It was a Friday afternoon at the clinic I was practicing at. My supervisor stuck his head in my office, and asked me if I had plans for the weekend. I replied I had a hotel room reserved and I was going to go to another city for the weekend. He hesitated and said OK, like that wasn’t the answer he was expecting. In my usual direct manner, I asked “do you think it is abnormal to stay in a hotel alone?” He assured me it wasn’t and wished me a good weekend. It may be abnormal for an extravert to travel alone. For an introvert, it is standard. Traveling and exploring, on foot or bike, close to home or in a distant land, is an enriching experience. Traveling alone can be even more enriching. I didn’t intend to actually stay in the hotel room. I intended to spend most of the time exploring a huge park, walking on the trails and drinking fresh cold underground spring water, looking for things to photograph, walking downtown, browsing in Barnes and Noble, and finding great food at the numerous bakeries, the gelato shop, farmer’s market, and Food co-op. I can linger as long as a want , or bypass places that don’t interest me without trying the patience of traveling companions.

The difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Extraverts tend to be tourists. Tourists are important. They stay at expensive hotels; they eat at expensive restaurants, pay for admission to parks, and buy a lot of souvenirs. They pump up local economies, and in some places, tourism is the main source of income. Without tourism, some local economies would collapse. Tourists and travelers can be differentiated at a glance. Tourists go to the safe places. They carry local maps. They stand and gawk at the sites. They buy souvenirs made for tourists, e.g., refrigerator magnets.

Travelling is a different activity than tourism, with a different state of mind. Travelers go to out of the way places that tourists avoid, or don’t notice. Travelers don’t use GPS or maps, accept in extremis. They explore, and go down side roads and back roads to see what they can discover. They eat at hole- in- the-wall food shacks and road side stands, because they know places like that often serve the best food, because they are so small they exercise better quality control. Travelers know at least a little of the local language, and immerse themselves deeper in the local culture than tourists do (Walsh, n.d.).

Here are some tips to make traveling alone a memorable experience:

Choose the best option for traveling, based on the resources and time you have available.

  • Vacations are typically a week or more, and you will probably go more than 200 miles from your home.
  • Weekend getaways: Take off Friday at 5:00, and get back Sunday evening after dark. Pack as much as you can into about 60 hours.
  • Staycations: when cash is limited, or you have recently relocated, explore your town as if you were visiting there.
  • Day trips: Self-explanatory- you take a trip for the day.
  • Microadventures: This can be an afternoon or evening fishing, hiking, trail running, kayaking, or whatever you like doing (Keyes. 2015; n.a., 2015). Microadventures can also be done during downtime on business travel. I spent a great morning discovering and photographing gargoyles on an old building and a cathedral in St. Johns bury, in northern Vermont when I had to go to the town on business.

Before you go:

1. Leave your plans with the outside world, especially if going to a remote wilderness area, or foreign country. Email or call, or although an archaic form of communication, talk to someone face to face, and let them know where you are going, when you are returning, and how to respond if they do not hear from you in the allotted time. Redundancy is a good thing. Check in this way with at least three people.

2. Have an itinerary, but keep it flexible. Have a rough outline of where you want to go and what you want to see. Before I take off, I make a list of things I want to photos, food I have to try, and if going someplace where English is not the first language, at least 10 new words I want to pick up. I also make outdoor vs bad weather activities.

3. Be fit and healthy. IF you are going to primarily explore on foot or by bicycle, you need to be up to the task. I live in a hilly city, and watched two young but overweight women stopping to rest as they were having trouble climbing the hill. If you have any injuries sustained from your last adventure, you be healed so you are not impaired during your getaway, and any medical conditions you have, such as migraines, should be well managed.

4. Be prepared. What is your EDC (Every Day Carry)? Include a small but very bright flashlight, commonly known as a tactical flashlight, (Surefire.com, 2015), a Life Straw if you are in the outdoors, or in a city with questionable municipal water, (Lifestraw, 2014). and a basic first aid kit. Gum or mints are a good have-along as well. BTW, the gum in Canada is of different quality than American gum. It is minty enough to make your eyes water. I always buy about 10 packs when I go.

5. Be safe. One benefit of being traveler vs a tourist is that travelers blend in. They don’t stand out as much, because they go to places where the locals go, they dress like a local or they dress non-descript, and travelers take the time to recognize and appreciate the local culture, and learn some of the local language. Don’t gawk or look lost, or display wads of cash. Look like you belong there, and don’t draw attention. What am I saying- if you are an introvert reading this, you don’t go out of your way to draw attention. Just do what comes natural. Seriously, here must reads to be safer: The Little Black book of Violence and The Gift of Fear.

Once you get there:

6. Disconnect- don’t even wear a watch. When I go for a getaway, I leave my watch at home. I don’t care what time it is. Cell phones- I must grudgingly admit good for emergencies- but use for emergencies. You don’t need to check your email every five minutes, or post to Facebook, or twitter or Instagram constantly. You will miss out on the experience of where you are.

7. Keep a journal- hardcopy leather bound, or a simple steno pad, or on your device. This down not contradict item #6. This is about focusing on the experience.

8. Have a camera to capture your memories, either still images or video.

9. Try things that are different, and get outside your comfort zone. This could be getting lost and just seeing where the road takes you.

Traveling is just too enriching and expanding an experience to miss out on. Going alone gives you maximum freedom and flexibility to soak up the experience.

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice, Otter Creek Associates
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology, Community College of Vermont & Burlington College
Freelance Behavioral Science writer