What can an introvert do to meet people on the road?

I recently got an email from a woman who suffers from a diagnosed case of social phobia and is worried that this might compromise her travels.

“I am afraid that my introverted personality is going to effect the way I travel, and I won’t be as opportunistic when it comes to the social aspect of traveling,” the woman wrote. “Do you have any advice? Will solo travel help me better experience my host culture and meet locals? Besides going to therapy, do you have any suggestions that may help me be a bit more outgoing when it comes to social situations abroad?”

This is what I told her:

I have always been a bit introverted, and solo travel has helped make me into a more social person. I don’t know much about formally diagnosed “social phobia” and what it entails, but I can tell you that traveling alone can really force you to break out of your shell and engage your surroundings. It’s not always easy, and there are times where you’ll be lonely and frustrated — but it’s worth it when you make connections. It is, in short, an interesting learning process, and it’s rewarding when you make breakthroughs.

My best strategy for being more of an extrovert when you travel is to go to the developing world instead of the industrialized world. In Europe and North America people might not always have time for you — but in places like Asia (which is nice and cheap) or Africa (which is not as cheap, but amazing just the same) and the Middle East, people are more likely to take note of you as an outsider and make friends. I did some of my earliest vagabonding in Asia, and it’s amazing how many people I met just by being the only white guy in a little village. There is a language barrier to overcome, of course, but that process can actually be fun, as even introverts can tackle the art of speaking simple English, utilizing a phrasebook, and/or using improvised sign language to get a point across.

Another option would be to join a formal study or volunteer program (the Peace Corps being a good example) that will give you a structured community of people you can be with, and a “business” oriented pretext to meet local people. For more info on working or studying or volunteering overseas, check out the resources at Transitions Abroad.

In addition to this advice, introverted vagabonders might want to check out Sophia Dembling’s World Hum article “Confessions of an Introverted Traveler,” including her tip sheet, “Six Tips for Introverted Travelers.”

Posted by | Comments (6)  | February 22, 2010
Category: Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

6 Responses to “What can an introvert do to meet people on the road?”

  1. Cherie @ Technomadia Says:

    I’m also an introverted nomad. I’ve been on the road full time for 3 years now, within the USA. While I don’t solo travel (I travel with my life mate who is touch more extroverted than I), it can sometimes seem like a hinderance.

    Aside from the advice given, I’ve found ways to leverage my introverted nature to my advantage. I use a lot of online social networking to have an opportunity to take connections to real life when I’m in an area. Having some pre-established context has helped me a great deal to immersing myself in social situations. I also don’t focus on doing the approaching, but instead making myself more approachable by not being as guarded.

    Traveling for so long has helped ‘cure’ a good bit of my introversion – and I’m far more sociable than I ever have been before. When I want to be, I’m far more approachable and can take conversations from there. You still won’t catch me striking up conversations with strangers tho. 🙂

  2. Erin Says:

    I have a similar problem, but things do get easier on the road. I agree with all of Rolf’s advice. I found volunteering was a great way of meeting people, and couchsurfing is a good way to meet local people too.

  3. Keith Says:

    Good advice, Rolf. As someone gearing up for solo travel, I found these tidbits useful.

  4. Enrique R: Says:

    Not sure about anything said. I am extremely shy, and very introverted person. I was born (and live) in a developing contry, but I have traveled a lot, both to developed and developing countries; I have traveled using all kinds of transport means, sleeping in all kind of hotels (cheap, expensive, luxury, etc., etc.), but my experience says that the only thing that make you share with other people, is showing genuine interest to socialise. If other people feels that your “interest” in socializing is a fake, or merely “formal”, they won’t feel you are a trusting person. In other words: just be yourself, and everything will go fabulous. Wherever you go, you’ll find rude and unpolite peole, but don’t let them change your mood and self confidence.

  5. Jerry Haines Says:

    I’m a shy guy, myself. But my wife and I stumbled onto something a few years ago: she had pinned a grasshopper (not a real one, but one made of cloth by a farmers market craftsman) on her ball cap. It was more realistic than we thought, apparently, as people would come up to see if it was real and often to warn her that there was a bug on her hat. And that often led to rewarding conversations with strangers.

    She also likes to talk with new mothers–e.g., women with babies on a bus or tram–who are always happy to talk about their babies. Soon the conversation has moved from “How old is the baby?” to “Where would you and your husband go out for dinner around here?” They’ll laugh and say, “Well, BEFORE the baby, we would go to….” And thus we often get restaurant recommendations for neat little local places that the guidebooks had overlooked.

  6. Camden Luxford Says:

    I was crippled by shyness all through high school and still battle with it from time to time – like the other commenters, I found travelling solo the best possible way to break out of this. Not only are you forced to overcome your terror of speaking to strangers, you’re given the opportunity to reinvent yourself, to experiment, to start fresh in each new town. It’s a daily procession of new faces to practice on. And everybody’s different on the road – more open, more friendly, more empathetic. It might be incredibly tough at the beginning, and you need to be tough on yourself and not crawl into the solitude, but it’s totally worth it.