Travel necessitates a certain level of interaction, especially budget travel. I am most definitely an introvert and avoid excessive human interaction. Yet, I travel all the time. There are certainly challenges when traveling as an introvert, but in a lot of ways it can be a very comfortable and powerful experience. I can feel entirely alone and at peace in a crowded airport or town square. The age of the internet has made traveling as an introvert so much easier. I can make basically all of my travel plans, and get local travel tips, without talking to anyone. Yet there are definitely situations that arise when traveling that are difficult for an introvert. I wanted to share some of the great things and some of the difficult things I’ve found about traveling as an introvert.
The Challenges of Traveling as an Introvert
So, what are the things about being introverted that make travel difficult? For my style of budget travel, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this question is hostels. Hostels are a great cheaper option for accommodation, but they are very social places. First of all, the cheapest beds are in dorm rooms. This means sharing your personal space with at least one other person. I’ve stayed in dorm rooms that had as many as 24 beds in them! The lack of privacy can be very trying for introverts. There is nowhere to go (besides, perhaps the toilet cubicle), where you can be guaranteed to be absolutely alone. Sometimes, you just need that little bit of alone time to take a break and gather yourself. It can sometimes be very difficult to truly relax in a hostel environment.
People stay in hostels for the inexpensive bed, but also to meet other travelers like themselves. This means that people will often approach you in a hostel and try to start a conversation. Even if you avoid eye contact and actively try to avoid engaging other people, sometimes they just don’t get the message and speak to you anyway. Hostel travelers are often interested in meeting people from all over the world. Solo travelers might stay in a hostel specifically for the purpose of meeting other travelers to compare notes and even team up and travel together for a while. Hostels are by nature a very social environment.
Solution: If the social set-up of hostels really does not work for you, try another cheaper form of accommodation. Some hostels offer private rooms at a more affordable rate than hotels. Sometimes there is a reasonable hotel or B&B in the area. Consider house sitting, a great option for animal lovers! Or check out Airbnb or HomeAway. I’ve often found private rooms or even whole apartments on those sites for the same or not much more than a dorm room in a hostel! My post on peer-to-peer renting gives all the info on how these sites work. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first stay by clicking my link 🙂 If a hostel dorm is your only affordable option, headphones are your best friend. Stick those in, drown out the chatter, and most people will respect that you are not interested in talking with them.
I don’t do a lot of group tours. This is mainly because of the rigid schedule they force upon you. “You have 10 minutes at this museum. The most famous masterpiece is a 15-minute walk away at the other end of the building. Good luck!” Sometimes, however, they are the cheapest, easiest, or even the only, way to see the sight you want to see. Of course, as an introvert, another big reason I tend to avoid group tours is in their very name. They are GROUP tours. Here is another situation where you are forced to interact with other people. I have definitely sat off on my own on a group tour, staring out the window of a bus and not talking to the others in my group. But this is another situation where people automatically feel a kinship with their fellow group members and will often want to strike up a chat. You cannot get away on a group tour. You are always with other people who are linked to you and aware of you as a member of their group. There is no sense of being alone and this can be very tiring.
Solution: The easiest solution to the problems introverts face on a group tour is to simply avoid group tours. It’s usually easy enough to recreate the same itinerary on your own, which gives you more freedom and less social interaction. If a group tour is the only way to do what you want to do, staring out the window, listening intently to the guide, and viewing an attraction from another place than most of the group are good signals to your fellow tourist that you want to be left alone.
Budget travel necessitates the use of public transportation. You cannot see the world in private planes, taxis, and hired cars without spending a mint. This means you are often surrounded by other people with no option for privacy. You can’t always choose who sits next to you, either. They could be very chatty or take up a lot of space. This can be an issue for the traveling budget introvert.
Solution: Again, headphones are great here. They cut off the world auditorily and give people the idea that you do not want to talk. I actually often find a good sense of solitude on public transportation. Most people are used to not interacting too much, so hope you don’t get one of those rare chatty ones sitting next to you. If so, try to change seats if this is an option.
The famous attractions anywhere you travel to are famous for a reason. They are usually something worth seeing, meaning everyone else who travels there wants to see them, too. This can lead to huge crowds, which can be uncomfortable for introverts. I have occasionally even missed seeing something I wanted to see because the number of people around it was too much to deal with.
Solution: The biggest attractions are most popular from late morning to mid-afternoon. Try arriving as soon as it opens, or just before closing to avoid larger crowds. Check if the sight is on popular group tour routes. If it is one of the first attractions on most itineraries, go later in the day to avoid those groups and vice versa. If you are not extremely attached to seeing a particular attraction, try to find a less popular one that might be just as, or even more, interesting to you, but less crowded. Or check out my post 5 Immersive, Inexpensive, & Unusual Cultural Experiences for some alternative activity suggestions.
The Benefits of Traveling as an Introvert
Solo travel can be such a liberating experience. Sometimes introverted people can feel held back by needing to be alone and avoid too much social interaction. When you travel, you get this feeling that you are perfectly capable, you can do amazing things, and you can do it on your own. There is so much to see and do in the world, and you don’t need to be an outgoing person to take advantage of that.
Alone in a Crowd
One of the best experiences traveling as an introvert has given me is that feeling of being alone in a crowd. When you are surrounded by tons of people in a busy town square, museum, train station, yet you are not with any of them and not obligated to interact in any way. When I say goodbye to friends and family, sit down on that plane or bus, put in my headphones and watch the world passing by, I get such a sense of calm and relief. Traveling is a great way to do something purposeful and fulfilling out in the world, while still being alone in the most meaningful sense. When you travel to countries where they speak a different language than you do, you also have that auditory barrier where you don’t understand most of the words being spoken around you. This can really help give you that sense of being alone even when you are surrounded by people.
The Foreigner Card
Probably the biggest benefit for a traveling introvert is what I like to call, the “foreigner card”. I love being the foreigner in someone else’s country. It gives you an automatic excuse for being awkward. If you look a little lost or are quiet and shy, it is easily attributed to being unfamiliar with the culture and language. I find people are much more understanding of clueless foreigners than of introverts.
Being introverted can often be associated with a lack of confidence. Not wanting to speak up in groups or go out and do social activities can run down your own opinion of yourself, as well as how you are viewed by others. Solo travel forces you into being the decision maker. You have to figure everything out on your own. You have to get out there and do things. Not relying on other people and not having to consider what others want to do can help you feel better about yourself and teach you things that can help you in your life when you are back home as well.
Go For It, Go Solo
There can certainly be challenges to traveling as an introvert, which can seem very daunting. A lot of the “solutions” I’ve described here are more like ways to minimize your discomfort rather than eliminate it. I feel like some introverted people think they can’t handle traveling or don’t want to deal with the difficulties they may encounter. To those, I say, just go for it! If you want to explore other places, see the world, don’t let your introverted tendencies hold you back. There are ways to deal with the challenges and minimize your chances of having to deal with them, and the benefits are fantastic. The liberation, solitude, and confidence you can gain through travel as an introvert far outweigh the difficulties.
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