How to travel the world as an introvert

BUDDIES! Around the world

While very few people are out-and-out introverts or extroverts (we’re all on a sliding scale), it’s pretty clear that Rob and I lean towards the introverted side in a big way.

We’re not shy in the slightest: we’ll happily talk to pretty much anyone, and we don’t feel apprehensive about meeting new people. We don’t avoid social situations out of a lack of confidence, and we’ll eagerly walk up to those we don’t know and give them a cuddle (or shake their hand if they don’t look like the cuddling type).

But introversion is different from shyness. Introverts (or those with introverted tendencies) “tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.”

Extroverts, conversely, “gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.”

(Quotes taken from a fantastically insightful Fast Company article on the subject.)

But because I’d always linked “shyness” to “introversion”, it took me AGES – decades – to realise that I was one.

Here are some examples of my introversion:

  • Once I’ve spent a few hours in the company of others, I’m pretty much done for the day. It’s absolutely nothing personal against them, but I just can’t cope with more than a few hours at a time with people. I’m knackered.
  • When I was a teenager, I spent SO much time on my own in my room. My family’s house was always full of noise, people, and “stuff” going on. And I just wanted out of it: I wanted peace away from it all. So I was always a “bit weird”, by myself, in my room. If I’d had a particularly tiring day at school (or later, at work) and someone would call me from downstairs or knock on my bedroom door after I’d escaped there, I’d feel like crying. I just wanted to be on my own.
  • I can’t bear the thought of sharing a house or an apartment with other people – even for a weekend. (Apart from Rob, of course – he can come.) I need to know there’s an escape – a way to get away from everyone else when I need to.
  • I HAVE to get out and go for a brisk walk or a run, by myself, every morning. It’s my time alone and I refuse to share it with anyone else.

Now, all of this may seem a bit “hashtag-first-world-problems”-y to you, and I agree. If there were drones in the air above me right now, or if I had no money to buy my next meal, I probably wouldn’t be too concerned with whether it’s socially acceptable to “nip out before the party gets into too much of a full swing”.

But introversion can (in my opinion) cause a lot of angst despite being relatively (in my opinion) easy to deal with. So it makes sense to give it a few minutes of attention.

So… on to introverted digital nomads. 

Here’s the problem:

If you’re travelling around the world on your own while trying to set up/run your business, it’s very easy to isolate yourself. Introverts love having friends (sorry – that came out as incredibly patronising), but it takes a lot of mental energy to go out and see people in the first place. Unlike school, work or family friends you’ve known for ever, a fair amount of effort is always involved when making and seeing friends as a digital nomad.

Also, plenty of other digital nomads are (or at least seem) very extroverted: they love getting together to work, have breakfast, have lunch, have drinks, etc.

It can lead to an isolated life where you feel left out but at the same time don’t want to participate – even though you know you’ll probably really like the people you meet. We’ve had the exact same thing. And in fact, an isolated life is even more of a risk for digital nomad couples: they’ve always got each other to talk to, so there’s less incentive to go and talk to other people.

So what do you do if you’re an introverted digital nomad (or an introvert who’s thinking of becoming a digital nomad)? Here are some tips, based on our 18 months of trying to find the right balance:

Stay for as long as you like… then leave (they really won’t think it’s weird)

If there’s one group of people you shouldn’t feel a need to conform with, it’s digital nomads. They’ve opted out of peer pressure. They’ve opted out of a regular life. They’ve chosen to do things their way – a way that’s different from the norm.

So if you want to hang out for a couple of hours and then head home to relax and recharge, they really won’t think that’s weird. Even among the extroverts, a few will probably make their apologies early in order to go home for a Game of Thrones marathon, or to do some final bits of work before bed. Everyone does their thing, and everyone else just accepts it.

There’s absolutely no need to make excuses either. We’ve done our fair share of “Oh shit, is that the time? We’ve got friends coming over for dinner in an hour.” These days though, when there’s another guy in the group exclaiming, “Must dash – I need to be home in time for Mark Cuban’s Reddit AMA because I want to ask a question about Shark Tank‘s ridonkulous T-Mobile product placement,” we know we’re fine to just say “Right, we’re off… see you soon!”

Don’t feel the need to attend absolutely everything

Whenever we’re in Berlin or Asia, there are usually lots of other digital nomads who enjoy setting up heaps of social events and doing things together almost daily. We simply couldn’t do that anyway, because we’ve overloaded ourselves with way too many projects. But even if we could, we wouldn’t particularly want to. Not because we don’t like hanging out with them (quite the opposite – we adore our fellow nomad buddies), but because we crave our own space.

