The Introverted Traveler

Do you consider yourself an introvert? I do. This may surprise you. It really shouldn’t. Introverts tend to be thoughtful. Their travel experiences aren’t packed to the gills with boozy bar sessions which they dominate and interact solely with expat countrymen (an action that really confounds many Europeans). The introvert’s thoughtful examination of culture seen from the next table over is intellectually peppered with the fundamental question, “what does this culture mean to me?” It’s a writer’s hook.

I met Tim Cahill once. Tim writes travel stories, compiled under such extrovert titles as “Jaguars Ripped My Flesh” and “A Wolverine is Eating My Leg”.

I was glad to discover that Tim Cahill was a quiet, unassuming man. He didn’t have a swagger. Maybe a hint of a limp. He was teaching a writing seminar at the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference.

You see? Even a writer who positions himself such that vicious, underfed zoo animals might sink elongated incisors into his flesh so he could write about the experience didn’t have to be an extrovert to get it done. He just needed to play one in his writing. That’s the hard part. Writers are nothing more than experts at the craft of telling believable lies using credible English. It’s harder than you think.

The good part is: an introvert knows when to give himself up to the moment in order to truly experience it—while the extrovert finds need to control the moment. In that sense, I’m happy with being an introvert. You learn more about yourself if you allow other cultures to stimulate your seething imagination.

(Don’t get me wrong: extroverts are a very important part of the travel ecosystem. I search them out when I want an opinion, even one that is the opposite of mine. I admire the extrovert’s ability to take over a room, to sleep where the bags fall, and to chew on and discard relationships as if they were candy. Let’s face it: we all want to be extroverts, or at least I’ve never heard anyone say, “gee, I wish I were in introvert!” But then again—and here comes the point of this article if you missed it—there should be no shame in being an introvert, either.)

Submission is another characteristic often found in introverts. It serves you well to let the cook create what he likes to eat and make.

I’m very type-A, and many things in my life are about control and domination, but eating should be a submissive experience, where you let down your guard and enjoy the ride.—Anthony Bourdain

Introverts Arise! A call to Arms: Travel Far and Prosper!

The point of all this blather is to encourage you to travel, especially if you feel too introverted to tango. Now is the best time, as it always is. There will be seats in cafés for you. There will be single rooms in hotels available. Some tours are even dropping their single supplements.

Grab a notebook when you head off to that solo meal and pretend to be a journalist. You might strike fear in the waitstaff (or admiration). You might get extraordinary food. You might write an extraordinary article or restaurant review. Fool them by not taking a picture of your food.

Heck, even if you travel through America, you could be the introvert vegetarian writer who writes extrovert titles for tabloids. How does “American Supermarket Tomatoes Crack My Incisors!” sound? Perhaps you can get rich using this idea. Have at it.

introverted artist
A talented introvert at work

Dining Alone – Tips and Tricks to Get Introverts into the Solo Dining Mood

One thing that seems to terrify potential solo travelers is the very thought of dining alone. Yeah, it’s true: people do tend to gawk at diners lacking a partner.

I figure, “so what?” Maybe they gawk because they’re wishing they were you. Ever think of that?

Really—maybe they’re thinking that if they were solo they wouldn’t have to deal with the relationship stuff that defies logic, like “Honey, I know you really like the local wine and you hate sugary soft drinks…but I feel like a Coke and I can never finish a whole one…so would you do me a big, big favor and promise to drink half so I can feel free to order one?”

Solo dining is really just a matter of changing your mindset—and enjoying your meal. I’ve thought of some ways to do that.

They wanna gawk—give ‘em something to gawk at! Dress to the nines; wear a big floppy hat, or wrap a Victorian Cravat around your neck.

Make them think you’re somebody special. Because you are:

“Fine dining is a bit of theater, and solo diners, by our singularity, are the stars. So enjoy the chance to be really special. Fantasize if you wish.” Lea Lane in Solo Traveler

Scribble in a notepad. That’s right, most “experts” recommend you read a book. Balderdash. I say you might as well write one. It’s more lucrative. Sometimes.

To me, reading in a restaurant seems downright rude. I mean, here you are in a joint that the owner is proud to have furnished in a tasteful manner and you’re spending dinner time trying to immerse yourself in someone else’s written fantasy world. How gauche. Besides, nothing says, “Now there’s a pathetic loner!” more succinctly than the sight of a waiter cycling through a number of slapstick routines trying to slip a plate of steaming penne alla puttanesca under the vapid pulp fiction of an oblivious reader.

You know, if you take out your little pad and pencil, they can’t be sure you’re not a reviewer. This can pay dividends. Engage the waiter; ask about the origins of that blue-green sauce ladled over your chop like an oozing fungus. Maybe you’ll get invited to the kitchen. What you do there is up to you, but it could be quite an adventure, eh?

If you don’t know what to write, doodle. What’s wrong with folks thinking you’re an artist?

Remember: The restaurant is your stage. Make them envy you.

Go to places conducive to interacting with folks and food. Tapas bars in Spain are perfect for people who want to nibble hot food while trolling for human contact. In Italy, lots of 20-30 year old men eat out solo at places that offer “workers meals” at reasonable prices, often returning to the same place every night. You won’t be alone in your aloneness with these guys.

And finally: don’t accept a table near the kitchen door, or anywhere you can smell the urinal cakes.

You’re worth a fight for a good table, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

More Experiential Travel

Marzabotto: The Street of Thoughts & Reading

The Caves of Equi Terme

A Gorge Adventure in the Lunigiana

2018, the Year of the Travel Itinerary

Sundial City: Aiello del Friuli

The Introverted Traveler originally appeared on , updated: Nov 19, 2022 © .

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