Six solo travel tips for introverts
Wanderlust and introversion don't have to be mutually exclusive attributes, here are some brilliant tips for travelling alone when you're a little shy
Flinging everything in a backpack and seeing the world anew, alone, is notoriously the pursuit of the ‘extrovert’. Hostels tend to suit the gung-ho and go-with-the-flow, the open-plan layout ideal for people who thrive off meeting new faces and whose social energy knows no bounds. But what of the stereotypical introvert who finds respite in solitude, or the chameleon whose mood flits between these two extremes?
When planning my 2017 trip to South America, a quick Google search for ‘solo travel in Colombia’ threw up pages of earnest advice on where to find the wildest themed bar crawls, which party hostels had the best 24/7 atmosphere and how to ‘stay safe’ by sticking solely to organised tour groups. And while I knew I’d want a night out every now and then, the digital world seemed only to promote two kinds of social life: freshers’ week circa. 2009 or hippie commune.
As someone who’s largely at ease with new people yet always exhausted by them, neither of those options appealed. My budget wouldn’t stretch to private hostel rooms, and they weren’t quite the experience I was after either. Here’s the thing: I wanted to meet like-minded travellers when the mood struck, but disentangle from the group with ease and go at my own pace when it all got overbearing.
So whether you’re equally open to the occasional new face, or you’d rather maintain the ‘solo’ in solo travel, here’s how to make it work for you:
Research your accommodation, thoroughly
If you’re alone and on a budget, a hostel’s not just a place to rest your head. It’s your base in an entirely new destination, and its atmosphere attracts its people—the people you’ll be sharing rooms with. Destinations that draw a large backpacker crowd present a range of options—from the notorious Generator party hostels across Europe to eco lodges like Mundo Nuevo in Colombia—but the former seem to dominate, both online and via word-of-mouth. Expand your search terms beyond ‘best hostels in...’ and consider the atmosphere you want to be a part of. With a bit of digging, chances are you’ll find something to suit your personality.
In a city? Join a walking tour
One of the best ways to get your bearings in a new place, walking tours are also a brilliant way to meet your counterparts without the pressure of having to hit it off because you’re bunk mates. The solo travellers you’ll meet will also probably be as new to the place as you are—meaning immediate common ground and something to chat about.
Default to ‘yes’
Cliches aside, travelling alone can be genuinely character-building. It can be a self-help intervention, salve after a break-up, or an experiment in learning what you actually like without the influence of others. One constant, though, is that it requires you to say yes to situations that you wouldn’t usually say yes to. Defaulting to ‘yes’ is about choosing a hostel’s communal cafe over crisps in bed. It’s about talking to fellow tourists on the bus instead of plugging straight into a podcast, and going for coffee with the person you met on the walking tour rather than returning straight to the hostel—despite your head urging you to do the latter.
… and then know when enough’s enough.
Knowing the signs of your own fatigue keeps you one step ahead. It’s fine to politely decline a group outing in favour of Netflix, particularly when your ability to string together a coherent sentence is diminishing by the day. Contrary to the thoughts you might be having, no-one will think twice about it—and if you’ve met your kind of people, they’ll understand anyway.
Don’t be afraid to sit alone
Few people talk about dining alone as one of life’s great pleasures—but once you shed the self-consciousness it often conjures, a table for one can be an entirely restorative experience. Without the need to process conversation, you’ll savour flavours in ways you probably haven’t before. Sitting opposite an empty seat might be overwhelming at first, so start by eating slightly earlier before the crowds descend, or at the counter where you’ll feel less conspicuous.
Schedule in some true solo time
To me, the joy of travelling solo comes from finding your people and having the freedom to dip in and out of experiences as you please. Dipping out can mean dinner in your own company, but it can also mean picking a town or city in which you make a conscious effort to not put yourself out there at all.
After almost five weeks of non-stop new faces in Colombia, I chose Lima, Peru as my fully solo debut. I avoided backpacker-heavy parts of the city in favour of a slower pace and, knowing in advance this was something I’d want to do, I’d budgeted enough to take a private room at a quieter hostel.
For two days, I pottered around the area’s tiny galleries, sat in 200-year-old cafes, ate deliriously good ceviche, drank in hidden bars with friendly locals, and read books against clifftop sunsets. If it all sounds a bit whimsical, well, it was: and I left with energy renewed, just about ready to start the cycle of meeting and greeting all over again.