It’s never easy being different. There is usually something about all of us that makes us feel the outsider. And my particular brand of different may seem innocuous to some, but it is always there. Friends… I am an Introvert.
All other issues aside, why is it such a big deal to be an introvert AND travel the world? Do introverts become world travelers? Are there barriers to travel that are specific to introverts?
If you are of an introverted nature and are reading this, I have a few reasons for writing this article that are just for you:
- By our very nature, introverted people do not seek attention. Thus, we are more likely to go under/unrepresented in informative articles
- Even articles written by self-identified introverts, though well-intentioned, seem to be about how they aimed to “overcome” their introversion – and to this I say you can be your authentic, introverted self and still be a world traveller who has a great time!
- Introverted people DO experience the world differently than our extraverted counterparts, and so there are world traveller tips here just for you
To my extraverted or ambiverted friends who are reading this, please know I have nothing but love for you and that this isn’t meant to be an exclusionary article. In fact, since no one is a TRUE 100% extravert (or introvert), I daresay the parts of you that are introverted may find something worthwhile or interesting in this article, too. 😊
Let’s start on the same page together – What Is An Introvert?
There’s a weird dichotomy of ‘introvert vs. extrovert’ on the web. It’s as if two warring parties are approaching the field of honour about to undergo a battle for social dominance. At the risk of being dramatic, in our western society, this seems to be the way it’s talked about and – moreover – that the battle is being won by the extroverts. Be it in the classroom, at work, or in your personal life, there is a nagging suspicion among us more introverted types that the social default (i.e. what is “normal”) is defined as those with more extraverted qualities.
At the very least, I’ve felt this all my life.
These comments I’ve received from bosses, coworkers, friends, and family might seem familiar to some of you: “You’re so quiet”, “You need to be more outspoken”, “Oh, I didn’t invite you to [event] because I didn’t think you’d be interested”, “I used to be shy too”.
Just to clear up any confusion, ‘introverted’ does not equal ‘shy’. Shy is a social anxiety that prevents one from feeling comfortable interacting with others. The same is true for those who have anti-social tendencies. Introversion, however, describes people who desire or prefer to be and do things on their own or with fewer people in a quiet setting. We renew our ‘energy’ by being alone. Extraversion, then, describes those who are energized from – and so desire or prefer – interacting with other people and the environment around them.
Anyway, there’s a whole lot more out there now in the light of these misunderstandings and misconceptions to help bring light to the discussion of introverts and extroverts, and our mutually compatible places in society. I rather enjoyed Susan Cain’s TED Talk on introverts, and she has also written a book on the topic called Quiet.
What does it mean to be an Introvert and want to travel the world?
I guess it depends on what kind of level of introversion you experience.
Personally, I’m the kind of introvert who:
- Usually prefers solitude or the company of very few people with whom an intimate relationship exists
- Might come off as ‘stand-offish’, ‘judgmental’, or ‘awkward’ in a social setting because, most of the time, I will stand quietly and listen intently, rather than act boisterously and talkatively
- Could disappear from a social event seemingly early/prematurely and may not always make her exit known to her host (I was told by an acquaintance this is called the “French Exit”)
- Communicates best in writing or after I’ve had ample time to think about a topic
I am grateful that I don’t experience social anxiety or suffer self-doubt in the presence of others. Full disclosure: it’s taken years to get to the point where I am comfortable in my own skin (but that’s a whole other thing).
Not unsurprisingly, I’m a bit rusty on my small talk skills and can be a bit at a loss when I’m meeting a fellow introvert who also likes to listen. You can usually hear crickets or that one distant baby crying while we both struggle to think of something to say, lol. 😅
How does all this relate to travelling?
Oddly enough, there are certain things I have found EASIER as a travelling introvert than when I’m just existing in my day-to-day life.
In my one solo travelling experience, I stayed in hostels (to save money) and purposefully put myself in public and touristy situations (because that’s why I was there!) And in both scenarios, I found I was either quite happy just taking it all in on my own, or that I was inadvertently striking up conversations by idly commenting on the experience with those around me.
When you travel, it seems there is always something naturally interesting to talk about, because you find yourself usually doing something interesting. No small talk necessary!
I think that’s the key difference for an introvert: in our daily lives, we’re in our routines, and those routines usually include a heavy amount of non-social activities that… well… just don’t lend themselves to tantalizing water cooler chats. For example, my weekend routine right now looks like this: sleep late, eat brunch, sit with Josh while mostly doing our own things, walk dog, eat dinner together, more quiet + chill, go to bed. Rinse. Repeat.
When I travel, however, I’m out and about and running into all kinds of people. And those who ‘fit’ with my social style seem to just find me – without my needing to BE anything other than myself. It was slowly dawning on me that I wasn’t having to “act” more extraverted or “try harder” to meet people. It just happened! And, if it didn’t, well then, I was already right at home with myself, doing my own thing. 😄
I guess my takeaway here is that you needn’t think of introversion as a barrier to travel. When you’re true to yourself, you get out of it exactly what you ultimately want – as much or as little social activity as you desire.
