Travel can present some unique challenges for introverts, so in this blog, I will talk through six coping strategies for introverts that I have used to maintain energy and balance when travelling.
After writing about how I love big cities and how I seek out wide open spaces when I travel, I was a little puzzled about why both extremes appeal to me so much. Cities are often busy and noisy – and landscapes are typically quiet and calm spaces. Not much in common. Then I started to wonder: is it because I’m an introvert?
Any time I have taken personality profiles or psychometric tests (which is a lot!), I always score as high as possible on the introversion metrics. So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that my extreme introversion might affect my travel habits.
Introversion myths busted
Before we go further, I want to address some misconceptions about introversion, because I’ve noticed some people misunderstand introverts and believe incorrect myths about them, including…
Myth 1: Introverts are shy or lack confidence
This is the number 1 myth I have encountered, which really winds me up because I think I’m a fairly confident person, perfectly well able to interact with others, happy to speak in front of large groups of people – and I think the same of most introverted people I know. Being an introvert is really not about lacking confidence or being shy.
Myth 2: Introverts are unfriendly or don’t like people
This is a belief that I sympathise with because introverts may not be as quick to get to know new people as extroverts. But that isn’t likely to be because they dislike people or anything like that.
Personally, I love people. I love spending time with people, and I am fascinated by what makes people tick. However, my preference is to spend quality time with a small number of people at a time. I definitely prefer the company of people I already know, because getting to know new people takes way more effort for me – it can feel like really hard work.
Myth 3: introverts are unable to make decisions
I’ve only heard this one a few times, so I hope it isn’t a prevalent view – because it is nonsense.
Whether you’re introverted or extroverted has no bearing on your decision-making ability. And plenty of successful leaders and business people (who make big decisions all the time) who are introverts, including Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.
The truth is, introversion is simply about where you draw energy from
The definition of introversion vs extroversion that most people seem to agree on is that extroverts are energised by other people and social situations, while introverts are drained by them. According to Introvert, Dear, it is to do with how our brains respond to dopamine.
In short, introverts draw energy from within, rather than from others around them.
My particular manifestation of introversion
Whilst introversion is fairly simple, everyone is unique, and not all introverts are the same. In addition, I think circumstances can affect how introversion manifests itself. For example, I think how my personal brand of introversion shows itself in how I travel has often been affected by my job.
For years, I’ve worked in corporate environments, being part of teams, leading teams and managing big numbers of stakeholders. I’m fine with all that people interaction but it does drain my energy – so when I travel, one of the things I really want to do is to recharge my batteries. I really crave time to myself. I actively avoid things that will encroach on that while I’m away.
So, it instinctively made sense why I would like those vast, empty landscapes – the space, the sense of solitude, a chance to process the world on my terms.
And after thinking about it a bit more, my love of big cities makes sense too: because I don’t tend to do much interaction with people when I explore cities. I observe people a lot – in fact, people-watching is one of my favourite things to do in a big city. But I don’t go out trying to make new friends. In fact, I quite like the feeling of being anonymous in a strange city. It makes me feel free, in a strange way.
But, some elements of travel are challenging for introverts like me, so whilst not all introverts are the same, I thought I’d share some of the ways I approach travel whilst being an extreme introvert.
Travel Strategies for introverts
1. Allow quiet time in your schedule
If you’re moving around and doing a lot during your trip, you may need extra time to process what’s going on and to recharge your energy, so it is OK to take that for yourself.
Allow yourself time to absorb, reflect – not just run around ticking things off a list, which may expend lots of energy. Seek out time and places where you can have your own experience, go at your own pace, to process what you’re seeing and feeling.
For me, sitting in a café taking in the atmosphere of a place, or walking around observing the street life is as important to me as seeing all the sights (possibly more important), so I consider these kinds of activities core parts of travel, and I make time for them when I’m planning my activities.
2. Plan ahead for group activities
Organised tours filled with group activities can strike fear into the heart of introverts. But it is hard to avoid when travelling unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money on private tours.
I hate group tours – even for a few hours. And the idea of group holidays with strangers is my worst nightmare, so I avoid them as much as possible.
But – I like sailing, which creates a dilemma because I don’t know how to sail, so I can’t sail myself. And I’m not totally loaded, so I can’t charter my own private boat all on my own… So I have twice done small boat sailing trips, where you share a boat/small ship with 30-40 other people, the first in the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia. And this presented a challenge to me, as an introvert seeking solitude, because there are only limited places you can go to be alone on a boat!
