Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Solo travel -- especially for women -- is becoming a huge trend, but it seems that many travelers are still intimidated by the prospects of exploring the world all on their own. Outgoing people worry that it's too lonely while shy people are concerned with the opposite -- that it's still too socially demanding.
Well, as a self-diagnosed ambivert (a person with both, introverted and extroverted tendencies), I am here to say that solo travel is for many types of people -- but it's especially socially accommodating to travelers on the introverted side. Think about it: it has "solo" as its main descriptor -- a concept that checks off cardinally valuable items on the introvert's wish list: independence, freedom, downtime. Let's take a closer look at four ways solo travel corresponds with major introvert characteristics.
Introvert Trait 1:You like quiet-ish activities because loud / socially-dense events tend to overwhelm you
Traveling solo means doing whatever you want, which is already an amazing selling point. But even more importantly – it means not having to do what you don't want to do. If you're not a fan of huge beach raves or crowded tourist drags, there are plenty of things for you to do by yourself in just about any part of the world that are on the “chiller” side.
Just for example: hanging out in bookstores and coffee shops is a nice option. Bookshops are not traditionally loud areas – but they are, in a way, cultural spaces of interest to a traveler, as they attract readers (i.e. people who are fun and interesting to talk to but who also share an appreciation of quietude). The little non-corporate bookshops are typically owned by local intellectuals and have message boards for spiritual and cultural events in the area. You can meet fellow introverts who are bookworms and have stimulating conversations while sipping on tea / coffee and munching on pastries – and actually hear each other talk over the playful melodies not blasting in the background. Or you could just hang out on your own, thumb through books, casually people-watch and get lost in thought as introverts are apt to do...
A lot of travel activities that are typically “too much” for me in a group setting become super relaxing and enjoyable on my own. For example: museum visits. There are certain exceptions, but, in general, this is a solitary activity for me. This way I don't have to “react” for anyone's benefit but my own. Like many of my favorite activities, going to a museum is a means to go deeper into my own head and reflect on things that may or may not have anything to do with the surrounding environment (I like to think non-museum thoughts in a museum -- it's an act of rebellion...)
To sum up: traveling with others, all the things you do together become social activities by default; traveling solo, most of those same things are meditative / introspective by default. One of the best things about being a solo traveler is that you get to strike your own balance between "me-time" and socializing depending on what you are comfortable with at each moment (i.e. managing your social and physical energy on your own terms). And what a glorious relief it is!
Introvert Trait 2: You need several hours a day of solitude / alone-ness / privacy in order to feel “normal”
Solo travel solves the need for solitude / privacy problem by definition. Moving around and staying in hotels / AirBnB's will allow you to spend as little or as much time by yourself in your designated personal space, without travel companions sucking up all the energy in the room or imposing their schedules on you. If you are someone who needs to “decompress” for several hours before going to bed, there's nothing like coming back to your lodging and just hanging out and processing all the stimuli of the day in a place that's all yours, even if just for the night.
Let's take it a step further and suggest that your introverted personality may do just fine in shared accommodations as well – as long as you're traveling by yourself. In my experience, it's not so much being around other humans that's psychologically taxing – it's being with humans that place constant social / emotional expectations on me that's exhausting. I've stayed in hostels that would have a few other travelers shuffling around in the dorm room – but I'd be lying on my upper bunk completely engrossed in book-reading or journal-writing --and all other signs life would just fade out into “general white noise” and not be distracting. It's the same way I can work on my laptop in a packed restaurant / cafe / bar and feel like I'm in a private office of my own (with the luxurious option of asking for more food / drink at any moment).
My guess is that many introverts are quite good at carving out privacy for themselves wherever they can – so long as the surrounding people aren't demanding participation from them. And, in this respect, solo travel is truly the most versatile way to go: wherever you stay and whatever you do, you do not owe anyone attention – and what a glorious relief that is!
Introvert Trait 3: You dread all the “negotiating” required for group planning
Traveling with other people calls for quite a bit of emotional labor, from compromising on which activities to do to negotiating time off when you want to split away and do your own thing. Finding a great travel partner who is on the same wavelength as yourself is possible but rare. In most cases, when traveling with others, personalities clash, temperaments flair, egos bid for control – and, of course, the more people there are, the harder it is to make sure that everyone is satisfied.
