia

    This is great, I love the list you’ve compiled. “Do you think that animals have accents?” is probably my personal favorite.