"Being a little different is no longer the terrifying disaster it was growing up, and a big part of that happened for me when I started traveling."
If you consider yourself an introvert, you’ve probably felt the sting when some work colleague, acquaintance or family member describes someone else to you as an introvert in a negative fashion.
“I don’t know, they’re just kind of quiet. A bit of an introvert.” *scrunched nose in disapproval face*.
Message received. Over and over again since birth. Being quiet, introspective and happy to be alone is bad. Being outgoing, gregarious, and social is good. Gotchya.
I get it. A movie wouldn’t be all that exciting if it was about someone reading books all the time and dealing with their emotions privately. How would a plot be driven forward without some sort of dramatic overreaction that could probably be solved 9 times out of 10 with one quiet conversation? But to prove the point and paint a picture, extremes are taken. Psychopaths and murderers are very often portrayed as withdrawn and introverted. Big personalities on the other hand are colourful. Powerful. They motivate the masses with harrowing public speeches. They beguile love interests and save civilizations.
If you’re not naturally this outgoing, it does not bode well for the ol’ self esteem. Even if you can fake it pretty good or like to be social *sometimes*, the constant extrovert ideal image being driven into every aspect of life still tends to leave you feeling ‘less than’. Why am I not the discussion leader that teachers want? Why am I not the ‘people person’ that employers want? Why is my best friend/sister/fill-in-the-blank blessed with the gift of gab and I’m not? After a while, you just accept that somehow you’re ‘weird’ and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Fortunately, I have learned to appreciate being ‘weird.’ Being a little different is no longer the terrifying disaster it was growing up, and a big part of that happened for me when I started traveling.
When you’re taken out of your familiar frame of reference and introduced to new ways of doing things and different versions of ordered society, you begin to change and see things in a new light. You come to understand that these other ways of operating in life not only work, but in some ways function even better than what you know, and this begins a shift in how you see yourself, too.
Like maybe being reflective is actually pretty useful when you’re introduced to new cultures and societies. Or perhaps listening more than you speak can be pretty valuable in certain situations. Probably the most profound realization is that there are millions of people out there living life in different ways and the formula for success that you’ve been shown time and time again is not the only one there is.
Of course, there were little glimpses of this message delivered in books and in entrepreneurial feats.
But it was the great size of established concepts being turned on their heads that finally reached me. Economic systems, social hierarchies, governmental organisations… things that before seemed as unwavering as temperament.
And then the individuals that drove them.
People actually create their own exciting paths and are not held back by anything considered to be the ‘preferred’ way of doing or being anything. They just do. In all of their authentic glory. And the results are pretty fantastic.
So, for all of you introverts out there, I encourage you to go traveling, see the world in all of its varied majesty, and get to know your strengths while you do it. And when you do, keep these tips in mind.
1. Carve out the alone time you need, no matter what.
Faced with a constant reminder that being social is better, introverts tend to push themselves into exhausting situations just to keep up appearances. Try to plan this into your overall travel plan so that there is enough down time without missing your key tourist hotspots. Even if you’re over scheduled, skip a day outing or a group lunch so that you can recharge your batteries - and then don’t obsess about it. Make the decision and enjoy the time by yourself, no apologies. This will help you come back refreshed and ready to be fully engaged again.
2. Plan your travel details to suit your temperament.
Sure, an 8-bed hostel dorm might be cheaper than a studio hotel room. And a middle seat on a plane might save you from paying an extra $25. Of course, the bus will be a fraction of the cost of an Uber or a taxi. But if you’re overwhelmed by other humans and you need some relaxing solitude, shell out the few extra dollars to save your own sanity with some privacy. This doesn’t have to be every day and every night, just often enough to keep you recharged. Pro tip: Some airports have little pods of tranquility you can rent out for long layovers. Worth every penny!
3. Recognise your weaknesses.
I don’t mean dwell on your introvertedness (like that is difficult!). I mean, know that sometimes you might sink into solitude when you’re actually craving a little social interaction. Step outside yourself to hang out in the communal kitchen, sign up for the dreaded group day tour, or just head down to a recommended restaurant and bond with someone over the delicious food or beer. This is not to please others, it’s walking that fine balance of doing what you feel like doing versus what you actually need.
4. Benefit from your extroverted pals.
Traveling with extroverts definitely got me out of my comfort zone. They stayed happy because they could bring me along on their social quests, and I stayed happy because they took care of the ‘talking to other humans’ part until I felt comfortable. It was a ying yang situation for the most part as long as we were both upfront about our needs. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Be unapologetic, but be a good friend.
Sometimes you are going to need alone time and your more extroverted friends may not understand. You must take this time without feeling guilty for it, but you must also use your keen sense of empathy to recognise when it’s beyond social preference and has entered into ‘needs friendship’ territory, in which case you should try to dig deep and make exceptions.
6. Use your strengths to help others.
Take advantage of your reflective qualities to help others. Record your experiences so that you can share your observances with others and pass on what you have learned. Start meaningful one-on-one conversations to get a better sense of where you are and what’s happening around you. Ask probing questions to help others analyse their own actions. This is where you can really shine!
7. Use your strengths to help yourself.
If you know that being alone for several hours suits you just fine when you’re traveling, maybe you can fill those hours with doing something productive, like studying a different language, working online, or reading a bunch of books you’ve been putting off. Celebrate qualities that can help you better yourself and use them to your full advantage.
In conclusion, ignore the stories that tell you what taking a trip is “supposed to” be like and what is “supposed to” be fun. Forget about FOMO, and listen to your inner voice about what you actually want to be doing. Your introspective heart won’t lead you astray.
Author - Meghan Advent
Meg is one of the co-creators of Travelher and lives and breathes travel. She is proud to have reached her goal of visiting all 7 continents and enjoys writing about travel every day. Contact her at email@example.com.