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The Introvert's Guide to Solo Traveling

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The Introvert's Guide to Solo Traveling

For some reason, traveling with someone always makes me feel as though it’s my responsibility to entertain them. If they start yawning or showing signs of boredom, I’d feel like it’s my fault for not being exciting enough, for not engaging them in interesting conversations.

Then, I’d start to think that they regretted choosing me as their travel companion. Which would make me feel down. Which would then make me withdraw even further into my shell. In the end, it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience for either of us.

Driving in South Island New Zealand
Road trips are especially stressful for me — being confined in a small space with someone and being expected to keep the conversation going the whole ride are a lot of pressure!

So, when I first discovered that traveling abroad on my own was perfectly doable, I was elated. To be honest, I don’t really get it when people think solo traveling is more difficult if you’re an introvert. I think solo traveling was made for introverts.

It’s a no-brainer, really. When I travel solo, I get to be on my own most of the time. I don’t have to talk to anyone if I don’t want to. I don’t have to disappoint anyone for wanting to go somewhere without them. Basically, I can do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, without the pressure to please anyone.

What’s there not to love?

So, if you’re an introvert who’s having doubts about traveling solo because of your personality, my advice is:

Own it!

Yes! Embrace your introverted nature, your love for peace and quiet, and your need for solitude.

In the past, extroverts were seen as an ideal that everyone must aspire to be. Teachers constantly told kids to speak up more in class, to participate more in group activities, and to ask more questions. But now, with eye-opening books like “Quiet” by Susan Cain, and “Introvert Power” by Laurie Helgoe, people are beginning to see that introversion is not a flaw.

There are simply two types of people in this world: those who feel energized by social interaction and those who feel drained by it. And both come with their own strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to solo traveling, I think we’re at an advantage. Most people are concerned about getting bored or lonely when traveling alone for so long. They’re also probably worried about going on long flights or bus/train rides where they don’t have anyone to talk to.

Being an introvert, I know that none of these will be a problem to me. I have always loved my own company. In fact, I feel lonelier when I’m in a group of people than when I’m on my own.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that I avoid all kinds of social interaction when I’m traveling. I do make an effort to connect with the locals and other travelers. They actually make my trips more meaningful. But the beauty of solo traveling is that I get to do it on my own terms.

Venture Out of Your Comfort Zone

The fact that you’re willing to travel alone signifies that you’re open to pushing your boundaries. While I’m all for embracing your true nature and doing what’s right for you, I would also encourage people to get out of their comfort zones from time to time.

And I would say this to everyone, regardless of their personality types. Why? Because when you stay in your comfort zone, your brain doesn’t get to rewire itself to become stronger and more adaptable to changes. When you stay in your comfort zone, you miss out on the chance to grow as a person.

Learn to Fly Airplane One Day Pilot Kuala Lumpur
Getting out of my comfort zone — learning to fly an airplane.

Traveling is a character-building experience. Treat it as an opportunity to learn a new skill and try out something that you are not used to doing at home. For introverts, this may mean making friends with the people you meet.

With billions of people in the world, the chances of meeting someone who’s on the same frequency as you are actually pretty high. When you meet people from various cultures and backgrounds, you’ll find that there are so many things you can learn. You might even make lifelong friendships or meet someone who will change your life for the better.

Start Slow

If you have social anxieties like I do, it’s important to not overwhelm yourself, especially in the beginning. Remember that you don’t have to dive in straight away. You don’t have to stay in a party hostel on your first day of solo travel. You don’t have to approach a group of strangers and ask to be friends with all of them.

If you have a hard time communicating or making eye contact with strangers, try it with those who you find less intimidating. Smile and make eye contact with kids. Or babies.

Once you have gained some confidence, take it a step further and interact with people in the service line, e.g. your hotel receptionist, your waiter, or the grocery store cashier.  These are people who are specially trained to be nice to you. So, it’s unlikely that they’ll make you feel snubbed or unwelcome. Smile to them, say thank you, and ask about their day. Service people don’t get as much credit as they deserve. A little kindness will go a long way.

And lastly, when you’re ready, go ahead and make friends with other travelers.

