Confessions of an Introverted Traveler
May 16, 2009 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Travel writer Sophia Dembling's essay Confessions of an Introverted Traveler on Worldhum received so much feedback that she's followed up with Six Tips for Introverted Travelers. I am now absolved for reading Jasper Fforde on the Champs-Élysées.
posted by kimdog (37 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Introverted indeed.

"a couple of people contend that reading while you travel is a waste of experience"

Even though her explanation of why read while travelling makes perfect sense, I just cannot help but think that all of these six tips basically boil down to: stick to your usual ways and keep on reading.

I have never understood the people I've met on my travels who tote around a thick tome (the cheap airport variety no less) while there was so much new and beautiful and different to be observed and sampled.
posted by Laotic at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2009


Laotic, having a book on hand is an easy way to be occupied if necessary. I'm definitely an introvert and definitely a reader. While I do like people watching, I'm also introverted enough to not want to seem creepy or seem to be inviting attention or companionship. I like being able to glance down and read a few pages to maintain my own little world when I'm out and about by myself. I don't get that much reading done when I'm out in public like this; it's just nice to have the book on hand.

And it's not that I'm antisocial. I have a very active social life, I live in downtown Boston which I spend most weekends wandering around, and I've done a decent amount of traveling to big cities that I love getting lost in. But I've never gone wandering without a book in my purse.
posted by olinerd at 10:24 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Good article. I once took a trip to Sao Paulo, and I was extremely pleased to discover that our hotel was a block away from a local internet cafe that had computers good enough to play Team Fortress 2.

I enjoyed the whole trip, seeing the huge marketplace, the parks, the art museum, and just walking the streets. But by the end of the day, interacting with people in broken Portuguese would just drain my energy. I was ready to relax in the relative solitude of a video game with my online friends.
posted by JDHarper at 10:27 AM on May 16, 2009


i had a seven hour layover in bangkok once, and i spent the entire time reading, and just shuffling around the airport.
everything is the same all over the world. i've seen it already. if not on tv, then in person.
posted by billybobtoo at 10:32 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Travelling should not mean running around with matchsticks holding your eyelids up, exhausting yourself while you drink in everything around you. It must be enjoyable, and for a lot of people that will include downtime reading, listening to music, relaxing in your room etc. And you needn't be an introvert to want to do these things while abroad, just human. One of the reasons I really enjoy reading while travelling is the strong link it creates between where you are and the people and places in the book. Returning to the book later takes you back to where you originally read it, sometimes right down to memories of the cafe you sat in as you read specific lines/paragraphs.
posted by fire&wings at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


In 8 hours you could've visited the Grand Palace, shopped on Sukhumvit and had wonderful seafood in Chinatown.

Good luck with your expansive worldview.
posted by the cuban at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2009


#7. Stay the hell out of hostel common rooms.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


The best advice in those six tips was taking a walking tour or hiring a guide. Having someone local show you stuff they are knowledgable about is really fascinating, and it's just social enough to be pleasant without demanding. I'm a big fan of the English-language Paris Walks and recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of a scholarly view of Paris. Even if you know the city, it's a good way to see something in depth you've never seen before.
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2009


I have never understood the people I've met on my travels who tote around a thick tome (the cheap airport variety no less) while there was so much new and beautiful and different to be observed and sampled.

Because another way to experience a foreign place is to go there and make yourself at home, doing what you normally do and combining the different with the same. I went to Cambodia and enjoyed several pleasant evenings sitting on the guesthouse's patio, writing in my journal and drinking tea. It's one thing to experience it, it's another to internalize it. For introverts, a certain amount of downtime is necessary to absorb and feel comfortable with it all.
posted by fatbird at 10:45 AM on May 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


One of the reasons I really enjoy reading while travelling is the strong link it creates between where you are and the people and places in the book. Returning to the book later takes you back to where you originally read it, sometimes right down to memories of the cafe you sat in as you read specific lines/paragraphs.

Oh, wow, this is exactly how I feel. Whenever I read, I always imagine the settings and characters from things I've seen in real life. When I travel, I see things I've never experienced before, and it adds a lot of vividness to whatever book I'm reading at the time. Travel, for me, is in part about expanding my imagination and my inner life as much as my outer one. Also, when I travel on vacation, it is usually one of the few times where I have time to read for large chunks of time. For me, reading is intrinsically part of traveling.
posted by bluefly at 10:57 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am an introvert. That typically means that I find encounters with people exhausting, and bunches of strangers even more so. Because I have a limited amount of energy to expend, I will hoard it carefully through a variety of strategies, including, but not limited to: retreating to my hotel room, deciding with whom I might wish to have a conversation, and finding ways to rebuff random contact without necessarily hurting someone's feelings in the process. I have had to travel recently and maintaining sanity involves pretty much every trick I've learned over the years.

