The terms introvert, extrovert and ambivert have been coined a lot through the last few years; Tests and articles promising to identify “which ‘one’ you are!” popping up everywhere.
I’m definitely of the introvert variety. But honestly, I’ve never been overly fond of ‘labels’, as I feel like individuals are too complex to brand with single terms. However the science is there, and often, having a term or label to define yourself and your experience, can help you to work towards managing or improving certain aspects of your life.
Like… travel! Solo travel in particular.
Generally, the initial perception of “a solo traveller” (although it is changing!) has been of a confident, chatty, individual who can talk to strangers all day, every day, and boldly hitchhike and couch surf their way between thrill seeking ventures and festivals.
Broadly speaking and generalising a bit here, but the impression I used to picture was essentially that of an extrovert. But. That changed, when I did some research and found a few blog posts by other solo travellers who described themselves as introverted. It honestly amazed me that they existed. And it gave me the motivation I needed to at least give it a try.
I now LOVE solo travel, and it’s something I think everyone would benefit from trying at least once. If you still need persuading, see if my reasons to solo travel can entice you.
Being shy and introverted often come hand in hand, and because of this they’re often assumed to mean the same thing.
Introverts highly value time alone, and essentially need it to ‘recharge’ (I always picture someone literally plugging themselves in with a travel adapter, I promise we aren’t robot people! Haha) and regain spirit and energy after socialising. They need time to think and process. Extroverts are generally opposite, and find comfort and energy in being in social situations.
Being shy is more of a general lack of confidence in social situations. You enjoy being social when you’re comfortable with those around you, but being confident enough to engage with new people can be daunting. I’ve also written up some tips for shy travellers too.
Many people are a blend between being introverted and extroverted (ambivert), whereas others sit noticeably at one end of the scale. So on that note, you may find some tips more useful than others, but I hope you find something here that gives you the boost and reassurance you need to head out there on your own.
1. Mix up your accommodation
Accommodation comes in a huge array of options, and there is something to suit every budget. From the ‘on the cheap’ backpackers, to those looking for a luxury break for themselves.
As an introvert travelling long term on the road, endless stays in hostels where you share a room with several others may become overwhelming from time to time.
It can help to break up your stays in dorm rooms with private accommodation too. It will be a little pricier, but if it helps you to enjoy the whole experience more, it’s worth it.
From private rooms in hostels, to homestays, airbnbs and hotels, there are lots of options, at reasonable prices, that will provide you with your own room, where you can quietly click the door shut and take some time to recharge.
2. It’s OK to take time for yourself
Travelling is a tiring enough experience in itself. Let alone being burnt out from putting all your energy and effort into conversations. Make sure to recognise when you need some space and don’t feel guilty or ashamed for taking time to yourself. Everyone travels differently. You don’t need to party every night to prove that you’re having a good time.
Bonus tip, always try and carry a book in your bag, no matter what. It’s great for zoning out whenever a situation calls for it. Train rides, tour buses, relaxing out on your bunk bed or even if your transport breaks down and you have an hour to while away.
If you don’t have a kindle, or feel it might not be best to flaunt a tablet, go to charity shops/markets and pick up books on the cheap. Then you can just leave them on hostel bookshelves or donate them back to a charity to save carrying around a tonne of books.
3. Plan well
Take time to map out a schedule for when you first arrive somewhere. From downloading offline google maps, picking up a local sim card, or making sure you have the right change for a bus fare.
You don’t have to plan out each minute, but just having some of the basic things sorted will make a world of difference.
Arriving in a new destination can be nerve-wracking, but being organised will make you feel in control and independent, so you don’t feel unprepared or needing to keep approaching people for directions.
If you have the time and it works for your schedule, book at least 2 nights accommodation for when you arrive somewhere new. It will give you time to settle in and wander round, without worrying about checking out or storing your bag the next morning.
I often booked only one night at a hostel to keep my options open, then almost always found myself trailing down to the desk the next morning to extend. You might find the accommodation is all booked up or you have to move to a different room, so it keeps everything straight forward if you’re settled comfortably whilst you get your bearings.
4. Day tours & Walking tours
First things first. Make sure to double check the type of tour it is, ie. party boat or leisurely cruise, crazy bar crawl or historic bar tour etc… You want to end up on a tour of like minded people.
