An Introvert's Guide to Traveling Solo for the First Time
Written by Arianna Lynne
Life as an introvert means having an unnecessarily difficult time doing things that involve strangers in public. Even something like ordering at a restaurant can be a hassle. Don’t believe me? It goes a little like this: You’re sitting there, menu in hand, analyzing the dishes in search of the perfect meal. Minutes later, a certain dish catches your eye, and you’re sold. As you wait, you rehearse your order in your head nonstop. You’re confident you’ve got this, like you could be the next Oscar-winning actor for what you’re about to recite. The waiter makes their way to you, and with each step they take, your heart pounds louder and harder, almost in beat with their stride. Finally, they take your order, and you stumble and stutter your way through it. Awkward. Now you’ll be thinking about this for the rest of the day (or week). If this is what it’s like in a restaurant, imagine what it’s like traveling solo for the first time. While this may seem a bit exaggerated, or hit a little too close to home depending on much of an introvert you are, traveling alone for the first time is a big deal. It might be the last thing you want to do, but it doesn’t have to be the worst thing you have to go through.
Do Your Homework
Nothing is more stressful to me than being somewhere I’ve never been before and having no idea what’s around me. It’s like throwing myself into a pool when I can’t swim. If there’s anything that will make travel easier, it’s taking the time to research a few things. Think of it as giving yourself a life jacket before jumping in the water.
Learn About Your Destination
This includes the airport layout. While some signs and boards will guide you, it is still helpful to have an idea of what the airport is like, even if you can’t follow a map to save your life. Some airports are easy to navigate, while others might require you to take a shuttle to get to another gate. Having this knowledge in mind will makes things a little easier as you kind of know what to expect.
As for your travel destination, it would be worthwhile to find and choose what restaurants, stores, or events you want to go to so that you will have something you will enjoy. This will help you prepare for the next step.
Create an Itinerary
You don’t have to plan everything by the minute, but it would be a good idea to choose what days you will be going to certain places. Having a plan will give you something to fall back on if something that is spur of the moment turns out to be something you’d rather not do. It would also be a shame if you took the time and money to travel and you didn’t get to hit all your must-see destinations.
Read up on TSA Rules
I hate the TSA. There, I said it. Whenever I’m traveling solo, I want to be 100% left alone. For whatever reason, I seem to get randomly searched and patted down to the point where I don’t think it’s all that random. Well, too bad, TSA. The joke is on you. I absolutely love you invading my personal space and giving me a pat-down when I obviously have nothing on me. I mean, imagine all the things I can conceal with leggings. No, no I don’t like it. I hate it.
No matter how much I despise them, the Transport Security Administration regulations are still something we have to follow. Keep in mind there are special things to consider when you are traveling internationally.
Decide on Your Modes of Transportation
Once you arrive at the airport and claim your luggage, you’ll need to figure out some way to get around. There are a few options: renting a car, using a service like Uber, and taking public transportation.
Renting a car can be spendy, but it is best if you are comfortable driving around yourself and plan on driving a lot. Note that you will have to pay for the gas yourself and fill the tank up again before returning the vehicle. This is important to consider if you have a tight budget.
Using a service like Uber is a less expensive option and an easy way to make sure you don’t get lost. If this sounds like the choice for you, download the app for the service of your choice and familiarize yourself with the app. It’s also a good idea to set up your account and payment method. Note that when you use these services at an airport, you have to be at the rideshare locations to be picked up. Find those locations first before requesting a ride to save yourself some stress.
Finally, public transportation is the most affordable choice as many times it is free, but it can eat up a bit of your time because you have to follow their schedule. It’s also important to consider that it’s very likely that you’ll have to sit in a crowded bus with a bunch of other people and their luggage. If you can grin and bear it, some shuttles offer free transport to and from certain locations, such as car rental centers and specific hotels. Check to see if those are an option at the visitor’s center once you land.
Make Sure You are All Set the Night Before Departing
Packing your luggage is a given, but it can be easy to forget your ID if you are in a rush. Double-check your flight times and have your identification in a safe, easy to access place the night before. If you are traveling internationally, make sure you have your passport and any other documents that are necessary for travel ready to go as well. The more control you have by being prepared, the less stressful traveling will be.
Get to the Airport Early
Some travelers recommend being at an airport an hour before the flight if you are not checking anything, or an hour and a half early if you have luggage. This is reasonable if you know what you are doing, and you might know from experience traveling with friends or family. However, you might even want to consider arriving at the airport two hours early if you are not an experienced traveler. It is a thousand times less stressful to sit at the departing gate and wait for your flight than it is trying to find your gate in an airport you have never been to before.
This isn’t about what you pack in your luggage as much as it is what you have on your person. (However, do check what your airline rules are about luggage. There are rules on luggage size and weight.) If you read what the TSA regulations are, you’ll know that hand carrying certain items will be a pain. I’m the type of introvert who hates the pressure of feeling like I’m making people wait in line. It’s like all eyes are on me, analyzing why in the world I’m taking forever and a day. Here’s a quick cheat sheet based on my experience that helped me move through the line faster:
Wear shoes and outerwear that is easy to take on and off. You will be asked to take these items off when you go through security.
