Travel as an introvert: Hit the road, and do it on your terms
As an introvert, my lifelong love affair with travel hasn't been easy.
It can be mentally exhausting when you're crammed among crowds of locals and tourists, especially in an unfamiliar place.
Over the years, I've learned how to minimize that stress, and how to ground myself when I begin to feel overwhelmed.
There are several factors that I consider when I plan a trip to make sure I stay happy, calm and mentally healthy.
Consider going solo
Travelling solo is becoming more and more popular, and it's a great way to make sure you have full control of your time.
It saves the stress of trying to keep up with people who seem to have endless energy. Plus you get to stop and take a breather whenever you need.
I've travelled in large groups several times in the past. Most recently, 17 family members (yeah, you read that right) went on a Mediterranean cruise.
To make a long story short, trying to make everyone happy in a large group, from ages 14 to 80, is … impossible. More important, it creates a cloud of stress that hangs over your trip.
So the easiest way to keep yourself in a comfortable headspace is to just go alone. You have complete control, and you can make your mental health a priority.
If the idea of travelling solo makes you nervous, don't worry! There are lots of destinations that are popular for solo safety. Consider visiting other spots in Canada, or places like Denmark, Iceland and Ireland.
Travel with like-minded friends
If you're not comfortable going by yourself, make plans with friends who move at the same pace.
My last big trip was a month-long adventure through Paris, Italy and Ireland with my mother. As she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome several years ago, she is unable to travel at a breakneck pace.
So any time either of us needed to stop and recharge, it wasn't a problem. If one of us wanted to explore on our own a little bit, that was no big deal, either.
If you plan a trip with some friends who are casual and flexible, your trip will be that much more relaxing for you.
When to visit? Timing is key
Have you ever been to a museum at peak tourist season?
It's intense. You spend hours wandering shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of strangers, because everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa at once.
Instead, I take time before my trip to research the places I'm going to visit. If it's open late one evening, that's when I'm going.
If it opens at 8 a.m., but people don't start showing up until 10 o'clock, guess when I'll be there?
Find out when the places you want to visit will be calmest, and plan to visit then.
This method has also helped me find skip-the-line tickets to many places. I even learned about an alternative entrance to the Louvre. (I got to walk right in. No line or anything!)
Look for both sights and scenery
Usually, visiting popular places means fighting crowds.
After so much of this, I end up craving breathing room and alone time. That's why I look for destinations that are enjoyable to just wander through.
When I can't handle the crowds anymore, I like to start wandering side streets.
Experiencing the architecture, locals, and the culture of a place is a treasure many people overlook.
Exploring beyond the hordes of tourists — and places that pander to them — is the best way to see the heart of a city. Getting away from the crowds is a great way to clear your head and feel balanced.
Finding a meal off the beaten path
While you're exploring outside the crowds, look for places to eat and shop. In tourist-driven areas, workers can spot a tourist a mile away. And they can be straight up aggressive in their effort to draw you in.
In Paris, a maitre'd took my mother by the arm and wouldn't let her go until I scolded him in French. Seems crazy, doesn't it?
For them, being insistent often works. But for introverted people, it's hardly a peaceful way to spend a vacation.
That's why it's beneficial to escape these parts of town, and find where the locals hang out. You can find some great hidden gems that the locals try to keep for themselves, where no one cares if you're a tourist.
If you don't feel confident about discovering a place on your own, you can almost certainly find a locally run blog with recommendations and ideas.
Rent a cheap apartment
A lot of people tend to lean towards hostels as a cheap alternative for accommodations. But for an introvert, sharing a small space with strangers can send stress levels through the roof.
Instead, I like look into cheap apartment rentals for my stay.
Websites like AirBnB or VRBO can help you find affordable rentals in convenient locations. You can find nice spots for good prices, without having to sacrifice your personal space.
It even gives the added bonus of saving on restaurant costs since you can cook for yourself.
But most important, you'll have a quiet, personal space when you're not feeling up to being out in public.
Don't overschedule yourself
Every introvert knows that it's easy for us to make plans on a good day. But when that day comes, you may not feel comfortable even leaving your house.
That's why when I'm planning trips, I use this rule: plan one major thing each day. After that, let the rest of the day fall into place around that one thing.
Visiting Paris? Plan for the Louvre on one day, and Notre Dame on another day.
Spend the rest of your day exploring the area, or whatever feels right to do. If you're feeling adventurous, and want to visit both in one day, that's great! But if you're not feeling up to it, there's no pressure to squeeze it all in.
Travel with items that settle your mind
One thing I never travel without (besides underwear) is a journal. I tend to meticulously document everything that happens each day while I travel.
Not only does it help me keep my memories for a lifetime, but it centres me when I'm feeling overwhelmed.
If I'm not journaling, I'll have my Kindle handy. I'm also always equipped with headphones so I can zone out to some of my favourite music.
The best asset you can have for travelling as an introvert is a way to calm yourself when you feel in over your head.
Travel is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Seeing new places and learning about new cultures can become addicting.
Even as an introvert, putting myself in unfamiliar places is thrilling. There are lots of ways to make the stress of travelling easier on yourself.
So get out there and explore!