Do you think being an introvert makes it easier to travel solo?
Of course. That’s what I thought when I embarked on my first solo trip years ago, before I knew any better about travel (or myself, for that matter). I love being alone.
To make things worse, it wasn’t a short vacation I’d planned: it was a full-on, quit-my-office-job-to-travel escapade. I soon learned that solo travel for introverts is just as challenging as solo travel in general, except that we face different problems and desires. Now, after years of traveling as an introvert, here are my travel tips for introverts thinking of going solo. I hope this guide will get you packing!
Why solo travel is a challenge for introverts
Before talking about traveling as an introvert, let’s first consider: what is an introvert? Are you really an introvert?
First, introversion is not the same as shyness or social anxiety. I used to be really shy as a child, in addition to being an introvert, but I’ve learned to overcome my shyness. This guide does provide tips talking to strangers while traveling, but I’m in no way qualified to address traveling with social anxiety. You may want to check out this article instead.
Second, this guide is not about forcing yourself to go travel even if you don’t want to. Solo travel, or even travel, isn’t for everyone. If you’ve done a Big Five personality test, you’ll find that a desire to travel is attributed to high openness regardless of how high or low you score on extraversion.
As an introvert and especially as a travel writer, the main challenges I face when traveling address how I can use my energy wisely and recharge my “social battery”. Given the often limited resources we have when traveling, it’s important to strike a balance in the quantity and quality of interactions in each new environment.
I’ve found that doing the following things have helped me when traveling solo, but some of these tips can also apply when planning trips with a friend or partner.
While preparing for solo travel, make sure you protect yourself from accidents: here’s how to tell if your travel insurance is good enough.
Solo (or otherwise) travel tips for introverts
Choosing the right place to visit
If you’re an introvert traveling alone for the first time, it’s important to note that some places in this world are more “introvert-friendly” than others. If you don’t want to go too far out of your comfort zone yet, here’s how you can choose where to travel.
Choose destinations without a language barrier. Being able to communicate with locals makes it easier to not just explore a destination, but also understand it. If you’re learning a language but not quite fluent in it yet, this is your opportunity to practice (as well as an excuse to start more conversations).
Read up on local culture. You might encounter plenty of “stuck-up Parisians” if you don’t greet shop staff with a friendly “bonjour”. Hugs and kisses are often the standard greeting in South American countries. And party islands like Koh Phangan or Ibiza probably aren’t the best place to get some quiet time.
Connecting with strangers
One thing I’ve realized about solo travel (that made me enjoy it even more) is that I notice a lot more of my surroundings in the moments otherwise spent chatting with a friend or partner. But I also learned that keeping to myself won’t help me get the “why” behind each experience. You have to talk to people and ask questions in order to get the answers.
Of course, I was horribly awkward at approaching strangers (and sometimes still am). Introverts loath small talk, so for me to go up to someone and start chatting is like asking me to hit them in the back with a basketball. Because I don’t even play basketball…you get the drift. But with these tactics, I’ve managed to do okay so far. Here’s how you can get conversational:
Smile. A warm smile can be the best way to bring down the walls between strangers, especially when you don’t speak the language. For me, smiling has led to bigger helpings of food, free walking tours around the city, and offers from locals to visit their homes for dinner or stay for a night.
Share photos with your subjects. When taking photos during your travels, you’ll inadvertently find people that you want to capture, beautiful and fascinating as they are. While I won’t go into the details of ethical travel photography – Speck on the Globe has a great take on this – sharing your photos with your subject is an excellent way to start a conversation. If they love the shot, I offer to send it to them via email. If they disapprove of being photographed, I delete it.
Dealing with loneliness
No matter how much you love solitude, solo travel is bound to make you feel lonely at times – and that loneliness can be worse for us introverts. While extrovert travelers readily make friends over breakfasts and nighttime parties, introverts prefer to dive into deeper one-on-one interactions. Here’s how you can seek out situations to interact with individuals and smaller groups:
Stay with a local. Private person that I am, I used to always book private rooms in hostels whenever possible. Thanks to Airbnb, however, you can now book private rooms in a home shared with a local host. I even got to play with some dogs during my time in Seoul! This is my favorite arrangement, as it means I can enjoy some time with a local, learn about a place through their knowledge and perspective, and still get some privacy at the end of the day.
If you choose to use Airbnb, do make sure your host actually lives in the place you’re booking and that Airbnb is legal there. I do not encourage booking entire apartments: that would defeat our purpose, and often means local communities are disrupted as rents surge and residents are deprived of places to live.
Join Couchsurfing/Meetup. Even if you feel intimidated by the idea of crashing on a stranger’s couch, Couchsurfing is a fantastic platform for meeting fellow travelers or finding events hosted by locals. The themes are many, stretching beyond pub crawls and parties to include group treks, language exchange sessions, or even dumpster diving (yes, I tried this in Berlin).
Meetup works on a similar principle: you can join local meetups based on your interests, be it cryptocurrency or soap making. Knowing that you already have something in common will help pave the way for new friendships with like-minded folk around the world.
Share your adventures. Time differences can be a real bitch for keeping in touch with loved ones back home, but thanks to social media, you can record and share interesting moments of your travels. I’m not a fan of taking selfies, but I know I reach for my phone to post Instagram Stories far more often when I’m traveling solo.
Want cheap+reliable Internet access on the road? Read about why I like StarHub Happy Roam’s prepaid SIM card and roaming data packages.
Slow travel: the ideal travel style for introverts?
Travel, for the introvert, is overwhelming if you don’t pace yourself. For me, speeding through multiple places in a whirlwind trip is never quite as fulfilling as slow travel, where I spend a month or so in one place. Some fellow advocates of slow travel stay for even longer!
That said, there’s no set rule on what duration qualifies as “slow travel”. You don’t have to go on sabbatical or become a digital nomad to slow travel: instead, it’s how you spend your time that counts. For instance, I like to alternate my days between exploring and working. I visit local markets and supermarkets to buy food for “stay in” days. I eat at any restaurant I encounter, or follow insider recommendations rather than “top 10” lists to get my coffee fix.
And sometimes, I skip the top attractions altogether.
At the end of the day, I want to get to know places the same way I want to get to know people: deeply. I’m sure many introverts feel the same way, and so I believe you’ll enjoy slow travel too.
Even if slow travel isn’t feasible for you, solo travel can be immensely rewarding for your introvert self if you visit the right places, connect with people, and learn to deal with loneliness. Before long, you’ll have deep friendships and insights that stay with you for life. Go forth and travel solo!