Well hello there fellow shy person. Let me introduce myself to anyone who may be new here. My name’s Hannah, and I’m a shy, introverted human person who loves to travel. So this post truly comes from the heart, and these points are tried and tested.
Now, these tips aren’t going to magic your shyness away, but they will be useful tools that you can tinker with to get a perfect balance of comfort and social flow whilst on the road. I still class myself as shy, but it’s most definitely something that gets better or easier to manage as you practice.
Many moons ago, I used to hate my ‘shyness’, it would frustrate me. It left me lacking confidence in initiating conversations, or freezing up and not providing enough of a back and forth, or an easy flow to keep a conversation going. So naturally, I used to think being shy would limit how I can travel, or stop me altogether.
However, I knew I wanted it more than the shyness could restrain me. Wanderlust is powerful. So I made the first scary leap, with a solo trip to Sweden & Denmark. I’m now a seasoned solo traveller, and have had some of the best experiences of my life, solo and on the road, with people I met along the way (actual strangers!!!).
Whilst solo travel does change you (it ignites this incredible boldness that you might not have possessed before), generally it won’t edit your personality. But, by being out on your own, you learn about your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. And you learn how to make them all work for you, and see them as who you are, not as something to change.
So, if you feel like you’re shy, and feel held back from travelling, I’ve written up my personal tips that helped me socialise, feel comfortable and happy whilst meeting new people and moving around a new location, as a shy person. I really hope they can help you.
If you define yourself as introverted too, check out this post as well for some extra tips on how to integrate and socialise but not burn yourself out.
1. You CAN do it.
OK, number 1 is an important one. I think something that affected me the most was the confidence to even begin. How do I just go for it? Should I even try? In my mind travel was for thrill seeking, chatty people who can strike up a conversation with every passing stranger…
But honestly you really do not need this magical ability (seriously, how do people find things to talk about? I know people who can string a story out for hours, but I can barely stretch a super fascinating story past 30 seconds… I just kind of blurt it out!). But in all seriousness, you’ll be surprised, as you’ll meet people very similar to yourself!
2. Stay in hostels
The best way to integrate and socialise is at a hostel, no matter how long your trip is! If you prefer privacy, you can always book a single room (they’re a bit pricier) and still meet people in common areas like the kitchen or lounge.
Hostels are a wonderful blend of different types of people from different nationalities and backgrounds: Young, old, shy, outgoing. So if you find it hard to strike up conversations, chances are there will be extroverted people here, there and everywhere who are brave enough to make the first move, wink wink.
Shy people are often great listeners, and we often pair up well with outgoing or extroverted people who do all the talking for both of us. There will always be someone looking for a chat in a hostel!
3. Go on tours!
On the road, its nice to have a mix of doing things on your own (oh, the freedom!), but also doing something together with others. So many locations and organisations offer walking tours, day trips, or overnight trips or month long expeditions that you can spend with other like minded travellers.
Companies like G Adventures, Intrepid Travel and Contiki are brilliant for solo travellers looking for a little security and organisation/planning help. You can even go super niche and find tours which match some of your interests, for example a cooking tour in Italy, a motorcycle tour of New Zealand or a butterfly expedition to Corfu!
You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll bond with others, even within an hour! You both love travel, so that’s one huge topic that’s easy to chat about.
In New Zealand I spent a day trip touring lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook with a group of the sweetest people, 4 of us bonded instantly, chatted all day, and met up twice more and still keep in contact!
A double bonus is meeting someone that you get on so well with that you decide to travel together for a bit! How awesome is that.
4. Take a local class or volunteer
Tours are one fantastic way of meeting like minded people who also love travel. But local classes or volunteering opportunities are next level specific. They help you meet people with really similar hobbies and passions which makes it super easy to find things to talk about.
For example, many yoga studios offer a free lesson for newcomers. Try and invite someone from your dorm room, or you might even meet another traveller there who is doing the same thing… If not, hey you just got a free yoga lesson!
If you love food, take a cooking class, if you love art attend a talk at a local gallery or crafting class. You might even start chatting to a local who can give you some amazing tips or offer to show you around.
Volunteering is another brilliant way of meeting others with similar interests. A great example for me personally was volunteering on the diving boats in Cairns, Australia that head out to the Great Barrier Reef. In exchange for free dives, I’d do a day or weeks work as a dish hand, living out on the boats, and in turn I met other volunteer travellers and even customers who had the same passion for diving as I do. We had a mutual topic we could easily talk about. New Friend: “Wow that dive site was incredible, did you guys see the whale shark?”. Me: “What, noooo?!” True story.
5. Don’t give yourself a hard time
If you get invited out for some drinks, or out for the day and you just don’t know if you’re in the mood. It’s completely fine to say no. It’s great if you’re able to make a leap of faith and say yes to things that scare you (as you’ll probably have an awesome time!). But, if you really don’t feel like it, don’t be hard on yourself. And likewise, if you go out with a group from the hostel and find you’re not talking that much, don’t be annoyed at yourself, it’s all practice.
