I’m a bookworm. And an introvert. The one who actually enjoyed getting grounded, because it meant I had an excuse to retreat to my room, alone with my books. My parents did occasionally factor their daughter’s personality into their punishments, and instead of sending me to my room, would send me outside. That usually meant climbing a tree, with a book, and reading among the branches. Not quite what they had in mind, I’m sure.
Glendalough Abbey, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
When talking travel, people tend to divide into two camps – the ones who know themselves well and plan their travel accordingly, and the ones who believe travel will make them someone else. The second group isn’t necessarily wrong. To some extent, they are correct – travel does make me feel lighter, happier, more relaxed, more open to people and experiences. Maybe not someone else, but a better version of myself. I lose the fear and the boxed in feeling I often get from too much routine. But in the end, you’re still you. You still thrive on what energizes you at home, and wear out on the things that you find tiresome at home. Travel can be – IS – magic, yes, but in the end, we bring ourselves with as well.
There are exceptions – those who leave home and go completely wild or become “someone else” entirely, and keep that when they come home. These are the ones who, in travel, find themselves. More on that later – it’s a different animal, although many, myself included, can and do experience this to varying degrees. Travel can change you. The point here is that for most of us, we keep our fundamental personalities regardless of other changes. Let’s talk about the more typical travel experience first, and we’ll get to the “travel changes you” part later.
When people ask me my thoughts on trips they want to take, or for tips and ideas, it’s the first thing that always comes to mind. Logistics are logistics. That doesn’t really change. The variable is the person.
Me? I need periodic doses of quiet, solitude, and a book or my journal. Maybe it’s a quiet café in southern France, or a section of secluded beach in Crete, or watching the sunset from a rooftop in Marrakech. I may find a quiet bookstore and browse the shelves, a familiar feel, even if the titles are in languages I can’t begin to decipher. A solo walk or hike – I was one of only a few at Mont Segur, my “quiet time” in the Pyrenees reenergized me for a social Spain and Morocco. Without that, things start to fray at the edges: focus, patience, ability to process my surroundings, ability to relax and enjoy the experience.
Perhaps that’s why solo travel suits me so well – I don’t fear being alone. Rather, it reenergizes me.
Bookstores in Mexico City, Mexico; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Rennes-le-Chateau, France
Don’t mistake me – I’m plenty social and chatty, and will talk to pretty much anyone. Travel brings that out in me as well. I also love adventure travel and being on the move. Activity is always factored in, and some areas are absolutely brilliant for it. I would absolutely take full advantage of trekking across the Inca Trail, playing with elephants at a sanctuary in Thailand, and joining in any adrenaline-producing activity in Costa Rica. But I do know that if I don’t factor in some quiet time, I will feel drained and tired. Travel becomes a chore, and definitely not the experience I had hoped for.
But you also don’t need to be an introvert to enjoy solo travel. It’s especially fitting for social butterfly extroverts. People often ask me, “Isn’t it lonely to travel alone?” The fact is, when you travel alone, especially if you’re doing it on a budget, you have to actually seek out quiet time. For those that haven’t experienced this, let me explain: you are never lonely because there are people around you ALL THE TIME. Unless you stay in hotels and rent a car, you likely won’t get much solitude. You’re in hostels – an amazing way to meet people, find the best spots to go, get insider tips, have companions for exploring, meals, day trips or longer adventures. You travel on trains and buses, surrounded by people. You eat in common areas, restaurants, bars, or cafes. People are always around, and opportunities for company are endless.
I rarely stay in hotels, unless I’m in an area where the concept of hostels is nonexistent or I’m on a group trip, and then, I’m often paired with a roommate. On my big trip last year, after a few weeks of bouncing cities every few days and staying in hostels, I realized I was burning out. I needed quiet. The little corners of quiet I had carved out along the way weren’t cutting it. The shocking reality hit: I brought myself along on this escapade, and that meant a larger dose of what revitalizes me was needed.
Here’s where flexibility enters, and recognizing that this trip wasn’t about impressing anyone – it was for me. I didn’t need to continue this way. I didn’t need to check off every box on someone else’s itinerary (not that I’d been doing that anyway, but it was time to reevaluate). I changed my plans.
The View from Mont Segur, France
AirBnB produced a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in Carcassonne for five days. Truth be told there were two days I didn’t leave that apartment. I caught up on e-mails, worked out logistics for the next month of travel, read in solitude and quiet. Re-charged. And then I went exploring, on my own. It’s tough to meet people when you’re in an apartment by yourself or a hotel room alone, but at that moment, being alone was what I needed. I wandered both the old and the new city of Carcassonne endlessly. I rented a car and drove up into the Pyrenees, to some of my favorite spots to this day.
My best advice in planning a trip: Know what you truly like and don’t like. Definitely step outside of your comfort zones – try something new, push yourself. But also recognize that doing that day in and day out over a period of a few weeks or months will likely drain you. And when you’re tired, you aren’t enjoying yourself and what your travels have to offer. Balance is key – step out of your comfort zone, and then allow yourself the comforts you thrive on. Travel is a gift you give yourself. Make it one you will actually enjoy.
With curiosity and courage,