And, for the true extravert, that book I'm holding is just a speed bump they can plow over *whump whump* in their Jeep 4 x 4 of Outgoingness! Because they want to have a conversation, and you're nearby, only by conversation, I mean "externally directed monologue delivered in all caps," and it starts a little like this:

HEY THERE WHAT ARE YOU READING I COULD NEVER READ IN A RESTAURANT / ON A PLANE / AT A CONCERT -- I CAN'T CONCENTRATE AND BOOKS CAN MAKE ME BORED --

interior cynical voice: I think I heard Harvey Danger say something about that once

ARE YOU A BOOK CRITIC OR SOMETHING -- THIS IS A GREAT TOWN AND SO MANY PEOPLE IN IT

interior cynical voice: People? They have them where I'm from, too! Whole bunches of 'em! Ones I haven't even met!

WHERE ARE YOU STAYING? I AM STAYING AT THE FAIRMONT IT EVEN HAS A BAR DOWN THERE

interior cynical voice: What a pity they don't have a club with blinking lights and repetitive music, so your continual roar could finally fit in somewhere

I FLEW IN LAST WEEK AND THE PEOPLE AT THE TSA WERE PRETTY NICE IT WASN'T AS BAD AS I HAD HEARD THEY JOKED WITH ME

interior cynical voice: The one time I want a public employee to taser someone and they pass up a golden opportunity

Extraverts, be glad we're the quiet sort. You would not want to know what we're thinking when you block us from enjoying a different restaurant or exploring a new shop with your wall of chatter.
posted by adipocere at 11:16 AM on May 16, 2009 [24 favorites]


It's funny. One of my goals when I travel is to be more introverted. I'm a fairly outgoing person, and I think it's an unbelievably important skill to be alone without being lonely. You know... you're in a place, you haven't heard your language in days, but you're fine with it. Although you've become very good at interacting with locals through your limited knowledge of their language (and charades), much of the time, you're just interacting with yourself for hours on end. I like it when I'm in this space.
posted by gman at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not especially introverted but I always used to carry a book with me when I travel... you never know where and when you are going to have to wait/queue/just hang around for some apparent reason with nothing to look at or no one to talk to. Now the magic of podcasts and an mp3 player mostly fulfills the same function.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2009


I have never understood the people I've met on my travels who tote around a thick tome (the cheap airport variety no less) while there was so much new and beautiful and different to be observed and sampled.


One of the subtle pleasures of travel is covertly observing and assessing the merits of *other* travellers, and determining how much superior oneself is, how much more one *gets* and *understands* the local scene compared to the other travelers, who, for heaven's sake, read common bestseller books they probably picked up at the airport; the other travelers, so ridiculous in their chunky socks and hiking boots, khaki shorts and flannel shirts and enormous backpacks bought about two days ago at REI, are so thick and unimaginative, devoid of meaningful interior life. I made it here before they did, I'm probably one of the first Westerners to ever make it out this way, and I'm glad I'm me, and not one of those gawky sods.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


Traveling/vacationing is one of the few times I can actually take an extended block of time and dive into a good, long book. In my real life I read email, tweets, IMs, technical crap, and skim headlines.

When I'm on vacation I relish the opportunity to catch up on real reading. It's one of the few times you can devote 4 hours to a book a steady supply of coffee/wine/cocktails/etc and no one expects you to be anywhere and to do anything.

If I can read in a beautiful or inspiring setting, all the better.
posted by device55 at 11:42 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mr. Nice
The Beach
The Celestine Prophecy
Are You Experienced?
The Damage Done
BORING.
posted by gman at 11:44 AM on May 16, 2009


As an ex-pat in Korea, I always have a book with me. It's usually a book on Korean history or a novel by a Korean writer. But sometimes I need a poetry or sci-fi fix in English, so whatever.

How could this strike anyone as strange or problematic? There are some temples and palaces I haven't seen yet, but there's a ton of interesting experiences I've had on the Seoul subway reading my book. And listening to Fugazi. I win.
posted by bardic at 12:06 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pressure dilutes pleasure--and concentrating on seeing *everything* means not absorbing any of it. And frankly, the whole undercurrent of traveling-so-you-can-brag-about-how-well-traveled-you-are is annoying.

