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Here’s another look at what it means to be an introverted traveler.

RIGHT OUTSIDE THE SLIDING DOOR of my hostel cabana in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, three young ladies and a dude with tribal tattoos all the way down his back wade around the pool, chat, and laugh. On the other side of the cabana, more young travelers are playing billiards, listening to music, and bantering about. At night the laughter increases and the additional sounds of clinking beer bottles and a blender concocting who-knows-what mixes with the revelry.

While all this is going on around me, I sit on the living room couch tapping on a keyboard. I’ve been here for three of five nights now, have seen people come and go and, other than through recognition of accents, have no idea where most of the guests are from.

It’s not like I’m a snob; I don’t go out of my way to avoid anyone. In passing I generally try to make eye contact and say “hi.” It’s just that I don’t have any desire to mingle. It’s a combination of things I guess. I’m literally old enough to be most of these travelers’ father (a young father maybe, but still disturbing).

I know — like Aaliyah said — that age ain’t nothing but a number, but from what I hear through the sliding door, I have nothing to add to anything being said. When the answer to any question is “let’s go get some pot!” I fail to see common ground.

I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I should be out there, asking and answering the fail-safe questions, “where you from?” and “where have you been?”

I’m also here under very different circumstances. Most are here during Semana Santa to party. I came to just chill out and, to be frank, use the available wifi. It’s a sort of writer’s retreat for me, just with a lot of distractions.

The accommodations certainly don’t force me to converse with anyone else either. Everything I need is right here in my cabana: en-suite bathroom, full kitchen, a coffee table, and a TV showing lots of English movies. I leave to go to the beach, eat, or pick up some groceries, and have a quick dip in the pool. Aside from that, everyone can take solace in the surety that I’ll be right here when they look over, ass planted firmly on the couch.

I’m not always like this. Some of my best friendships were made on the road, but sometimes it happens. The question is: Is it OK?

I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I should be out there, asking and answering the fail-safe questions, “where you from?” and “where have you been?” I should be cheers-ing with a Corona in my hand, pocketing the 8-ball, and making witty jokes in front of the communal television.

There is always some sort of stigma attached to the loner. “What’s wrong with him?”; “I feel sorry for her”; “Why isn’t he drinking and partying with us?” But maybe there’s nothing at all wrong with him. Maybe she prefers to be alone. And maybe his dad’s an abusive alcoholic.

I don’t often stay in hostels, but in the past I’ve usually made more of an effort to fit in with the crowd when I have. Being on this side of the fence opens up a new perspective: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the introverted traveler.

[Editor's note: This post was published in its original form here.]



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Emily Hanssen Arent

    it’s never the sitting alone and keeping to myself that makes me uncomfortable, but the looks of pity from the group of people slamming beers and socializing “properly.” could relate to this on so many levels, carlo…thank you for sharing it!

  • Scott Hartman

    I stay in hostels almost exclusively and long ago got past any idea of what I “needed” to do (to be social.) When I go, I usually go to do something, to work on something, in short, to write. I stayed in a stone hut in Bahia de los Angeles (Baja, California) for six months once, rough drafting what would be my first book. An American man who lived close to me (and spent 3/4 of his monthly checks on beer) once called me on it (once I’d gotten folks in the camp used to the fact that when a curtain was pulled down over my doorway – I was working, and not to be disturbed.) He said to me: “You play by your own rules, don’t you?” And I said, unabashedly/confidently, “Yes.” Now I mostly travel to places where alcohol is taboo, and this has made it much easier :)

  • Katka Lapelosová

    I have this complex where I fear rejection. You know, those odd looks you get from people when you “include” yourself in their conversation, or after you extend an invitation to something and they turn you down. I figure if they are interested in hanging out with me they will make it known, otherwise I usually keep to myself. It’s hard for me to go up to a total stranger and say “Hey! Want to go to the Eiffel Tower with me today?” It doesn’t effect my trip I’ve found, I’m fine with entertaining myself. But my best friend manages to make friends with everyone at the hostels she stays at. Some people are just that way I guess!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Yup, it’s just about becoming comfortable in our own skin (and mind). It’s all about knowing how we are and owning it :)

  • Linda Emerson

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. But there’s a bit of a disconnect here. You don’t want to socialize or party, but the travel destination you choose is a beach resort town filled with tourists, most of whom are young people from the US or Europe. And you choose accommodations which guarantee that you’ll be surrounded by those same tourists, rather than by Mexican families.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Sometimes life just doesn’t make any sense at all ;)

    • Nathania Johnson

      I like having energy around me, but still doing my own thing.

  • Tom Gates

    Excellent piece. I find myself in this headspace sometimes! On the other side of it, every time I tell someone I’m about to take a trip by myself there’s the assumption that I don’t WANT to travel by myself, but am such a loser that I couldn’t find anyone to go with. “You’re going…alone?” Hell yes I am.

    • Michael Dykes

      Totally agree with you!

  • Anonymous

    I almost exclusively stay away from hostels. it’s a little too spring break-y for me. however, I’m one of the most social people I know. just tend to be more social with folks who are from the place I’m visiting. good piece.

  • Eli Allan

    Great post, this totally resonates. I spend my summers working in the mountains and usually take a fall trip to the tropics to relax and recover. Its not that I’m completely uninterested in drinking and partying, its just not what I came to do. I can drink and party at home. Travelling is a great way to focus on the things that are hard to get done at home, like writing, organizing the photo archive, or maybe just sitting on the couch finding the stories, films, photos that recharge and inspire you to do what you do.

  • Carl Badgley

    this was actually my experience on my one trip to europe. all my friends told me about the great friends I would make, the fabulous and fun people I would meet. and I didn’t. I was never rude, not once did I purposefully avoid anyone. well, there was that one time I walked into a hostel in tubingen only to turn heel and run. I had walked into a lobby full of adolescents on some group trip and under the communal scrutiny of 25 or so twelve year olds I decided that perhaps a hotel wouldn’t hurt just once.
    but I needed that time alone. it was the summer between my dual year master’s program. my soon to be ex had announced with finality the end of a 7 year relationship.
    i certainly had interesting conversations and I did meet some interesting individuals while passing through. (including an inebriating two day romance of eye contact flirtation only, neither of us were at all fluent in the other’s language. and I only saw her when she was working the front desk.)
    in the end, I engaged with very few people though and yet it was a singular transitional event for me. and even today I do not regret having made those choices.

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