Many shy or introverted travelers set out on solo travel with a concern that their introversion and quiet nature may leave them lonely on the road.
Whether it’s social anxiety, challenges initiating small talk, or simply preferring to be alone, there are many reasons that you may find yourself worried that your shyness will interrupt your solo travel.
In this article, we’ll talk about a few ways to navigate this tricky issue – whether it’s growing confidence in your capacity to travel alone or stepping outside your comfort zone to initiate conversations and friendships with other travelers.
Note: you don’t have to socialize while solo traveling. Solo travel is all about finding your own personal travel style, and if that means exploring the world in your own bubble, that’s okay – during solo travel, there’s no one there to judge you- you get to decide.
1. Experiment with socializing in different ways
One of the reasons I love solo travel is that it is an opportunity to try on different ways of being in the world without anyone who “knows me”.
See, when we are around the people who have certain expectations of us based on our past behaviors, and within systems that set certain expectations on us, we tend to behave in that way. In fact, there’s an entire field of psychotherapy dedicated to helping people make positive changes in their lives through altering the systems that shape us.
But sometimes, the person we’ve become through personal growth doesn’t actually match that role we are expected to play anymore. Perhaps we feel shy because we’ve been told that we’re shy. Solo travel, in which we step into new situations without those external expectations, gives us an opportunity to try on different ways of being and see if they fit or maybe feel better than the old way that we were.
As you set out on your travel, challenge yourself to spend one day – or perhaps just one afternoon – behaving as though you are a not shy, socially confident person who makes friends easily. You might be surprised by what comes through this experimentation.
2. Remind yourself there’s nothing to lose by putting yourself out there
While there is a legitimate reason to be worried about lLong-term consequences of social snafus at home, that’s not the case when you are solo traveling. Remember that there’s a great chance that you will never again see the people that you meet while solo traveling- for many travelers this is freeing and allows them to take bigger risks in building relationships.
Because there’s no pressure to perform well, you don’t have to care what people will think about you. Give yourself permission to go ahead and just start a conversation – if it turns out to be terrible, you can move on and know that it won’t have any consequences beyond a brief awkward moment.
It’s this aspect of solo travel that many plus size and fat-identifying travelers love. While judgment and stigmatization of larger bodies is common around the world, the freedom to not care what people think or worry about having to see them again can be a freeing experience.
3. Invite people to talk about themselves
If it’s hard for you to make conversation because you’re an introverted traveler, ask people questions about themselves – open-ended questions about themselves.
Avoid yes/no questions and instead ask questions about where they’re from, their travel, and what they’ve enjoyed so far.
People love talking about themselves and feeling like an expert- if you ask someone who’s been in your destination country a bit longer than you about their favorite experiences, meals, or tours, it will be easy to keep a conversation rolling- and the talker is likely to enjoy your company as a great listener.
Not everyone wants to talk, though. Some people solo travel to get away from an extroverted lifestyle where people at work and home are constantly engaging them- so if a person gives you a cold shoulder in response to your attempts to make conversation, remember that it’s probably not about you. Move on and try again, with three or four tries you’re sure to find someone excited to talk to someone else about themselves or their travels.
You’ll know you found a good connection when you begin a conversation in which the other person ask you questions as well- these types of travel friends can blossom into friendships that lasts far beyond your solo travel adventure.
4. Place yourself in spaces with other solo travelers
Whether it’s a hostel common room or a day trip excursion, making friends while traveling as a shy or introverted solo traveler is often just about being in the right place at the right time.
Solo travelers who don’t want to talk to anyone are the exception – most people who travel alone are excited to make connections with other solo travelers, to compare notes, and talk about where they’ve been and where they are going. The trick, then, is to locate yourself in spaces where other solo travelers congregate.
Two of the most natural places to strike up a conversation with other solo travelers are the kitchens and common rooms of hostels and guided day trips. Often, just hanging out and doing a travel hobby, travel journaling or cooking food to share is enough for even the shyest traveler to make a relationship connection. For hints on easy recipes to make in a Airbnb or hostel kitchen, see our article.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.