I have been fortunate enough to have had plenty of opportunities to travel in my own country and around the globe. I’ve now been to nine different countries, ten if you count being in harbour in the Bahamas (I really should have got off the ship). I consider myself very lucky and even though I know many have travelled a lot more, I know there are others who have travelled a lot less. Every trip is a gift and I’m thankful for all of them.
But that’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about. While managing this blog I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and the aspects of who I am that I’m eager to share. Part of that is the fact that I’m an introvert. I believe my comfort with being on my own stems from being an only child. I’ve never minded being on my own, especially as a kid where I was much more comfortable with the adults in my life than any other children. Some degree of bullying would play into that later but that’s a topic for another day.
When I say I consider myself an introvert some people who have known me for a long time are surprised or they try to argue because they’ve seen me in group settings where I’ve flourished. There’s two reasons for that: first, usually I’m with a group of people I’m comfortable with and second, I’m really good at faking it. My dramatic arts background has definitely helped with that second one but mostly the matter has to do with my first point. I’m usually fairly outgoing and talkative around people I know well but stick me in a room full of strangers and I tend to shrink.
That’s why group travel is something I had always thought about avoiding but I’m glad I changed my mind. In the fall of 2015, Matt an I took our first solo trip as a couple all the way over to Europe. However, it wasn’t just the two of us. When we got to Rome we met up with a busload of other travellers from all over the world and I was immediately thrust into a widely social situation with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Thankfully, the experience was entirely positive, and the group we were with were a big part of that. And because I had such a great time with people I was afraid to meet, I want to share my tips for participating in group travel as an introvert. I hope to encourage any of you who might be reluctant to give it a go. So lets jump right in!
Bring a buddy
Lately, a couple different versions of the this joke have been popping up on my social media and it was really what got me thinking about my experiences as an introvert in group situations and group travel. I think one of the first things you can do to prime any group adventure with strangers is to have someone there that you know. Bring a partner, a sibling, a friend, whoever. Chances are that one person will be your island in the sea of strangers. Sure, it’s possible that the two of you could just put your heads down and talk to no one else the whole trip but it’s not likely to happen, especially if your travel buddy is an extrovert.
Having a more extroverted person alongside can help bridge some space between you and the other passengers. On our trip, what would often happen was Matt would start chatting with one of the other boyfriends on the trip and that kind of gave me the opportunities to speak to their girlfriends. He provided a stepping stone that made those first interactions a bit easier.
Pick a trip where you stay in a hostel
I’ve never actually done this because it was Matt and I on the last trip and staying in hostels would’ve meant not sticking together. However, I have heard a lot of positive things about hostel rooming situations making it easier to bond with the people you’re with. You get up with them in the morning and that makes it likely, especially as a solo traveller, that you might get invited out to do whatever else your roomies are doing. Take the opportunity to tag along, even if you’re just quietly roaming around, it gives you the time to adapt to that group. This one works whether or not you have a buddy with you, the buddy could definitely bolster the effects of common sleeping arrangements but overall hostels help facilitate bonding a little more than being shut away in your own hotel room like we were.
Sit with everyone at dinner
This one is a big one for me. Meal times make conversation easier, especially since I sleep a lot on the bus so chit chatting there rarely happens. Grabbing a seat at the larger tables where most of the group are during group dinners gives you a chance to interact with people on a large scale. It can seem intimidating at first but I promise not tucking yourself away in a little corner will actually make everything more enjoyable. You don’t have to lead the conversation, often times you can just listen and chime in whenever you’re comfortable. In fact, dinner conversation with a large group means you don’t have to talk at all if you don’t want to, there will always be someone else to carry the conversation.
For me, dinner is where I found things in common with other travellers and that made it easier to chat one on one later on. Even just broaching the topics of what tv shows everyone liked allowed me to become more comfortable. Soon enough I was raving on about One Tree Hill and Arrow with another passenger, and Matt and one of the others had fun pointing out all the places in Florence that they’d already seen in Assassin’s Creed. Dinner helped facilitate all that and it was the place where I felt the least pressure to make sure there were no lulls in the conversation because the others handled that for me.
Go on the group excursions
If your tour is anything like ours, your guide will often plan group outings that are completely optional. You can choose to wander off on your own or you can tagalong with the group. Whether it was dinner or some sort of tour, we ended up jumping on a lot of these not only because they were convenient but because it also gave us more time to get to know everyone.
For us, this led to a group opportunity that the guide didn’t already have planned. A group of us ended up organizing our own little excursion out to Disneyland Paris at the end of the trip. I had had the park in the back of my mind but I’d pretty much written it off until I found out others were going. It was out last day with many of the travellers and at that point I’d come to enjoy being with everyone so much that it seemed like a good opportunity to hang out more. We ventured off through the Paris subway system and made our way out to meet Mickey and the gang.
What’s nice about group travel is that it does a lot of the work for you. Planned dinners, long hours on the bus, and shared space make it a bit easier to get to know others even when you’re quieter like I am. Even if you spent the day apart you often come back to people who are happy to hear what you did and to tell you what they were up to. It’s one of the reasons we sacrificed seeing the fireworks at Disney in order to make it back in time for the last group dinner that Topdeck had planned for us. We didn’t want to miss out on seeing everyone, and that’s really saying something because I’ve wanted to see those fireworks for years.
Know that you don’t have to do everything with everyone
After reading this you might be thinking that I’m not really an introvert at all but just shy around new people. Maybe that is partially true but this is the point that kind of sets me back to a more introverted status. While getting to know new people ended up being a positive part of the trip as opposed to a real challenge that threatened my happiness, it wasn’t something that I needed to immerse myself in the whole time. As always, I was still happy being on my own. Or in this case, alone with a beanstalk.
On our second day in Rome, Matt and I joined the group in the morning on the excursion through the Vatican but as the tour ended we set off on our own for the day, taking the chance to wander and to enjoy the city by ourselves. This was how we approached much of the trip: we would start with the group and then we’d venture off for a while which gave me some time to not be on socially. It was a nice break that helped keep me from getting anxious and exhausted. Even at Disney we started the day with the group and then took off to explore the parks our own way. It was a good way to mix things up and it allowed for some quieter moments where I was able to recharge.
I think that it is important to remember to take the time for yourself when you are feeling a little drained or overwhelmed, it will allow you to come back to the group in a more positive light.
So those are a few tips from me, a fellow introvert, on making the most out of group travel. In that week, we made some great friends from all over the world, and while we haven’t had the chance to meet up with any of them since then, I do still enjoy seeing what they’re up to on Facebook. On occasion our group’s page lights up again as passengers share inside jokes and post pictures of their reunions. It all brings a smile onto my face, and it reminds me of the wondrous seven days I spent with a group of complete strangers. I strongly encourage all the introverts like me to not be afraid of group travel, you never know what kind of lasting impact it will have on you.