This article was inspired by the TED talk and correlating book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain.
Definition of the word “Introvert”: An introvert is a person who is energised by being alone, i.e. they recharge best during time spent on their own. No single person is entirely introverted or extroverted. Most people have tendencies that are a mix of the two, with a weighting one way or the other.
The word introvert has in recent years got a bit of a bad reputation. It is often associated with shy people, people who are nervous, anxious, and at times even anti-social. An introvert can be all of these things, but introversion in itself is not shyness. It is not nervousness, anxiousness, nor does it equate to being anti-social. In fact, being an introvert can be advantageous in many situations.
J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstine, Mahatma Ghandi, and Google’s Larry Page are all introverts. In fact, figures suggest that some 60% of high achievers are introverted people. The power of reflection and taking time for thought can yield great things. This is a trait attributed to many introverted people.
Contrary to the image of shyness typically associated with introversion, an introvert can often be very confident when talking about a subject which has meaning to them. For instance, an introvert may be able to stand up in front of hundreds of people and deliver a confident speech based on a subject that they are passionate about and have prepared for. However, when in situations where they need to make small talk they can often struggle and this is where the association simply with shyness creeps in.
So what has all this got to do with travel?
Travel is an outgoing pastime and/or way of life. If travel is a part of your life then you are an outgoing person. As a self-confessed introvert people are often surprised by how much I travel and how I have the confidence to go out to far flung destinations all on my own. They confuse my introversion with a lack of confidence and assume that if you are quiet and retreating in conversation then you are not outgoing, but this is simply not true. In fact, the reason I fell in love with travel is that it allowed me time to recharge and meet other people who were less interested in small chat, and more interested in conversations that had meaning to us both. These are two things I felt I didn’t have at home, and that are ultimately bad for an introvert not to have.
Travelling the world as an introvert can also be a very different experience versus travelling as an extrovert. Travelling solo in particular like I do can be both a lot easier and a lot harder in certain respects. On the one hand when you recharge best alone, travelling solo provides endless opportunities to recharge, reflect, and do so in the perfect setting. There is not much better feeling in the world than staring blissfully out at a morning sunrise atop some mountains or staring out at the ocean as the sun begins to set whilst collecting your thoughts. It seems somehow to put life into perspective for me, helps get my creative juices going, and just generally leaves me feeling happy about my life.
Equally, walking into a crowded room of backpackers in a hostel and instantly making friends is important when you’re on the road. The same when you walk into a bar full of locals. As much as I enjoy the solitude and free nature of travelling solo, I do not wish to be alone all the time. Extroverts seem in my mind to make friends that little bit easier or quicker on the road than I do as a more introverted person, but what I love about travel is that it pushes me to try more extroverted techniques at making friends. I may not always initially feel comfortable going up to a bunch of strangers and making a conversation. I do at times feel I have to mask an extroverted persona to do so, but doing so has helped me extend my social skill set and sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to help yourself in the long run.
Introversion and extroversion is also why I believe so many couples and groups of travellers split up while they are on the road. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen ‘best friends’ no longer speak to one another after a trip abroad, or a couple split up while travelling. Usually the reason is that they’ve spent far too much time together and they didn’t understand the other person’s true personality type. Sometimes they didn’t even understand their own.
When you’re spending 24/7 with your travel partner(s) on the road, in each others pockets, facing the stress of missing flights, travel budgets, language barriers, and the crazy everyday situations that are what being on the road involves, you are really tested in every way with the people you are travelling with. It tends to make you or break you, and usually the relationships that make it are the one’s where people understand each other in great depth beforehand. The people who know their introverted or extroverted tendencies, how they best recharge, what they need during the day versus the other people or person, and can also appreciate the needs of others and that they might be different to them.
Travel as an introvert involves taking time for yourself and knowing when you need a timeout. It also involves knowing what situations you socialise best in. Contrary to popular belief, introverts don’t always find it hard to conversate. When in small groups or talking about a subject I’m passionate about I’m usually the loudest speaker, the one with the most to say. In larger groups where I’m meeting all new people, i.e. where a lot of small chat is involved, this is where I usually struggle and I try my best to mask extroverted tendencies be it right or wrong.
So if you’re an introvert at heart, please don’t ever feel like you can’t be your true self. Most of all please don’t think you can’t travel, or that it is something you wouldn’t be able to do. Sometimes society makes us feel like we have to be or act a certain way, but society is not always right. Just knowing who you are and how you work best is one of the strongest bows to your arrow on the road, and give or take a few things like travel insurance, a good backpack, and some common sense, it’s usually all you really need.
- If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading my article on whether women should travel solo.