Recently I was having a conversation with a friend in New Zealand who I met through my blog, which surprisingly happens a lot. You guys are awesome. Trust me, it’s not weird, at least, it’s not weird if I say it isn’t weird. Right?
Anyways, at one point in the conversation I casually dropped that I considered myself to be deeply introverted which prompted some serious raised eyebrows from my friend over her flat white, “Seriously? You seem so outgoing.”
Me outgoing? NO WAY! What a joke!
I think because of this blog and all of my social media crap over the past five years, I have inadvertently erected an incomplete image of myself. In all things I strive to be brutally honest, tell the truth even when I don’t want to and, of course, overshare left and right. But I think a big part of my personality might have slipped through the cracks.
I’m one of the biggest introverts you’ll ever meet. Or e-meet.
Meeting new people and talking with strangers does not come naturally to me at all. Not remotely. That being said, it’s something I’ve worked on improving over the years. Trust me, the first time I moved abroad to Spain when I was 19, I was (how do I phrase this delicately?) awkward as fuck. And not cute doe-eyed-Zooey-Deschunel-awkward, more like bumbling T-Rex awkward. It wasn’t pretty.
In fact, if you know me really well, you probably still see this side of me.
If I had things my way, I probably would never leave my house in Wanaka. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have left my parent’s cozy house in Virginia where all my wonderful amazing books still live. Sigh.
One day we’ll be together again.
But around the time I went to college and moved to Spain, I realized that I needed more than just books for friends. I had an incredible case of wanderlust after 20 years of reading adventure stories in far away lands. I was raised on the dreams and stories of Jon Krakauer and Jack Kerouac, Frances Mayes and Hemingway, even the Little Prince, all of whom have inspired me to explore the world myself.
Sitting alone in my room in my pajamas reading their stories wasn’t enough, I wanted to write my own.
I took a leap of faith when I was 19 and decided to study abroad for a year in Salamanca, Spain. Even though I was nervous and deeply shy, planning the trip was easy. Getting there and surviving (and I use the word survive intentionally here) was another matter entirely. It was the age old question of theory versus practice. Moving to a new country sounds easy, romantic and wonderful in your head but the reality is far from it.
The truth was it was the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done.
It meant I had to talk to people. It meant I had to be social. I would never get better at speaking Spanish if I only spoke in English, or if I had it my way, not speak it all.
If I want my own travel stories, I can’t be shy. This is probably the best lesson I’ve ever learned.
So while I still remained inherently introverted, because that will never change, I learned to not be shy. There’s a big difference.
Eight years later here are my thoughts about traveling as an introvert.
1. People don’t “get it” and probably think you’re weird
While one third to one half of the world’s population are considered introverts, we are raised from an early age (at least in the US) to believe that being introverted isn’t necessarily the best way to be. How many of us have been told to pride being outgoing? That sitting alone by yourself is bad? That group activities are better than solitary ones? There is no denying it – there certainly is a stigma about people who prefer to do their own thing.
And you know what? That sucks.
Why can’t introverts just be themselves? It is so unfair that we’re made to feel guilty about who we are.
If you haven’t seen in already you should check out Susan Cain’s Ted Talk about the power of introverts, as it’s awesome and goes into this idea in depth. More on this in a minute.
2. You plan your trips according to your moods
Even now I prefer to travel on my own than with other people. And even now, after all these years, I have to defend that choice all the damn time.
I know for a fact people think I’m weird, especially when I’m traveling. When I was backpacking through Europe for the first time, once I week I had to splurge on a private room in a hostel just not to lose my marbles.
I am that weird girl sitting in a corner by herself. I am that girl by herself on her computer in a crowded cafe where everyone is in pairs. I am that girl reading in the back of the classroom. I’ve been “that girl” so many times I’ve lost count.
There is only so much socializing a girl can do. And I hate idle chitchat.
Usually if I’ve been alone for a while, I switch things up and decide I need to be more social and be around people, so I’ll switch and stay at B&Bs or check into an AirBnb house and hang out with the host, or even hostels, though I only stay in private rooms now. Hostels are great places to meet people because of the communal spaces and then I have my own space to retreat to.
