(P.S All the pictures in this post are VERY blurry because I took this trip a million years ago when I was a youngin’ with a very crappy android phone.)
Since the day I realized there’s a magical place on this Earth called Europe, I’ve wanted to go there. In fact, I spent a lot of time in middle school and high school fantasizing about one day running off to Ireland where I’d find myself a handsome Irishman and we’d settle down in our cottage with our pet cow. I’m incredibly happy things didn’t turn out that way because I wouldn’t want anyone but Connor (and I’m not really a pet person), but my obsession with all things Europe was and is very real!
That’s why during my Sophomore year of college, I made the bold decision to apply to my college’s study abroad program! I was ECSTATIC when I got my acceptance email and promptly started packing and learning as much as I could about my upcoming trip.
BYU-Idaho’s Experience Europe program was a one-month trip to 7 different countries with around 40 (I honestly can’t remember how many, but somewhere around there) other students. We’d be flying into London, England and then traveling by bus through Austria, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland! The trip counted towards class credits but didn’t require any tests, papers, or class time. We’d be learning through travel, which I was thrilled about since travel in itself is a great way to learn!
Looking back, I can say that the trip was a pretty great experience, but not one I’d ever do again. Though, I AM glad I went on it because I learned so much about the world and myself! There’re some things I didn’t love about it, but no experience is completely *perfect*.
I’m gonna share all the deets on what I learned from my trip with all of you, so you can get the inside scoop on what it’s like to travel abroad as an introvert. If you’re thinking about studying abroad or just traveling abroad in general as an introvert, this will be a good resource for you to get some insider tips on what went well and what I wish would have been different. Enjoy!
1. Lengthy group travel trips aren’t ideal for introverts.
As much as I enjoyed making new friends on the trip, I started to go a tad bit crazy a couple of weeks in! As you know, if you’ve read anything else on my blog (or ya know, if you’re a human on this planet with access to information), introverts need time alone in order to function properly. Our energy is drained if we don’t get the proper amount of alone time we need.
That’s why being crammed into tiny hostel rooms with 8 other girls, not being allowed to venture out on my own at all, and constant activities/socializing was tough on me.
I didn’t feel like my best self because I wasn’t taking care of my mind in one of the ways it needs to be taken care of! I have to admit that I should have realized this would be an issue for me when I signed up for a GROUP travel program. Like, duh! I guess I just thought I could handle it better than I did!
2. It’s important to take time for self-care, even on a group trip.
There was a rule on our trip that we weren’t supposed to venture off alone. So, basically, I was supposed to live, sleep, sit on a bus, and travel around with groups of people for an ENTIRE month. This was NO BUENO for me, as an introvert.
I’m definitely the kind of person who doesn’t follow rules unless I see a purpose for them, so I have to admit that I did venture out on my own once because I was about to go absolutely CRAZY and I wasn’t enjoying the trip anymore because I was so emotionally/socially exhausted having had no alone time up to that point.
I can’t remember which city we were in, but as soon as we got off the tram one day, I booked it in the opposite direction of my group and then promptly texted someone in the group to tell them that I got lost but I’d meet up with them in a couple of hours. I only did this because I was aware of the fact that people travel alone (yes, even girls) ALL the time and I’d read tips on how to remain safe (+ I was in a big city surrounded by people), so I knew I’d be fine.
Those hours alone were honestly some of my favorite of the whole trip! I was able to just think, look around, and take everything in without my thoughts being interrupted by constant socializing! It was pure bliss after weeks of no privacy and tons of small talk!
BUT for other introverts out there reading this, I highly recommend traveling with just one or two other people (or alone, if you feel comfortable with that). I love traveling with my husband because we can experience things together but we also respect each other’s need for space. And we don’t always have to be talking. Oh, AND cause I CHOSE him as my life partner (he’s not a random person on a group trip), and that makes ALL the difference in the world, haha. The list could go on!