But what exactly do you say to them? I know it can be tough to think of conversation starters right off the bat. So, I’ve prepared a list of common questions to ask when meeting other travelers.

  • Where are you from?
  • How long have you been here?
  • How long is your trip?
  • Where are you heading off to next?
  • What are your plans for tonight/tomorrow?
  • Have you been to ________ ? / Have you tried ________? What did you think about it?
  • Is there any restaurant here that you recommend?
  • I’m thinking of going to ________. Would you like to join?
Just try not to sound like an immigration officer and have some answers ready in case they ask you the same questions (they will).

How to Meet People When You're Traveling Solo

Now that you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone and meet people, where exactly do you go to meet them?

Stay in Hostels

First of all, you must get over the misconception that hostels are only for loud, rambunctious people who love to party. Hostels now cater to a wide range of travelers. Some are specifically geared for yogis, artists, nature-lovers, and even bookworms. Choose one that suits you best. 

Read: How to Survive Your First Time in a Hostel

Me in dormitory room hostel in Hanoi
Me in a hostel in Hanoi in 2011

Stay with a Local

If you still feel that hostels are a little too much for you, don’t worry — there are lots of other options available. You can stay at small, family-owned guesthouses, for example. Or you might want to give one of these a try:

  • AirbnbA booking platform that lets you stay at people’s homes instead of hotels. You can choose to rent a room or an entire apartment. The advantage of Airbnb in comparison to hotels is that it’s usually cheaper. Plus, you get to experience living like a local. The host may rent out more than one room at a time, so you might also have a chance to meet other travelers. Get USD40 off your first stay if you register using this link.
  • WWOOFStands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It lets you work on organic farms all over the world in return for food and accommodation. You may or may not be paid for your work. 

Me and the hostel owner in Barcelinhos

  • CouchsurfingSimilar to Airbnb but completely free, although you may choose to bring gifts or offer to help around the house. Couchsurfing focuses more on cultural exchange, so be prepared to spend some time with your host. They don’t appreciate freeloaders, i.e. people who use the platform only to get free accommodation.
  • There are many other hospitality-exchange websites other than Couchsurfing, such as Host A Sister, Warmshowers, Teachsurfing, Bewelcome, Servas, and Staydu.

Join Classes, Group Tours, or Meetups

Between a guided tour and going sightseeing on my own, of course, I would choose the latter. It gives me the freedom to spend as much time as I want at places that I like and skip the ones that I don’t. 

However, there are some activities that are not possible/safe to do without a guide, and there are some that are simply more fun when done in a group — like going to an interactive museum or a theme park or joining a cooking class.

Hiking Mossy Forest Mini Irau
Friends I made on a hiking tour.

Joining tour groups is not as socially demanding as you might expect. You will get to meet people with a common interest, so this already gives you something to bond over. Besides, everyone will be so focused on the task at hand that there will be no excessive group interaction required.

The following is a list of apps and online platforms where you can find activities and tours:

  • Get Your Guide – An online listing of tours and activities around the world. So, instead of blindly booking tours at a tour agency, you get to see ratings and read reviews left by previous customers.
  • KlookSimilar to Get Your Guide. You can also collect points as you book activities and write reviews. Get a RM13 (USD3) voucher when you sign up using this promo code: FFKSC.
Cooking class Krabi | Ummi Goes Where?
Me, in a cooking class in Krabi
  • Couchsurfing Apart from offering free accommodation, Couchsurfing allows its members to organize free activities and meetups. Although meeting people from the internet doesn’t come without risk, I find it less scary to meet up with someone whose profile you’ve read and whose pictures you’ve seen than to meet a total stranger.
  • Airbnb ExperiencesWhile websites like Get Your Guide and Klook mostly feature tours by tour companies, Airbnb allows locals to earn a side income by organizing small-group activities that they are experts in.

NOTE: I also host an Airbnb Experience in Kuala Lumpur, where I offer my service as a personal guide for solo travelers. If you’re an introvert traveling solo in Kuala Lumpur and feel nervous about joining big tour groups, do hit me up! Click here to book the experience.

Join a Pub Crawl

Going bar-hopping alone in a foreign city can be daunting and possibly unsafe. An organized pub crawl allows you to experience the nightlife minus the worries.

