Introverted Travel or Social Avoidance?

“Be Yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

Sometimes I wonder what illogical black hole media pulls ideas from when they come up with pointless stories like the “18 Essential Tips for Introverted Travelers.” This brilliant (and I use the term loosely) piece of travel advice comes from the same editor who brought you “How to Spot an American Anywhere in the World.” (Note to Yahoo!: These pointless articles are great for generating a negative response. If you’d like more thoughtful articles, you can contact me.)

I’m by no means an extrovert, but I’m also not quite an introvert.

I just hate small talk, unless it’s in Chinese because that’s most of the Chinese I know; it’s how I met so many friendly Chinese travelers in Iceland. I enjoy talking with people most of the time, but I need a reason to start a conversation — without a reason for the conversation to begin, I’ll just stand aside and watch. I prefer to have other people start the conversation for me.

Damn tourists always get in the way
Damn tourists always get in the way

The Yahoo! article is more of a how-to guide of traveling and avoiding people. While I don’t always want to interact with people, I by no means want to avoid interactions. Where’s the joy in traveling if you can’t talk about the places you’ve been? And I don’t understand how taking an aisle seat is better for an introvert. If you want to sleep, take the window, and if you enjoy scenery on a train or bus, you’ll also want that window.

The article does have some (obvious) good advice.

I agree with a few points that the article makes, but those points with which I agree are meant more for all travelers. I definitely encourage people to travel with literature — hell, I bring my Kindle to the bar in case I don’t find anyone to talk with (yes, some people think I’m crazy for reading in a bar). I also like the idea of taking an extra day off between returning from vacation and going back to work because I like any excuse for more time off from work.

An introvert goes to a bar in Seoul
An introvert goes to a bar in Seoul

There’s also tip #13: bring a journal. It’s definitely a good idea to bring a notebook — it helps you to remember what you’ve seen on your trip. It’s more of a writer’s tool for me — one of my grad school instructors told us to always have a notebook to write down ideas or record conversations. I also find a notebook is handy for writing down new words and phrases in another language. People in bars might also write down some recommended places to visit.

Because I took a tour on my second day in Siem Reap, I met a Dutch guy who lives in China who agreed to take a 40-mile bike ride the following day. Because I offered to move over one seat in a crowded restaurant in Tokyo, I made friends who took me out for yakitori and beer. Because I used Airbnb for the first time in Halifax, my hosts took me out to the farmer’s market. And because I stayed in a hostel dorm in Boston, I met a friendly Brazilian who wandered the city with me — I even introduced her to Xinjiang lamb kabobs that I got overexcited about (pretty sure I scared her when I stopped and exclaimed, “Oh my god! Yang rou chuan!”).

Sometimes I get to take pictures with people I meet in Tokyo
Group photos are inevitable after you offer your seat in a crowded restaurant

Back to the Yahoo! article and all that it emphasizes about introverted travel.

Order room service? Get your own room when traveling with friends? Set a time limit for group activities? With all this advice, an introvert won’t speak to anyone for the entire time. Not all introverts avoid social interactions — they just don’t enjoy certain social interactions (I can’t blame them; I’ve met enough people I wish I could’ve avoided).

Sometimes we all need a conversation fish
Sometimes we all need a conversation fish

I understand the desire to avoid large crowds and hawkers in tourist areas, but why would anyone actively avoid interacting with everyone?

Over the years I’ve read plenty of blog posts from self-proclaimed introverts (or semi-introverts) who travel. The takeaway from all of those posts is that travel forces them out of their comfort zones and into adventure — sometimes it includes meeting new people who end up as long-term friends. I have made some wonderful friends on my travels, and it’s all because I forced myself to interact with the people around me.

Solitude at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, CA
Solitude at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, CA

There is nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself while traveling — this is why I take solo hikes and bike rides — but not interacting with the world around you takes all the fun out of travel. Travel is supposed to encourage you to try new things and change how you normally live. You can always return to your introverted ways when you return home.

What is your advice for introverted travelers?

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