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The Introvert Travel Guide

There's been more talk about introversion in recent years. By now many people finally understand that being an introvert doesn't mean that I'm quiet or shy.
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There's been more talk about introversion in recent years. By now many people finally understand that being an introvert doesn't mean that I'm quiet or shy. I love getting together and chatting it up with people, but preferably in small groups where you can have meaningful conversations rather than prattle on about the weather. I find small talk exhausting and usually boring. No offense. I just prefer really getting to know someone over "conversations" that include a lot of questions that people really don't care about followed by one to three word answers followed by silence.

In case you haven't gotten the What Is An Introvert? memo yet, being an introvert means that I get my energy from within myself instead of externally. This means that I HAVE to have time alone in order to build my energy back up again. It's not about being shy or quiet. It's about energy.

While "me time" is relatively easy to get when I'm home, that all changes when traveling with friends or family or having visitors. There's (often self-imposed) pressure to entertain, be "on" all the time, act as a tour guide or tourist, and plan multiple outings.

What I've pointed out time and time again is how unnatural this is. It's necessary, because these are people you don't see all of the time and you want to spend time with them when you can, but spending several days and evenings with "extra" people isn't the way we normally live.

When you hang out with friends or family who live in your own city, you go out to dinner for a couple of hours, go home, and maybe you'll see them again the following week. You don't go out to dinner all day and night for five days in a row.

One of the things that can freak an introvert out for months in advance is an impending family or group vacation. Sharing your space and time with people other than the ones you're used to for an entire week is the reason that fairies invented Ativan. Having experienced several group vacations, I've created this gift for my fellow introverts...just in time for summer vacation.

Welcome to The Introvert Travel Guide!

Know your limits when it comes to sharing space.

When my husband and I moved into our small apartment, there was only room for us and our soon-to-be-born son. We have no guest room. This is intentional. If we did have a third bedroom (which we hope to have at some point) it would be our office and there would be no bed in it. Houseguests are not for me. I LOVE when people come to Seattle and visit, but they need to have their own accommodations so I can wake up and go to sleep without extra people in my space.


Ask for what you need and take it. Only you can be responsible for you.

In the past I've had issues with feeling guilty that I should be more social or entertaining when I'm around people I'm spending several days with, but why should I the one to suffer? It's okay to take a break. In fact, I'm sure your vacation mates prefer you claim some quiet time rather than don a perpetual grimace in all of the family photos. In turn, you shouldn't expect everyone to get out of the house just because you need your space. It's your issue, so you need to resolve it.

Find a room with a door. Use it.

If you're in the middle of a birthday party for four children under the age of five (true story...four of the kiddos including my own celebrated their few-days-apart birthdays on one of our family trips) and you're seconds away from shoving Spiderman cupcakes in your ears to drown out the noise, leave the room. This doesn't mean abandon the party entirely, just take 10 minutes of silence and breathe. You'll be back in time to watch them smear frosting on their toes.

Talk about it.

If you're concerned about offending people by your sudden periodic disappearances, tell them in advance. You can even email this article to them before you arrive at your shared rental cottage. They still might not get it, but at least you tried to explain it. You've done your part. You can't control what they think or how they feel, so just lay it out and let it go.

Get a hotel.

Sharing living space, even for a few days, is worse than being forced to watch back-to-back episodes of The Swan for some introverts. If this describes you, your best bet would be to find the nearest hotel, camping site, car, or tree and make it your refuge. Even spending the first and last few hours of your day alone or with your regular living mates can give you enough energy to be witty and engaging for the rest of your vacation.

Don't get overwhelmed by art museums (or any other location destination).

Since I like to travel without tons of plans - except how to get there and where to stay...I'm not THAT adventurous - art museums are usually the only things on my absolute must-do list. When I visit a museum I feel both inspired and emotionally drained. My brain nearly explodes, in a good way and a bad way, from all the visual stimulation. If there are pieces that I'm particularly looking forward to seeing, there's a whole emotional side to actually being able to view them in person. It's easy for me to get overwhelmed there.

I have one rule that helps me enjoy myself in situations where it's easy to get overwhelmed. Don't feel like you have to see it all.

No one says that just because a museum (or a bunch of old ruins or the world's largest shopping mall...) contains a lot of art (or rocks or stores), you have to see every piece of it. When I walk into a gallery, the first thing I do is scan the room. If a painting or sculpture or drawing doesn't grab my attention, I don't go in for a closer look. I only look at the pieces that interest me.


It's okay to eat cookies in bed.

Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean that you have to be exploring the entire time. I'm not saying you should go to Italy and never leave your hotel room, I just mean that it's okay to leave your friends or the noise of the city and take some quiet time alone to meditate or take a nap or just lie in bed and eat French macarons. An hour alone for an introvert to recharge is like an entire pot of coffee for a tired person. When you meet your friends for dinner you'll have plenty of energy for fun and deep conversations and laughter and tears.

Leave some time open to explore your destination on your own.

There was a time in my life when I used to be a lot more afraid and uncomfortable being alone. Now I really enjoy, crave, and need time to be by myself. During a recent trip to NYC I made sure not only to take some quiet time alone in my hotel room between group outings, but also intentionally left space in my schedule to explore the city by myself.

Reenter reality in a dark, silent float pod.

On my last day I walked around the city alone snapping photos and experiencing everything in my own head...which is where introverts live and create a lot of the time...which can lead to being overwhelmed by noise and visual stimulation...which leads to necessary time spent in a dark silent float pod...repeat.

I've gotten into the practice of scheduling a float every time I come back from a trip or when my guests leave town. It's the best way to reset and start enjoying all of the amazing creative inspiration that comes from spending time in new places and having great conversations with friends and family.

I hope you find these tips helpful as you get started planning your summer fun. Do you have any other tips for staying sane in chaos? How do take a vacation from your vacation?

A version of this post was originally published on For more on introverts, see this Scientific American interview with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts.