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Traveling With Others: A Few Thought for Introverts (and Misanthropes, and Human Beings, in General)
Article topics: Introversion, Traveling with Others for Introverts, Assertiveness for Introverted Travelers (with their own traveling companions), Assertive Communication, Conflict Resolution, Traveling with Annoying People, Traveling with Others, Traveling with Husbands, Irritating Behavior
Traveling With Others for Introverts (and doing things like dealing with an annoying travel companion and practicing assertive communication skills for everyone else as well)
Travelers, particularly female travelers, often have concerns when it comes to solo travel, as the myriad articles, books, and blog posts on the topic seem to indicate. But traveling with others comes with its own set of challenges. Sometimes the “Others” who make our lives difficult include the people that we also love — friends and family, and traveling can be difficult even (or sometimes especially) with them, and sometimes as much or even more than traveling in a tour group with people you don’t know.
Here are some thoughts on traveling with others for introverts or anyone who faces challenges when they travel with other people — which, I think is all of us at one time or another. This is based on my own experience – I invite you to comment on anything you find helpful when journeying with others.
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Introverts are often misunderstood. Don’t get me wrong — I stopped whining about being “misunderstood” years ago and learned at least some degree of self acceptance — that quiet was simply an integral part of me — like my blue eyes or birthmark. Thankfully, we introverts are less misunderstood than we used to be due to plenty of books like Quiet and blogs like Introvert Dear raising awareness that we aren’t, somehow, “defective.”
If you haven’t already been inundated by the subject of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, the usual definition of an introvert is someone who “recharges” her energy from time alone vs. time with others (the way extroverts “recharge their batteries”).
I like my shell, thank you, and I am “being myself.”
This doesn’t mean that we are misanthropes and don’t like other people (unless they continuously tell us we’re “too quiet” or to “come out of our shell” – statements like these may be innocent but sound critical to our ears). It also doesn’t mean that we always want to be alone or travel alone. It just means that we need to make sure we carve out niches of time in our schedule that allow us to pursue quiet solo activities. Often this is writing, drawing, photography, or reading as introverts are often creative types (though I wonder about Jonathan Ruach’s statement that “we’re a majority in the gifted population”). However, some people tend to misunderstand or misinterpret this need to have time alone, and take it personally.
Do I fault them for this? No. People tend to look for acceptance, and if someone is quiet, it’s all too easy to project imagined thoughts and feelings onto her and then interpret this as “she doesn’t like me,” or “she’s ‘antisocial'” or “she doesn’t like people.”
We are not “antisocial,” quiet does not equal “weak,” and when we ask for time alone, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean that we don’t like traveling with you. Ultimately, however, the responsibility lies with us introverts, to communicate to our traveling companions that we do enjoy their presence but simply thrive on bouts of quietude.
And, that’s what pretty much all issues with traveling with other people come down to, introvert or extrovert – communication. Communication, listening, and willingness to compromise.
Planning When Traveling with Other People
Communication and logistical planning well in advance of your trip go a long way toward having a successful journey together.
Planning Your Activities in Advance
Before you land, before you get on the plane, and before you even purchase your tickets…talk. Talk about your hopes and expectations for the trip. Be clear about things you absolutely won’t do (An open conversation may bring up things that your partner expects to do that you are actually opposed to…say, a couple’s skydiving jump as an example.)
It’s better to talk openly about these things before planning activities for your trip. Talk about what you most want to do. Make separate written lists, if necessary, and compare them. Your lists may be different. It’s perfectly OK to do some activities on a trip solo, even if you’re traveling together. Likely, you’ll enjoy yourselves more and enjoy spending time together even more when you do the items on your lists that overlap.
Talk Openly About Your Needs
And talk about your needs. If you’re an introvert, explain your needs for quiet time, and time alone.
I am fortunate. My husband also is someone who needs some time apart, and so he understands my need for alone time. However, we don’t see eye to eye on everything (my photography being one typical source of arguments), and we usually end up doing a few things solo on our trips together.
If you’re traveling with someone you don’t know as well, advance communication can be especially important. Hopefully, you’re going with someone who can accept and respect your needs. Someone who won’t get offended or hurt (or call you “boring”) when you explain that taking an afternoon writing break, for instance, will help you “recharge your batteries,” so that you will have more fun (and be able to make it through) dinner and dancing later.
A brief note on family travel:
Discussing how you’re going to handle watching the kids before you go on your trip can be imperative.
When our kids were younger and we traveled anywhere, we sometimes arranged turns with the kids so each of us could have a solo break to explore personal interests and have relaxing time. Then you can go back to your children refreshed and with a good attitude.
