Can Introverts Successfully Travel Solo?

Kristin Addis standing on a empty winding road in the mountains
Posted: 5/2/2019 | May 2nd, 2019

Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes our regular column on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice for other women travelers to help cover the topics important and specific to them! In this month’s article, she shows us how solo travelers can deal with traveling as an introvert!

Recently, I traveled to Oakland to attend a birthday brunch. I didn’t know anyone besides the birthday girl. As an introvert, situations like that are hard for me; I don’t like strangers.

Per usual, I was pretty uncomfortable at first, choosing to stick close to the one person I knew and to kill time by slowly pouring myself a coffee and eating a fruit plate at tortoise speed.

But, as time passed, I began conversing with one new person, then another, and then almost everyone who was there. I met truly interesting and friendly people, and by the end of it, I was so glad that I went and that I stayed.

When I’m at home, though, I tend to put off going out to do simple things that involve personal interactions, like grocery shopping, until the last minute. It can get pretty ridiculous, to be honest.

Yet on the road it’s so much easier to get out and explore and especially to meet new people. Why is that?

In a word: dopamine.

Kristin Addis standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon

According to professors Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long in The Molecule of More, dopamine, which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, is what pushes us to try new things. In addition, researchers Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel found, through MRI scans, that the reward center of our brain is stimulated more by novelty than familiarity.

Therefore, we are hardwired to explore and crave newness. It’s the anticipation of the unknown — and how exciting it could be — that encourages us to go beyond our comfort zones.

So, while it can be difficult for introverts to approach people and venture outside to do routine things at home, where everything is familiar, when we’re on the road we have dopamine on our side.

This scientific explanation makes sense to me. When I’m traveling and experience a moment of true novelty, I feel like I’m riding a natural high, something more pleasurable than I could ever try to manufacture. Newness feels good, so traveling feels good, and being an extrovert in these moments comes naturally.

So just know that even if you tend to be shy and uninterested in going to random house parties or even the grocery store at home, you may find that you have renewed energy for meeting people (and feeding yourself) on the road. It helps tremendously that most other people are also feeling that dopamine rush from traveling, so they’re in a more approachable state, too.

Kristin Addis on a walkway covered in tall trees

I used to joke that at home in Southern California I had no idea how to make new friends. Do I just walk up to them at a café and ask what they like to do during their free time?

The truth is, on the road, the answer is “yes.” It’s often that simple. Travelers are by and large more receptive and friendlier than most of us are probably used to back home. Since we’re all getting dopamine rewards for meeting new people and exploring new places, it becomes easier for both parties to be more open on the road.

I used to worry that I’d fear approaching new people, but I rarely even have to start a conversation. If all else fails, “Where are you from?” is a perfectly acceptable way to break the ice, an easy question that everyone has an answer to. I’ve had random bus, hostel, and café conversations that have turned into lifelong friendships, and I’ve had others that only served to entertain me for the afternoon; both are of value, and I never know which I might get.

I love having no itinerary and no fixed plans. This is one of the gifts of solo traveling. That said, booking activities ahead of time and paying some kind of deposit can be of help to introverts who might otherwise find reasons why they should stay inside. I’m sure my fellow introverts recognize the scenario of waking up the day of a tour you’ve booked, wishing you could cancel, but since you’ve already paid, you end up going and having the best time. Having some skin in the game makes us way more likely to honor our commitments.

Kristin Addis sitting in a bed of sunflowers against a mountain backdrop

Personally, it’s tempting to cancel even if it’s something fun that I honestly want to do. If I didn’t prebook things in life, I’d never exercise, dive, or explore. It would be too easy to keep putting them off.

For example, I booked an island excursion on Nusa Penida and a cooking class in Chiang Mai, and led a group hiking tour of Torres del Paine in Patagonia that the women participants prepaid for. Many of them tended to be more introverted, but in a group activity like that, other solo travelers tend to show up, which helps everyone to be more social and open.

I’ve also found that staying in an accommodation that is social by nature, like a yoga or meditation retreat, or heading to places that are known for an activity I love, like scuba diving in Indonesia, can make my introversion easier to handle. Knowing that the others there will also be into the activity that I’m into gives us common ground, something to talk about, and the activity itself allows us to bond over a week or two. Some of my favorite people are those whom I met on a dive boat or week of deep spiritual practice.

Though all of these are “hacks” for becoming a more extroverted traveler, we introverts tend to get our energy from time spent alone. At some point we need some “me” time — and this is why solo travel can be so wonderful. Part of the beauty of solo travel is the time that you get to spend with yourself. You won’t disappoint anyone by needing time alone, nor will you have to push anyone away or force yourself into an activity you’re not really feeling.

Kristin Addis sitting in hot springs in the snow-capped mountains

I used to get down on myself if I went a few days without meeting new people. I’d fret over moments that I felt I’d “wasted” by reading in bed or chilling out for the day. Now I realize how important those days are too. I get to recharge by taking it easy and practicing self-care. And that’s a big reason why we travel too, isn’t it? We want to treat ourselves.

So please don’t feel bad if you’re traveling and you just don’t feel like going out that day, don’t want to be social, or feel like getting room service. It’s okay to do those things if it’s what you feel you need.

Listening to yourself is the most important part of solo traveling, anyway. This is something I’ve learned as a solo traveler in my 30s, and it’s made me enjoy traveling even more.

Knowing that you’ll have dopamine on your side, that you will meet people more easily on the road, and that you’ll be able to make real-time decisions about what’s best for you, you’ll be better off making the leap and traveling solo.

Conquering Mountains: The Guide to Solo Female Travel

conquering mountains: solo female travel by kristin addisFor a complete A-to-Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over 20 interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book and start reading it today!

Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.

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