One thing that drives me crazy every time is that stereotype of the extroverted traveller. The idea that you need to be outgoing and bubbly and socially hyperactive to survive on the road. In fact, debunking that myth and proving that introvert travel is indeed possible was one of the main reasons for me to start this blog.
The myriads of introverted travellers out there – myself included – are the best proof that introverts are at least as capable as their more extroverted counterparts to travel the world. Admittedly, we may be less vocal about it and keep under the radar are a lot, as most of us loathe too much attention. That goes for travel as much as any other situation. In fact, we’re often more likely to write about our experience (hello, all you introverted travel bloggers) than talk about them. And in those blogs, we may not always dwell on the fact that we’re introverts, the stereotype persists.
But is there some truth in the stereotype?
I have written before on this topic and on why I think that idea is pretty much nonsense (that would be the short version – the long one you can find here). Today, I want to look at it from a slightly different perspective. Because recently I have come to the realisation that travel can indeed pose a lot of challenges that may be harder to deal with if you are an introvert. That is especially true for long-term travel, as I’m am currently engaged in.
However, before you bury your dreams of being a bad-ass independent traveller, let me assure you none of those challenges is insurmountable. They simply mean you might need to make some adjustments to your travel style, in order to accommodate your introverted personality as much as possible. To help you do this, I’ve put together some of the things that can be hardest for an introvert to deal with – along with tips on how to master that travel lifestyle anyway!
Challenge Number 1: The need to adapt to a lot of new places in a short time
Many introverts love familiarity more than anything. Their home is their sacred space where they feel the safest. It’s where they can be themselves. There’s nothing better than being home alone and needing to interact with absolutely no one! For once, you don’t need to worry about having to socialize, having to accommodate other people’s needs and expectations or even just having to talk to anyone. Just a good book and Netflix. And maybe some chocolate. Doesn’t get better than that.
Enter the travel lifestyle. You don’t get to spend your evenings at home in your familiar environment when you’re on the road. Instead, you constantly need to get used to a new destination/city/hostel/hotel/Airbnb/you name it. Plus, there will very often be other people around you, sharing that space.
If you change location during your travels rather than spending the entire holiday in one place, you will face this even more often. For me, the first day of a trip is always the hardest. I struggle with the new location because I simply need time to adapt and I lack a safe space where to do that. Changing locations during a trip usually isn’t quite as stressful, but can still evoke this feeling at least to some extent. Usually, it takes me a couple of days before I really feel at home in any given destination.
Solution: Find safe spaces to relax in and take the time you need to adapt
Recharging our energies in some kind of safe and low-key environment is vital for us introverts. We need it to preserve our mental well-being. One of your main priorities when arriving in a new location should be to find such a space.
It could simply be your hotel room, especially if you’re staying in a private room as opposed to a dorm. For those of us confined to hostels, be it for budget or any other reason, this can be trickier. It’s not absolutely impossible to find peace in a hostel room, though. Maybe you can return here sometime during the day when most others are out exploring. Or you put on your headphones and get lost in a movie or a book, some kind of activity that lets you forget there are other people around. The same could work in the common room if you can find a quiet corner there.
Cosy cafes and the outdoors are your friends
If you find it absolutely beyond you to recharge in the hostel, you’ll need to extend your search. Cafes can be a great option, as can be public parks. Actually, anywhere in nature can be great to get some quiet time. One of the reasons I have really come to love hiking here in South America is that I’m usually alone and encounter only very few other people. Several hours alone in nature is certainly a way of getting some me-time.
You don’t necessarily need to go to the same place every time. Although, if you do find a space you feel really good in, by all means, frequent it as much as you need to. That’s how you create that feeling of familiarity, after all. But maybe you can also switch long walks in nature with afternoons in cafes. Whatever works for you.
If I get really overwhelmed and homesick, I sometimes go so far as to visit well-known fast-food chains or a Starbucks. I’m not necessarily a frequent visitor of them at home, but they have the decided advantage of looking and feeling pretty much the same everywhere in the world. This also goes for shopping centres, by the way. I know it may sound a bit crazy (and probably is) but sometimes taking a stroll through the nearest shopping mall helps me to feel a little less lost in a new place.
None of these places is going to feel exactly like home. They aren’t home, after all. But they can give you enough peace and quiet to recharge your introvert batteries and feel ready for a new day in your dream destination.
Challenge Number 2: Constant change of location
You know how I said I struggle to adapt to new places? The more different locations I have on a trip, the harder it can be. I tend to need a few days for implementing the strategies mentioned above and really feel at home in a new destination. Often, that’s just the moment I’m about to leave it again and move on to the next stop, starting the cycle anew.
Of course, I want to see all these places. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go. But never being able to settle down anywhere can be a strain to my energy levels. Also, the constant change of scenery and the onslaught of new sensations and impressions can quickly get overwhelming. Introverts tend to need time to really take things in and think them through. If there’s no chance for that, things can get too much and the enjoyment gets lost.
