If you’re a sister or brother in introversion, then you already know we live in an extroverted world and are expected to conform to the societal expectations of, well, being social — and, gasp, make small talk while doing it — despite the energy suckage that comes with the territory. (As opposed to extroverts, who, on the opposite side of the continuum, tend to feel energized through interacting with people.)
Travel can sometimes seem at odds with introversion, whether it’s the hustle and bustle of crowded landmarks in an unfamiliar city, the constant companionship of traveling partners, or the fact that we’ve been told time and again by travel writers that travel is all about getting out of your comfort zone, pushing boundaries, living a life larger than your own.
On this trip, after fighting the usual temptation of travel to do anything and everything Portlandia — a farm brunch here, a beer fest there, a solo trip to a kombucha speakeasy — I decided to gratify my inner introvert, seeking out experiences that would replenish rather than deplete me. By the time the 10 days were up, I felt about as recharged as I’d ever been.
If you’re headed out on your own introverted adventure, here are some ideas for how to make the most of a city on your own semi-social terms:
Work your workout into the scene. Some of my most memorable travel moments, whether on group trips, couples excursions or traveling solo, have been my solo jogs. I recall running through shady parks in Rome, past brightly colored homes on the coast of Wales and to the serene gardens of the Grotto, a Catholic shrine in Portland. A run (or a walk, if that’s more your speed) allows for downtime while also exploring a city on your own terms and at your own pace. Plus, it helps justify the inevitable extra calories that come with travel.
Seek out sit-down restaurant alternatives. “Sit at the bar” or “bring a book” is the advice often offered to traveling introverts and solo adventurers. Thanks, but no thanks; I’d still rather not have my fumbling small-talk skills tested unless it’s dire. In Portland, in particular, I found food trucks to be about the best option ever for table-of-one dining. There, “pods” of food trucks offer shady outdoor seating options and a pan-global hodgepodge of options, including Myanmarese, Mediterranean, French, Mexican, barbecue and more (some pods even have dedicated bar trucks slinging beer and wine). In other cities, it’s easy to find fast-casual options with local flair, like food halls, order-at-the-counter joints, carryout or even delivery.
Book a tour. For fast context to learn about a city, you can’t beat a walking tour. And for this shy introvert, the bigger the tour group size, the better, so as to avoid awkward introductions and anxiety-inducing icebreakers (“Name your favorite breakfast food and your favorite president!”). Free walking tours are especially appealing, and on my trip, I learned a lot from the Secrets of Portlandia tour. If the free tour is good, you can stick around and tip at the end. If it doesn’t hold your interest, you can slip away early on and go about your day, no money lost.
Seek out readings, performances and intriguing spaces. “Heathers: The Musical” was sold out during my Portland trip, but I had no problem finding other passive entertainment. One night, I went to an author reading at the massive bookstore Powell’s, where I learned about a new podcast that became my jogging companion for the week. The next, I attended “Paranormal Pub” night at the Kennedy School, a once-abandoned elementary school that’s now home to a number of restaurants, bars and a hotel. I sat toward the back of the theater, cold IPA in hand, and listened to a psychic conduct eerie readings for some of the attendees. Two days in a row, I went to Hollywood Theatre, an ornate, nearly century-old movie house, and watched weird horror movies that wouldn’t have appealed to many others in my life. All these events gave me plenty to think about for days, and I felt connected to the people and pulse of the city, even though I didn’t utter a word.
Embrace the outdoors. Nature can be a balm for introverts. Beaches, lakes, forests, mountains — they’re the perfect backdrop for quiet contemplation or deep conversations. There, it’s easy to feel a part of something larger and draw energy from the serene beauty all around, whether you’re gazing at it from a park bench or hiking, biking or paddling through.
Say “cheese!” Extroverts — who often have a knack for starting a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime — may laugh at the clunky small-talk skills of introverts. But the struggle is real. I recently learned that the secret to starting a less awkward conversation with a stranger revolves around selfies. I observed it time and again on my solo trip: Someone was posing for their own photo, and a nice stranger noticed and asked if they could help. Each time, it led to a pleasant chat about the surroundings, sometimes evolving into a deeper conversation. If you’re feeling lonely, or just starting to wonder what your voice sounds like, this is a natural in.
All the introverts I know have the power to rise to the occasion and be as outgoing and adventurous as they need to be in a given moment. In most of my travels, that’s what I’ve done. But I’ve also found there’s a deep sense of satisfaction that accompanies going with my own flow — lack of talking and all.
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @K8Silver.