One reason I think I truly thrive as a solo traveler is that I’m an introvert. Despite popular belief, this doesn’t mean I’m shy or have trouble making friends. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I can easily talk to anyone, young or old, quiet or loud, and be a happy and engaging person. This has helped me make countless friends on the road in hostels, on walking tours, at money exchanges and at CouchSurfing meetups.
How I Recharge As An Introvert
The issue is that I can easily go from life of the party to super awkward chic overnight. There comes a point on trips where the laughter, conversation and shared experiences go from fun to stifling, to where I literally feel like I’m suffocating. It’s also hard for me to engage on topics that don’t interest me. I love talking, but when I’m making small talk or trying to add to a conversation I’m not fully up to date on it is a serious drain to my mental batteries. So, I retreat and avoid these conversations. This typically leads the people I’ve just met as “fun Jessie” to wrongly assume something is wrong with me or that I’m angry as I turn into “reclusive Jessie.”
This is less of an issue when traveling with close friends or people who know me, as I feel close enough to tell them when I need space and also know what to expect in terms of personalities and where I fit into the relationship equation; however, when traveling with new people my need for space and independence often leads me to alienate myself as I become quiet and retreat into myself.
When this happens it can be hard to snap back, especially once trip groups and bonds have been cemented. The language of the trip becomes a foreign one, with everyone on the same page and me scrambling to finish chapter one. It may seem like I’m upset or angry, but the truth is I feel like I’ve become an awkward third boob, as my dad would so eloquently put it.
It’s like my body and mind are a battery, and being alone in my own mind is my charger.
A Constant Struggle
It’s something I struggled with a lot when I was younger, easily making friends and then retreating from them as I craved space — a lot of it. When my friends in high school would go run errands and work out together I would feign a stomach ache then go do them myself. On organized group trips I’ll often opt out of certain excursions to devour time on my own. Organized dinners, while nice, can leave me losing myself in a glass of wine and my own head and fantasizing about relaxing with my book in the bathtub — alone.
Over time I’ve learned to accept that I’m introverted — though with some extroverted tendencies, like a love of going on spontaneous adventures — and that it doesn’t make me a weirdo (well, I’m sure some people think it’s weird). I’ve managed to figure out how to maintain a polite acquaintanceship with those strangers I travel with, while just becoming the quiet girl who loves to go off with a cup of coffee, her journal and her camera.
By the way, when I travel solo I do genuinely love meeting other people. The difference with this and a group tour situation is that I have more chances to naturally go off on my own when I need alone time without having to bow out of planned activities that bring the group together. I can choose when and when not to engage, and am able to more easily choose the conversations that energize me.
Meeting The Right People
This also means when I meet people whose conversations energize me frequently I naturally feel insanely close to them, like we’re kindred spirits and fate brought us together. This may make me weirder than the whole “going off on my own” thing. For example, on my Intrepid Travel Way To San Jose trip my group became insanely close from the very start. Maybe it was my mindset or my energy levels, but the first night a small group of us went out tango dancing and cemented our unbreakable clique bond for the rest of the 21-day trip. I still wonder if I hadn’t gone out that night if that would have happened, but I’m happy it did as I still talk to — and see — this group over six months later.
Do I wish I could be life of the party 24/7 and never transform into awkward girl? Sometimes. But I’m not. And guess what, I still have amazing friends and amazing travels. I think it’s also helped me stay focused on my blogging and photography, build up the courage to explore the world on my own, have deeper thoughts, feel more empathy, and grow my relationship with myself and the people I truly connect with.
I’m not anti social.
I’m not damaged.
I’m not afraid to speak my mind and share my opinion.
I’m an introvert, and I’m okay with it.