There are more interesting sights, sounds, and people in the world than you will ever have the time to experience in your relatively short life. So? Pick as many as you feel capable of enjoying, and savor them.

Also, boredom, exhaustion, and loneliness are part of life too, and you can experience them even in the most beautiful and exotic places in the world. No harm in taking along a book or other distraction to help you deal.
posted by emjaybee at 12:27 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was surprised at what an extrovert I became on my first "big trip alone" when I stopped worrying about seeing stuff, came armed with my book to hide in, and decided that I was OK going through the whole trip without ever talking to anyone else. Aggressively defending my introversion? Absolutely! And then you relax, chill out a bit, and it becomes a lot easier to talk to people.

(Doing this in hostel common rooms is an excellent way to nourish the inner cynic)

My favorite take on introverted travel is Alain de Botton (Art of Travel, among other, less interesting books) -- which pretty much nails the little voice that says, "I don't want to talk to you, I'm READING."
posted by puckish at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2009


...everything is the same all over the world. i've seen it already. if not on tv, then in person.

This is actually true. The texture of life is the same everywhere. Most of the world would be pretty interesting to visit if you could get there in about ten minutes, spend a couple of hours there, and come home. But the tedium of flying places, booking hotels, having to talk to strangers, all for the privilege of winding up in a place that's very much like everyplace else you've ever been, only more or less so, doesn't make sense. You bring a book because a good book is usually more interesting the 90 percent of the places you'll be on your trip, and communing with a brilliant author is infinitely more interesting than talking to the kind of foreigners who like to talk to strangers.
posted by Faze at 1:44 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can be both introverted and extroverted, depending on mood, situation, surroundings, comfort level, etc. I have traveled all over the world, and never have I gone anywhere without a book. It's a fantastic shield.

Women traveling alone often face different situations than men who do. Even in the U.S., a certain type of male will assume that if I'm eating dinner alone that I must be in dire need of his attention. However, that same type of male will be more hesitant to interrupt me if I'm reading. I don't know why that is, but it is.

I tend to read books *about* where I am, which lets me plan what I want to go see, or I read classics that I've meant to read, but haven't read yet, or I like to read authors who wrote about/from where I'm visiting. For example; reading Proust will always, for me, bring back the glorious aroma of the bakers in the cafe in Paris where I was sitting, and the absolute joy that was the cup of coffee that I was having. (Much like Proust's madeline/tea experience, actually.)

I didn't miss any of Amsterdam because I chose to sit in the plaza reading a book, any more than I've missed any of Dallas by reading a book on the rooftop of the Green Room. To suggest that those of us who would like some down-time are somehow missing the point of travel is absurd.
posted by dejah420 at 2:32 PM on May 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this post, kimdog. The Six Tips page has a link to what looks like a very interesting book for introverts.
posted by orme at 3:06 PM on May 16, 2009


Can we extend this to reading, anywhere? Sometimes I like to get out of the house and read, it does not mean I have no friends. It does not mean I'm an interesting loner. It means simply, I don't want to read in my house anymore. I've tried all kinds of bars and restaurants. Bookish coffee shops are the worst, I swear if you want to get laid pick up an interesting looking book and read at a cafe with earbuds in your ear. Be curt and give all sorts of signals that you're being polite but would rather being reading. If I do the same thing and zone out on whatever sports game is on the television, nothing, absolutely no one will say a word. Bring a copy of Justinian's Flea and earbuds and everyone thinks you're an interesting conversation.

I mean it is great that people are friendly, but honest to god I can go out alone, try to strike up a conversation and get the stinky eye that says, "Please don't talk to me." Bring a book and suddenly everyone things you're a national treasure.
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on May 16, 2009


The classic essay on the difference between introverts and extroverts:

Caring for Your Introvert
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:21 PM on May 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


The texture of life is the same everywhere.

I respectfully disagree. I'm a pretty introverted traveler; I read while traveling, I like to travel alone, and so on. But you're missing out on so much if you believe this to be true. You should be looking at the shape of power plugs, the color of street signs, things like the way people orient themselves in a subway car, the smell of traffic, different hand gestures. For me, the strongest reason to travel is to shake off the stale routines and processes that you're used to in daily life, to generate a sense of mild disorientation at not exactly being used to where you are. It's the small things on the peripheries of your vision that do this, that invade your experiences before you realize it.

i had a seven hour layover in bangkok once, and i spent the entire time reading, and just shuffling around the airport.
everything is the same all over the world. i've seen it already. if not on tv, then in person.