If I want to meet people on the road I sign up for day tours or take a cooking class, or even go on a pub crawl at night as a way to talk to people.
Looking back, this used to be really hard for me. Even on group activities I would sit in the back of the bus and not talk to anyone, but then once or twice when I forced myself to be social I was rewarded with some great experiences.
You can learn so much by talking with people when traveling, it’s a shame to miss out. Like all things in life, it’s about balancing these things.
3. You’re attracted to quiet places, like maybe New Zealand
When I write stories about places, I often find myself talking about the peace and solitude of a locale and how appealing that is to me. It didn’t even occur to me that I was equating quiet and empty with an awesome destination. For me, solitude is such a positive aspect of travel while others might not feel the same.
I think that’s why I am attracted to places like Iceland and New Zealand, I love the purity of the wilderness, and that you can explore for days and not see another single person. I love it!
I feel at my best, my most creative when I am in a quiet place. And big groups scare me and make me anxious.
That being said, sometimes I long for the chaos of places like Jordan or Bali, or especially Spain.
As much as I love it when things all seem to work out and well and are easy, that can get a bit boring. I secretly love arriving in a new city that’s loud and smelly, where I don’t know the language and people are pushing and shouting, and nothing makes sense to me.
Well, I love it for about 3 days, then I’m over it.
4. You’re totally cool with reading a book while eating at a restaurant alone
It didn’t even occur to me that people would think it was weird that I would eat by myself. Just because I’m traveling alone shouldn’t mean I can’t eat in a restaurant, right?
I love eating local food on the road, and in general I have a rule about dining at one of the popular places in wherever I am visiting before leaving, which usually means I’m by myself.
And since I’m by myself, I generally read, because reading is awesome. And because if you think people look at you funny reading along, trust me, they look even more if you have your laptop out.
5. Noise canceling headphones are your new best friend
Noise canceling headphones are the BOMB, and they are what save me on long haul flights/chicken bus trips/tuk-tuk rides from having to talk to other people.
I don’t mind talking to strangers on planes, but I want in on my terms, and when I feel like it – I don’t like it when it’s forced conversation or idle bullshit. Nine times out of ten, being crammed on a plane with hundreds of other people is literally my worst nightmare, and the last thing I want to do is talk to the person next to me.
6. Slow travel is my kind of travel
This past year I have finally realized that I am a slow traveler, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am an introvert at heart.
Years ago when I traveled for the first time, it was such a new experience for me that I pushed myself over and over again to see and do as much as possible. All I cared about was ticking items off a bucketlist and collecting stamps in my passport.
I don’t want to say that I’ve changed, because I think I’m still the same person deep down, but rather I’ve realized that I have my whole life ahead of me to travel so what’s the point of rushing?
It got to the point that I was getting very burnt out, that each trip I took I was stressed to the max, mostly because I hadn’t recovered from the one before. I was traveling too much.
I realized I am more successful and productive in low key environments, that’s why I can’t blog on the road. Solitude is essential for me to be creative. Otherwise my brain hurts – it’s like I’m pulled apart in a million different directions.
For me, moving from place to place, uprooting everything I was accustomed to, isn’t easy. Doing it over and over and over again on the road can be brutal. I crave familiarity even in a foreign country. I feel like the best experiences are the ones that aren’t rushed, where I can take the time I need to dig deep and really explore a place.
I’m like that in most aspects of my life, and I think it’s because I am introvert. Traveling slow also allows me “time off” where I can just hang out and read all day if I want to and not feel like I need to pack my itinerary with activities.
I only wish I realized this years ago.
7. Some things will be harder for you than for other people (and vice versa)
Even when I worked as a secretary in high school, I was so scared to pick up the phone when it rang, even though it was my job. I used to write out what I would have to say and rehearse it!
I remember when I moved to Spain, I literally sweated through my t-shirt as I waited in line at the foreigner’s office to get my residency card for the first. Not because I was afraid I would be declined (I had everything in order) but because I would have to talk in Spanish in front of other people who spoke Spanish without anyone to back me up. Terrifying!