Admittedly, it is a much more social activity than the ones mentioned above, as you’re not expected to do anything other than drink and talk. But a glass or two of ‘social lubricant’ will surely loosen you up a little more and make you more receptive toward social interaction. Make sure you choose a reputable organizer.
Pub crawl in Sofia Bulgaria | Ummi Goes Where?
Pub crawl in Sofia, Bulgaria. 2019.

The Art of Dining Alone

Working in the service line, my lunch break is usually the only time I get to be alone with my own thoughts. And I don’t appreciate it if anyone tries to take that away from me. So, although I don’t mind the occasional lunch dates and dinner parties, I usually try to find excuses to dine by myself — with a book or my phone for company.

Not until I met other solo travelers did I realize that dining alone was something that people find challenging. They talked about how waiters treated them differently when they asked for a table for one, and how other customers kept staring at them with pity throughout dinner. Wow. This was all news to me!

Siam Cuisine Thai Cookery School
You’ve got to eat what you cooked.

If you feel self-conscious dining alone for the first time, you might want to choose cafes, fast-food outlets, or casual diners, rather than proper fine-dining restaurants where almost everyone comes with a partner.

Your choice of seat at a restaurant also plays a part. Try to get a seat near the bar or the kitchen. You will have better access to the waitstaff, whom you can talk to if you want. They might even be able to share with you local tips on a particular place you’re visiting.

Alternatively, if you’d like to avoid eating out altogether, try to carry some food in your backpack so that when you need some refueling along the way, you can do so without having to go through the inconvenience of ordering food in a restaurant.

They Don't Know You

If it’s any consolation, just remember that the people you meet on the road don’t know you and will probably never see you again.

In my daily life, although I try as much as I can not to draw attention to myself, there are instances when I do feel like speaking up about something. There are times when I hear a familiar tune in my head and feel like breaking into a song. 

However, I tend to hold myself back when I’m in the presence of my friends or people I know, because I get paranoid about what they might be thinking. Are they secretly laughing at my sudden change of personality? Are they going to make fun of me and keep bringing it up in the future if I make a fool of myself now?

Just imagine — if a colleague of yours, who is known to be a serious, quiet, and maybe slightly brooding person, suddenly gets up and dance in front everybody at the company dinner, it would be quite a shock for everyone, wouldn’t it? You’d probably wonder if he’s okay. In any case, it would be a hot topic in the office for the next few weeks.

But when you’re traveling alone, if you do something that’s out of character — like start a conversation or tell a joke or anything that you’re not used to doing — nobody is going to bat an eye. They probably think you do it all the time. Heck, you can even reinvent your whole identity if you want!

Getting Your "Me" Time

As an introvert, after a full day of socializing and external stimulation, it’s only natural to want to retreat into your shell. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The key is to keep a balance between interacting with people and spending time by yourself.

Listen to yourself – Remember that it’s in your nature to need some time alone to recharge. You were born with it. So don’t feel bad if you simply can’t get yourself in the mood to go out and do touristy stuff. Listen to yourself. If you can’t stand staying in hostels anymore, move to a private room for a day or two. If you feel like staying in bed or chilling in your favorite hiding spot for the whole day, go ahead and do it. You don’t have to pack your days with activities all the time. Travel is as much about treating yourself as it is about trying new things.

Take your hobbies with you What do you like to do when you’re not traveling? Take them with you on your travels. Bring your Kindle, your sketchpad, or your knitting project. I always bring a paperback with me when I travel so that when I’m done with it, I can leave it at the hostel and take one that another traveler had left behind. As a bonus, when I’m reading a book, people usually get the hint and leave me alone (although not all do).

Click here to see my 10 favorite travel memoirs of all time.

Woman on laptop
Credit: Brooke Cagle / Wikimedia Commons

Keep a Journal – When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, a journal can serve as an outlet to express your thoughts. Reading back through it will give you a better understanding about yourself, your emotions, and what triggered them. It’s like going for therapy without having to see a therapist. Not only that — it’s also a great way to document your travels. You can stick ticket stubs, candy wrappers, and other knick-knacks, and turn your journal into a travel scrapbook.

