Tales of the Introverted Traveler

me at Huxinting Teahouse in Shanghai


I have always been a deeply introverted person. I’ve taken a wide variety of personality tests over the years for fun and for professional reasons. For every test that measures introversion vs. extroversion, I consistently measure extremely introverted. I require a certain amount of quiet and solitude to maintain my emotional equilibrium. If I spend too much time consistently around people, I start feeling very antsy and have to retreat into my apartment cave to recover. While I have friends, most of them these days live scattered through different countries, and I rarely socialize with people outside of my current workplace. Most of the friends I’ve made in the past several years are through work. I have hobbies, but it seems like most of them are solitary activities or hobbies more frequently practiced by older individuals. I move every two to three years for work, so just when I might make some good friends, it’s about time to pick up and move (or they pick up and move). I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m just not interested in making new friends, or at least I’m not interested in making superficial friends to engage in superficial social activities. I still very much yearn to find a person I can form a deep friendship (possibly romantic) bond, though it is kind of hard to do at my age and professional rank. Almost everyone my age and rank are married with kids, and my career field doesn’t really allow for much fraternization with subordinates. Factor in my introverted nature that makes me shy away from typical social activities like clubs and bars, and it’s no surprise I spend the vast majority of my free time alone.

So combine my social situation with my deeply introverted nature, it’s also no surprise that I travel by myself most of the time. Back in the day (2001-2002), I had a boyfriend and we lived in Germany at the time. We got a lot of long weekends in our jobs, so we took advantage of all that free time and traveled all around Europe together. We had similar travel styles, because we liked to plan our travels in advance. We weren’t the types who just showed up at a place and played things by ear with accommodations and activities, but rather we reserved as much as possible, and planned our daily itineraries. We also liked to see the same things, like castles, cathedrals, interesting historical sites, and museums. The only thing we split upon was art museums, but that was easily handled by splitting up for a short period of time so I could indulge in beautiful art, and he could shop, sit in a cafe and drink beer, or see some other site that didn’t really interest me.

Since that relationship ended over 10 years ago, I haven’t had a consistent travel partner. The vast majority of my travels, both long weekends and long vacations, have been by myself. The few times I have traveled with another person, it was with my mother, and it went well, because we have similar travel styles and she lets me indulge in my extreme travel planner ways, while she gets to enjoy the ride and the fruits of my planning.

So again, the vast majority of my travel was on my own, and I very much enjoy my introverted traveling. Most travel advice I hear for solo travelers seems to be geared to extroverts in the sense they always encourage travelers to interact with strange fellow travelers or the local populace. While I very much enjoy seeing new cultures and experiencing new things, interacting with strangers in any capacity is not something I’m particularly thrilled to do. Sure there are occasions when I’ve enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with a stranger, but in general, it is not something I seek out, nor something I particularly enjoy. When I travel, I very much disappear into my own head and thoughts. I like observe what is going on around me when it comes to people and local culture, but not necessarily participate.

My introversion manifests itself differently if I am on vacation in a more isolated place known for beautiful nature versus a very large city. When I’m on a beautiful nature vacation, such as New Zealand or my Parks of the American West vacation I took last summer (Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon North), I can just disappear into my own head and enjoy the beautiful sites around me. Sure, there are often people, but there are easy ways to enjoy solitude, by either getting off the beaten path for hiking, or start traveling early in the morning before most people get started. However, I also like to travel to large cities to enjoy historical and cultural sites. At some point during every vacation in highly populated areas, I hit what I call my people pain threshold. That’s when the overwhelming number of people, noise, sights, sounds, smells makes me want to crawl into a nice little, quiet nest to escape it all. During my last long weekend in Shanghai, I experienced that acutely a couple times. Shanghai has around 18 million people in its metropolitan area and the population density is rather high. There were places I visited in the city that were literally crammed with people, and I had no personal space whatsoever. Like walking along a market street in Shanghai pictured below.


It created this feeling of stress where I just wanted to get away to a place where I was alone and it was quiet. That place might have been my hostel room, but it could also be a place with a nice view that gave me more space. Shanghai did have its nice view on the Bund to take in and decompress. The riverside promenade is wide, and at that time of the evening, it was pleasantly and sparsely populated.


But the inverse of the people pain threshold also holds true for me. This is only applicable on my longer vacations (i.e. more than three weeks), but it usually does manifest. Meaning that after three weeks without any significant adult interaction and conversation, I start feeling antsy, but this time craving for human contact. Just like spending too much time continuously around people makes me jittery, spending too much continuous time alone also starts to wear on me. That’s when any sort of loneliness sets in, and my own fantasy life ceases to be quite as effective. Once that feeling sets in, I know it’s time to go home (though I never go on vacation without a set end date anyway).

Essentially what I’m saying is that introversion and travel aren’t mutually exclusive. You can travel all throughout the world, see new things, eat new foods, and even experience new cultures (albeit from a more detached viewpoint), and still maintain true to your introverted nature. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a true traveler if you don’t talk to people if you don’t want to. It just means you experience travel differently than extroverts.

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