Six Tips for Introverted Travelers

Lists: You don't have to be an extrovert to enjoy travel. Sophia Dembling explains.

05.07.09 | 10:16 AM ET

Photo by Sophia Dembling

My essay Confessions of an Introverted Traveler drew a lot of feedback from fellow introverts tired of reading stories about others’ great experiences meeting people. Many who wrote told me they were worried that, because they were introverts, they simply weren’t cut out to travel.  For anyone trying to decide if they should hit the road or just stay home where nobody will bother them, I thought I’d offer these six tips for introverted travelers.

1. Be open to conversation when it’s offered.

I don’t often initiate conversations but I will talk to almost anyone who talks to me first. People like talking to introverts because we tend to be good listeners, and listening is the point in travel conversations, anyway. That’s when we learn. Once the conversation is started, you can ask lots of questions and learn lots of stuff. In her book Introvert Power, psychologist Laurie Helgoe points out that introverts generally prefer deep conversation to superficial chitchat. I’m never afraid to turn conversations to to the subject of worldview, personal goals, politics and other Deep Thoughts. If you find yourself in conversation, ask things you truly want to know. Make the conversation work for you.

2. Don’t be shy about ending an encounter when you’re ready.

A lot of times, random conversations lead to invitations to parties, to travel companionship, to meet others. This sort of invitation can lead to raucous good times. I hate raucous good times. I rarely accept those “let’s take it to the next level” invitations. I may have missed out on a lot that way, but maybe not. The few times I have accepted have not convinced me otherwise. Drunks in bars are pretty much the same the world over. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to say “no” if you’re not feeling it. Then again, say “yes” sometimes, too. You never know.

3. Carry a book.

There’s an interesting debate going in response to an article about travel books on World Hum—a couple of people contend that reading while you travel is a waste of experience, that you can read at home and you should be out Living and Meeting Interesting People when you’re traveling. Yes, well, fine for those people. I always carry a book when I travel for when I need to create a quiet place for myself. Travel is wonderful and exhausting and over-stimulating. Sometimes I need to escape into the tranquility of reading.

4. Develop the art of sitting and watching.

In her book, Helgoe talks about the French term “flâneur” (feminine, “flâneuse”). It translates literally to “idler or loafer,” but the poet Charles Baudelaire defined it as a passionate observer. Yes, yes! I am a flâneuse. I love just sitting and watching people doing what they do, and even more so when I travel. I do it in parks, I do it in museums, I’m finally able to do it in restaurants. That ability took a while to develop but I can now just sit alone in a restaurant and eat and watch people around me, rather than immediately burrowing into a book. Mind you, I always have a book nearby during my sitting and watching, just in case I need to escape the world for a bit or in case I suffer a bout of self-consciousness, but it often remains unopened while I watch and eavesdrop.

5. Take a walking tour or, even better, hire a guide yourself.

I have found this controlled interaction is a great way to get some conversation in with a local. A professional guide—you can find one through the local tourist board—is a wealth of both official and personal information about the place you’re visiting. Once again, make the interaction work for you—ask things you want to know even if they’re not part of the official spiel.

6. Take the downtime you need.

I’m not opposed to traveling with others—a good travel companion is a joy and an extroverted companion can make connections for you on the road. But I’m also not shy about eking out time to myself as necessary. An hour walking alone, some solo time in a museum, an hour in a hotel garden with a book can provide a very refreshing break from interaction. Anyone who doesn’t respect your need for downtime is probably not the right travel companion for you.