Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
Human psychology is fascinating, and it also happens to be something I know next to nothing about. And yet, even people like myself, with next to no knowledge of the field, know what it means when someone is described as an ‘introvert’ or ‘extrovert’. You probably have some notion of which classification you fall under.
Despite some extroverted tendencies from time to time, I think of myself as an introvert. Reserved, reflective, solitary… these are all words used to describe introverts which I also feel apply to me. Enthusiastic, assertive, gregarious… these are words which describe an extrovert.
Now think about the act of traveling. What type of person do you think would be best suited to extensive travel? When I first thought about this, I figured extroverts are best suited to the task. So how the heck does someone like me derive joy from traveling as an introvert?
In this post, I look at five trials and five triumphs of traveling as an introvert. Hope you enjoy!
Taking the Leap – Deciding to Go
Trial: A preference for solitude can greatly influence the type of travel introverts tend to be drawn to. For example, joining a multi-day (or multi-week) group tour might seem like a painful prospect, as might going to visit a massively popular tourist destination such as Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal.
Triumph: Chances are, if an introvert goes to a site like Angkor Wat, they will do so with the grudging assumption that the crowds there will drive them crazy. I know I did, but while there were pockets of the park which were a bit crowded, I was shocked at how easy it was to get away from them. Going to Angkor Wat with such a healthy dose of skepticism led to it being a surprise favorite experience of my journey. Sometimes, low expectations can lead to a greater appreciation of the experience.
Meeting New People
Trial: The knowledge that traveling — as an introvert or extrovert — involves extensive interaction with others can be draining. Conversations with ticketing agents, customs officials, hotel staff, other travelers, the butcher at the corner shop… all of these potential interactions can drain an introvert’s energy. It can be all too tempting to stay in the quiet solitude of a hotel room rather than force oneself to engage in social interaction.
Triumph: As any traveler will tell you, traveling is good at shoving you out of your comfort zone. Inevitably, travelers have to interact with others. Traveling as an introvert and finding myself in situations like the one above — stranded at the Tajik border post in the Pamir mountains — forces me to roll with the punches. Not only do I come away with an awesome memory of the experience, but I have the added bonus of succeeding in a situation unfavorable to my psychological strengths.
Finding Time to be Alone
Trial: One of the hardest things to do while traveling as an introvert is finding enough time to be alone. Budget travel, in particular, is well-suited to extroverts in this regard. Dorm rooms, communal bathrooms, bustling common areas — the communal environment is a constant. Not being able to get away and recharge can leave an introvert frayed and exhausted, no matter how enchanting the destination.
Triumph: Luckily, finding solitude is something introverts get quite good at doing. Some destinations make it easy, like Mongolia. The country with the lowest ratio of people to total area, it’s an introvert’s paradise. Even a short walk outside the capital can lead to standing in an eerie stillness, save for the gusting of the frigid wind. Those moments — of tranquility after a deluge of constant humanity — are balm for a traveling introvert’s soul, and they are something that will stay with that person for a long time.
Being Affected by the Act of Travel
Trial: As many travelers will attest, interactions with people from another culture can make or break a trip. How can you appreciate the hospitality of Mongolian nomads without getting out and experiencing it? How can you experience a samgyeopsal dinner in Korea without a group of friends to share it with? At times, travel can seem like a battle between introverted tendencies and making the most of a trip.
Triumph: In my opinion, the tendency towards being reflective is one of the biggest advantages to being an introvert. To be comfortable with turning the lens inward and engaging in self-reflection lets me internalize experiences in a very deep way. That carries over to travel — being able to examine myself and see how the trip is affecting me makes me appreciate the experience even more.
Talking About the Adventure
Trial: This has been a strange phenomenon, one most travelers will experience after returning home from a trip. People ask, “So how was _____? What was the most amazing experience you had? How did it change you?…” The questions come in a tumble, but oftentimes I find myself struggling to formulate a response. My thoughts turn inward, towards that internalized sense of what the journey meant to me, and all I can think to say is, “It was really cool.”
Triumph: For me, this is where my blog comes in. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved writing. It helps me express myself in a way I can’t accomplish through speaking. I can sit down, reflect on my experience, and attempt to convey my internal journey to a patient audience. As John Green wrote,
Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”
The best part? I get to go back and relive my memories through these stories I’ve written. How cool is that?
Does It Even Matter?
If I’ve learned anything from my travels, it’s that, as much as I consider myself an introvert, I know my personality is malleable enough to play the extrovert as well. ‘Introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ are descriptions, not constrictions. Many modern psychologists believe the majority of people are both introverted AND extroverted, with one trait being more dominant than the other. So don’t let the restraints of either hold you back from getting out and exploring. Safe travels, friends!
How about you? Do you see yourself as more of an introvert or extrovert? How does that affect the way you travel? Let me know in the comments below!