I used to feel really guilty about not turning up to absolutely everything. I’d convince myself that everyone else just thought we were “rocking up when we felt like it” rather than being solid, meaningful and valuable friends to everyone else. But what’s so wrong with picking and choosing anyway? If going to a busy bar for the evening isn’t your kind of thing, what’s the point in attending? No one else is going to think you should be there to keep everyone else happy if you’re not having a good time yourself.

So just go to the stuff that works for you. And stay for as long as you like.

Join in the coworking activities

If you’re invited along to a coworking day in a coworking space or wifi cafe, grab the opportunity – it’s your dream! You get to chat to likeminded people, drink coffee with them and speak to them one-on-one in a calm and quiet location – and at any point it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Anyway, I must get on with some work.”

Remember: you can set the agenda too

It’s not just about tagging along to other people’s activities – you can also set the tone and length of a meetup with others.

This is all well and good, but what if you don’t know how to meet other people like you (who travel while working) in the first place?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Join our forum! (We’ll be opening up more spaces over the next few months.)
  • Create your Nomadtopia is a fab Facebook group (you need to ask for permission to join)
  • Follow other digital nomad blogs and – if you like the writers – let them know if you’re in the same area as them.
  • Put your pin on the Find A Nomad map – and see if anyone else is in your area too.
  • Twitter-stalk people and see where they are/where they’re heading.
  • If you have any digital nomad buddies already, ask them if they can introduce you (virtually) to others so that you can go on to meet them (in person) when you’re both in the same place.
  • Search for “digital nomad” on Meetup.com.
  • Go to a coworking space and get talking to other people there.

So what do you think?

Are you an introvert? How do you meet new people without it sapping all your energy?

Are you an introverted digital nomad? What has worked for you?

And what do you think of my suggestions?

Let me know in the comments!

  • Benjamin

    Love this post so much and got so much out of it – thank you.

    (I’m afraid I don’t have tips to add though!)

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks so much Benjamin – I’m glad you enjoyed it. (And no worries about the lack of tips!)

  • I’d like to think I am living proof than an introvert can still get out and see the world while working. However, the sense of isolation (depending where you are and for how long) can be depressing and soul-crushing so it is neccesary to balance alone time with social time. We are social creatures after all. Thing is, us introverts can’t be hanging around for too long before feeling the need to retire back to charge our emotional batteries. Crazy partying ’til dawn? Better look for someone else to join. But I can still share a few beers and a nice conversation, of course. Why not?

    However, I feel that when traveling as a couple as you do, many situations like dining out or visiting attractions become simpler and less awkward to deal with as introverts than when going on a solo journey as I’m doing. At least I know I’d like a significant other that loves traveling as I do.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks Beto!

      I think you’re right: there are definitely pros and cons to being part of a travelling couple!

      The con is that we probably don’t push ourselves to get out and meet people enough, because we’ve always got each other to talk to.

      But the pro, like you say, is that social occasions and visits to local attractions are less awkward and easier to deal with because we’re part of a pair.

      Looking forward to having a quiet conversation and a few beers with you one day (but definitely no partying ’til dawn)!

  • Great topic and well-written article!

    Believing that we as adults don’t play, laugh, or gluestick enough in our lives, I curate un-networking events for a living (fun, non-traditional ways of creating community and experiencing personal growth).

    Here are a few insights the past nine years of helping others connect and live-fully have given me —

    Be experience-focused, not results-focused; when you go to an event with the goal of meeting a guy, making a client, finding a new best friend, being ‘discovered,’ you feel the need to impress others and tend to not act like yourself. Who wants to be in a room full of people trying to impress one another and throwing business cards in each other’s faces? Go to just be in the moment and have a good time. If anything else comes of it, cherry on top!

    Go solo. Yes, it’s scary. Especially those first ten minutes after you arrive. Who do you talk to? Everyone looks deep in conversation. Just remind yourself you’re no longer in middle school, trying to decide what cafeteria table to sit at; the popular kids, the jocks, the smarteys, they’re all mixed up together now and usually very friendly. People are thankful when you approach them and start a conversation. Especially if it’s someone else who’s solo. Meeting new people is a lot easier when you don’t have the security blanket of your significant other or friend.

    Be the red ball in a room full of green squares. When you’re younger, all you want to do is fit in aka be like everyone else. I’ve learned that all the things that make me weird, unique, different as an adult are assets and I can make them work to my advantage (college scholarship for being a tall female, hello!). If you’re a graphic designer, instead of going to a networking event for graphic designers, go to a tech conference or a knitting meetup. People tend to remember me and what I do, and want to chat with me, because I’m unlike anyone else at an event.

