I should say “we” because I am an admitted introvert, too.
Dembling’s funny and honest essay addresses the problems, pitfalls, and advantages of introversion while traveling, like the chatty people you meet at B&Bs (they always seem to be the same couple, no matter where you are in the world). And it got me thinking about a problem I constantly face in travel writing — the need to engage in conversation with complete strangers. After all, dialogue is an essential component of good travel writing. Some of the most memorable passages of the best books involve dialogue and interaction.
It’s important to understand that introversion is in no way a condition of shyness (for the best description of introverts ever penned, read Jonathan Rauch’s 2003 essay from The Atlantic Monthly). When I am strolling through a frozen village in the Russian countryside, or sitting in a pub in rural Scotland, it is not shyness that keeps me from talking to people. I simply prefer quiet. Most introverts do, most of the time. I love you, now shush, as Jonathan Rauch says.
I realized some years ago that, although dialogue is necessary for travel writing, it is certainly not sufficient. There are advantages to being an introverted traveler. You pay more attention to your surroundings. You notice things other people don’t. You’re willing to pause more often, and contemplate where you are and what it means. I find that a great number of great travel writers are in fact introverts — sometimes travel-lust and introversion go hand-in-hand. You don’t get lonely. You don’t get bored. You take in your surroundings with more senses: what the air smells like, how a stone feels, the exact texture of silence or noise. And a few high-quality exchanges can give you all the dialogue you need. A flash of gold tooth, a comment on the government, a question about children, you’ve got your experience distilled.
So I cheer on all the introvert travelers out there. As Sophia Dembling says at the end of her piece, “It’s good to know that I might be a loner, but I’m not alone.” Cheers, Sophia.
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