Spend Time in Nature – Whether you’re more of a mountain person or a beach person, take the time to get in touch with nature. Nature has a calming effect on your mind and senses. If you’re traveling in a big city, perhaps you can try to make a short excursion to the countryside or somewhere where you can indulge in some hiking or exploring nature. Be sure to stay safe and inform someone of your whereabouts.

Hang Out in Local Libraries, Parks, and Museum – Find a quiet spot in the local park or pay a visit to libraries, museums, or art galleries. Not only will you get to spend time with yourself somewhere quiet, you’ll also earn extra knowledge.

Bring Dark Sunglasses and Earphones – Sometimes, being in a new place — especially if it’s a busy, hectic place — can easily overstimulate your senses. To create a sense of peace and solitude in a busy space, try to wear dark sunglasses and/or noise-canceling headphones. The sunglasses create a barrier between you and the people around you, while the headphones will block out noise. They also deter strangers from striking up a conversation with you. Just remember to stay alert if you use them in public.

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up

I can’t even begin to tell you how many wonderful people I’ve met throughout my years as a solo traveler. But then, nothing in this world is perfect. Amidst the beautiful souls I met, it’s impossible not to run into one or two bad apples.

Several times during my travels, I have met people who put me in uncomfortable and unsafe situations. I think my quiet nature had something to do with it. It made me an easy target. The perpetrators assumed — quite rightly — that I would be too timid to make a scene.

I may be wrong, but I think if I had been more talkative, they’d probably have seen me as a human being with feelings, rather than a mute object that they can use to their (sexual) advantage.

But as I grew older, I learned to be more assertive. I learned to say no — politely but firmly. Always, always put your safety first. Even if you dislike confrontations or displeasing others, trust your gut and say no if you don’t want to do something they ask you to do. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If the situation calls for a more drastic measure, don’t be afraid to yell or draw attention to yourself. 

Final Thoughts on Traveling Solo as an Introvert

Contrary to popular beliefs, introverts make for awesome solo travelers — albeit in our own special way. If extroverts enjoy their travels by engaging with the people they meet, we enjoy ours by silently observing and absorbing all the world has to offer.

So, if you’re telling yourself that you shouldn’t travel because you’re shy or socially awkward, you need to stop. Right now. Don’t let your dreams be obscured by the unnecessary barriers that you built for yourself. Remember that courage doesn’t mean that you don’t feel fear — courage means you don’t let that fear stop you.

Are you an introvert? What do you think is the worst obstacle when traveling solo as an introvert? Comment below.

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  4. Danik the Explorer

    OK, for a long while I didnt really know what an introvert was or why people would keep saying that they are one, but you explained it well for me. So I understand. And now I can see why this solo guide to travel was written. The last bit of advise is really important, never be afraid to speak up (and thats for everyone!). Great post and has got me thinking about others who are introverts and how they deal with everyday life. I understand it now.

    • ummi

      Glad to have given you — and I hope more people out there — a better understanding of introversion, Danik. Introverts make up at least 40% of the world’s population, but people may not realize it because these introverts may have learned to hide their true nature, as they have been told from young that it’s ‘unhealthy’ and that an extroverted personality is the ideal.

  5. Sherianne

    I agree 100%! Traveling with people is a lot of pressure, I worry that the travel partner won’t like activities I really want to do or will want to do something I really don’t want to do. It’s great to be on my own schedule to push myself to do a little more or to slow down without worrying about someone else’s pace. I have had a friend join me for part of the trip a few times and it has gone well. If I have a week on my own, travel with someone for a week and finish the trip on my own it’s the best of both worlds.

    • ummi

      That sounds perfect, Sherianne. It’s lovely when you get to find a balance between traveling with someone and traveling on your own. I have also traveled with my significant other many times, but they acknowledge the fact that I have been a solo traveler since before I met them, so they understand my need to travel alone. Sometimes I start a trip alone and they join me halfway, which is indeed the best of both worlds — to borrow your words. 🙂

  6. Chloe Beaver

    I have always traditionally been an extrovert, but I have been recently noticing more introverted tendencies most likely because of the lockdowns and lack of social gatherings. I’m really learning to love spending time with myself – something that previously made me very anxious. I would love to solo travel one day, and I think it would be the perfect out-of-my-comfort-zone activity that would allow me to learn so much. Thank you for your tips!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Chloe! I hope they will be useful for your future solo trip. I would seriously recommend traveling solo as something everyone should try at least once in their life — whether they’re an extrovert or introvert, but especially if they’re an introvert. 🙂