    I could go on and on! But I’ll stop. I talk more about this type of stuff in my TEDx talk if interested: http://bit.ly/1eqAgTo

    Thanks for starting the conversation, guys!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks for this comment Saya. As I mention in this post, I’ve never actually had a problem with being myself or standing out – I think that’s more of a shyness thing rather than an introversion thing (although of course the two often go together).

      Do you have any insights into introversion in particular, and how to deal with it? Please do share if you do!

      • Actually, a lot of the self-proclaimed introverts that come on my retreats, take my workshops, etc. say that the above actions help them as well, just in different ways than shy folks.

        They’ve shared with me that just the idea of attending events with large numbers of people, especially people they didn’t know, was so energy-sapping that they’d be exhausted before even arriving. But then doing my suggestions (as well as yours) helped them manage energy-levels – knowing they had an empty apartment and no plans after an event so they could recharge, or not stressing about passing out ten business cards and just going to enjoy themselves, etc.

        I’m sure you’re familiar with Susan Cain and her book “Quiet” and her TED talk “The Power of Introverts” – http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html. Those are the most oft-mentioned resources introverts talk to me about.

        • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

          Love that Susan Cain TED talk! And you’ve reminded me to recommend it to more people – thank you!

          And thank you so much for taking the time to explain your earlier comment too – it makes heaps more sense now!

  • I can’t BELIEVE we forgot to take a picture in Berlin!!!

    Totally agree about not making excuses. If you leave a social event early and are smooth about it, people respect that. It’s when you’re all insecure and ashamed about it that awkwardness ensues.

    For me, meeting new people and making friends has to happen in a context – for example, we’re both doing some activity together, or the gathering has some purpose (like a conference, where we can discuss the speakers, what we’re learning, etc). I dislike “socializing just to socialize” – although I have gotten better at it.

    SURPRISING SUGGESTION – working as an English teacher has had the unexpected benefit of improving my conversational skills. When working with intermediate-level students, you (as the native speaker) need to “lead” the conversation and really try to think of questions and comments that will help keep it going and draw out the other person’s speaking ability.

    If you don’t want to go into teaching, join a “conversation exchange” website like italki.com or verbling.com – you can partner up with someone who’s learning English, and whose language you are studying (or would like to learn) – then spend half the time conversing in each language. Great (and free) way to both improve your foreign language skills AND your English conversation skills.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Fantastic tip, Shayna! We were actually thinking of doing a conversation exchange because our Spanish totally sucks – and this would be another benefit to it!

      We personally don’t struggle with conversation and thinking of questions/things to talk about (in fact, we’re probably a bit too enthusiastic with our question-asking when we meet people!). Our problem is mainly that we get a bit exhausted by it all, and can’t necessarily sustain a five-hour conversation with the same group of people.

      Love your comment about being “smooth” about leaving a social occasion rather than insecure – that’s so true!

      And I KNOW: shocking that we didn’t do a photo in Berlin! Silver lining: we have a very valid reason to meet up again.

  • I SOOO wish more people understood “I just want to come say hi for 30 mins and then leave.” Most of the people I know still think this is rude and means you actually don’t want to come at all.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Such a good point! You could remark that if you didn’t want to come at all, you wouldn’t come at all – and therefore you obviously DO want to come, but I have a feeling that wouldn’t go down too well either!

  • Interesting post, I agree that introverts need time to recharge – especially seeing as how I am one – but I think there are people who have a balance of both qualities. If I didn’t have some time to read on my own I would go mad, but the same is true of spending too much time alone I get anxious to socialise. When I travel I juggle the two, spending all night out with new people, and days spent blissfully reading on my own.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks for the comment Chris.

      I agree: everyone needs to find their happy medium!

  • Joe

    I’m that winning combination of being an introvert and shy, so I don’t think the solo nomad lifestyle would be for me.

    Its great that the concept of being introverted and needing time to recharge alone and requiring ‘downtime’ is getting more exposure.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Hmmm… tricky one. In a way, it’s worse to be in a shy couple – then you’ve always got a reason NOT to go out and meet new people. But I completely understand how daunting it would feel to be solo!

      Rob used to be exceptionally shy – to the extent that he couldn’t even order a coffee in a coffee shop. I think he’s going to write a blog post about it soon.

      And I agree: it’s so great that introversion is getting so much more exposure.