I would describe myself as a part time introvert – is that a thing? If it’s not it should be. Around people I don’t know I’m shy, quiet, probably a little boring, and I can get a little deer-in-the-headlights if all the attention finds its way onto me. I’m okay one on one but useless in a group. Around people I know however, I’m talkative, engaging, interesting (I hope!) and, at times the life of the party.
Although I’ve wanted to travel since I took my first steps, solo travel was never something that seriously crossed my mind because I thought I was too shy. Luckily for me I sort of fell into it. On my first trip overseas Guy got offered a job halfway through so he came home and I spent a month travelling around California and Utah. Then I spent six weeks in Samoa by myself, then six months in Laos. I floundered around a fair bit initially trying to find my comfort zone and shake that irrational feeling that everyone was staring at me. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’ve gotten to the point now where I genuinely enjoy solo travel, and although Guy and I are departing for our next adventure together – I hope to squeeze in some solo trips too.
Here are some of the practices I’ve found useful.
Download an audiobook.
I love listening to music especially when I’m trying to pass the time on a bus or waiting in an airport. It’s great for detaching from your surroundings and making long waits bearable. But, I also find it really easy to tune out. An audiobook requires just that little bit of attention and engagement that allows me to lose myself in a way I can’t with music. When walking around the streets, or eating alone at a street stall I find an audio book really useful. Note: you may find yourself getting strange looks when you burst out laughing in the street due to something funny happening in your book. It’s worth it.
Don’t pressure yourself to get out and and do everything.
I know some people will think it’s a waste of time not sightseeing when you’re in a new city, and I agree to a point, but I’ve also learnt that there’s no right or wrong way to travel. Some people like staying in resorts while others prefer homestays. Some travelers eat only at local restaurants and others flock to McDonalds. It doesn’t matter what you feel like doing – just don’t feel bad about doing it.
I love museums – I can spend all day in a museum, even the little obscure ones. But, I’m not fussed on getting up early to see sunrises no matter how beautiful they are. Sleeps trumps beauty every time. Sleep trumps everything except food. Also, I don’t know if it’s just the anthropologist in me – but I think half of the fun in travelling is just people watching. I can happily spend a morning or afternoon sitting in cafe sipping on coffee or beer writing in my journal while watching daily life go by, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m missing out.
Do what you feel comfortable doing.
This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn – but one that bought me the most joy. Do what makes you feel comfortable – even if it’s the opposite of what everyone else is doing. There’s no perfect way to travel – you don’t have to visit every sight in the city if you’re not in the mood for it. Also you don’t have to do everything in the city. I’m not a huge fan of hikes (or anything that involves strenuous exercise) no matter how amazing the view, so I just don’t go on them. I’d rather sit in a cafe, drink coffee, people watch and write in my journal. If like me you can’t ride a bike so you’d rather walk around the city – then do it! Likewise, if you need a day or two lying on your bed watching Game of Thrones do it and don’t feel bad! Doing what you like and feel comfortable doing is the only right way to travel.
Go on tours
When I’m traveling with someone else I prefer to find my own way – negotiating local transport and bureaucracy myself rather than paying a tour outfit. When I’m traveling alone however I jump on as many tours as I can. Admittedly this is partly because I have the geographical skills of a pineapple so I generally end up in the opposite direction of where I intended to go – but also because its much more fun exploring with someone else, and because your sharing transport, sightseeing and lunch together its pretty much impossible not to get talking to someone no matter how shy you are. I went on a tour to Ayutthaya when I was in Bangkok and ended up meeting up with four of my companions for dinner and ‘buckets’ along Khao San Road later that night. It remains one of my favourite memories from Thailand – we had so much fun together even though I was underwhelmed with the tour itself.
Make friends – but don’t feel pressured to.
Sometimes its impossible not to make friends – like when you’re staying in a dorm with a couple of really friendly girls who invite you out to breakfast with them and then meet up with you later to go to the markets to eat banana and nutella pancakes. But at other times you feel like getting a room to yourself, or you just don’t click with your roommates, or you’re too shy to approach the communal areas because everyone looks so scary! Sometimes I beat myself up about it and have thoughts like ‘you should go and make friends’ but I’ve learned to ease up on myself and focus on what I need at that given time. If the opportunity arises to make friends then I’ll seize it, but if not I’m happy in my own company and I don’t feel bad about that.
Those are my tips but I’d love to hear any other ideas you have for traveling on your own when you’re shy. I’m sure there’s still so much I can learn! 🙂