When you’re an introvert sometimes you build up little moments like this in your head for so long they become a big obstacle.
8. You’re good at being invisible
I know this might sound a bit ironic since I publicize my entire life on the internet, but the reality is that I prefer being invisible. I don’t like to be the center of attention or stand out in the crowd, and giving presentations and speeches actually gives me nightmares, even though it’s a skill I am determined to improve on.
I’ve also gotten to the point where I am recognized every couple of weeks from my blog which thoroughly freaks me out. And then I act really weird and awkward and totally blow my “cool girl” online personality. Oh wait, do I live up to my awkward blogging personality? See? I think too much.
Even now with all my “perceived success,” I am still invisible to many in the travel blogging community or in digital media. For a while that bothered me, but then I realized it doesn’t matter. I don’t need attention, approval or recognition for the work I do. I do this all for myself and to help and inspire readers, not my colleagues or peers.
I hope this year I will learn to be less harsh on myself and not be bothered by my “invisibility.”
Also, a bit randomly, I don’t know when I realized it, but somewhere along the line I have perfected my transit from A. to B. with the absolute bare minimum of conversations and interactions with other people. Let’s call it invisible transit.
Check in online? Awesome. Bag drop? Of course. Smart Gate immigration? A total given. Secured pick up by the hotel at the airport in advance over email? Standard.
I really hate transit days – they stress me out – which means I am not always the friendliest person. I want to be alone but I can’t, no matter what I do. So to make it as painless as possible, I’ve managed to have my schedule down pat to avoid any fuck-ups or inconveniences. It’s awesome and usually means I arrive happy and ready to roll.
9. When someone cancels plans while you’re on the road, you’re secretly happy
Because let’s be honest, you didn’t want to go out anyways.
10. A lot of people have a hard time understanding it when you say you want to be alone
I started off with this point and I feel like I need to come full circle and finish with it as well. Maybe you’re traveling with a group and one night you prefer to stay in your own room and read instead of hanging out all evening, and they inadvertently (or intentionally) make you feel bad about that.
I have had this happen to me so many times I’ve lost count.
Of course your true friends and the people you are closest to usually can understand this about you, but oftentimes you end up traveling with people you don’t know that well and first impressions count. You feel like you have to be more social than usual. You have to fit in.
It’s like high school all over again.
This needs to change, and in many ways, I think it has to come down to your own attitude and opinions (or in this case me, since I’m talking about me haha). I don’t like being made to feel guilty about my own personality so I am setting a public resolution for myself this year – I refuse to feel bad about being myself.
If that means I need to stay inside and read or blog, that’s what I need to do. This year will be about self-acceptance.
I like to be alone, especially when I’m traveling, and I am ok with that.
What about you? Do you consider yourself to be an introvert? Have you ever felt this way? How do you cope when traveling?
467 Comments on “The realities about traveling as an introvert”
Man I can’t tell you how much I can relate to this post. I love traveling and living abroad, but I sometimes I can’t stand hostels (or things like that) because I just NEED my space. I wish I could be the richest traveling introvert and never talk to anyone except when I’m ordering food. Or when I decide I want to talk to people. I totally, TOTALLY agree when you say you want it to be on your terms. I am exactly the same.
Thank you for writing this.
Glad you know what I mean!
Just to say I love the truthfulness and self acceptance in this post. I feel exactly the same when I travel! And it can feel like there’s something wrong with you for needing time to yourself, but I agre its so important to listen to what you need. Thanks for this article!
exactly, that’s what my goal is for this year!
Fantastic post! I am also an introvert and I saw so much of myself in your post. I am a solo traveler like you and very much prefer it to travelling with others for the very reasons that you describe. Like you, I’ll join a day tour or a food tour at night if I want to interact with people, but often I’m content just wandering on my own. Friends and family think it’s weird but I think there is something wonderfully beautiful about being able to be comfortable alone and with others. Thank you for this post – it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are just like me.
I am so happy you can relate!
Great post Liz. I’m a total extrovert but we have one thing in common, I’m more than cool reading a book in the restaurant alone too 🙂
It’s great isn’t it?