An Introverts Guide to Travel
Hello my name is Devon and I am an introvert. My Myers Briggs personality type is INFP which basically means I’m an idealist puddle of sensitive mush. I’m quite shy and not great at being in big groups of people or being the center of attention.
And I’ve decided to make a career out of standing in front of people, in another country, way outside of my comfort zone. Funny how life works.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the new places that I’m afraid of, it’s the people in the new places. But I mean that in a much less dramatic way. I’m afraid people will see that I don’t know how to ride the subway, that my friends will think I sound stupid if I try to speak in Korean, I’m afraid of the lingering eye contact that comes with being a foreigner in a homogenous culture, and that people will immediately peg me for a tourist when I mistakenly throw my trash away in the wrong bin or if I stack my bowls at the dinner table which apparently means something about dead people in Korea. Yea I don’t know.
And so thanks to this fear I’ve become a “prepper.” Not a doomsday prepper, but an everyday prepper. My fellow introverts probably know what I mean by that. If you don’t, allow me to explain.
Before I studied abroad in Peru I had found my host parents house on Google Maps. I knew that it was close to airport, I had calculated the route it would take to get from there to my school, and I had searched the #Cusco tag on Instagram so many times that I think I might have seen most of the city before I even got there. I researched the slang specific to Peruvian Spanish, I knew how much to expect to pay for a taxi, and I knew that I wouldn’t be eating any street food.
Since deciding to move to Korea, I honestly think I’ve seen every single video on YouTube about living abroad in Korea. People who live here as teachers, as entertainers, and as students. I searched for jobs all over Seoul and I now know the names of more neighborhoods here than I probably do in my hometown. I started watching Korean TV learned a bit about how relationships work here and just some of the seemingly innumerable and inane table manners that exist. I’ve started listening to new Kpop groups, not because I like them, but because I actually start to run out of videos on YouTube to watch.
And this is all just because I’m interested in it. I don’t feel like I’m “prepping” or that this is something I have to do before I travel, it just happens. And because of this, when I arrive I have at least a vague impression of what to expect.
I told this to a friend who has lived abroad in England for several years, and she told me that she felt you could never really prepare for living somewhere. And while I agree to some extent, for me it’s a matter of self-preservation. I don’t go into a country thinking that I understand it, just hoping that I understand enough to not do something incredibly stupid and embarrassing.
(Still we do stupid and embarrassing things, that’s just what happens when you’re in another country, but the idea is lessen the sheer number of times it happens.)
And so, to anyone else out there who considers themselves an introvert but also loves traveling and experiencing new cultures, here are a few things that have worked for me:
- Do your research. It won’t spoil the surprise of how amazing your destination is or make your experience once you get there any less exciting. It will just give you a little bit of breathing room. I know this sounds like the typical millennial response, but social media exists so go ahead and utilize it. Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr or whatever sites you use are good resources to see how regular people live in the place you’re going.
- Learn to read the language. Try to learn to speak a little as well, but more importantly if they use a different alphabet than your native language learn to read it. It might be a little difficult but trust me it is so helpful to be able to read the signs. Especially when it comes to transportation. I got lucky and Korean is probably the easiest alphabet in the whole world. It has made me feel much more confidant going around here as I’m not completely handicapped by the language barrier. And honestly it’s super fun.
- Give yourself a task. This is rather vague I know, but that’s the beauty. Pick something that you want to accomplish while you’re traveling, something that will feel familiar to you. For me, it’s usually writing. So on the days when I don’t have something specific to do, I still have something I can busy myself with. Sitting in a cafe working is what I usually enjoy doing in America so having a reason do that here helps to create a comfortable, familiar space for me.
- Listen to music. Bring your phone or iPod or however you listen to music, and pop your headphones in. The few times I’ve had to take the subway alone in Korea I’ve listened to some of my favorite music and immediately it makes me more comfortable. It’s like being with a friend. Having something you’re familiar with can help you to feel a little bit more in control of your situation, even in a foreign country.
So to all my introverts out there, don’t be afraid of new things and new people. Or even if you are, sometimes we all are, push through. Today my “big plan” was to walk through the subway station and browse the little shops there then find a coffee shop to work in. Not crazy but it got me out of the house and into the world.
Even though it seems like we may have a harder time adjusting to new environments I also think we, us quiet thinking types, also have a capacity to get more out a travel experience than other people. And yes I am completely biased, but I know myself and I know that it’s the amount of time I spend internally processing everything that drives me to try to understand my experiences on a deeper level.
And it’s that deeper level that makes traveling so incredible. I don’t want to just visit or see a city, I want to understand it.
Introverts of the world don’t be discouraged, be empowered! We might take a little longer than other people, but in the end we’ll have an experience that we can be proud of and learn from.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you do any of these things while traveling as well!