If you’re going on the cheap and backpacking and staying in hostels, there’s less opportunity to carve out niches of solo space. When I travel with my family, though, that’s not what we’re doing. As my children got older, it became harder to share a room, which turned into renting multiple rooms and got prohibitively expensive.
In comes AirBNB and VRBO! Staying in a home vs. a hotel allows us to share a common area to have meals or socialize while having our own alcoves we can retreat to for solitude when needed; a balance between togetherness and privacy. AirBNB, however, comes with its own set of risks – sometimes you are not fully aware of what you’re getting until you get there.
On The Trip
While advance communication is important, things may (will) come up on your trip.
Traveling with “Difficult People”
When I feel myself starting to get distressed about the behavior of others, or begin to feel that my needs and wishes aren’t being met on a trip and hear myself internally complaining about another person on my trip being “difficult,” the first thing I do is stop and ask myself a question:
“WHO is being difficult here?”
Sometimes, I find that the problematic person is me. Not always, but sometimes.
When I’m traveling with other people, it’s not all about me and my needs and what I want. If I find that I’m being demanding and insisting on having everything my way, an apology might be in order.
However, my needs are important, too. How can I find a balance between meeting my needs and your needs if we have a conflict? Additionally, how do you address your travel partner’s behavior that you see as problematic?
Hopefully, you already communicated in advance about your hopes and dreams for your trip as well as your needs for private time, if you’re an introvert. But if you’re finding that something is not going right: either you feel a growing, gnawing discontent that you’re not getting to do what you want, or you sense that your travel partner is irritated at something you’re doing, or your travel partner’s behavior is increasingly bothering you, it might be time for a sit-down.
Know Thyself First Before Thou Speakest
Before your have your “sit-down”, pause and take a deep breath, make sure you’re calm. Make sure you’ve defined clearly to yourself what it is you really want or need, or what behavior you want to be changed before you try to describe it to your partner. If there’s time before the conversation, journaling is one tool that helps me calm down and define what I want to say. Writing is often how I “hear myself think.”
Specific and Nonjudgmental
Be specific when you are communicating with your traveling companion about challenging behaviors. Even more so if there’s a behavior that you want him to change. Find ways to describe the distressing behavior and your desired outcome without making overarching blanket statements. Pull out your best assertiveness training techniques. Use “I statements” and not “you” statements. Never say, “you never,” or “you always.”
Don’t (*ahem*, just saying…for instance) yell at your partner and tell him he’s a cridiculous crudmudgeon who must not love you at all because he refuses to take your photo or have any couples photos taken on your adventures. Instead, calmly tell your partner that it is deeply meaningful to you to have at least a few photos taken of you as a couple on your trip, instead of just pictures of places and buildings.
This goes for traveling with traveling with annoying people in general — you’ll be more likely to have a good outcome if you remain in the middle ground of assertiveness and be direct but calm about your concerns instead of flying off the handle or not saying anything and then walking around grumbling under your breath and making little angry gestures (if you do this, the annoying person may be you).
Books on Assertive Communication Skills
A book I read years ago that I found helpful in practicing assertive communication is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, (audiobook version here) Ph.D. In it, he goes over some of the principles I just touched on here. You can find several other good books on the subject of calm, yet assertive, communication as well, but Nonviolent Communication was one of my favorites (and is due for a reread as I’ll admit I read it years ago).
Watch Your Tone!
If your traveling companion is anything like my husband or one of my daughters, make sure you do NOT launch into what I call the “therapist” tone of voice when you inflict your practice of nonviolent or assertive communication on them! They will know you are “practicing” something on them and hate it! But be real, not forced, and it can go a long way toward diffusing tension and facilitating productive conversations.
Hopefully, if you’ve defined what you “must do” on this adventure, and your partner has, too, you can come to some sort of agreement.
Introverts, it’s said, are good listeners. This isn’t always the case. Not all introverts are anxious, but I’m making an educated guess that there are more introverts with anxiety, at least social anxiety, than extroverts. Anxiety, in my experience, is the enemy of active listening. If I’m anxious, I’m focused on my own, internal, story, and not hearing you. If I’m anxious, I’m also more likely to back down from getting my individual needs met to gain your approval and reduce the tension in the situation.
People can tell if you’re genuinely listening, and when people feel like they are heard, that is a rare and precious thing that can go a long way toward diffusing a tense situation.
Learn some relaxation techniques and practice them, if you can, before you start a potentially confrontational conversation. Hopefully, you can hear what your partner wants and they will, in turn, actively listen to you, and you can come up with a plan to resolve your difficulties that is satisfactory to both of you.