If you’re feeling self-conscious, often people are truly so wrapped up in their own personal thoughts, they likely haven’t noticed that you actually feel super shy or nervous. In a day or two you’ll probably never see these people again, so who cares! Be at peace with who you are.
6. Compliment people (as long as you mean it!) or offer them food
The best icebreaker there is. There is no better way to strike up a conversation than to compliment someone or offer them food. Now of course compliments should come from a genuine place. But if someone on your tour bus is wearing a beautiful dress, or another traveller in the hostel kitchen is cooking something amazingly extravagant with a heavenly aroma, give them a compliment! “Your dress is beautiful!”, “Wow that smells amazing, what are you cooking?”.
They’re perfect little conversation starters that can lead to lovely chats or even an invite to share some of that food (the perfect outcome ofc). It’s also such a kind and heart warming thing to do, just because.
7. Say Hello to new dorm roommates!
This one is maybe a little hostel specific, although it can definitely apply to people on your tour, or in a class. But make sure to say hello to new dorm roommates. Entering a dorm and meeting people for the first time can often be nerve-wracking, as you just don’t know what sort of people you’ll meet.
But just a simple greeting forms an instant connection. You might both be a bit tired for a full on chat, but a short conversation of, where are you from? When did you arrive? etc. goes such a long way. The great thing about hostels is there is always this collection of staple questions you can fall back on. Check out this list of the questions always asked in a hostel.
As an example, a few times on arriving at a hostel absolutely shattered, I would give people a smile as I walked in. But if neither of us said ‘Hello’ right away, it made it harder/a bit awkward going forward to talk about things. Like, “Do you mind if I turn off the lights?”.
Saying hello immediately breaks the ice and puts you on a friendly basis. In all my time on the road, out of tonnes of hostels, I have only ever been in about 4 or so rooms where I didn’t form some sort of bond with someone after saying hello.
Your roommates will also be full of tips, not only on your current location, but on places you might hope to go in the future! They also might share some supplies with you. Like, “I’m flying tomorrow do you want this bottle of shampoo?” Whilst your mind goes “Heck yes, I am a poor budgeting backpacker, bestow upon me your hair cleaning elixir”, you graciously accept the gift with a “yeah sure, thank you!”.
You might arrive in the night, or in the middle of the day when everyone is out. But as soon as you see someone (awake of course), say hi! It’s kind of like an ‘initiation’ and a welcome into the room.
8. Say yes as much as you can
Chances are, as a shy person, you’re more likely to be invited to things rather than being the inviter (but if you want to invite someone somewhere you should definitely go for it!).
Shy people can often be quite reserved, and you might find yourself wanting to say no to invites so you don’t have to go through all the motions of navigating whichever situation it is as a shy person.
But try and say yes to things, especially things you’ve never tried before or things out of your usual comfort zone (like karaoke or camping!). After each time, navigating new social situations will get easier and easier. So say yes to a hike to that waterfall, or yes to drinks with your tour group after that day trip finishes.
I was once so nervous before going to drinks with a group I’d met on a dive boat, that I almost didn’t go… But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have arranged a road trip with my dive boat roommate (who is now one of my closest friends). I could have missed a huge opportunity.
I think something to watch also, is that shy personality traits also involve being quite passive. As in, just going along with whatever others are doing and not voicing your opinion. I am definitely guilty of this. You should say yes to things, but also keep your wits about you. Take care not to get swept up into illegal or dangerous things of course.
But from time to time saying yes is going to envelop you into some pretty incredible experiences as you just kind of go with the flow of a group.
9. It will start to get easier
This won’t be instant. But after a few weeks, months on the road, you’ll start to understand your abilities and limits. You’ll develop this base level of confidence as you realise you’re doing a grand job so far, and it will only get better and easier.
Simple things such as ordering a coffee, booking into a hostel or small talk on a plane. They were all little social situations that I hated going through, as I knew my shyness would effect the exchange. But after endless practice on the road, it becomes easier, and the inner critic in your mind begins to fade away.
10. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
OK, bit of an overused quote this one. But there’s an important meaning behind it nonetheless. Being shy and away from your usual comforting bubble of support (routines, friendships, family, pets) is scary. But if you’re reading this post, I’m assuming your passion to travel is strong, you’re determined to go, and you’re looking for a little reassurance that it will be OK. And, it will be.
This can be applied to every facet of life, and you already know this, but I’m just reminding you… Try not to let your shyness hold you back, don’t use it as an excuse. Work around it and with it. Say yes to as much as you can, but also learn to give yourself a break when you need it. If you want to travel, you really can do it.
*cathartic warrior cry*
PS. I hope you enjoy the Lord of the Rings-esque photoshoot I had with a tour group in New Zealand (at the landscape where Rohan was filmed). You can be shy and still be a badass 😉