You don’t have to travel solo or stay home just because you’re an introvert—if you take along this advice. (As for the insatiable wanderlust that may result? You're on your own.)
Some of my most memorable (and solitary) travel experiences – sea kayaking with whales in Alaska, trekking to Machu Picchu, heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies, photographing lions in Africa, crossing the Moroccan Sahara by camel, and snorkeling with Galapagos sea lions – have occurred on small group adventure trips.
For me, guided adventures, especially in challenging destinations, offer all the benefits of independent travel with none of the hassles or risk. But as an introvert accustomed to spending much of my time alone, it can be a challenge to balance my need for silence and solitude within the extroverted dynamics of group travel.
If the idea of sharing your vacation with others is keeping you from booking the trip of a lifetime, here are four travel-tested suggestions to help you maintain your independence.
1. Carve out time alone each day.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself enjoying the company of your travel companions more than you thought you would: Adventure travelers are a convivial, globetrotting tribe. To avoid social overload, however, be sure to carve out time alone each day. Hang back on a trail hike. Enjoy a solitary meal. Skip a planned excursion for some solo exploration. Tuck away in a quiet spot with a good book. Carry an iPod and earphones to tune-out as needed.
2. Splurge for your own room.
If you’re not traveling with a beloved who understands and respects your needs, most tour outfitters offer solo travelers the option of single accommodations. It may (or may not) cost more than sharing twin accommodations with another tour member of the same sex. But believe me, it’s worth it. I’ve gone the roommate route and regretted it every time, no matter how much I liked the person. Having time alone to recharge at the end of each day, or a private place to retreat to is vital to maintaining balance.
3. Develop the art of being alone in a group.
As an Introvert, I am not shy or anti-social, nor do I dislike people: Quite the opposite. I have good social skills. I am a popular speaker and teacher. I love to meet new people and engage in long conversations about meaningful topics. But too much external stimulation exhausts me. So I’ve learned to pace myself with mini meditative moments. Whenever possible, I mentally disengage from life’s periphery long enough to be alone with my thoughts, to observe the world around me and within me. Try it. It’s a portable and soul-nourishing habit that’s as restorative at home or work as on the road.
4. You don’t have to do it all.
By design, adventure travel itineraries are action-packed. Active exploration of our amazing planet is what it’s all about. One of the biggest challenges for introverts, however, can be balancing the need for downtime with the desire to do everything on the agenda. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to opt out when you need to or to suggest alternative ways to experience a place or activity that better suits your style. On a Galapagos cruise, for example, I set out with the group for an island hike as planned but arranged to spend the afternoon at an isolated beach to photograph and journal alone; easily reuniting with the others on the return leg of the hike. It’s been my experience that unless what you’re suggesting is unsafe or logistically impossible, most guides and trip managers are happy to accommodate any requests that will enhance your vacation.
Related Reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. A passionately argued and impressively researched book filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically society undervalues introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Listen to the author’s powerful Ted talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang///id/1377