Solution: Travel more slowly
This is both deceptively simple in theory and potentially very difficult to put into practice.
Let’s start with the theoretical part. The slower you travel, the more time you have to get used to a new destination, the less often you will need to change all over to adapt to a new place, and the more time you will have to emotionally and mentally work through all your experiences.
However, depending on your specific situation there may be some very valid reasons why that kind of slow travel is not possible, or at least very difficult. Those include factors like only having limited time and wanting to see a vast number of things and places. Also, you may feel like staying in one place for very long is less of an accomplishment, when everyone else is ticking so many places off their bucket list in the same amount of time. This may not be a feeling you like to admit to ( I know I don’t), but it’s real nevertheless.
Making you enjoyment the priority – not others’ expectations
I have been met with uncomprehending stares when telling fellow travellers how long I’m staying in any one location because they couldn’t imagine what I would do there for such a long time. The easiest way to deflect those is the explanation that I’m working while on the road. However, even if that weren’t the case, I would often choose to stay a little longer. It allows me to take some time off in between all the sightseeing, rather than just rushing from one highlight to the next. If other people don’t understand this, it’s their problem.
Of course, I currently have the luxury of travelling road long-term and thus not needing to worry about the limited time of my vacation. I would most likely behave differently and not give myself quite so much breathing time in between if I were on a tighter schedule. Just not so tight I’d stop enjoying myself.
It’s often worth going a bit slower, even if it means being hitting fewer destinations. After all, there’s not much point in seeing all those places if you stop enjoying your trip because you’re too stressed and overwhelmed.
Next time you plan a holiday, try to leave some time in between the activities to just relax and unwind. If you find, while on the road, that you don’t need those breaks and have enough energy left, you can easily fill up those time slots with spontaneous activities. That’s much preferable to rushing around and then realizing it’s sucking all the enjoyment right out of you.
Challenge Number 3: The need to socialize with strangers
Yes, you do meet a lot of people on the road. And yes, you will need to communicate with at least some of them. That does include a lot of the small talk that introverts usually loathe. It may also include the need to sometimes step out of your comfort zone and approach strangers.
This may, in fact, be one of the main reasons for the extrovert-traveller stereotype, and it’s not entirely unfounded. Obviously, not all introverts are shy or socially anxious or even unwilling to make new acquaintances. However, we do only have limited energy for social encounters, which can be depleted faster by interacting with strangers compared to being with friends. If you’re constantly surrounded by people during your trip, either because you travel with them of because you’re staying in dorm rooms, there may be little energy left to form new friendships.
Managing the need to socialize with my desire to be alone is a balance I constantly struggle to uphold while on the road.
The solution: Choose your battles
In some cases, the socializing might be unavoidable. Maybe the people in question are your roommates, maybe they are your travel companions. Maybe you need help with something and thus have no other choice but asking someone. All these things happen. Still, even when travelling backpacker style in hostels and doing group activities, or doing a trip with other people, you still have certain control over how much socializing you are comfortable with doing.
Basically, you want to save your energy for doing the socializing that you’ll enjoy, and not waste everything on avoidable and potentially unenjoyable interactions.
For example, you probably want to greet your roommates when meeting them and usually there’s a short introduction as well, simply out of common courtesy. But hostel etiquette does not demand you to delve into hour-long conversations every time you enter your room. It’s perfectly acceptable to stow away on your bed and hide behind a book or a laptop. Every traveller wants some alone time on occasion – yes, even the extroverts – and they won’t generally bother you or think worse of you for it.
If the people you travel with are your friends, you may need to go to a bit more effort to explain to them while you’d rather be by yourself for a bit, but it’s worth it. Besides, if they are your friends, they probably already know you’re introverted anyway.
Only do what you’re comfortable with
Beyond your travel companions and roommates, it can also be fun to do group activities such as walking tours or day trips, but you don’t have to do them all the time. Schedule in as much social activities as you feel comfortable with.
Also, and this may be the most important tip, don’t let fellow travellers pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do. When I was younger and on my first solo trips in Australia, there were times I went out with roommates, even though I would much rather have stayed in my room. I simply worried they would think me weird or boring if I didn’t come with them. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get much enjoyment out of those outings.
Now, with several years worth of experience and a lot more self-confidence, I don’t mind dropping out of activities I’m not interested in. I don’t even feel the need to defend my decision anymore or find excuses for it like I used to. I simply say it’s not my thing, and that’s that. Once I started doing that, I realised that people are usually totally fine with it. I’ve never felt like anyone judged me for it. And even if they did, they’re probably not my kind of people anyway.
It’s possible to enjoy a trip as an introvert – I promise!
I hope these tips help you find more tranquillity on the road, or, if you’re still in the I’m-thinking-about-it-stage, that they give you the confidence to go ahead with your travel plans. Some challenges are worth being overcome!
How do you make sure you cover all your introvert needs while on the road? Do you have any special tips? Or encountered a challenge that I haven’t covered? Tell me in the comments!