An Introvert Abroad: Hello, World!

I am an introvert. There, I said it.

And more than that: I embrace it! It has been a long and confusing journey towards accepting my introversion as a strength rather than something to be overcome. But I am no longer falling for it, American-extrovert-biased-society! There will be no Kayti 2.0 – a version of myself identical in every way but for her love of well-attended social functions – because that would negate so much of who I am. And I like who I am: an adventure-seeking, peace-and-quiet-loving introvert with a chronic case of wanderlust.

It is a common misconception that “introverted” is code for “shy,” “socially-awkward,” or even “misanthropic.” Sometimes, when I tell friends I’m introverted, they don’t believe me. I am socially adept; enjoy long, involved conversations with one or two other people; and don’t live in a hermit shack with only my pet rock, Rock E. Balboa, for company. Introverted people can be shy, socially-awkward misanthropes, but it is not because they are introverted. It’s because those are traits that some people have.

Recharging at a temple's quiet gardens in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Recharging at a temple’s quiet gardens in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Introversion actually pertains to the way in which we gain energy. While extroverts are energized by social situations with lots of people, introverts gain energy by spending time alone or, sometimes, in purposeful engagement with one or two other people. For introverts, large social gatherings – especially with lots of strangers and small talk – quickly drain their energy and become the opposite of enjoyable (i.e. their own personal, chips-and-salsa-serving hell). A web comic by Schroeder Jones, “Dr. Carmella’s Guide to Understanding the Introverted!“, explains this social divergence perfectly, using human-sized hamster balls as a visual metaphor. Or check out French Fries and Waffles’s simply-yet-aptly-titled “Introversion.” For a more in-depth explanation, try Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking or her TED Talk on the subject.

To the casual observer, travel  and introversion might not seem to go hand-and-hand. Travel can be noisy, crowded, and, at times, unavoidably social. But it can also offer introverts deep, purposeful conversations with stranger-friends and a unique chance to understand exactly what they need in a world that is increasingly louder, faster, and more steadily socially-demanding.

I speak personally because, not so long ago, I was immersed in a three-month exploration of Southeast Asia. I skirted the honking, motorbike-ridden streets of Hanoi; slept in bunk rooms with dozens of snoring strangers; and went weeks without proper solitude. Somehow, I survived. More than that, I adapted. I learned to balance my life in a way that has been helpful since my return to “normal” life in the States.

I plan to use this column to share my evolving understanding of what it is to be an introverted traveler. Though I am currently stationary (for now), I will draw on my experiences backpacking through Southeast Asia, living and studying in Prague, and taking shorter trips around Europe and America. I will include introvert-geared profiles of some of my favorite places, as well as more general advice on how to find much-needed alone time within the chaos that can be the nomadic lifestyle. Hopefully, other introverts will find affinity and some helpful tips in my ramblings, and extroverts will come to better understand their introverted friends, acquaintances, and fellow travelers. I promise heaps of adventure-seeking, peace-and-quiet-loving shenanigans. And maybe – if you’re very lucky – more Rock E. Balboa jokes, too.

Particularly relevant signage hanging in the temple gardens.
Particularly relevant signage hanging in the temple gardens.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Take The Guardian’s quiz to find out where you might fall on the spectrum. 

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