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I know what you are thinking? Another very broad, uninformed and generic article . But as a previously self-confessed introvert who loves to travel I would urge you to read on. Yes I realise that everyone is different and the spectrum between extroverted and introverted is not always something that is easily determined. But if like me, you often feel extreme fatigue when you have had to socialise all week, you prefer deep conversations over small talk and/or you sometimes feel uncomfortable in large group settings, then read on for some tips and tricks that have helped me while travelling abroad and especially helped to combat a fear of travelling abroad alone.
A Lawyer in her previous life, the copious hours of scrutinising law text books, case law and wikipedia have resulted in the birth of a creature, whose capability to research into the paths less trodden, surpasses most seasoned travellers.
1. Figure out your Why and Create an Alter Ego to Combat It
So a man thinketh so he becomes it. I am sure you have heard this saying before and truthfully while it may be very difficult for someone who has been told all their life that they are shy or quiet, to fake being bold, confident, outlandish and all the other extrovert type attributes that the world appears to look up to; it is a lot easier to fake a whole different persona in a place where no-one knows you.
When I was younger I was seen as a very quiet child, I just didn't see the point of talking for the sake of it, unless I had something of substance to say and I tended to listen and observe more than I talked. As a child what this translated to for most adults was that I was shy. I got told that I was shy so often that I just adopted that trait and it's taken years of introspective work to understand that I am not and never was shy so should stop acting like I am and start practicing confidence.
The very first time I had to employ this practice was when I travelled to Moshi in Tanzania. While the town is full of other travellers and volunteers, the very nature of their work meant that they often travelled in packs, making it hard to really approach any of them. I remember I was at a hostel and literally every other traveller there was part of the same volunteering organisation. I saw them all playing volleyball and while I am a the world's best volleyball player (in my head), I really wanted to join in. I sat on a sun lounger watching from a distance, pretending to read my book, for about 30 minutes, before asking myself what I would do right now if:
• "I didn't care about what I thought they thought about me"
• "I knew that I am unlikely to meet them again" and
• "I understood that I am literally like one of 6 billion people in world right now and a "no" from six people is unlikely to categorise human interactions for the rest of my life";
Then the only thing to do and seemed to be a minute action considering those circumstances was to ask to join. And of course they let me - turns out they needed an extra player anyway.
2. Create a Busy Itinerary
It's simple - the busier you are the less time you have to worry about being lonely. For some people reading this, this may sound weird - don't introverted people like to be alone. Alone yes, lonely no. There will always need to be a balance. I like my alone time to recharge, but I am human and need other human interaction and genuine connections to survive.
Creating a packed out itinerary doesn't mean that you need to do everything on the list but will constantly give you the opportunity to be doing something, getting out there and getting around other people (which isn't as uncomfortable as it sounds). When I was travelling solo through the Philippines, I was joining group activities every day and not a day went past where I didn't somehow strike up a conversation with another person or group of people who I would later end up going to dinner with, seeing a show with or even travelling to another island with.
Being busy enjoying what you're doing and not thinking about 'how to make new friends' inadvertently attracts friends to you and even if practically this doesn't happen, it won't matter anyway as you will be too busy enjoying yourself to notice.
3. Travel to Places Where There Are Locals - Not Just Other Travellers
I can only speak from personal experience and while I consider myself now more of an ambivert, striking up superficial conversations with new people and/or networking is not something which came naturally to me. I would always have to prepare for these scenarios, rest or store up energy for the task of networking and prepare myself to have an open demeanour.
Travelling and meeting other travellers, initial conversations would always seem to be very superficial, a competition as to who was more well travelled, a sizing up of 9-5 occupations, an obvious avoidance of hard topics which had the possibility to offend. But I always found it so much easier and enjoyable to connect with locals and people indigenous to the countries I was visiting.
When I was in the Philippines, I decided that I wanted to travel to some beaches and waterfalls, so I called up the tuk tuk driver I had met a day ago and he agreed to bike the trip with me (there were no buses that went to all of the places I wanted to go and I had no idea how to ride a motor bike myself). We genuinely had such a good time and learnt so much about each other that he invited me to his family's house for dinner and we later vibed at a Reggae club in Palawan.
4. Rest and Designate Some Alone Time
Don't be scared or ashamed to carve out time specifically for yourself to cater to yourself - you will not get bored of your own company, I can promise you that from my own experience. Instead you will likely find a new found appreciation for attributes you didn't even know you had.
For instance when I was in Japan, outskirts of Tokyo specifically, I got extremely lost and it took me about 2 hours to find my hostel (or more aptly for the hostel owner to find me). I was extremely tired and jet lag was catching up to me, it was past midnight, no one around me spoke a word of English, only Japanese. My phone was on 1% battery and the only shop that appeared to have any life was a seven eleven - but at no point did I feel fearful. I won't go into the particulars of how I eventually ended up at the hostel - it's not dramatic and really it's besides the point.
But What I found out about myself is that I can be really calm in the face of challenges and I like that about myself. I know that if I had been with another one of my friends, their panic would have been a detrimental effect on my well being and my ability to carry on the next day (which I designated as a solo onsen and spa day) without any bad energy would have been greatly hindered.
5. What Is The Worst That Can Happen Test
My travels to Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar was the first time I travelled abroad alone. It took me a whole 3-4 months to actually book my flight ticket, that's how scared I was of travelling anywhere by myself, not because I didn't think I could take care of myself; but because I was scared of feeling lonely.
I juggled with many what if's - what if I hate my own company, what if I waste all of this money and don't enjoy this trip, what if anxiety sets in and I don't even end up leaving the hotel - a lot of what if's but it took me a lot longer to answer what is the worst that could happen. Probably my worst fear was spending a lot of money to not enjoy the experience. When I realised what for me would have been the worst scenario, I could then deal with mitigating this:
In truth travelling solo as a more introverted traveller is a work in progress, but one which I now actually enjoy! As much as this personality trait is often seen as a weakness and hindrance, I have found that it has allowed me to open up to deeper experiences of travel and culture, in particular when it comes to interacting with locals. Often times its about just taking that first step, you may even surprise yourself!
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