I got an email from a friend recently that said (in response to my comment that I felt like I wasn’t exploring enough) ‘as long as you’re not staying inside watching Netflix then you’re not traveling wrong‘.
Here’s the thing, sometimes I do stay inside and watch Netflix. I don’t even watch some new thought provoking documentary or the latest critically acclaimed Judd Apatow series – mostly I rewatch my favourite scenes of shows I’ve already seen (Meredith drowning in Greys Anatomy, Tara getting kidnapped in Sons of Anarchy, Lorrie dying in The Walking Dead – I know I’m morbid I can’t help it!).
Other times I read, curled up in the sunshine lost in a book for a whole afternoon. Sometimes I spend a couple of hours in the kitchen cooking using a new ingredient or trying to recreate something I ate on the street. When I do go out, I walk the same streets there and back because otherwise I’ll get lost and end up across the other side of town. When I go shopping I go back to the same stores because I like knowing where I’m going and [sort of] what I’m doing. I like seeing the same faces and the same layout.
I know it probably sounds like I miss out on a lot. And maybe I do. But I also gain a lot.
When I was in Guatemala (waiting for Guy to finish a three day hike), I spent much of my days walking the streets alone with my headphones in listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks. Before long I was so absorbed in the story that I seemed to become somewhat invisible to everyone else. This made for some wonderful people watching. I watched teenagers sneak kisses behind their families backs, children playing tricks on each other, old friends catching up and so many other wonderful candid moments.
During my stint teaching English in Laos, I bought pineapple and mango from the same vendor outside my school nearly every day. At first we didn’t speak (I didn’t speak Laotian and he didn’t understand English) but rather pointed and smiled. After a couple of months though he’d have a bag ready for me, greet me with a cheery “hello miss” and sometimes even wish me a “goo day okay”. By the time I left Laos I had met his wife and baby daughter and I felt something akin to a friendship between us.
While living in In Mexico City for six weeks I visited the same market every few days to stock up on fresh produce. I always stopped at the same stall just inside the door even though the onions were always a little squishy and the pineapples were soft – because I loved chatting to the old woman behind the counter. Her face would light up when I appeared and we’d discuss the weather, how handsome Guy was, what I was going to cook that day, and then she’d pinch my cheek and slip in an extra bulb of garlic or apple into my bags. Next I’d visit the tomato man who’d have a tray ready for me, grill me on my Spanish progress and then wink at me as he threw a couple of extra tomatoes or a bunch of coriander into my bag. Each trip to the market I’d learn something new – a word, a recipe, an ingredient, and each time I’d leave with a smile on my face.
But it’s not just the interactions with the locals – although that’s a huge part of why I travel and why I love it so much. Some of my best moments have actually been with other travelers. I’ve had countless conversations with other backpackers in hostels – often the ones who are also tucked up in a corner reading a book, or in the kitchen trying out a new ingredient – and to me that’s all part of traveling. It’s not just about meeting the locals – it’s also about connecting with other travelers. Most of our friends in New Zealand aren’t travelers, or at least not backpackers, so it’s wonderfully refreshing to have conversations with other like minded people. I honestly find people who love to travel the most interesting, the most inspiring, and often just the most fun.
A group of South Koreans en route to Cuba to experience life in a communist country
Having said all of that I have learned some tips over the years to help me on my adventures. So here’s how I travel as an introvert;
I carry a notebook with me everywhere. I’ll pop into a cafe or bar and order a drink and then write in my journal, or write a letter to a friend, or continue writing my novel (I’ve been writing it for about ten years I don’t think I’ll ever actually finish!). It takes away that feeling of awkwardness and occasional loneliness that descends upon you as you sit alone, and it also helps me to focus on the now and really absorb what’s going on – what I did that day, how I’m feeling, what I’m looking forward to.
I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I love listening to music especially when I’m cleaning or cooking but when I’m exploring I prefer to listen to an audiobook or a podcast. This is partly because I can’t shake the feeling of music is sort of wasting a prime opportunity to learn something – but mostly because I can lose myself in a book far more than I can in a song. [When I say audiobooks I actually mean the Harry Potter audiobooks that I’ve been listening to for the last five years]. When I’m listening to a book or a podcast I can walk for hours without tiring, eat by myself in a restaurant without feeling out of place,
I explore a city on foot. I find exploring a new city intimidating no matter how excited I am to be there so I liked to take it in at my own pace (aka slowly). The idea of trying to negotiate public transport terrifies me so I like to walk around a city. That way I can get back to where I started without getting (too) lost, I can stop whenever I want to for a snack or drink or to take a photo, and I get some exercise at the same time – which is a good thing because I eat everything I see when I’m traveling.
When in Chiang Mai I walked all around the old city on the remnants of the wall
I stay in my comfort zone (mostly). This is kind of a paradox I know because one of the reasons I travel, and one of the best things about traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone – and I love that. But, I also like to stay somewhat comfortable. As I mentioned above, in Mexico City I revisited the same market stalls for over a month – not only did I get to know the vendors but I felt that I got a deeper sense of Mexican culture while also being able to practice my Spanish. Similarly I’m much more likely to choose a little mom-and-pop restaurant than visit the latest ‘it’ place, and again I feel that I gain a better understanding of the local cuisine and culture as well as actually enjoying myself. That’s not to say that I won’t occasionally join a group of people and go out but that it’s the exception rather than the rule.
I take time for myself. If I feel like going to a movie, or sipping coffee all morning, or having an afternoon nap I will – and I don’t for a moment feel bad about it. I don’t buy into this idea that if you’re not doing something every second of the day then you’re wasting it. I especcially love treating myself to a breakfast out – I’m not sure why but there’s so wonderfully indulgent about going out for breakfast it’s guaranteed to make me feel happy and refreshed.
So I guess I really want to say is that there’s no right way to travel – there really isn’t. And if you wanna stay in bed and watch Netflix while the rest of your dorm goes out to a salsa class then know that you’re not alone! There’s a very good chance I’m doing the same thing somewhere else in the world too!
I’d love to hear any other tips you have for traveling as an introvert! I can always do with some more ideas 🙂