Traveling as an introvert isn’t always easy. You’re awkward. You find it hard to insert yourself into conversations. You’re worried you’re going to spend all of your time alone–or worse, sitting alone in your hostel doing nothing for the whole trip.
Traveling with someone would be ideal, but as an introvert, it’s hard to find someone who you feel comfortable being that vulnerable with. At least when you travel alone, you can go somewhere else when you start to feel uncomfortable.
I won’t pretend to be an expert or that I’m never uncomfortable when I travel. I struggle with being an introvert everywhere I go. But I continue to travel because I want to learn more about the world.
That being said, I have found a few things that help me overcome the instinct to wrap myself up and shut out the world:
Get in the habit of saying Hi to other travelers.
One of the hardest parts of being an introvert is starting conversations. We tend to listen into others’ conversations, and wait for a point where we have something to contribute. But that might take forever, and then you feel awkward for not talking for so long, and then you stumble over your words because your mouth is out of practice, and then…well, it’s a cycle.
I try to say Hi when I sit down next to someone. If they’re an introvert, too, it might lead to nothing, since they might feel as awkward ad me. If they’re an introvert, it might lead to a conversation. The point is, if you don’t try to talk to people, if you don’t make yourself available, you’ll never talk to people.
Have a purpose for talking to people.
It’s hard to start up a conversation when you feel like you have nothing to say. Sometimes, I find it easier to start off with a question. That gets the other person talking for a bit, and gives me time to work out what to say next.
If it’s coming up on lunch or dinner time, I might ask, “Do you know a good place nearby to get some food?”
Or I might ask someone who’s been in the area for a few days, “What do you suggest I go visit today?”
Sometimes, they might just answer your question and go away, but it might also lead to a conversation, or even a companion for the day.
Take advantage of group activities.
There’s nothing like an activity that makes you talk to…well, make you talk. Most hostels have lists of activities, like tours, pub crawls (though I’m not always in favor of those), etc. One hostel I stayed in ad a fire pit in the back yard, and I found myself teaching fellow travelers from France and Argentina how to make s’mores.
Group activities pretty much force you to be social. Plus, they usually have someone leading them, and if that person is good at their job, they’re doing what they can to keep everyone involved.
Have something to focus on.
Usually when I travel to a new city, it’s for a WordPress conference. That does two things for me:
- It instantly gives me something in common with everyone else there. We’re all geeks about the same thing.
- I automatically have at least a couple of days of activities planned.
If you were to ask anyone I’ve talked to at a conference over the last few years, they would never believe that I’m an introvert. That’s because I find it easier to insert myself into conversations when I have something in common with everyone else.
Start a project.
Preferably a project that other people can see you doing. I keep a notebook that I fill up with stickers for each conference I go to. At the last conference I went to, I asked everyone I talked to to sign it. For one, it made them feel important, since I was asking for an autograph. Secondly, it was a great conversation piece.
You might do a photography project, where you take pictures of every street sign you see, or ask everyone you meet to write or draw something for you. Once you have a few, people will start asking about where you were when you got “that” picture, or who drew “that.”
Bonus tip: make time to be alone.
Remember, you don’t always have to be seeking out conversation. Introverts gain energy from within, so you have to make the time to recharge every once in a while.
While this might mean just taking a day surfing online or watching TV at the hostel, I like to find somewhere interesting to lounge about. When I visited Paris a couple of years ago, I got there on a Monday, when it turns out all of the museums (save the L’ouvre) are closed. I found myself reading a book on a bench along the Seine for several hours that day.
Even though, I was alone, it was in a great location. I could sit there reading, and be inspired by being somewhere exotic.
I struggle with it all the time
Like I said, I won’t pretend to be an expert on overcoming introversion. I do my best to be approachable, but sometimes I just want to hide. I sometimes have to force myself to get out of bed before noon.
But I try to follow at least one of these tips every day, and not worry if I fail. There’s always tomorrow.