Stand Out of the Way and Let it Go By
However, if you are dealing with someone who is angry, often there is no listening going on on the part of the other person. When I was young, and in training as an OT, one of my preceptors told me that her technique, which she claimed to had learned in a Thich Nhat Hanh course was, “stand out of the way, and let it go by.” Stand calm, listen, and visualize the other person’s anger passing by you without absorbing it yourself. This approach has worked for me when dealing with angry people. Getting defensive doesn’t work in these situations. Simply letting the other person vent may diffuse the situation so a real conversation can subsequently take place.
What about Tour Groups?
My spouse and I both have tour-group-avoidance. I’ve taken (and loved) short-duration food tours at times, but I shy away from taking a full trip with a tour group because I tend to like to go off and be able to do my own thing when I want to do it. The other, more secret, reason is the people.
My husband has the fantasy of taking a Viking River cruise when he retires – the one that lasts several months and is way more than we’ll probably be able to, or want to, afford in our retirement. But then, he points out, we’d have to hang out with people regularly. We’d have to get to know people.
He said this firmly tongue-in-cheek and we had a good laugh. Kind of. I do like people! But if you’re an introvert and end up with a group that expects you to be always “on,” it can get tiring and irritating.
The same principals apply here as for situations with people you know better. Sometimes people just need reassurance; the reassurance that THEY are OK. That if you’re quieter or need solo time that’s just the way you are – it doesn’t mean that you dislike them — and you’d be happy to join them at the table, or at the party, later after you’ve written this essay or finished your sketch.
And, again, advanced planning. If you’re going to plunge ahead and go on a group tour, make sure you know what the lodging arrangements will be and that they will enable you to relax and get some downtime.
And a note on practicing acceptance
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
You can communicate, practice assertive communication, plan in advance, but ultimately, the only person’s behavior you have control over is your own. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, try to find what’s good about your trip and your traveling partner, remind yourself what a blessing it is to simply be here now, that this trip is what it is, and accept the present moment. Even if the trip is consisting of being yelled at for your dog’s barking while their dogs were the ones that peed on the rental furniture the moment you arrived. Deep breath!
And if you’re an introvert, and you’ve communicated, and you’ve looked at your own behavior, and you’re still hearing the astute obervation of “You’re so quiet!” or being told to “just be yourself” when you are just being you, remember the words of Dr. Seuss: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Ultimately, if you can’t practice acceptance, if the trip turns out to be a terrible situation, unless there’s the drastic option of getting out: of changing your itinerary and going separate ways (unless, of course, the difficult people are your children).
But let’s hope that doesn’t happen – most problems are resolvable with excellent communication.
Any suggestions for traveling with others for introverts?
Are you an introvert? Is there anything you’ve found particularly helpful when traveling with others? Introvert travel tips? Anything you do to cope with an annoying travel companion or difficult people? Tour tips for introverts? Please feel free to share below in the comments section!
*Just a not-so-brief note on the featured photo and text, for those who are interested:
I write about my spouse, who is actually a lovely and kind person (except when it comes to my photography hobby and a few other things) with his verbal permission. I just hope he remembers that he gave me verbal permission!
That is not us in the photo. It is another couple, at Stirling castle in Scotland, approaching what is, perhaps the best couples photo opportunity I have come across.
My spouse has issues with my photography, some of which I understand. He doesn’t like me trying to take food photos when we’re in a restaurant. There goes food writing! And he doesn’t like my attempts at “street photography,” thinking that they’re invasive (I’m actually very polite which is why I don’t get great street photos). I do understand that photography can take you out of the moment, and that the lens can be a filter between you and experience. There are times to put the camera away. However, what I don’t understand, is that he has never wanted to take my photo or have our photo taken as a couple, except, perhaps, at our wedding or on a few other occasions. He’ll say “who wants to see us?” and the answer, on my part is always “I do!”
The couple sat in the chairs, fit for a king and queen, and we obliged them by taking their photo. Afterward, they paused, ready to be asked to take our photo in return. I looked at my spouse, saw the closed expression on his face, decided not to press it, and didn’t ask them. They thanked us for the photo and walked away. I believe they appeared a bit puzzled.
I had already talked with him about my feelings about photography. Additionally, anger did not work (see the cridiculous crudgemudgeon statement above!). So instead of having the conversation again, in a very passive-aggressive move ( though I so hate that term) I sobbed my heart out in writing into the pages of my journal, which I left out in the open in a very visible spot.
Soon after that I found that my spouse was offering to take photos and even *gasp* trying to take SELFIES of us together! What was this strange, and foreign, behavior? I asked him if he had, perhaps, read my journal, which he vehemently denied. “I would NEVER do that without your permission!” and explained that he had just come around and realized how much the photos meant to me. Hmmm….
I relayed this story to our (adult) daughter. This was her assessment: “He TOTALLY read your journal!!!” I do not recommend this approach — direct conversation is best. However, something seems to have worked for me here…