3. I don’t “click” with everyone, and that’s okay.
When I was younger, I made friends with EVERYONE. I remember going to summer camps and having 20 new BFF’s by the end of the trip. But when I was younger, I also didn’t know myself as well as I do now and I wasn’t as confident or happy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve traded making millions of BFF’s with a more true form of happiness that’s developed as I’ve made more time for self-care, spending time on other things that make me happy, choosing my friends more wisely, and spending more time on my family than on friends.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also become warier of WHO I make friends with! So, while part of me was hoping I’d leave the trip with 40 new best friends, I ended up leaving with 0 best friends. I made friends, for sure, but I can’t say I made any life-long ones. I think part of the reason for that is that I wasn’t my best self on the trip, since I wasn’t taking any time to take care of my self (through alone time and other methods) and another reason is just simply because I didn’t “click” with anyone on the trip.
I’m very wary of opening up to people unless I feel comfortable with them, and I didn’t feel that comfortable with anyone there. While it may have been good for me to get out of my comfort zone a little bit more, the ENTIRE TRIP was out of my comfort zone, so to open up more to people I didn’t feel comfortable with probably would have led to a major breakdown.
4. Switching from group to group was my jam.
Since I didn’t really click super-duper with anyone in particular, I made the choice to switch from group to group throughout the trip. I was actually given an award of being a “social chameleon” or something like that, at the end of the trip, meaning that I fit in well with every group and bounced from group to group throughout. I didn’t stick with one or a few people like I would have done in the past because I just wasn’t “clicking” with any of them.
And honestly, I think that’s okay. We put so much pressure on ourselves to make best friends in group situations, that we often become bummed when we aren’t making those lasting connections. It’s better to just say, “Hey, I didn’t click with anyone there but I’m still a likable person who is capable of making lasting friendships, so it’s okay,” or even, “I’m my own best friend so if I don’t click with anyone on the trip I’ll be just fine.”
Switching from group to group was also a really cool learning experience. I sat with the “cool kids” at the back of the bus part of the time, the what might be considered “normal” kids part of the time, and the slightly “odd” or “different” kids part of the time. It was honestly a GREAT learning experience to see how different groups interact together and to just people watch.
4. As an independent person, this wasn’t the best way for me to travel.
I’m a very independent person (aka: sometimes very stubborn). I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like people making decisions for me. And I especially don’t like structured plans that I had no part in planning. I may sound like a bit of a control freak, but honestly, as an adult, most of us do like making our own decisions (especially the ones who don’t allow themselves to be subject to groupthink and conforming).
Having to go along with an exact set of plans (that were one after the other after the other) was so exhausting that I ended up savoring the moments when we were traveling on the bus from one destination to the next! Those were the only times I could put my earbuds in, listen to music, think, and look out the window at all the beautiful scenery without having to socialize or go from place to place to place.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED seeing all the cool places we went, but it DID get exhausting a couple weeks in. I recently learned about a thing called “slow travel” that sounds much more appealing to me than set schedules and packing a million things into each day.
5. I still learned a lot and am grateful for the experience.
I know, it sounds like I HATED this trip. I didn’t hate it. I just wouldn’t do it again. And I want to prevent other introverts from spending thousands of dollars on a trip they may not fully enjoy. BUT I did learn a lot from it and it’s an experience I’m SO glad I was able to have!
Traveling to Europe made me realize how big this world really is. We get so caught up in our own little bubbles, our own cultures, and our own lives that we often forget that this world is full of SO many different kinds of people- who do things differently, think differently, and live in an ENTIRELY different world than ours own.
Even though I went to other first-world countries, I learned so much. I can’t even imagine how much I’d be able to learn if I went to Africa or the Middle East!
This was a great trip that I’ll always remember and look back on with fondness… and it was a great way to get a taste of 7 different countries quickly in order to know which ones I’d like to go back to next time I travel to Europe!
If you’re an introvert, what kind of travel do you prefer? Group, with one or two other people, or by yourself? Let me know in the comments below!