This may come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t met me in real life, because of course it’s easy to scan through my blog posts and imagine me to be a certain way – people have used words like “adventurous,” “outgoing,” and even “brave” to describe the me on the computer screen.
But the reality is that, while I *can* be all of those things, I’m actually an introvert at heart.
I’m not necessarily shy (that’s a common misconception about introverts!), but I’m also not going to be the first one to strike up a conversation or suggest going to a party. Like most introverted people, I prefer small groups to large gatherings; I can be quiet if I don’t have anything to say; and I need alone time every day in order to decompress.
This might not sound like a person who would also go gallivanting around the globe, but, believe it or not, there are a LOT of introverted travelers (and even travel bloggers!) out there.
And so, in order to connect more with my people and show you that introverts can totally conquer the world, too, I’ve decided to dish on the realities of traveling as an introvert.
You’ll stress out over the most random things
This may not be true of all introverts, but it’s definitely true for me – really random things stress me out and give me anxiety while traveling. Things like asking for directions (especially in another language), getting up the nerve to walk into a restaurant alone and ask for a table for one, being thrust into social situations by new travel friends… They’re all small and silly, but be prepared for the most random things to stress you out when you’re traveling as an introvert.
Too many options gives me anxiety, too. For example, when I was in Seville in early 2015, I decided I would go out for dinner one night. I wanted to go somewhere for tapas. But there were SO. MANY. PLACES. First, I got anxious about finding a good place to eat when there were so many to choose from. Then I got myself all worked up about going inside alone and trying to order off a menu I could only half-read.
I ended up walking around for an hour, and then giving up – I had a gourmet burger in my hotel room that night instead.
Overload like this – whether it’s sensory or social or a mix of both – is a real thing that we introverts struggle with while traveling.
But you know what? That burger was one of the best burgers I had this whole year. #noregrets
People will drive you nuts (sometimes)
I began my traveling career as a backpacker. I spent two summers backpacking around Europe, traveling on backpacker buses and budget airlines and staying in hostels. This forced me into socializing a lot more than I probably would have at home – often with people that I would have avoided like the plague anywhere else.
There were the all-night partiers that come bumbling back into the hostel dorm room at 5 a.m. to make more noise than you would think humanly possible. There were the twenty-something travelers more intent on scoring drugs than getting to know a new culture. There were the travelers who were loud and rude and inconsiderate of the fact that I just wanted to check my email and go to bed early sometimes.
And, quite frequently, these same people who drove me nuts would call me a party pooper when I didn’t want to get drunk or hang out with lots of other drunk people until all hours of the morning.
Not everyone will GET that you need to have some “alone time” each night, or if you’re not much of a partier and/or feel really uncomfortable in large, rowdy groups. This really bothered me when I first started traveling, but I eventually realized it wasn’t worth stressing out over what other people thought of me.
Do your thing. And, if that doesn’t always work, sometimes this old saying rings true: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Some days you’ll have to force yourself to be social
As an introvert, you won’t be predisposed to joining ’em. I know this. In fact, you may start brainstorming elaborate reasons why you CAN’T join ’em. I’ve been there; I’ve done it.
But, if I’ve learned anything about pushing myself, it’s that forcing yourself to be social can sometimes be exactly what you need. I’m not saying you have to force yourself to do something you’re entirely uncomfortable with – but convincing yourself to be slightly more social than you would normally be can really enhance your travel experience.
Some days, you’ll have to force yourself to be social. This could be as simple as going on a free walking tour with a group of other travelers instead of wandering around on your own, or could be as intense as agreeing to go on a rafting pub crawl with people you just met on a bus.
There are many days when I wake up on the road convinced that I don’t want to talk to a soul that day. But then I force myself to be a little bit social, and I end up having a much better time than I would have had on my own. (You know, as long as I can curl up alone in bed with my laptop afterwards…)
You’ll meet others like you
When I first started traveling (on that backpacker trail, remember), I would DREAD meeting new people in hostels because I assumed that they all would only be interested in partying. I was under the incorrect assumption that I was always destined to be the odd one out.