Ten years ago, when I went on that solo trip, I had a decidedly greater aversion to interacting with strangers than I do now. Somehow, though, I found myself swimming in a tropical lagoon with a Dutch ski-instructor and visiting a volcano with a Japanese student. We all ended up at the same hostel randomly, and became like the three amigos for several days, checking out all kinds of cool attractions together. I was amazed by the whole experience of it – and I think it really helped me come to accept that I could be an introvert and still meet new and interesting people, on my own terms!
We want different things
The interesting quandary with all of these travel articles that shout for “How to Get Over Your Introversion And Meet People” is that they make it seem like the nirvana of all travel is becoming some nebulous, super-extraverted version of yourself. That if you’re not making 100’s of friends and establishing life-long meaningful relationships wherever you roam that you’re somehow doing it wrong.
I hate to burst this biased bubble of thought but this is bollocks!
To be fair to the writers of these articles, I think a lot of the time they are simply inappropriately substituting the term “introverted” when what they mean is “shy” (again: the importance of definitions). When they write that travel can put you out of your comfort zone and that you have wonderful experiences when you meet and talk with locals and other travelers, they are being totally spot on. Where I disagree, however (other than in their definitions of introvert vs. shy), is that the sole PURPOSE of travel is other people.
There’s something magically creative and soulful in the experience of solitude.
Some places just have an energy about them; a vibe that resonates with you. I’m sure extraverts feel it too, but for introverts – who are highly sensitive to stimuli – we can be consumed by the experience.
When I am in a social setting, it’s usually all the stimuli I can handle. It’s only when I pull myself away from the beach bonfire party to walk solo down the shore, looking out at the vastness of the horizon over the waves, that I can completely take in THAT experience. And I can speak from experience that some of these moments of being alone in the presence of an unbelievable vista… they have completely changed my life.
Interestingly, this can lead the introvert to seek out destinations that inherently typify this atmosphere of vastness, stillness, or solitude. Where an extrovert might unconsciously choose destinations where people are part of the scenery (big cities, sprawling resorts, major tourist attractions), the introvert might discover new and wondrous places via their desire for space and wilderness.
The desire for companionship vs. needing your space – the struggle is real!
Though I continue to struggle with this one, I think I am finally doing better at understanding what it really is – and, therefore, not chastising myself for desiring to be alone.
Humans are, after all, social animals and there is a part of all of us that desires to be seen, to be heard, and to be understood. This can be the cause sometimes for that homesick or lonely feeling when you’re travelling. And though we all cope differently with these feelings, I think the important thing is acknowledging them and not feeling guilty for having them.
In my opinion, one of an introvert’s greatest strengths is our ability to be in our own company, comfortably.
The world inside our minds is usually alight with all kinds of ideas and scenarios and questions and analyses … so much so that it is hard to feel the absence of people. But when the desire for others does arise, we each have our own way of satisfying it. I have found that my desire for companionship can often be met just by being in the presence of people I know well – not even necessarily talking about anything.
However, if you’re travelling solo, this may not be possible. I think this is why I had a good time on my one solo trip by staying in hostels. When I felt the need to be with people, I could sit in the group dining room and read or eat with the others. Sometimes I’d let myself be invited to take part in their conversations, sometimes I’d jump in myself. Or if this wasn’t possible, a phone or Skype call to a loved one was all that was required.
Companionship and Conversation
One similarity I’ve noticed among some fellow introverts is our low tolerance for shallow chit-chat. It just doesn’t get our juices flowing.
I think this is why we generally seek to have a few, more meaningful relationships rather than many, superfluous ones – typically because the conversation is better! But even with a stranger, if they’re the right person, I can have hours of conversation even though we just met. And all because we’re talking about deep or thought-provoking topics. Funny enough, it’s how I met Josh. 😉
The fact is, you find your people – on the road, and off.
There’s no need to be any way other than how you naturally are, and no need to go OUT of your way to find what you need. Again, though I speak in generalities, introverts by their nature know themselves quite well. They may not have all the answers to the enigma of their selves, but they tend to know quite well how to satisfy their needs for human interaction and when they’re ready to recharge on their own again.
It’s the confidence to say “hey, I appreciate the offer, but I’d like to be on my own”. You’re not weird for doing it. You’re being true to yourself.
Yes, you can be an introvert and an awesome world traveller!
I think it’s pretty obvious that there is no right or wrong way to travel – that it comes completely down to an individual person’s tastes and style. But I want to re-iterate that introverts make just as awesome world travelers as our more extraverted compatriots.
In fact, I’d say we’re both vital to the fabric of the experience! The extraverts will be the ones who’ll have amazing stories of all the most interesting people they’ve met and where all the coolest group events take place. And the introverts will WOW you with their knowledge of less-travelled locales and personal reflections on their journeys.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d love to hear from you!