The Introverted Traveler's Lament

The Introverted Traveler's Lament - student project

Every few years I try to travel alone. Each time I imagine that I’ll be more outgoing and have the sorts of wonderful, personal experiences I did when I traveled alone and stayed in youth hostels when I was 22. Each time, though, I realize that I’m not really cut out for solo travel. I hate going to restaurants alone, to say nothing of bars. I’m OK wandering around a city on my own during the day, but invariably wimp out of leaving my hotel alone after dark. My husband will start up conversations with anybody, anywhere, even if they have no common language. At times I’ve found that irritating, our children have often found it embarrassing, but I wish I could do it when I’m travelling alone.

Hostel travel was a great way to meet people when I was young but it doesn’t work quite the same way at nearly 60. Sure, you can stay in hostels and become the eccentric granny figure to the energetic, beautiful young people who are there, but where’s the hostel where I can meet travelers a little closer to my own age? Hostels are certainly nicer now than they were in my youth, but I’m not interested in a noisy party scene or sharing a dorm room and toilets with strangers. I have become too accustomed to creature comforts.

I’ve never been good at the sorts of casual conversations you typically have with people you meet while travelling. My social butterfly friend, Mariana, watched me at a networking event, and said later, “Tema, you don’t have conversations; you interview people.” She was right. I went home and started an interview-based podcast series. My guests and listeners loved the interviews, but I never managed to turn that fandom into friendships.

When I was at home with new babies I was so envious of the moms I’d see pushing strollers and chatting together. I blamed my lack of those types of relationships on the fact that I was living in downtown Toronto, and most of the women with babies I saw were either crack-heads or nannies. (I did have a few lovely chats with nannies, but nothing that would turn into real friendship. I can’t blame them: I was on the employer side.)

When I lived in France with 2 and 5 year old children I blamed the fact that my French wasn’t good enough. I did spend some time with other moms but it was exhausting! My French was good enough that they thought I understood them, and they kept forgetting to slow down. So I’d bluff it for the 20 minute chat after dropping the kids off at kindergarten, but I never had the courage to suggest going for a coffee with anyone.

When I moved to Edmonton, in a neighborhood where a lot of mums did stay at home, I was obsessed with building my business. Once the kids were dropped off I bowed out of the coffee invitations because I wanted to get as much work done as possible while the kids were in school.

There’s always been an excuse. Now though, as I sit here feeling lonely in my hotel room in Istanbul, I finally I have to face the fact I am an introvert, and nothing is going to change that. On the plus side, the Covid-19 lockdowns have been easy for me!