Whether you are an introvert, just a bit shy or simply prefer to travel on your own, it can be difficult to balance your inward-focused nature with your desire to see the world.
In the US, extroversion tends to be normalized more than introversion, says Laurie Helgoe, PhD, a clinical psychologist and educator with a special interest in introversion. That is partly because an outgoing personality is more noticeable. You can always tell when an extrovert is in the room—he/she has a loud voice, makes big gestures and seems to be having a great time.
But in fact, about 50% of Americans are introverts, says Dr. Helgoe. Are you among them?
In stimulating social situations, introverts often slink away to escape the noise and people. Sadly, many introverts feel like there is something wrong with them because they’re not more outgoing. Reality: Introversion is just a personality trait, not a deficit. Many introverts are quite social and enjoy spending time with other people, but they prefer to do so on their own terms, engaging in one-on-one or small group outings that last a limited amount of time.
Bottom Line Personal spoke to Dr. Helgoe, an introvert herself who loves to travel, about how to plan and enjoy traveling while also honoring your need to be alone at times.
WHAT IS AN INTROVERT REALLY?
An introvert gains energy through reflection and solitude, by turning inward. In contrast, an extrovert loves to be in a crowd and engaging with other people. None of us are completely introverted or extroverted—there is an introversion–extroversion spectrum, and we’re all a little bit of both but likely biased in one direction or another.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? You are an introvert if your natural inclination is to turn inward to process your thoughts, feelings and events…you enjoy being alone…and you feel drained and overstimulated when you socialize for long periods (even if you’ve enjoyed yourself).
You are an extrovert if you prefer being with others to being alone…find engagement and stimulation to be energizing…and process thoughts, feelings and events by talking them over with others.
To find out how introverted or extroverted you are: Take the test developed by Susan Cain, noted introversion expert and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking at SusanCain.net. Having this information helps us prepare for different situations so that we can be at our best. It also helps us have compassion for ourselves when we struggle, whether as an extrovert dealing with solitude or an introvert dealing with intense social interaction.
HOW TO TRAVEL AS AN INTROVERT
There are strategies that can help introverts keep their boundaries so they are energized rather than drained by travel—as well as help their extroverted companions understand what to expect when traveling with them…
Avoid high season. Schedule your vacation for nonpeak traveling times and to destinations that won’t be overly crowded. Appropriate planning can go a long way toward increasing your enjoyment and comfort level. Example: Avoid Venice, which is considered an “overtouristed” destination, in summer. Instead, visit Bruges, Belgium, in spring, a fairy tale city that often is called the Venice of the North and has canals of its own but typically is less crowded.
Choose activities that allow you to move at your own pace. Prioritize tours and group activities that you want to engage with. But it is okay to miss an excursion so you can sit in a hammock and read a book or work out in the gym. Resist the idea that you are supposed to do and see everything at every stop, or you’ll return from your vacation burned out and exhausted.
Don’t rule out group trips. Traveling solo but with a group allows you to socialize and tour with other people when you want to but also spend time alone when you need to. Suggestion: If you can afford it, get a private room even on a tour so that you have a haven to escape to when you need to refuel. If you must share a room, bring earbuds with you and politely tell your roommate that you need some quiet time.
Let traveling companions know that you will need to sit out some activities and meals—and especially large, loud gatherings that will put you on edge. Consider negotiating with your travel partners which activities you’ll engage in and which you won’t. Example: Agree to go to a barbecue so they won’t pressure you to go to a casino.
Practice the art of flânerie, or passionate observation. Travel often is very appealing to introverts because it gives them an opportunity to people watch. Introverts enjoy being in the world as anonymous observers without engaging in activities or with others. They appreciate nature, gardens, food, walking in an unknown city and other solo activities. This is why you often see people sitting by themselves at your local coffee shop while reading, working on a laptop or even knitting. These “public introverts” want to be with other people but don’t necessarily want to talk to them. In a small study performed at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in California, introverts and extroverts were shown photos of people and flowers. Extroverts had higher brain activity in response to seeing faces, whereas introverts had the same response to both types of photographs. This suggests that introverts give equal weight to interactions with humans and inanimate objects.
Protect yourself. Engage when and where you are ready to. Introverts often are more ready to interact with other people when they’re traveling than in their daily lives because they feel it is more voluntary and ultimately more enjoyable. But: If you find yourself faced with an extreme talker, someone who barely allows you to respond, try to politely detach. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to cut in on their verbal stream, say good-bye and start to walk away. This might seem rude, but believe it or not, extreme talkers are probably quite used to being treated this way! And you have to take care of yourself—it’s not uncommon for these situations to lead to headaches and exhaustion for introverts.
Expect others to welcome you warmly when you do engage. Studies show that most of us underestimate how much others will like us—a phenomenon known as the “liking gap.” Bonus: When you anticipate being received kindly by others, you tend to have better experiences.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being outgoing. It’s your personality, not a preference or quirk that you need to fix. Half of the people in any group you’re in are introverted, too. So be your authentic self and do your own thing—and encourage others to do the same.