How do you imagine the average backpacking traveler? Maybe young, adventurous, athletic, outgoing, brave, spontaneous? Indeed, many surely are, but even if you are not it does not make that style of travel impossible. Some would actually be surprised how many introvert backpackers there are. You just don’t happen to always run into them because they often prefer to be alone and you won’t see where they are hiding.
What are introverts?
There are some misunderstandings. It is not that introverts do not like people. Sometimes people are surprised to hear I’d describe myself as an introvert. I can converse smoothly and am genuinely interested in other people. It is only that I need a lot of time alone to reflect and recharge. Extroverts feel drained and bored when they are alone for too long, introverts get drained by to much social interaction without a break.
Some people say introverts are aloof, awkward and should better socialize to become normal. This is ignorant and there has been a lot of literature discussing the specifics and needs of introverts in recent years. On the other hand many introverts perceive extroverts as shallow and bubbly talking machines that lack any depth. That is not nice either, and in many cases not true. I am very glad that I have extroverts as well as introverts among my friends.
However it seems backpacking comes more natural to extraverts. Introverts have some different needs. I started backpacking fifteen years ago and I would like to share some experiences and elaborate on some specifics.
Whether you go alone, with close friends or your loved one – all is actually fine. It often depends on the circumstances whom you are taking with you or not. I have done all of it and it all has its advantages.
Going alone is the easiest in the sense that you are not dependent on someone else to make the decision to start traveling. If no one else is willing to travel with you or has neither time nor money, you can always travel alone. Going alone takes the most courage however. The good things are: You will probably have a lot of me-time, you are not responsible to anyone and can do what ever you want.
It can be very lonely at times as you may not make friends as easily as an extrovert and prefer close long-term friends who are just not here. Keeping in touch via internet can help. Don’t rely too much on that. Sometimes just be brave, get out and in touch with other travelers around you. It may be challenging at first, but you can get used to meeting strangers and it helps you later in life. I had some of my best encounters with locals and other travelers when backpacking alone when I was forced to get out of my shell like asking others if they wanted to share a taxi or a room in an expensive region. Once the ice is broken, you can find new friends and get to know interesting people.
If your partner or a close friend wants to join you backpacking – perfect! You both understand your respective needs. There is someone to talk to, but you don’t have to listen to shallow stories from babbling strangers. You won’t feel alone. Be careful however whom you take with you. As introverts you probably spend a lot of time together in nature or closed spaces, and if you are incompatible with each other, it can cause a lot of trouble for both. I would strongly recommend to only take someone with whom you have already spent a lot of time together like sharing an apartment or going on a short-term holiday together.
Something the introvert backpacker should not do is traveling in groups. All the different people, too many opportunities for get-togethers and the lacking decisiveness of large groups will drive you mad. I would say groups of two to four people are okay. If there are more, there is a great danger that your needs as an individual will be neglected – everything will turn on the group and how to do things together.
One simple rule: Private rooms. Backpackers are notorious for sleeping in hostels, and hostels are notorious for offering dormitories. While hostels and guesthouses are usually great also for introverts, you should never fall for the trap of sleeping in a dorm bed. The money you save won’t probably compensate for all the inconvenience caused. You could as well just sleep in the streets with the noises and all the people watching. Many backpacker places offer private rooms as well as dorms. Shared bathrooms are a matter of taste, I don’t mind them.
Of course, private rooms are more expensive. Especially when traveling alone, a single room is often hard to find and more than twice or three times as expensive. However think of all the money you save compared to extroverts: You won’t need to spend as much on socializing in bars, clubs, nightlife, expensive restaurants. My priorities are clear: I prefer a safe space to retreat especially in noisy and crowded cities to any luxury restaurant or bar there was in the world. No matter how small, cramped or simple the room is – at least it is your own personal space.
My preferred accommodation places are guesthouses or small hotels with some communal areas. If you feel like seeing people, you get into the lounge and meet other people or just sit and read a book, maybe someone else initiates a conversation. And if you feel like being alone, you just go up to your room. Family, business or resort hotels are places that are usually more expensive and places where solo traveller feel awkward among other groups or at the breakfast buffet.
With local transport you often do not have a choice. If you have then it is mostly a matter of time, comfort and money. However there are some things to consider when traveling as an introvert.
Take for instance long-distance night buses. Sometimes there is a choice to take a ten hour bus ride by daytime or at night. Many guides recommend taking the night bus as you don’t waste a day and save money on accommodation. I would say: this is a trap, take the daytime bus instead. Going by daytime your journey is enclosed by two safe hotel stays at night in your own space.
If you go at night, you will have to spend the first day somewhere in public spaces. Usually check-out in hotels is at 10 AM or noon. How do you spend the rest of your day until the night bus leaves? You have to be in public all day long. Yes, cafes and parks will do for a while, but from noon to 10 PM it can be a veeeery long time. After that you have to spend the night in a noisy uncomfortable bus with complete strangers. No private space either. Many introverts do not sleep well in such an environment. You arrive in the morning, completely destroyed longing for a place to sleep. Well, many hotels don’t allow an early check-in and you wait until 2 PM, again without four walls around a space for yourself. And well, how much can you enjoy such a day where you saved on accommodation but are completely exhausted?
The night transport rule of course does not only apply to buses. The same is true for flights, boats, or trains at night.
If you are exhausted or have just had a long flight, I often just prefer to take a taxi instead of public transport. After recharging and some alone-time, going by buses or trains within a city is usually okay. Remember that private transport in form of taxis and rikshaws can sometimes have the disadvantage of a talkative driver whereas in buses you are left alone.
Let us conclude: Avoid traveling in groups, dorm rooms or night buses. This is my first article on traveling for introverts. I am open to suggestions and comments. If you like any other subject concerning backpacking for introverts to be covered, just leave a comment.