My coping strategies on these group trips were all about planning ahead:
- I accepted I would have to make small talk. I thought about it in advance and accepted that I would have to make some awkward small talk at mealtimes. I just got myself used to the idea.
- I thought of polite but legit conversation enders. Ahead of time, I thought of polite but legitimate ways to end conversations if I felt drained by them, eg to go swimming or photograph something.
- I arranged a backup plan. The first time I did a sailing tour, I actually arranged an ‘out’: I was island-hopping in Croatia for 7 days and I booked a hotel on one of the islands for the 6th and 7th nights, just in case the ‘stuck on a boat with strangers’ thing was getting a bit too much – and I’m glad I did because it was, and I got off an enjoyed two days in Hvar instead!
- I found a quiet spot that no one else wants to be. In Croatia, this was at the front of the boat: there was a seat right under the bridge with glorious views of the Adriatic. Everyone else seemed to prefer the sunbathing deck so my husband and I had this spot mostly to ourselves. When island-hopping in the Cyclades, this quiet area was at the back of the boat – another shady spot most people avoided.
3. Go solo
A great coping strategy for introverts is travelling alone. Solo travel is very common and is a great way introverts (or anyone) can do things on their own terms.
My favourite way is to travel is with my husband, who is also introverted like me, but there are times when he can’t travel with me. And there are times when I just want to do my own thing. So, sometimes I travel solo.
This is great because I get to do everything my own way, at my own pace.
If you’re thinking about travelling on your own, but you’re worried about whether you’ll like it, or whether you’ll be safe, my advice is to take baby steps: start with a weekend away on your own, to a relatively safe place, and see if you like it.
I live in the UK, and I started travelling solo in safe European cities that weren’t too far away: Budapest, Bratislava, Sofia, Ljubljana and Krakow.
4. Pick destinations with a sense of calm
The environment you’re in will affect how much you’re able to deal with people interaction and group activities. If you’re on a group trip, but you have plenty of opportunities to find moments of quiet and calm, you’ll probably be better able to maintain your energy and sense of balance than if you have no escape from the group.
Some of the best places to travel for introverts have lots of space and a sense of calm. For me, one of the reasons I love wide open spaces and vast, dramatic landscapes is that I am energised by them. As well as physical space, I feel like I have mental space when I’m wandering in these places. I feel like I can breathe and think and just be in a way that I can’t in other kinds of travel destinations.
Some of the places I’ve visited with this sense of blissful space and calm include the desert and plains of Namibia, the Inca Trail in Peru (I managed to avoid a group tour on this, luckily), the vast Salt Flats of Bolivia and in the black sand beaches and glacial lagoons in Iceland.
5. Spend more to have a private experience
Now, this coping strategy for introverts is a bit annoying. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but it is almost always the case that if you’re doing something as part of a group, the cost is lower than if you do it alone.
So when if I’m craving time to myself and I have the funds, I have been known to pay the extra for a private experience.
For example, I did this in Iceland with a private super-jeep tour of the highlands – and the upside was that I got to tailor-make the itinerary, rather than stick to a pre-set route. However, it did not come cheap, so think about this one carefully!
I won’t publish how much I paid for it, but it was totally worth it for me. I cut costs elsewhere in my travel budget in order to be able to splash out on experiences from time to time. I call this smart indulgence.
6. Give yourself permission to avoid fellow travellers
Some people say the best thing about travel is the other travellers you meet on the road – but I feel like those people are all extroverts! Nothing about this statement resonates with me, and often I think I must be really weird for feeling that way. But wouldn’t it be weirder if everyone was the same and liked all of the same things?
Because I am normally trying to recharge my energy when I travel, I generally don’t make it a priority to meet new people. If I do, it is more likely to be local people than other travellers.
I know it is considered anti-social to avoid other people, but I think I know what is best for me and my overall sense of balance and well-being. Therefore, as I’ve come to understand more about myself and what I need, I’ve increasingly given myself permission to act on them – even if others see it as anti-social.
So I encourage you to give yourself permission to interact as much or as little as you want to.
So, what about you?
Are there any fellow introvert travellers out there? How do you approach travelling? Do you have any coping strategies for introverts?
And if you’re extroverted, I’m curious to know how these coping mechanisms sound to you?