This just breaks my heart. Being somewhere and actually experiencing something for your self is so much more vivid and present than a flat interpolated image on a vaguely bulbous glass screen. It's so easy to sit back and think you've seen it and experienced it by just saying so, but nothing beats the acute sense of being here combined with the mild disorientation and confusion, not fully knowing exactly where you are, emotionally, not geographically. I'm not talking about standing in front of the Taj Mahal; I'm talking about the smell of the bus and the cacaphonous sound of car horns on the two-hour ride you took to see it.
posted by suedehead at 3:43 PM on May 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


From AsYouKnow Bob's link:
"For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:05 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


AsYouKnow Bob's link doesn't go far enough. (Though I suppose this is not really the place to discuss the finer distinctions between introverts and misanthropes, at least outside the travel context.)

Whatever works, works. I know people who have canceled trips they have dreamed about making for year, simply because their proposed traveling companions couldn't make it. Too sad, but I suppose the companionship, even if it was just a friend and not an SO, was much of the idea there. In contrast, they have not understood why I would ever have made similar trips on my own.

(Which leads me to wonder, not for the first time, whether the song 'People ' was intended ironically- never could sit through the movie long enough to find out.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:00 PM on May 16, 2009


Bookish coffee shops are the worst, I swear if you want to get laid pick up an interesting looking book and read at a cafe with earbuds in your ear. Be curt and give all sorts of signals that you're being polite but would rather being reading.

Minus the earbuds, that is exactly how my husband first chatted me up...but in general, I agree. (What can I say, he was cute.)
posted by emjaybee at 5:51 PM on May 16, 2009


Stay the hell out of hostel common rooms.

Why exactly? So that you get out of the hostel and see the city? Or is there another reason I should know about?
posted by niccolo at 5:58 PM on May 16, 2009


Because dick measuring in a large group of pretentious/inebriated backpackers is really boring.
posted by gman at 6:55 PM on May 16, 2009


Thanks for this, kimdog; I tend to ping-pong between intro- and extroversion, while traveling and otherwise, so the discussion here and at World Hum is really interesting.

Travel is wonderful and exhausting and over-stimulating. Sometimes I need to escape into the tranquility of reading.

Yep, that's dead-on. As is fatbird's comment about reading being a great way to make yourself at home in a foreign place. Sitting at a cafe with a coffee and a book is the *perfect* excuse to people-watch, soak up the ambiance, and just plain enjoy living in the moment in a foreign city. For those of us who don't smoke cancer sticks, a book in the hand is a fine prop.

Stay the hell out of hostel common rooms.

Well, only when the drunk Australian guys are whooping it up in there.

Except if they're really cute, which they were.

/pingpong
posted by mediareport at 10:58 PM on May 16, 2009


This essay is actually uncomfortably similar in tone and structure to Jonathan Rauch's "Caring for Your Introvert", which AsYouKnow Bob cites above.
posted by lalex at 2:54 AM on May 17, 2009


I tend to be less introverted when traveling, and the timing of this post is, well, timely as I am about to embark on an 11 day trip to a part of the world I know comparatively little about.

By that I mean, I have no connection to the language, what little I know of its culture and history is purely academic, and I have met a handful of people who can really provide me with any real detail beyond "It's beautiful and you MUST go".

I do read while traveling, but usually the book is there as a battery-recharger: when I have finally reached my limits of dealing with other people, I can retreat and recharge. I use the MP3 player the same way.
posted by aldus_manutius at 9:58 AM on May 17, 2009


I stopped carrying books when traveling when I realized they were the heaviest thing in my bag.
posted by smackfu at 10:12 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A lot of times, random conversations lead to invitations to parties, to travel companionship, to meet others. This sort of invitation can lead to raucous good times. I hate raucous good times.

I mean, this is sort of obvious, but still I felt a little less alienated after reading this. So, thanks.
posted by Casuistry at 8:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A book while traveling is a glass of water to refresh the palate before going back to the meal of direct experience.
posted by DU at 4:58 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm an introvert who happily travels alone. Fortunately, I have a thing for Iceland, where no one seems to think it odd that a middle aged USian woman is wandering around alone.

I stay in hostels, so I get to know a few other travelers. I can go to the common room, too, if I want company. This keeps me from getting lonely.

Reading? Check, and I also take my eee. I need the down time of checking e-mail. If I push too much, I don't actually have the emotional energy to absorb anything.

I also spend a lot of time just walking around, soaking up the ambiance and petting cats. Keep the schedule loose, don't try to see everything, and I end up with what is, for me, a very pleasant trip.
posted by QIbHom at 7:15 AM on May 19, 2009


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