I’m an introverted, solo, budget traveler. A combination that can be alternately as frustrating and isolating as it is liberating and confidence building. Check out my post on the challenges and benefits of traveling as an introvert for more on that. This post is specifically about getting local advice as an introvert. Guidebooks and tourism websites usually give you the most popular options for things to see and do, places to stay, what to eat. “Popular” often translates to “crowded” – an introvert’s nightmare. I sometimes end up skipping sites I was interested in because I can’t handle the crowds. This is one of the reasons I tend to travel in the offseason.
But no matter when I travel, I like to find things that are not only devoid of the tourist throngs, but typical of something someone who actually lives in that place might frequent. I have a standard list of cultural experiences I always check into, but to get the really good advice, the gems particular to a certain place, you have to ask the locals. Normally no problem for extroverted travelers, this can pose problems for the introverted among us. Here are some of the ways I find work best as an introvert to get local advice.
Ah, the internet. Bringing together billions of people from all corners of the globe who never meet face to face. Such a fantastic innovation for introverted travelers! Forums are probably my favorite way to get local advice anywhere I go. You can ask a specific question with all the details and nuance you want because you are asking it in writing. You can perfect your wording and reread it make sure you’ve included everything you want before actually putting it out there – something difficult to do in person. Introverts tend to express themselves better in writing than speaking and the distance and anonymity it naturally creates makes us feel more comfortable asking in the first place.
Forums are also a treasure trove of previous questions and discussions, which you can browse to find things you may never have even thought of. Here you can get true local opinions and suggestions from multiple people from just one post. My favorite travel forum is Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum, which is, in fact, one of my 5 Websites Every Budget Traveler Needs to Know.
Travel Industry Employees
I tend to shy away from asking for advice in person if I can get it online, but if needs must, I find it easier to approach someone who works in the travel industry rather than a random stranger. It’s part of their job to help tourists, so it’s not as awkward. This might be someone at the local tourist information center, any hotel (whether you are staying there or not!), people manning the desk at attractions, even tour guides (again whether you’re on their tour or not).
They probably know a lot about what most tourists like to see, but these people are also most likely locals. Ask them specific questions. Instead of, “What’s a good restaurant around here?” ask “Where would you go for lunch around here?” Ask if there’s a market or park they like to frequent or some other local spot. Instead of asking about popular sightseeing attractions, ask where they would take a friend coming to visit them. It’s all about what you ask!
Approach Locals on Their Own
With no tourism industry employees in sight, you may have to ask a random stranger. You don’t need to go up to the first person you see, or the big group having lunch in the square. Look around and choose who to ask carefully. I naturally seek out locals on their own who look friendly and approachable.
Introverts often do just fine chatting one-on-one. It’s in groups when we start to get quiet and feel uncomfortable. I try to single out someone my own gender who doesn’t look too busy. Older people can be easier to approach, too, and probably know a lot about the city, but may not know newer attractions or ones aimed at younger people.
Look Really Lost So Locals Approach You
Another strategy I’ve employed (but one that does not always work…) it to look very confused, maybe consulting your phone and looking around or checking street signs. Maybe make eye contact with someone in the midst of this and smile. A lot of times I’ve had a local take pity on me and ask if they can help me find something. This is a nice outcome for an introvert, as it saves us making that first big move and you know you aren’t bothering them since they offered to help.
The final trick I implement to get local advice is to pay attention. Introverts generally notice more than extroverts anyway, so keep your ears peeled for conversations around you (especially at your accommodation) that have to do with local events or dawdle by tour groups and soak in some information from the guide. Look in shop/restaurant windows and notice boards as you are walking around for flyers and advertisements for local events. You can learn a lot just by being observant.
Try one or more of these tips next time you or your favorite introvert need to get the local skinny while traveling. I hope they will help you have a more rewarding experience without anxiety. Check out my post on Traveling as an Introvert in the Sharing Economy for some other tips for modern travel as an introvert and get out there and explore the world!