This, of course, could not be further from the truth.
I mean, yes, I DID meet plenty of backpackers who only wanted to party. But I also met plenty of other travelers just like me – introverts trying to figure out where they fit in to the travel landscape.
I remember being really apprehensive about doing a guided trip with Busabout a few years ago. I knew I’d be traveling on a large bus with lots of other young travelers, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t fit in with any of them. Thankfully, though, I immediately hit it off with three Australian girls – one traveling solo and the other two traveling together – who shared my preference for beach days and sightseeing over all-night parties. We had so much fun together that they didn’t really even have to try hard to convince me into having one big night out at a treehouse club in Montenegro.
This has been a recurring theme on my travels. No matter how much I stress out over not being able to meet people due to my introverted ways, I always end up connecting with a small group of fellow travelers. And it’s often those beautiful people who turn up in my fondest travel memories.
Slow or solo travel might be a good fit for you
Even though backpacking wasn’t as traumatizing as I originally feared it would be, I realized after a while that it just wasn’t my ideal style of travel. Moving around so frequently and sharing my bedroom with so many strangers caused me a lot of unneeded stress. I got sick frequently, and the anxiety that has plagued me on and off since high school would often creep up the night before I had to navigate another airport or train station or set of bus schedules.
For many introverts, slower travel – i.e. staying in one place longer than just a couple of nights – is easier to adjust to than what I like to call “FOMO-style travel” (i.e. rushing around to see as much as you possibly can). It’s less stressful and lets you get to know destinations at a slower pace, on your own terms. If it takes you a few days to get comfortable talking to strangers or branching out from the area where you’re staying, traveling slower is a natural choice.
I think it’s also safe to say that solo travel might be a better fit for many introverted travelers. While I DO like to travel in small groups or with my boyfriend every now and then, solo travel gives you all the freedom you need to travel in the way that works best for you.
When I’m traveling alone and I hit a travel day where I don’t want to force myself to be social, I simply don’t have to. I can enjoy my own company for the entire day, doing what I want when I want to do it.
And, on the other hand, if you’ve had enough alone time and want to be more social, you’re much more approachable as a solo traveler – don’t be surprised when strangers just start talking to you in public!
RELATED: Why I’m Not Afraid to Travel Alone
You’ll find ways to adapt that work for you
There’s no “one size fits all” style of travel for us introverts. What works for me might not work for you. But, ultimately, you’ll find ways to adapt and mold your travel style into whatever suits you best.
You might find that renting apartments instead of staying in hostels or hotels gives you the relaxing space you need to recharge at night. You might find that wearing headphones in public is effective when you’re in a non-social mood. You may find that taking a Kindle with you to dinner helps combat the stress/awkwardness of eating alone when you’re traveling solo.
Whatever your tricks are, you’ll figure them out by simple trial and error and will eventually settle into the perfect travel style for YOU.
You may not ever come “out of your shell” – and that’s totally fine
A lot of people talk about the transformative power of travel; about how it changed their lives and brought them “out of their shell.”
Sure, it’s possible that travel may transform your life and help you shed some of your introverted ways. But, then again, it may not. And that’s okay, too! Being an introvert isn’t a BAD thing, and certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t have an awesome and fulfilling travel experience.
Despite how it might come across on this blog, I’m no less introverted today than I was when I first started traveling years ago. I still stress out on travel days. I still have days where I don’t want to be social. I still need time and space to decompress (alone) after a long day.
But that’s just who I am, and who I will always be. And I’ve come to accept and even embrace that.
You can absolutely still travel as an introvert
If you take anything away from this post, I hope it will be that you can still travel – AND have an awesome time – as a more introverted person. You aren’t destined to always be the odd one out; there will be people to connect with should you want to.
And, at the end of the day, traveling in any way, shape, or form is SO much better than not traveling at all. So don’t let your introvertedness hold you back.
Are you an introverted traveler, too? Share your story in the comments below!