The thing about traveling by plane, bus, or train is that you're never alone.
You may be flying solo, roaming the globe without a single sidekick. But unless you're very lucky, you'll be sharing your row--38 D, E, and F--with at least one nut.
I've had a guy who made me scroll through the frequently dialed numbers on his cell phone just to prove he was a personal pal of the U.S. Ambassador to Malta. Nice, very nice, was all I could think to reply.
And then there was the woman who hummed for five hours on a red-eye from Seattle to Boston. Not show tunes, not classic hits, not notes at all. Just a sound like a Whirlpool dishwasher, minus the rinse.
For years I thought I could discourage fellow passengers from sitting near me by faking sleep, opening my mouth, and firing off exaggerated snores. It didn't work. I got seatmates who snored too.
Like the Accidental Tourist, I tried to cut off conversation by burying my nose on takeoff inside a dull-looking six-hundred-page hardcover book. No dice: Most seatmates, I found, viewed this as an invitation to lean over and read along.
Reading a volume on Artesian wells? You'll find you've plopped down next to a very talkative water engineer. Is it a guide to the world's rock doves? Meet your new pal: An ornithologist who keeps pigeons (and has one along in a pet-carrier under his seat).
I've solved this seemingly intractable problem.
I've developed a patented system that works on buses, trains, even flights like Southwest's that have open seating, and lets you travel in perfect peace and comfort.
Here is what you do: Slap on your cheesiest grin, arch those eyebrows, and pat the empty seat next to you. That's right, pat, arch and grin.
You've got to invite each stranger you see to select the seat next to you. Right now!
You have lots to say, you tell them, it's got to do with rock doves, or Artesian wells, or bundt cake recipes, and you are eager to begin!
This, I promise you, will do the trick. You'll enjoy trip after blissful trip with acres of extra elbow and leg room. You may even find yourself in entirely empty rows.
The more you beckon, the more you'll benefit, forcing wary passengers to the furthest corners of your fuselage or car.
Of course there is a minuscule chance of complications. It's extremely rare, but I must offer this warning: One goofball in a thousand may be thrilled to accept your offer.
If this happens, all bets are off. I cannot guarantee your safety. It means your brand-new seatmate may be even more of a nut than you.
Note to readers: Tell us your own secret tips (or evil schemes) for discouraging seatmates by adding a comment to this post.
Peter Mandel is a travel journalist and the author of nine books for kids including the new bestseller about summer barbecues: Bun, Onion, Burger (Simon & Schuster).