five tips for introverted travelers
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I have received a lot of emails about the column mentioned above but this one particularly touched me because it’s someone whose life could be affected by the pressures of the extroverted masses.
I told this young man that first of all, approaching cute members of the opposite sex is doctoral-level extroversion. I’m not even sure I trust guys who can easily chat up that cute girl in English class. No, that kind of confidence is suspect to me. Give me the awkward blurter any day.
But for him and any other introverts out there who are trying to decide if they should hit the road or just stay home where nobody will bother them, I thought I’d offer these five tips for traveling introverts.
Be open to conversation when it’s offered. I rarely 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, Dr. Laurie Helgoe points out that introverts generally prefer deep conversation to superficial chitchat. I’m never afraid to turn conversations to worldview, personal goals, politics and other Deep Thoughts. Ask things you truly want to know. Grab conversation when it comes, make it work for you.
Don’t be shy about ending the encounter when you’re ready. A lot of times, random conversations lead to invitations to parties, to travel companions, to meet the gang. 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.
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.
Develop the art of sitting and watching. In her book, Dr. Helgoe talks about the French term “flauneur” (feminine, “flaneuse”) which means passionate observer. Yes, yes! I am a flaneuse. I love just sitting and watching people doing what they do 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 suffer a bout of self-consciousness, but it often remains unopened while I watch and eavesdrop.
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.
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