Compared to overnight trips, a day tour (or even a half day or walking tour) allows you to dip in to a social scene for part of the day. It usually has a strict schedule that packs a lot in, and it’s often so informative that there isn’t a lot of time for small talk.
Within a group you can sort of blend in to the background, but be in the company of others. As its only for a part of the day, no one feels a pressure to have to ‘pal up’ and make friends, as you will likely never see these people ever again.
After the tour, you can then take the evening for yourself, to cook, head out for some street food or relax with a book somewhere.
5. Travel somewhere off the beaten track
This is a bit of an unusual one, but bear with me. Something I’ve come to notice whilst travelling, is that I bonded more quickly and easily with other travellers, in locations that weren’t overly touristy and were a little less travelled. After pondering it over, I decided it’s because these places have more of a natural community atmosphere, than an atmosphere geared towards tourists, where you’re constantly being sold to.
As an introvert, being able to bond quickly helped to put me at ease with socialising with the other travellers and locals that I met. We sort of skipped all the awkward chit chat, and just felt comfortable in each others presence. Things were matter of fact. I think you’re most likely to notice this in smaller accommodation, hostels and homestays etc, rather than at faceless hotels.
In these types of destinations, it will be less crowded, less rowdy. Everything feels a lot more relaxed, than for example, the tourist packed villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy, or the party atmosphere in the streets of Cairns, Australia.
As an example, in Vanuatu, and especially Fiji (which for me, being from the UK, is far away and generally considered ‘off the beaten track’), socialising felt much more natural.
Maybe its the slower pace of life in these destinations, you’re not just another speck amongst a sprawling, hurried city. In smaller communities, the atmosphere feels warmer and more friendly, and for me personally that puts me at ease. It’s more casual, than the flaunting and facelessness you get from globalisation and cities.
Now, for some, the anonymity of wandering busy city streets may actually be more of a draw. But again, it depends on what you prefer, how you feel at the time and also how long you are travelling for.
In long term travel however, I think it’s important to connect with others at least occasionally, otherwise you may find yourself feeling lonely. And I enjoyed the family like atmosphere that I found in these ‘off the beaten track’ places.
6. Buy food you can eat on the go
If you’re worried about sitting alone whilst eating at a table (at a restaurant or hostel), picnics or street food are the key! Of course it’s best if you carry your own little utensils so you don’t need to take plastic forks etc. But on evenings where I just did not fancy entering the hostel kitchen (e.g. nights where only one stove top was working, so you can imagine the nightmare) I would wander in to a grocery shop and pick up some sandwiches, banana bread etc. and simply sit at the harbour, beach, park and take in the scene.
When cooking at hostels, I would also often double or triple up on a meal (which isn’t hard when you’re cooking for one), and always had one or two sealed containers that I could keep the extras in for lunch the next day. This also helps to minimise waste from buying food in lots of packaging!
7. Make sure you take time to seek out nature.
Nothing makes you feel more grounded and at peace than taking in a view and soaking up the solitude of being the only person around for miles. Being alone also really helps you connect with your location.
Whilst on a hike or walk with someone else, you might be walking and chatting, and suddenly see a great viewpoint or an angle that you’d like to take a photo of. It can be hard to interrupt someone so that you both pause whilst you take that photo etc. Being on your own just allows you to walk and stop as you please.
Of course if you plan to hike alone in remote areas you should plan well and really let someone from your accommodation know where you’re going. They can give you some tips, advise you on whether it’s even safe to do so, and will be aware of where you are *just incase*.
Even just sitting out in a city park with a book, or going to the beach on your own will give you some time out amongst nature to recharge.
8. Occasionally dip your toe out of your comfort zone
This can be a hard one. But if you’re having a streak of boldness or confidence, take a few risks. Travel is the perfect time to step out of your comfort zone.
I know you often get those stories of “Person from tiny town meets neighbour on other side of the world”, but they’re super rare, and honestly you are so unlikely to meet any one of these people again. So don’t let the fear of others judging you hold you back so much.
Push the boundaries a little and give something new a go. You’ll likely surprise yourself, and might discover something new, learn something incredible, or meet someone special.
If it didn’t quite work out, or you felt a bit overwhelmed, you can always take the next day or two for yourself to have some space. Explore the world whilst exploring your own personal limits.