If you have electronics, take them out of their case. Don’t forget to pull chargers out as well.
Make sure liquids are travel-sized and fit in a quart-sized plastic bag. There are rules about how much liquid you can have on you as you go through security. For this reason, I try to limit what liquids I have on me and wait to buy drinks until after I go through security.
Surviving the Flight
Sitting in an airplane when traveling alone as an introvert is like an emotional roller coaster. On one hand, there is the slight relief that you’re almost there. You just have to sit around until you reach your destination. On the other hand, you’re stuck surrounded with complete strangers and nowhere to go.
Bring Something To Do
If you have an especially long flight, bringing something to keep you occupied will help you pass the time. It can also calm your nerves if you are starting to feel anxious about the flight.
Oh, boy. What’s better than sitting next to absolute strangers and making awkward small talk for several hours? Everything. Absolutely everything is better than this. On the bright side, most people don’t want to have long conversations with strangers, and those who do tend to get the hint when someone is uncomfortable. If you find that someone is not quite getting the hint, you can always politely cut the conversation short or say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I would like to do [task] during the flight” and go back to what you were doing. You might feel rude doing this, but remember, it is a thousand times more impolite to force someone into a conversation they don’t want to have. If this doesn’t cut it, don’t be afraid to call the flight attendant and let them know you are uncomfortable.
The Dreaded Middle Seat
Having this seat on the plane is tough. Introvert or not, no one is really a fan of the middle seat. There’s not much you can do about it other than requesting a different seat before take off. If you’re fate is sealed, the one tip I have for you is to get up and use the restroom before the aisle person falls asleep or tunes out with a movie. This will keep you from the awkwardness of interrupting someone. Otherwise, pull out your activities and try to enjoy your flight.
Prepare to Say “No”
I’m a person who has a hard time saying no. If you’re the same way, you are going to need to polish up your spine, at least while you travel. Depending on where you travel, you’ll find that several employees are ready to walk up to you with an offer. Sometimes, this happens the second you step foot in your hotel. While these offers might seem friendly and useful as a visitor, many times the offers are bundled up with something you don’t want, or they are being offered at an inflated price. Proceed with caution when you are approached with an offer this way, especially in large tourist areas like Las Vegas.
If you are genuinely interested in learning more about the area, visit the visitor’s center at the airport after you land. These centers are packed full of information that comes with no strings attached. Keep in mind that the places listed in the brochures are probably going to be busy areas since they are marketed to the public. Doing a quick Google search can actually tell you what times those places are not as busy so that you can avoid the rush hours.
Follow Your Itinerary
This is the easiest part of traveling solo: enjoy yourself! Again, you don’t have to follow your itinerary exactly as written but be sure that you hit those destinations. You’ve taken the time to make a plan, so now is the time to make some memories and have fun. You should take some pictures, but don’t forget to put your phone down every once in a while and just be in the moment. Whenever you are feeling out of place or overwhelmed, refer back to your itinerary and move on.
Dealing with Unexpected Events
No matter how much you plan, there is still the possibility that things will go wrong. Having a Plan B for events that have a possibility of happening can help you regain control.
This is probably every traveler’s nightmare. If you find that you are lost, go to an area where you are not in anyone’s way and pull out your phone to see if GPS can help. Online maps are becoming extremely accurate as technology advances and very rarely lets me down. Your next option is to go to a nearby store and ask someone behind the counter for directions. I tend to ask workers over people on the street because there is a chance they are tourists too. They might think they know where something is, but they could be wrong. Asking someone behind a counter is the way I ensure that I’m speaking to a local who knows the area very well.
Traveling alone can make you an easy target, especially as a woman. Normal people will take no for an answer, but unfortunately, others won’t. For this reason, it is a good idea to stay in public areas where if you scream for help, someone will notice.
When you start to feel anxiety creep up on you, try to ground yourself with the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise:
Describe 5 things you can see.
Name 4 things you can physically feel right now, like the wind blowing or the sun on your skin.
Name 3 things you hear right now.
Name 2 things you can smell.
Name 1 good thing about yourself.
I’ve found that realigning myself with my surroundings helps bring back some form of order in a chaotic mind.
Traveling alone for the first time as an introvert might feel like a nightmare waiting to happen, but it doesn’t have to be if you prepare yourself for what’s to come. In the words of George Macdonald, “The best preparation for the future is the present well seen to and the last duty done.”
Arianna Lynne is the Executive Editor Assistant for Quiet Nonsense. When she is not editing, she can be found writing for her own blog Yoga With Mimosas, teaching POP Pilates, taking a dance class, or learning new things. She has a passion for teaching others and helping them reach their goals. You can find Arianna on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.