Since I was a child — middle child at that — I’ve always cherished time to myself. After a long day of being huddled up with friends at school, I gleefully leapt off of the bus and ran to my room to be alone with my books.
At 26, not much has changed but the scenery. I’ve exchanged crowded classrooms for museums and yellow school buses for bullet trains and Amazonian fields. At the end of the day I just want to be alone with book. Awkward pictures, Bluetooth timers and selfie sticks aside, alone is the way I prefer to travel. “How could you travel alone? I need my #squad at all times!!!” people often say. Well, I think traveling solo is the best thing since sliced eggs.
Here's why traveling solo and being an introvert is a match made in travel heaven.
WE DON’T MIND EATING ALONE
I actually prefer to eat alone. The most nerve-wrecking time about living in Spain were the drawn out communal meals. Spanish feeding times are very long, so just imagine 1.5 hours of staring at strangers in the eyes as they slop on paella with bits and pieces dribbling down their chins – TWICE A DAY. Also, my level of Spanish was so remedial that I barely knew what anyone was saying. Chew, awkward laugh, chew, eyes dart, chew, forced smile. Eating in groups was the most uncomfortable time for me. Bring it, empty table.
WE SURVIVE WITHOUT BEING CONSTANTLY ENTERTAINED
My extroverted friends need a full schedule of quality time, 10 major landmarks to explore everyday, hours of pointless talking and attention from strangers. I often get the most enjoyment from blending in with the locals if possible and taking in the minor differences as I walk down the street. Or put me in a park with a book and I’m entertained for days at end.
WE ENJOY SILENCE
Listening can a strenuous task, especially when words become superfluous. Trying to decipher a foreign language can be even harder. Sometimes we just want to sit back and revel in the silence. No I don’t want to hear about the top videos on Facebook. I’ve already watched them. Can we listen to the birds please?
WE SPEAK WITH A PURPOSE
I often say that I’m not quiet, I’m just saving up my words for an important topic. Social introverts choose their conversations carefully and end up in amazing conversations. I’ve discussed 18th century politics with a stranger on the street, or the Vietnam-Cambodian war spontaneously over drinks. Every conversation doesn’t have to cover a deep topic – but rest assured we’d rather discuss the role Nelson Mandela played in the freedom (or plight?) of the South African natives than Miss Piggy and Kermit breaking up.
WE TRAVEL AT OUR OWN PACE
When I travel with friends I feel the urgent need to see 6 monuments in one day, check 10 things off of the elusive bucket list, buy a handful of keychains and then backpack to the next city before dawn. But after many years of trial and error, I realize that I am a slow traveler. I can stay in a city for 3 months and not ever feel like leaving.
WE’RE NEVER REALLY ALONE
People are attracted to solo travelers like a moth to a flame. Once people figure out that you are companionless, they usually stare, come and say hello, or ask for a picture. After you oblige, they grill you endlessly about your itinerary and them BAM. You have a friend for the day.
Being introverted can create an issue while traveling with friends, but it is perfect for solo traveling. If you ever feel the need to have company, there are many ways to find someone to hang out with.
– Hang out at a popular hostel bar or lobby until you meet someone
– Use websites like Couchsurfing or Meetup, UrbanBuddy, TripTogether to schedule dates on your lonely days
– Check out apps to share home cooked meals with locals Eatwith, Feastly, Bookalokal
– Make eye contact with other solo travelers and offer them chocolate.
(A tripod is a dead give away for other solo travelers.)
Traveling the world alone has definitely cemented introvert aspect in my personality, although after many years of being forced to socially interact, I’ve slid into ambivert territory.
After many years on the road, I’m not shy at all. During social situations, I thrive just like an extrovert. I comfortably strike up conversations with anyone who speaks the same languages as I, and I effortlessly build many long lasting connections at train stops, coffee shops and park benches. But when my social energy drains, I simply have to be alone. Any other travelers feel the same way?
Why do you think that introverts make great solo travelers?
Jelisa is passionate about inspiring fellow millennials to travel. Specifically, utilizing travel as an educational right rather than an elusive reward after long years of working. There are enriching lessons tucked into every corner of the world, and it can be accessed by less than a fraction of the national average college tuition. She firmly believes that life is best understood and dissected through travel, rather than in a classroom lecture. Follow more of her posts on her personal site.