I’m the kind of person who loves being at home. I revel in solitary hours spent baking and listening to podcasts. I’ll make a brief appearance at a party and cut out early to relax in bed with a book. My apartment is my sanctuary, notebooks my closest confidants. I’m a loner and proud.
When I was twenty-four I decided to take myself on a trip across Europe for six weeks. I wanted to see Europe: the medieval towers, the cobblestone streets, the Parisian windows with delicate lace curtains billowing in the wind. I wanted to experience the history, the Globe Theatre and the Anne Frank House, the birthplace of all the stories that had touched me over the years.
But most of all I wanted to do it on my own, in total solitude. A tour de discovery. A wild embrace of my true self: the loner, the introvert, the bookworm and the wallflower. I quit my job, packed a copy of War and Peace I’d been putting off for ages, said goodbye to my close friends and family and flew from Toronto to London.
When you’re young and broke and traveling abroad, cultivating a quiet home base is nearly impossible. Youth hostels are not set up for being alone. In fact, they seem to be facilitators of the exact opposite (who knew). But I was looking for quiet. And it couldn’t be found in the hostel pub, on the red velvet seats of a pint-glass covered booth. The roommates I exchanged niceties with were exceedingly cordial, just looking for a good time, but boundaries had to be set. I put myself out of action’s way and went to bed early. I was up every morning and out the door, into the world, entirely out of my element with a backpack full of provisions and a map in hand.
Outside the hostel, tentatively stepping onto British streets, I discovered the day-to-day of London was not so unlike Toronto. Aloof commuters on the train, heads buried in the paper. Blending in was easy. Any metropolis will leave you to your own devices if you want it to. And I found Paris treated me with the same distant resolve. Enjoy the city, but you’re on your own. My alone places became corner cafes and espresso counters, peaceful hours on park benches and in the backs of pubs. In London and Paris I learned how to be alone on the move, to carve out little sanctuaries of comfort and then say goodbye.
The homebody has to adapt on the road. The introvert has to learn to be impulsive with their space. Like I said, my comfort zone features sweat pants, my couch, a good movie and a glass of red wine. But when I was on the move, I had to give my natural inclination to huddle up indoors in order to better preserve my solitude. I discovered new quiet comforts. Belgian fries served with a tiny plastic fork. A crisp pilsner in a busy Czech square. Standing in front of Manet’s Olympia at the Musée d'Orsay. Eating falafel in Brussels’ Grand-Place. Catching sight of a medieval-looking castle from the train on my way to Bruges. Walking along sunny canals in Amsterdam. Eating a late night burger under the train tracks in Berlin.
I spent a lot of time out in the world, more than I ever would in my own city, and much more than the extroverts hanging out back at the hostel. This is the travelling introvert’s paradox, I think. That the best way to be alone while traveling is to get out in the world and do it.
Every introvert should travel alone at some point in their life. It’s formative. It’s one of those unfortunate, cheesy truths. The personal victories, speaking restaurant-passable French and German, navigating nine different transit systems, walking nearly ten kilometers a day and hitting every museum on my bucket list, were made that much sweeter because I did it on my own. And I did it on my own terms, catching trains all by my lonesome, eating in restaurants with my book, tucking myself in at a reasonable hour and waking up every day, knowing that I could be alone on the move. I conquered travel. And all I needed to bring the comfort of my apartment with me, was me.