There seems to be a general assumption that travellers are extroverts. People think that if you travel, especially when you travel solo, you have to be very brave and outgoing to do that. The truth is, travel is possible even for shy and introverted people like me.
Only because I’m travelling solo, doesn’t mean I’m unafraid. I’ve already written about how I’m really not all that courageous here, and neither am I very outgoing. I don’t at all fit into that typical backpacker image that many people have: hanging out in with a crowd of people at the hostel, partying every night, chatting up to strangers at every opportunity. That image is pretty much the opposite of me. I rarely ever party. I’m rather alone than in a crowd. And I’m absolutely terrified of approaching strangers.
Travel as a cure for shyness
Travelling is a constant challenge for me to overcome my shyness and anxiety in social situations: when I’m staying at a hostel with strangers, when I go on group tours, when things go wrong and circumstances require me to actually approach someone I don’t know to solve the problem. But while it’s a good thing to work on my shyness, it doesn’t change my introversion. Because that’s a part of my personality that will always be there.
I remember when I was a teenager my parents seriously doubted my ability to travel solo. Not because they didn’t want me to, mind you. After all, my parents are the people I inherited my wanderlust from. But because I was so extremely shy and they weren’t sure I could handle it.
When I was 17 I went to visit my aunt in Australia. She would be meeting me at the airport in Brisbane, but until then there was an over 24-hour long flight to get through. I had to change planes at Singapore, and I still remember my mum worrying about what would happen if there was a problem with the connection and I would be too shy to ask someone for help. I think she already saw me stranded in a foreign city.
What can I say, it all worked out well. I didn’t get stranded in Singapore, and my Aussie relatives and me all got on well despite my mother’s warnings that I would need to be more talkative with them then I sometimes was at home. Was I still quiet? Of course. It’s how I function. But it never impacted my desire to travel.
Over time I became more confident, until I could tackle new forms of travelling I previously considered out of my reach. For example, I had thought that work and travel was not for me at all. Having to find jobs on the road, without knowing where I would find one and what would happen next? It was a daunting prospect. And yet, when I was 23 I did exactly that. I learned that I could overcome my shyness in order to achieve my travel dreams.
Introversion as a travel asset
Today I know that introversion doesn’t need to be an obstacle to travel. On the contrary, it seems to be a rather common trait among solo travellers. I have read many travel bloggers referring to themselves as introverted, and admitting to be very shy when they started out. If you’re looking for an example check out this great article by Young Adventuress, where she describes her introversion and the effect it has on her travel – both as a challenge and a benefit.
And still, despite all these examples of introverted travellers, even among those who have made travel their profession, the myth of the extroverted traveller persists.
Maybe the problem is that many people have a wrong conception of what solo travel means and requires. Or they have a wrong idea of what introversion is. Being introverted doesn’t mean we don’t like meeting new people, or experiencing new things. It only means we need some time by ourselves after we do it to recharge our batteries. Which is a lot easier when you travel solo, because you don’t need to make excuses to anyone.
That’s why solo travel is actually great for introverts.
The illusion of extroversion
Of course the wrong conceptions also persist because travel bloggers – or any kind of traveller really – are more likely to write about the adventures they had, than about the time they spent sitting quietly by themselves. We tend to concentrate on the highlights of our trips, and often do so in a way that can make us sound more outgoing than we really are. We might talk about the awesome person we met at the hostel bar, but don’t mention the anxiety we suffered before we were persuaded to enter that place at all. I know I have been guilty of that.
Maybe we should talk more about those things, to show that travel is not only for those who enjoy crowds and action. That’s partly what I’m trying to do with this blog. To show the unique problems that introverts have on the road, but prove at the same time that they are just as able as extroverts to go and see the world. Because luckily wanderlust infects all of us equally, and your personality should never be an obstacle to your travels.
Are you an introvert who loves to travel? Have you overcome your shyness to fulfill your dreams? Do you perceive your quietness as a hindrance on the road? Or maybe you are one of those fabled extroverted travellers and have a whole different take on the matter? Either way, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!