The most tricky part for me has been to explain to some travel companions that we don't have to do everything together. At this point in my life, when people repeatedly insist that I do something with them they know I really don't enjoy, I am not only frustrated, I reconsider the friendship altogether. Because forcing others into one's idea of fun against their will is not just selfish, it's cruel. When people are willing to sacrifice your good time for the sake of their own, that's a red flag that shouldn't be ignored.
At any rate, when you travel with not-perfectly-matched partners, your choices come down to: struggle for autonomy or cave to their choices of pastime. That's a lose-lose proposition, if you ask me.
Solo travel blissfully spares you all of ^^that noise^^. There is no cringing through your new-agey aunt's “authentic Indian spiritual healing seance” led by a crystal-encrusted white guy in a tunic; no eating at mediocre American franchises abroad because your boyfriend can't handle any “exotic” food that's not burger-and-fries-shaped; no indulging your friend's snooty, xenophobic rants about how “uncivilized” the locals are; no getting dragged on soul-numbing shopping expeditions through generic malls that are replicas of the one in your hometown. No more lame, overpriced touristy crap – well, at least no lame, overpriced touristy crap you didn't pick yourself :)))
The all-eclipsing “icing on the cake” is: when you fly solo, you don't have to “clear” your plans and impulses with anyone, you don't have to justify your tastes in travel activities and you owe no explanations for why you need time alone. That's a win-win proposition, if you ask me -- and what a glorious relief it is!
Introvert Trait 4: Social anxiety complicates socializing, making it challenging to enjoy
Not all but many introverts suffer from social anxiety, with high-intensity social gatherings and conversations making them feel too “put on the spot” to relax and enjoy themselves fully (or at all).
I am not saying that socializing while traveling will be completely free of anxiety, but I do believe that it's a great low-stakes environment to practice chit-chating with randos. One of the magical properties of being a traveler is that you get to have fragmented, insightful, profound and deeply personal conversations with people you've never seen before nor will ever see again -- and it's free of any sort of follow-up.
You know that TV show “Cheers” about a beloved place “where everybody knows your name”? Well, sometimes *I* wanna go where nobody knows my name – specifically when I need to get something out of my system and I don't know what to expect from myself. So, I head to a remote location where I feel incognito and where I don't plan to stick around long enough to be pointed out as “that woman who *disgraceful behavior*-ed all over the place last night.”
As someone who's made an ass out of myself more than a couple of times when traveling, I vouch that embarrassment in front of strangers is an incalculably less awful and lasting event than embarrassment in front of non-strangers: in the former case, you just anonymously become someone's fun travel story, whereas in the latter case, you never live it down... When you travel solo, unless you do something truly viral-worthy, nobody you know will ever find out what silly social blunders you've made – and this knowledge aught to give you some confidence to cut loose a bit and maybe even take some social risks.
But, hey, social anxiety isn't actually about melodramatically humiliating oneself publicly, it's more about being too self-conscious and self-critical to relax and enjoy casual interactions with people. But even though it's a complicated issue without a cookie-cutter solution, I think that not all socializing is equally triggering for people with anxiety. In my case, it's like I flip some cognitive switch when I hit the road. The “newness” and “different-ness” of travel cascades a halo effect of “interesting-ness” on otherwise routine and non-riveting social scenarios.
Generally, I detest small talk – except for when I travel. Generally, I don't tell people much about myself – except for when I travel. On the move, I really dig random conversations with perfect strangers: the charming exchanges with street vendors, the impromptu political debates with taxi drivers, the intimate midnight heart-to-hearts with fellow transients; the toasting with some random birthday-haver and celebrating their irrational special-ness from the bottom of my heart – I tend to embrace it all, even the stuff I find frustrating, annoying or dull when not on the road. I wonder if it has something to do with the complete lack of personal responsibility that comes with random interaction: you talk because you feel like it -- not because you owe someone a conversation or emotional support. You just yak it up -- and then, the moment is over, and you instantly move on with your life: it's nice.
And so, travel – especially solo – gives us countless opportunities to engage in low-pressure, non-committal social interactions – connections so brief and fleeting that they do not come with the burden of expectations or judgments. It's a setting that lets us be unabashedly ourselves, if we dare. It's an arrangement that prompts usually reserved people to spill their most damning secrets to “outsiders”. It's a gift of the travel life, the gift of merciful liberation of the psyche known as “nobody gives a shit” – and what a glorious relief that is!