“Stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth.” ~ Susan Cain
Photo by Jason Briscoe via Unsplash
I’ve always been the quiet one. And for a lot of my life this seems to have been a great disadvantage. I’ve had countless people telling me to ‘come out of my skin’ or to ‘liven up’ when the truth is, I am an introvert and I am comfortable in my skin as I am. I like being alone, and I also like being with other people. But I find my time to recharge through writing, taking photos or being out in nature. Introversion often has a bad rap, being labeled as shy, anti-social, or worst of all, boring. For many of us however, boring is the last thing we are. Introverts often have many complex layers, it just might not be obvious on first glance what they are.
Since I started travelling solo however, I have in general been tremendously glad of my introversion. The way I am by nature has hugely contributed to the way I travel. Being an introvert has allowed me to see places in a way others might not. Exploring alone has opened up interactions with local people, getting up early instead of partying every night has led me to morning markets and empty beaches, and avoiding big groups of loud backpackers has led me to local food joints and secret destinations. Sure, there have definitely been times where I have wished I was more of an extrovert, but in general, travel has made me much more comfortable in my own introverted skin.
In the end, there is no right way or wrong way to travel. It is your journey and you take it as you wish it to be. But here are some of the ways in which being an introvert has allowed me to travel better.
I watch and listen, and notice things others might miss
This is something I noticed quickly when I started travelling solo. I prefer to explore a new place alone, quietly, slowly and with both eyes watching the world. I find I often see things that others don’t, whether that’s some amazing street art, a smile from a local child, a narrow doorway leading to some amazing local food, or simply the colours of a sunset.
For me, exploring and creating go hand in hand
There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many days on the road. I choose to spend mine seeing everything I can. I want to find the depth of a country, meet its people, explore its markets and cities and villages, hike the hills and swim through secret lakes and beaches. In my down-time I edit photos and write to recharge. All in all, there’s just not enough hours in a day to spend all evening socialising and all morning in bed hungover.
I’m super comfortable travelling solo and going off the beaten track
When I started travelling, I would follow the tourist trail. I went through South East Asia visiting the Thai ‘party’ islands and hill side backpacker retreats. I had lots of fun, and met lots of people, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was more to a destination than these towns and islands full of British and Australian backpackers. I also got completely exhausted with constantly being around the same kind of people, being asked the same questions again and again.
So I got off the beaten track, and it was only then that I really found my travel mojo. I am most comfortable in the weird places. The places where there’s not a single bar in town, where there’s no English breakfast on any menu and the beaches aren’t full of neon paint and forgotten flip flops the next morning. I’m comfortable going to that remote Burmese town and not finding a single other foreigner there. I am happy taking an 88 hour train across Russia with not another English speaker in sight. I recharge in these places, I thrive and I create. For me, this is what travel is about. Getting to truly know a place, while also getting to truly know yourself.
Photo by Simon Schmitt via Unsplash
I get up earlier and see more by exploring alone
I have a very vivid memory of turning up in the beautiful Vietnamese town of Hoi An, and having realised that I accidentally booked a bed in a party hostel. I arrived in the mid-afternoon to a room full of hungover gap-year kids and a pool side scene of cheap beer being drunk by very loud topless boys playing very loud dance music. Some people would have loved it, but for me, it was quite simply my idea of hell. That night there was a huge party going on nearby, a party by backpackers for backpackers.
I passed, and the next day I got up at dawn, borrowed a bicycle and cycled to an early morning market, photographed fishermen as they brought their morning catch in from the sea and then headed to the old town, for a whole day of exploring one of South East Asia’s most beautiful and well preserved old cities. I explored alone all day, yet my heart was full of love from the locals I met, and my head full of the knowledge I had gained from this town, and from the creativity needed to inspire my photographs. I wouldn’t have traded that for any interaction with a group of English backpackers; after all, I can do that back in England!
I trade hostels for local guesthouses and home stays
Since experiences like the one above, I now very rarely stay in a hostel, and if I do, I choose it wisely. Instead, I look for local guesthouses and home stays. Places I can have real interactions with local people and perhaps find a few other solo travellers too. This has led me to many wonderful situations and places, and I also often find these places to be more comfortable and often cheaper.
Photo by Sofia Sforza via Unsplash
I don’t meet and bond with many people, but when I do, they are friends for life
As an introvert, I don’t strike up conversations with every single person I meet in a hostel or on a day trip, but occasionally I’ll meet someone who I really connect with. Perhaps another introvert with a love for the world, the desire to have a meaningful conversation and who wants to come sunrise exploring with me. When I do, I savour these people, spend days or weeks with them and they often become friends for life.
Travel and introversion led me to my passion and profession
When I first started travelling, being shy led me to seeing my camera as my best friend. I became fascinated with capturing life and places through a lens, and the interactions it brought into my life. Fast forward a few years, and I am now a professional travel photographer and writer. I tell stories about people and places and that all started with an introverted girl who picked up a camera.
If you’re an introvert, don’t feel like you have to blend in. Follow your heart and your passion and who knows where it might take you!
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