Cat napping in the Hagia Sophia – he gets me
As I write this, I’m taking a much-needed break from a conference. I don’t know anyone else here, which is not the normal state of affairs when I travel for work. I’m a few days into what is, for me, painful small talk, forced interactions, and, cruelest of fates, talking about myself and my work. Since I’m feeling the full brunt of the situation, it seemed like a perfect time to try to tackle a topic that I’ve been wanting to discuss since day 1: travelling as an introvert.
Introversion is kind of a hot topic lately. I’m sure everyone has seen the various quizzes to figure out whether you’re an introvert, how ‘bad’ your introversion is, how to work with your introversion, how to work against your introversion. Turns out, everyone’s an introvert nowadays. It’s become code for being shy, having poor social skills, or just being anti-social in general.
For me, it’s sometimes all of those things, and other times none of those things. More than any of those things, though, is that I find social interactions, especially casual ones, to be overwhelming and very mentally and physically draining. While I’m (usually) not anti-social, I’m generally much more content with either singular, meaningful interactions or just being on my own. A lot of this may seem antithetical for someone who describes themselves as a traveller, an explorer, someone seeking out new experiences and relationships. Sometimes it is. The reality is that introversion and extroversion are not dichotomous but are rather a spectrum of attitudes and personality traits. But I digress.
There have been a lot of posts on various travel blogs on travelling as an introvert, good and bad. I am in no position to judge the authenticity of those posts, and I hope people find them helpful, but I can’t say I’ve found any posts that I’ve completely agreed or identified with. I’m not a psychologist, or an expert in this area by any means, but since this is something I deal with every single day, I thought I’d share my thoughts. These are my guiding principles (I wouldn’t even go so far as to call them tips) that help me balance my travel with my introversion.
Take time to recharge
This is, by far, the number one thing I’ve had to come to terms with, both at home and abroad. I still feel guilty about it sometimes, and worry about how my friends perceive it (I don’t mean to ignore or brush anyone off, ever), but it’s become the most important means for me to achieve balance in my life.
I once took an 11 hour train ride to visit friends for a weekend. We only really had two full days of visiting together, but I hit a wall. Despite having a great time and being excited to hang out with these people who I rarely got to see anymore, I had to bail for an evening and watch Netflix while they went out without me. Did I feel terrible? Yes, absolutely. Did it make the rest of the trip, what little there was, that much more enjoyable for both me and my friends? I have no doubt. In that situation, if I had pushed myself through it, I would’ve boarded the train home feeling bitter, brain dead, and with few fond memories. As it was, we made the most of the time we had once I had recharged and could really appreciate it.
Fake it ’til you make it
Here’s the part where it will seem like I completely contradict myself. As I said, taking time to recharge is *the most* important thing to help me get through travel and life in general. Everyone once in a while, though, I find it just as important to force myself out of the house or hotel room, even if I want nothing more than just to curl up in my pyjamas and order room service. I’d say probably seven times out of ten, when I make myself get off the couch, it takes only a half hour or so before I’ve completely left those hermit-y feelings behind and start enjoying myself. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I’m reminded of why it’s occasionally worthwhile to force on a smile in hopes that it will become authentic as the day goes on. Knowing when to push through and when to hang back is a delicate art that I still struggle with from time to time.
The importance of a good support network.
One of the defining characteristics of introversion is the preference for fewer, more meaningful relationships. While I have plenty of friends, only a few are in what I think of as my core support network and, surprise surprise, these are the people who I’m generally travelling with. I don’t care about the other friends any less, but there are very few people who I could be with for long periods of time without becoming totally drained. So, fellow introverts, be choosey about who you travel with for extended periods of time, and make sure that those that you choose are aware of how you’re feeling.
It’s okay to not meet new people everywhere you go.
If you really don’t feel like it, just call it a ‘retreat’ and move on.
Try not to overplan
By this I mean, as an introvert, it can sometimes be difficult to know what you’ll be up for when the day actually comes. You may be pumped when you’re booking that big group tour, but then dread it as the day comes. There may be times when it’s good to push yourself and go anyways, but other times it may not be worth it when you’re not going to enjoy it. I find what works best for me is to research ahead with all the options that are available, but I never decide once and for all what I’m going to do in a given day until it arrives. It leaves room for spontaneity, plus I get to really do whatever it is I feel like doing that day.
In a travel chat recently, I was asked how well that works for short-term travel, when you might feel like you want to squeeze as much as possible into every day so as to not miss out. I’ve personally never minded having a reason to go back to a place I’ve visited, so I’ve never been that concerned. And of course, there are times when you may need to buy tickets ahead of time to have any shot of seeing or doing something. Overall, though, I find this approach works best for me, and I’ve never missed anything so crucial that I regretted it afterwards. And, in my humble opinion, travel should never turn into a grocery list of sites to see and things to do anyways.
As I said before, introversion manifests in a number of different ways. I hope that my guiding principles can be helpful to some of my fellow introverts as they embark on their travels.
Which end of the spectrum do you most identify with? How do you make travel work for you?
Contemplative in Segovia