  7. Nikola Webster

    Hi there,
    I am an extrovert and then some but I do enjoy my own company and I have traveled many times solo. And, I agree there are many benefits of solo travel. When my husband and I travel with others we occasionally run into issues around entertaining people. I like to fly by the seat of my pants and do I please, so solo travel does enable this:) Good for you for getting out there! Nikki

    • ummi

      Thanks, Nikki! I’m really glad I found the courage to travel on my own. Otherwise, I would have been stuck with people and not been able to enjoy my trips. I think both extroverts and introverts can benefit from solo travel, albeit in different ways. 🙂

  8. Anda

    I seldom travel alone. Most of the time I am with my husband, or with travel writers’ groups where I know at least 2-3 people. But like you, if I am in a group I always feel it’s my responsibility to entertain others and that’s very tiring sometimes. I don’t particularly like traveling with people I don’t know and neither do I like dining alone. However, sometimes you have no choice, so your have some very useful tips here.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Anda. Glad you found these tips useful. Weirdly enough, I find it easier to talk to strangers than people I already know (but not close enough with). With strangers, there are lots of things to ask and discover about each other. With friends, you already know these details, so the conversation will inevitable veer towards small talk, which I’m terrible at. Haha. I guess I’m strange like that.

  9. Linda (LD Holland)

    As a fellow introvert, I read your blog post with interest. I can socialize when I want to. But I find being around people all the time stressful. Sometimes just venturing into large groups pushes me out of my comfort zone. But I agree that engaging in more adventurous activities helps you get comfortable a little more when out of your comfort zone. I think that time bounded group activities help for me. I would not do a large group tour for weeks. But a group tour for a day works ok! And I never worry what people think when I head off on my own because I need it.

    • ummi

      That’s great, Linda. Same with me — I wouldn’t mind going on day tours with a group of people, it’s actually quite refreshing after traveling solo for some time, just as long as I’m not stuck with them for days! I think 2 nights is the maximum amount of time I can spend traveling in a group before my social quota runs out. Haha.

  10. Debra Schroeder

    I’m introverted as well and love traveling solo. You’re right, it’s a no-brainer. It’s been pretty easy to meet people when traveling solo because extroverted couples usually reach out because they can’t fathom why someone is traveling solo and think I’m lonely. I’ll have to remember to reach out to you the next time I’m in Kaula Lumpur.

    • ummi

      Oh, please do, Debra! It’s always lovely to meet other travel bloggers, especially if they are also solo travelers. 🙂 I find it easy to meet people too when I travel, especially as I tend to either stay in hostels or Couchsurf. And when I feel like I’ve maxed out on my social quota, I can always choose to get a private room instead.

  11. Marielle

    This is such a great article for introverts! It’s funny cause my partner who I travel with, is an introvert while I’m more of an extrovert. And I can definitely see some of the things you’ve said here projecting into him. It’s a nice balance from me being more sociable and outgoing, while him grounding me and making me appreciate “quiet time.”

    • ummi

      Thank you for sharing, Marielle! Sounds like you and your partner complement each other perfectly. And I’m glad that you’ve also learned to appreciate some “quiet time”. My partner and I are both introverted in our own ways. I like being alone as much as possible but I don’t really have a problem talking to strangers or making new friends. My partner, on the other hand, don’t like being alone but is more shy in social situations.

  12. Medha Verma

    I can very much relate to your post Ummi because I am an introvert myself and although I used to travel only with my (now ex) husband earlier, the moment I started to travel solo, I realized how liberating it is! I love it so much that I’d rather travel solo than with a group of friends. I do not mind dining alone at all, and getting bored is never a fear for me! I agree about getting out of your comfort zone though, like making friends while you travel or talk to locals/ other travellers.

    • ummi

      Oh, that’s amazing, Medha! Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad that you tried solo traveling and loved it. I think it’s something that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime, especially if they’re introverts like us. Like you said, it’s so liberating!

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