Travel Tips for Introverts
Tips for traveling solo--or not
Posted May 22, 2014
It's just about summertime, and for a lot of us, that means travel time.
Do you like traveling alone?
Traveling solo is one of life's pleasures, for me. Solo trips are adventures not only into the world, but into oneself. They test our resourcefulness, our tolerance for the unfamiliar, our ability to stay open to whatever the world throws in our path, even if it's just conversation with a stranger.
But traveling solo doesn't appeal to all introverts. If it's not for you but you have no one in particular to travel with, you might consider joining a tour. I know, I know. The very thought makes introverts recoil, but I'm going to suggest you rethink. Believe it or not, if you do it right, it's not horrible.
My career as a professional introvert was launched when I published an essay titled "Confessions of an Introverted Traveler." As well as my career as an introvert, I also have a career as a travel writer and I'd like to draw on both to share some tips for enjoying both kinds of travel, and banishing any bugaboos.
There's a ton of information out there by and about solo travelers, so I"ll just give you some very basic thoughts.
First of all, don't listen to people whose minds are blown by the very idea that you would travel alone. They're just expressing their own fear and discomfort. Lots and lots of people travel alone and wouldn't have it any other way. There's nothing peculiar about it.
Don't pack more than you can easily carry yourself, no matter how you're traveling. With no one to watch your luggage while you run to the restroom or check what track your train leaves from, being overly burdened is a drag, and, frankly, unsafe. You can't keep an eye on your surroundings when you're wrestling too much luggage.
Take care of yourself. My credo (and this goes for solo or not-solo travel): Eat when you're hungry, drink when you're thirsty, rest when you're tired. You want a sad and lonely pity party? Get sick when you're traveling solo.
For many people, meals are the toughest part of traveling solo. To a certain extent, it's simply something you get used to. I have found that breakfast and lunch are no big deal, since many people eat those meals alone, but dinner can feel awkward. If I'm feeling that way, I might eat early, when restaurants are likely to be less pissy about a solo diner taking up a table (I judge restaurants harshly that don't treat solo diners well) and when the room isn't filled with couples and families. Or I eat at the bar, where I can chat with the bartender and other patrons if I'm in the mood. I've tried to wean myself from always burying my face in a book while I eat because it cuts me off from the experience. Sometimes I just sit and watch. For that reason, outdoor cafes can be particularly nice; all the more to look at.
If you find yourself in need of some interaction, sign up for a walking tour of a city or a docent-led museum tour. Sometimes, if you're feeling disconnected and at loose ends on a solo trip, a little conversation is all you need.
If you fear loneliness, try inventing a project for yourself to engage with. While I don't recommend spending the entire trip with a camera pressed to your face, choosing a photo theme for yourself (interesting doors, cats of the world, silly signs) causes you to look around differently. If you're an Instagram kind of person, it also allows you to share your experiences with others in an immediate way. Or maybe you want to keep a journal or sketchbook (I've done that), or start a collection of the weirdest postcards you can find in each place (here are some from my collection). Sometimes giving yourself a job helps keep the lonely part of your brain busy.
Start the adventure right: Research group travel carefully. A tour bus full of first-timers to Europe might include a lot of mighty friendly folks who love making friends. And I don't mean that in a good way. A tour sponsored by a local art museum, for example, might be more likely to attract a lot of thinky people with whom you can connect. (I'm intrigued by the TCM Classic Cruise, a shipful of old movie fans. Too pricey for me, but it looks fun.)
Active travel—cycling, rafting, walking tours—tends to attract a wide range of people, including loners who are in it for the support a tour company provide, such as luggage handling. Plus, if you're cycling town to town, for example, it's easy to break off from the group en route when you need head space.
If you can manage it, get your own hotel room. Most tour companies charge a single supplement, which is a bummer, but it can make a huge difference to your enjoyment to be able to go into your own room and close the door at the end of a day.
When I'm traveling with a group, I like to set my alarm for an hour or two earlier than necessary to meet up for the day's activities. That way, I can eke out quiet time alone. Sometimes I just hang around the hotel room, perhaps even ordering room service. Sometimes I go out and explore in the quiet of morning.
Strike out out on your own for meals from time to time, even if it's just with street food and a park bench where you can sit and be a flaneur. (I do that a lot when I'm traveling alone.) Just be sure to let your tour leaders know, so they don't stress out looking for you. Similarly, if there are evening activities every night, pick and choose which you'll participate in. This is your vacation, you're not obligated to participate in everything if you don't want to.
Do you have other tips? Please share them in the comments.
Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After; The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie near you.