When it comes to planning travels and other adventures, I’ve always believed that we should try everything once. Unfortunately, in doing so I’ve often suppressed my gut feelings, giving things like dance clubs, casinos, and overnight road trips a genuine chance, only to have my introverted, morning-person tendencies reinforced time and time again. I’ve spent sleepless nights in seedy hostels and damp tents, suspecting it wasn’t going to be my thing but clinging to the misplaced logic of YOLO. I even took a hot-air balloon ride despite a panic-attack-inducing fear of heights. It did not go well.
My logic was: People are supposed to like these things, and if they don’t, they're simply too uptight or aren't trying hard enough. So, I spent the bulk of my twenties pushing myself into adventures that sounded great for someone else, but not for me.
A little older and wiser now, I’ve come to grips with my natural likes and dislikes, and it’s becoming all too clear there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to enjoying a place or an experience. Personality matters a lot.
Research backs me up. Consider the oft-cited finding that being in nature is good for you in a multitude of ways. It’s true… but not for everybody. New research suggests that when they are mentally drained, people high in neuroticism (that is, emotionally volatile, anxious sorts) find urban environments to be much more restorative. Those low in neuroticism, however, do demonstrate the rejuvenating effects of nature. So, if you feel that taking a hike doesn’t seem to live up to all the hype, that’s OK! Find something that does.
Also, consider the trait of extraversion. It may not surprise you to hear that extraverts fare better in stimulating, social environments than introverts do. But they also seem to have preferences for very specific sorts of natural environments. Specifically, one series of studies found that they tend to prefer spending time near the ocean, while introverts would rather be in the mountains. Why? Extroverts seek out greater levels of stimulation and the ocean holds potential for beachside socializing. Introverts, by contrast, enjoy lower levels of stimulation and therefore prefer the serenity and isolation of the mountains.
Finally, think about your level of openness to experience. Those high on openness enjoy novelty and adventure, say, ethnic restaurants and modern art museums, while those on the lower end of the spectrum prefer more comfortable and conventional activities.
By zeroing in on these important individual differences, you might be better able to guess what sorts of things might best fit you. The city or the woods. The beach resort or the mountain cabin. The Korean BBQ or the Cheesecake Factory. As I’ve learned the hard way, there really is no universal right way to have a good time. Quiet the "shoulds," consider your unique trait profile, and always listen to your gut.
Want to quickly assess how you might measure up on the traits of neuroticism, extraversion, and openness? A quick online measure can be found here.