I’m an introvert who loves to travel and meet new people. Sounds like a confusing oxymoron, right? After all, we typically associate introverts with being more quieter homebody types rather than outgoing adventurers.
I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, and it’s only grown with age. These days I much prefer the quiet of my bed and a good TV show over a big night out. I now tend to value sleep over a hangover but it wasn’t always the case. I did have a brief spell in my teens where I yearned for company. Staying at home gave me a bad case of FOMO, and I was always game to party till late, watching another hour slip by as I put off the inevitable commute home.
But now, in a dramatic role reversal I catch myself longing for home in the middle of a conversation. Constant social interactions make me exhausted and I can’t help but think about the earliest acceptable time to leave. I’m acutely envious of those who are unwavering in their ability to remain bubbly and outgoing no matter what. Being introverted comes with the worry that I’m just not fun enough (hi social anxiety).
By all accounts travel and being an introvert just don’t seem compatible. To start with, travel is everything introversion is not. You’re constantly bombarded with new places and people on the road which should automatically be unbearable for a homebody like me. And yet, despite this glaring unsuitability, I absolutely love travel. I can’t get enough of exploring new places and meeting people along the way.
So does travel make you more outgoing?
Travel pushes you into a new environment and for survival’s sake you have no choice but to interact with the outside world. It makes you feel more extroverted. You have no choice but to ask questions if you get lost or go out in search of food if you want to eat. There’s no option to stay in your hotel room for the duration of your trip, and why would you? You’ve paid for it so you want to get your money’s worth.
But most importantly, it’s easier to be more outgoing while travelling because the experience is just so much more exciting than when you’re back home. It’s a novelty, and the rush you get from being in a new place is basically a drug, a chemical that your brain craves. Novelty causes your brain to release a whole load of dopamine. It feels so good that it motivates you to search for more of that fix.
Something as simple as going to the supermarket abroad becomes much more appealing than at home because it’s a chance to learn something new about the culture. It’s a novelty more than a necessity. Meeting new people doesn’t seem half as intimidating when you’re sharing an experience in an exciting new place.
Travel generates a constant stream of new people wherever you go, particularly if you choose the hostel lifestyle, but it also awards you the chance to be a blank slate which makes socialising so much easier. You get a rare opportunity to reinvent yourself and the pressure is off if it doesn’t work out. Chances are you’re not going to see them again. Instead you’re free to simply cultivate the shared enjoyment of being in an exciting new place. If a lifelong friendship is formed even better, if not it will still conjure fond memories of your trip anyway.
Solo travellers get the best of both worlds
Travelling with a friend does have its perks. You don’t have to worry about your itinerary half as much, and if you get lost then at least you’re in it together. But unless you’re a superhuman with saintly patience, it’s inevitable that spending 24/7 with the same person is bound to grind your gears. Travel has a tendency to heighten even the slightest grievances to unbearable levels, and can very easily ruin a trip and a friendship in a matter of moments.
Solo travel is a free opt-out of that whole situation. Yes, you may find yourself overloaded with responsibility from chief interpreter to secretary of navigation in a real sink or swim moment, but you get complete control of your social interactions. There’s no obligation to commit to a group of people if you don’t feel comfortable around them. You can just leave if you feel left out or don’t enjoy the activities they’re doing.
Meeting people is an important part of travelling, and it’s very easy to do even if you’re travelling solo. A friendly face can enrich an experience that little bit more. But it’s equally important to stay true to what you enjoy and how you work best. If that means taking a day or two to be alone and unwind then so be it. Solo travel gives you the opportunity to control how you can do it and when.
How to cope with being an introvert abroad and at home
First of all, I just want to say that being an introvert is not bad in any way. I find that the characteristic is often misconstrued as negative. It’s frowned upon to enjoy being alone. We crave it with a pinch of guilt that we aren’t trying to be more outgoing and fun. So own your introversion. Give yourself permission to accept when a social environment is making you feel de-energised and uncomfortable. In my experience repressing it will only make you miserable.
Above all, think about why you’re not enjoying yourself. If you’re happy in the social environment then feeling more outgoing will come naturally whether you’re at home or abroad. Travel can help you to feel more extroverted but it’s okay to want to explore and be an introvert too.
Thanks for reading,