When I was a very young professional, the company I worked for had us all spend a day going through the Myers-Briggs testing process. If you’re not familiar with it, Myers-Briggs is a sort of personality test. Based on how you respond to a variety of questions, you are then scored as to how you perceive the world and make decisions. I’ve actually taken it a few times and have always found it to be very insightful. Anyway, when I was 24 I took the test and, among other indicators, I had the highest extrovert rating at my company. I was out of control hyper at the time, talking to anyone and everyone all the time. One’s personality does slightly change over time and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve certainly chilled out a bit and have noticed more introversion creeping in. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still an extreme extrovert. I love being in large groups and get hyper when talking in front of crowds or meeting new people. What has changed is that my preferred situation is oftentimes to be left alone. I don’t like chatting with strangers on planes, very rarely do I ask locals in foreign lands anything and in general, keep to myself. BUT, if engaged, I’ll talk forever. It’s weird, I know, but I don’t think I’m alone and so today and I wanted to offer some advice to those out there who are like me and how best to travel as an introverted extrovert.
Talk to everyone
I’m a people watcher. I could sit in the airport for hours just watching folks walk by and be perfectly happy. In watching people, including my fellow tourists, so carefully when I travel I have noticed one thing; very few of them actually talk to anyone else. Whether it’s a family or a couple traveling around, we all tend to stay fixated on our own packs, rarely engaging other travelers or locals. For me, travel is about personal enrichment and growth and to do that I need to talk to people. I’m highly extroverted but need to be in the right situation to open up and for me, walking tours are the best way to do this. I nearly always walk alongside the guide, peppering them with questions along the way. “What do you love about your city? Where are your favorite restaurants? Where are you from? What’s your background?” and so on. It’s a friendly interrogation, but a good way to understand how places tick. It’s not just locals I question though, I love chatting with fellow tourists as well. Once on an afternoon boat cruise in Queensland, I was joined by a group of 3 couples, all traveling around Australia. They had all recently retired and were kicking things off with a dream trip around the country. After a few minutes of chatting a gentleman told me that he had watched the movie “The Bucket List” and he said that it changed him. After watching that he decided to go ahead and retire and do the things he really wanted to do while he was still able. It was a wonderful conversation and really drove home the importance of travel in people’s lives and made a significant impression on me. It was a brief, simple moment but one that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.
Don’t be afraid
The world is dangerous – this is a misconception expressed especially by my fellow countrymen and is oh so wrong. I think some folks have a natural inclination to distrust anything foreign, and every news story about any issue, no matter how trivial, only feeds into that false mythology. With some notable exceptions – war torn areas, North Korea, Baltimore – the world is on the whole a fairly safe place. Does that mean you should travel carefree? No, you always need to take precautions to both protect your money and things, as well as yourself. Basic common sense should help though, and as long as you aren’t overly foolish you should be fine. Regardless, you should never let a false threat (real ones are ok) of danger to stop you from traveling. The fact is that in many cases where we live is more dangerous than the places we want to visit. I’ve traveled all around the world many times but the only time I’ve been pickpocketed was right here in the U.S. So no, the world on the whole is NOT a dangerous place and you should start seeing it as soon as possible.
Engaging with local communities is a great way to open up, and it’s a trend I’ve noticed many others engaging in as well. Instead of holing themselves up in a resort or hotel, more and more people are at least trying to get closer to the communities they visit and to learn more about them. Experiences are the new luxury, and from what I can tell the average tourist has become a quick convert. It doesn’t mean that you have to plan a voluntourism trip to India in order to really go local, it can be almost anything. One of my favorite ways of quickly learning about a new community is by taking a great and hopefully slightly unusual walking tour. While in London I joined the Eating London tour, which took us through some beautiful neighborhoods in the East End. During the 4-hour walk we learned a lot about the food culture, why it’s important, sampled many delicious morsels but we also experienced the neighborhood and local life in a way that would have been hard to do independently. By the end of the tour I walked away full, but I also walked away with a much better understanding and appreciation for London, a city that has taken me a long time to enjoy. No matter what it is you do, be sure to get out into the local communities and learn as much about them as you can.
Embrace your sensitive nature
If you’re an introverted extrovert, then it’s also likely you’re a highly sensitive person – and that’s ok! While some of our personality quirks may seem insane to other people, many of these same qualities actually help us out a lot in the context of travel. We are very detail oriented, as I alluded to in the previous point, and no aspect of a trip will go without a thorough examination. If left to our own devices, we’ll never miss a flight, see every amazing sight and eat at the best restaurants, thoroughly researched well in advance. But it also helps us meet and learn from locals wherever we go. We’re highly conscientious people, we tend to have better manners than others and we definitely consider the emotions of others in a way uncommonly found. We imagine everyone to be like us, and so we don’t want to do anything that would also upset us. For the non-highly sensitive person then, it would appear as if we’re ultra-polite when, in reality, we’re just experiencing the world as we would prefer it to be. This opens doors though, it makes people more likely to chat with us and in turn, we tend to see a different side to a destination than others might be privy to.
Believe me, it’s not that those of us who are sensitive or an introverted extrovert don’t want to enjoy travel experiences as they happen, it’s just hard to shut off our brains sometimes and just absorb the situation. That’s why when I do find that special place or activity that gives me the chance to not get lost in my own thoughts, but rather get lost in the experience it suddenly becomes THE BEST THING EVER. We’re also somewhat prone to overstatement and make attachments quickly, so those nice places become life-changing, forever endearing destinations. I think that’s one reason why I seek out amazing experiences more than anything else. Walking around old buildings is fine, but I need to DO something, I need to concentrate on something other than my own inner-monologue in order to truly have a great time.