Sometimes it seems like travelling is bad for an introvert. Either it seems to bring so much activity and socialising that it is unsustainably exhausting, or it becomes isolating and lonely because those gaps between us and those around us are just too wide to cross. Either way – the road can be a tiring place.
I sit here now writing this while listening to music with headphones on. At the dining table with me are Ollie and Jenni. Ollie is reading my book on his kindle. Jenni is on her computer too. There is silence. Even though music plays in my ears, it is like a bubble around me, a buffer, that insulates me, encapsulates me so I can feel alone, even while with people.
This is often what being an introvert looks and feels like to me while travelling. Finding moments, spaces, ways to process even while surrounded. Time to switch off and withdraw when I feel overloaded by all the newness and interaction.
But it is always a tension. As I put my headphones on tonight I resisted the urge to apologise for being anti-social. Because in built somewhere in me is the instinct that I must be always available to people, always ready to socialise, and never more so than when travelling. Whether in hostels or people’s homes, it sometimes feels like the payment is less money and more my ability to entertain.
Sometimes I love this. Very occasionally I am the life of the party. And always I love new people and new experiences. That is one of the principles I base my life on – newness is essential for the human soul.
But then sometimes… I get tired. Constantly encountering new places, new people, new sounds and feelings, and the accompanying new decisions makes me want curl in a ball somewhere and put a pillow over my head.
Or put some headphones over my ears and pretend I am alone. Ignore (kindly) the people sitting near me, the people waiting for responses to their messages, and just contemplate the inner workings of my own mind.
This is why I advocate slow travel. (People don’t always understand just how little I can want to do in a day and be perfectly happy with that!) Time for surroundings to become familiar and a few little routines to become automatic to take the pressure off brains and nervous systems. This is the balance of newness and familiarity. Because the thing with newness is, once you’ve experienced it, you also need time to process and absorb. And for an introvert like me, processing and absorbing life takes stillness and pause.
If I don’t have enough time to pause, it doesn’t take me long to get frazzled. We had spent a few peaceful and chilled out days in Nimbin. But then we were moving every day – only for a few days – from Nimbin to Coffs Harbour to Port Macquarie – and then we arrived in Newcastle. And after finding a place to park and the nearest cafe to eat in, I started to think about the agitation I was feeling in every cell of my body.
There was nothing really to be anxious about. I was loving the trip, and my trip companion. I was having the most fun of my life. And we had no real plan and no set place to be. And yet I felt a funny kind of stress, like when you’re running late for something, or forgetting important details.
Partly it was being in a city after weeks of farm life, composting toilets, and frogs and birds the noisiest of my surroundings. But I realised much of what I was feeling was a decision-making fatigue. It gets to the point where even deciding what to eat for breakfast makes me want to cry.
So what is an introvert to do when it gets too much?
First I put the hood of my jacket up and pressed my face into Ollie’s chest for a few minutes of darkness, and I just listened to my own breathing.
And then we got in the car and went to his relatives’ house where we were welcomed to stay the night and have dinner with them.
And after all this I felt refreshed.
The funny thing is, it’s less about being alone than I thought. At first I thought I just wanted to curl in a ball, retreat from the world, shut everything out. But that wasn’t possible right then – and so I pressed on. In the opposite direction in some ways, to where I thought I wanted to go.
And it turns out it is connection, not isolation, that I needed. First I connected with myself, and with Ollie. And then I opened myself up to connect with his family and the people around me. And it was doing this that lifted the weight off my shoulders.
And later, in Sydney, when the city was all too much, it was sitting in a tree that restored me. Which in a funny way, was also about connection. Ollie was there with me, and nature was around me. And a few laughs with strangers when they spotted us. And that was the best I had felt in that city, compared to passing by endless streams of strangers with nothing to link us.
Are you an introvert? What do you love and loathe about travel?