I’ve been wondering how has introversion hindered me from meeting people that could’ve had enriched my travel experience. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons I wanted to travel anyways? Should I’ve been more outgoing? Shouldn’t I have gotten home with prospect opportunities, tons of new emails and recollections of people I met on the road?
Let me contextualize
I’ve just finished the trip of a lifetime and now after 5 months, I’m back home.
I never was a person of many friends, I’m a loner and an introvert that enjoys planning parties more that attending them. Aloneness to me is freedom—aloneness, not isolation though.
When traveling there’s a natural inclination to gravitate to other travelers: we’re all in a foreign place with great stories to tell and valid opinions to share. Family and friends are back home and there’s a guy at your hostel with a similar adventurer spirit. Common ground, easy! So after 5 minutes of small talk, he wants to know what are you doing tomorrow, asks if he can join you and you say: “Sure.”
Well, a month had gone by into my trip when I lost the patience to hear rowdy backpacker’s stories about where they’ve been or where they were planning to go next. Honestly, I never cared about how many beers were drunk the night before, or their bias opinions about X country —mainly because they always tended to come up at the entrance of the epic monuments I always wanted to visit.
I just felt that the place I was deserved my full attention. After all, I spent years waiting for the opportunity to be there.
So I started to withdraw from the crowd
Bearing in mind that we all have limited time to get to know a place when we’re on the road, I realized that I rather do it by myself without the distractions of casual chitchat, or the awkward moments of silence because it was my turn to say something back. I love silence, and I always preferred contemplation over a conversation.
The “internal struggle”
The thing is that I also envy the stories of travelers meeting someone that radically changed their travel plans, turned into a job opportunity overseas, or ended up as a lifelong friendship. The stories about being approached by a monk and talking for hours about life and god, or the ones about how fun it was bargaining at the market.
Why hasn’t that happened to me? Am I that disconnected or is it my body language? Where is this frustration coming from anyways? I hate bargaining, it makes me cringe—I rather use coupons, it’s more refined.
As an introvert, I wanted this trip to push me out of my comfort zone, to teach me about the world, and how I fit in it. So I came to understand that solitude it’s like my charging station and I need it daily, especially when I’m in a stimulating environment on the other side of the world.
Maybe I didn’t open myself more because I was never alone to begin with. I traveled with Nuno and we have a dynamic that works. We know each other and we tend to wander by ourselves for hours, only talking about it at the end of the day or during dinner.
I know I’m missing out on getting to know other travelers with which I could share tips and tricks on the best guesthouses, food stalls or transportation. And locals that could teach me more about their culture and cool unknown places to visit. But I don’t open myself easily.
Frankly, visiting most of the places on my own allowed me to be fully present in them. I could orient my focus to what spoke to me: I was aware of details, colors, lights and smells. I now remember details perfectly and I do so because my mind wasn’t divided between where I was, and small talk with a new acquaintance. Isn’t that a sign of a fulfilled experience?
Now that I’m back home I’d like to take everybody I know to the places I’ve been. I want to share the food with my family, take my close friends to the most amazing viewpoints and swim with everybody in warm tropical waters.
Maybe I never felt the need to make new friends because I have good ones back home. Maybe I unconsciously realized that the opportunity I sought after was to do everything a second time with them by my side.
Then again, I don’t have that many friends anyways, so it would be quite a private excursion.
“Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius”
– Edward Gibbon