Whether I travel alone or with a friend, I need time by myself to recharge. (Photo: Stephanie Yoder/Twenty-Something Travel)
By Stephanie Yoder for Yahoo! Travel
Here’s a little known fact about me: I am actually really introverted. People don’t believe me when I tell them this: I’m so friendly and open — sometimes even ballsy (particularly when I’ve had a few drinks in me…). It’s true though: I can fake it for awhile, but like all introverts I find personal interactions to be really draining, and I need time by myself to recharge my social battery. It’s not that I’m shy, I just really, really like being alone.
This affects how I travel of course, but it never holds me back. So if I, a true introvert at heart, who likes nothing better than curling up with a book and a beer all by lonesome, can travel the world — so can you. Here’s my advice:
Understand Your Needs
It took me a long time to figure out what it truly means to be an introvert. For ages I would go to parties and wonder why, after a few hours, I felt cranky and tired. I would feel guilty and anti-social and just miserable. I love my friends, so why did I want to go home so badly?
Fortunately my wise father is a licensed Myers-Briggs tester (I’m an INFP), and he taught me a lot about being an introvert. It doesn’t mean that you’re shy, or anti-social. It just means that you react differently to external stimuli than extraverts. Introverts get their energy from being alone, not from other people.
For me, being an introvert means that I can go out to a loud party one night and have a good time, but the next day I probably am not going to want to see anyone. It means that I need time-outs at social gatherings to catch my breath and rally. It means that huge crowds and cramped spaces are always going to make me nervous, although I try to find ways of coping. It means I’m happiest in my own head.
Related: How Travel Helped Cure My Anxiety
Reading up on introversion can help you better understand your needs, which can lead to a lot less frustration and confusion, particularly when you are traveling with a partner, which leads me to my next comment…
Choose Your Companion Carefully
Back when I was a single lady I traveled solo or with my buddy Liz. She is an introvert too, which worked perfectly. We had a lot of fun together but we were also great at working in solo time. She’d read a book while I went for a walk, or we’d sit in companionable silence, each watching our own movie on our own laptop. That may sound weird, but it wasn’t. We are just good at being alone together.
Then I started traveling with my boyfriend (now husband), who is the definition of an extrovert. He loves people, loud parties, chatting with strangers, the works. People energize him, and if he goes too long without socialization he gets antsy. While I’m usually the first to head home from the party, he’d rather be the last to leave.
So that’s…different. It’s frustrating sometimes, for both of us. I’m quiet, I can go for hours without talking and feel perfectly at ease, where he wants to share all of his experiences. I’m happy curled up in our hotel room, resting up for the next day, while it kills him to think that he’s missing out on some fun somewhere. There’s a lot of compromise as we both work to understand and meet the other’s needs.
Am I saying don’t travel with an extrovert? No, I love mine and we have tons of fun together. He challenges me to get out there in ways I probably wouldn’t on my own. We meet different people and have interesting adventures. And I…well, I probably keep him from getting too out of hand. Plus, he reads more now?
Whomever you travel with, make sure you can negotiate your needs and carve out enough personal space that you don’t lose your mind.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go Alone
It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think introverts are even more well-suited for solo travel than extroverts. We’ve got the inner resources to be alone and entertain ourselves for long periods.
When I travel alone I’ll sometimes go all day without making a connection. I revel in eating solo and wandering the streets of a new city with just my camera as a friend. I eat a lot of ice cream. I think a lot. Sometimes I go to bed early and don’t even feel guilty, just because I can. I do whatever it is I want to do and I don’t worry about other people. If I want a friend, I’ll make one, but I can just as easily slip away when I’m ready to hang out by myself again.
Fake it Until You Make it
When I was 15 and struggling to make friends at my new high school, a wise childhood buddy told me this, and it changed my life: Whenever I’m feeling social anxiety I just pretend I’m not. I just fake it. As a result I’ve become an introvert whose pretty damn good at disguising myself as an extrovert.
I can talk to strangers on the train, make new friends in a hostel and even network at events. I’m not so great at things that require confrontation: ie., haggling, but I’m working on it. Being an introvert doesn’t have to mean being shy, or even quiet, and I try really hard to push myself.
Then again, sometimes my social anxiety gets the better of me and I get nervous about the silliest things — asking directions, for example. Travel is probably good for me in this regard; it forces me out of my comfort zone and makes me do these silly little things for myself.
How do you overcome anxiety when you travel?