My travel attitude adjustment


My name is Kate, and I’m a shy person. I’m also an introvert, which I guess goes with the territory.

This doesn’t mean I can’t make eye contact or that I sit in a corner sucking my thumb. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy conversing with people; in fact, I love hearing people’s stories and figuring out what makes them tick. I just don’t love walking up to strangers in public settings. Or private ones, either. I don’t like parties, but I don’t hole up for days on end without human contact. (Oh, wait. I do.)

Being introverted hasn’t stopped me from SOME kinds of high-risk social behavior. I somehow ended up doing journalism, which was interesting but kind of like being a guppy in a koi pond. Why didn’t I become a kindergarten teacher or a small-town librarian–careers that don’t require, you know, that I actually talk to grown-ups.

And even though I’ve interviewed doctors, scientists, and company kings, I’ll still stand on a street corner, turning my map every which way for 20 minutes before asking that nice man selling newspapers where the subway stop is. I’ll walk into a random seedy restaurant rather than asking someone at the hotel for a recommendation.

Why can’t I be more like my best girlfriend? If she is standing a street corner, she’ll walk up to the first person she sees and ask “Where am I?” and “What’s your name?” and “Oh, are you related to…?”

In some ways my personal quirks make me perfect for solo travel. I don’t mind eating alone or wandering around city streets. In fact, I like being by myself. And I don’t seem to have the normal fear of personal harm from random strangers. I think this comes from once having lived in the middle of Detroit. If I didn’t die there, I’m not likely to in Latin America.  Actually, I’m more afraid of tripping over my own feet or having a rock fall on my head (both of which have happened) than of harm from some human miscreant. (Yes, Mom, I know it can happen, and I will be careful.)

But I hang back. I watch the action rather than diving into it. I miss opportunities for engagement. I hesitate. I lose my mojo and slink back to the hotel rather than walk into the bar where the live music is playing.


I want to change this. I want feel more uninhibited and less shy. I want to walk up to that guy on the street corner and ask for directions, in another language if necessary.  Maybe strike up a random conversation. Peek into that interesting courtyard. Or just walk around with a smile on my face, for pete’s sake.

And Mexico (where I’m going in a few weeks) is a perfect place to practice.

Mexican people are friendly, by and large. The culture is hugely colorful–all that food and artisanal stuff—basketry, pottery, silverwork, leatherwork, jewelry, coffee, and um, other beverages. All those fiestas.

I’m excited to be going there, and I want to rock that place. I want to feel as though I’ve really seen it, not passed through like a ghost. I don’t want to skulk, and feel stupid, and miss the good stuff. I want to dismantle that annoying barrier between me and this juicy, yeasty, fecund world.

I’m not sure how to make it happen. Shyness is hard-wired–I’m left-handed and I’m shy. I have blue eyes and I’m shy. But I won’t accept that I can’t change,  however incrementally. That I’m stuck with the shy gene.

Once, I was on an overlook at a tourist site (La Bufadora) in Ensenada. I was watching all the people milling around below, and the water shooting through the rocks, and I was feeling alone and uncomfortable. Then I realized that by making a mental quarter-turn, I could be watching people mill around at this tourist site in Mexico and that it could be delightful. All I had to do was look through a slightly different lens–the Wow! Isn’t this great lens rather than the I feel so alone and self-conscious one. All I had to do was to turn away from myself. It wasn’t hard.

If only I can remember that.

Yes I can!

How about you? Are you shy? How do you deal with it? Or…am I just really weird? 

(Shy turtle photo by Amber Summerow)




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5 Responses to My travel attitude adjustment

  1. Ainlay Dixon 28 September, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I know how you feel and it’s only accentuated by being married to an extroverted Irishman who treats every random stranger as his best new friend. I just CAN’T do that! Amazing how what
    just feels feels totally normal for one person looks weird or fake/snobby to another. Try couch surfing – it is a wonderful way to meet local people who uniformly were generous and genuinely interested in meeting you.

    I’ll be going to Mexico City for a wedding next spring – let me know what I have to see around there!

    • Kate Convissor 28 September, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

      After reading your story about how your husband got to Mongolia, I can only say that he would make Dale Carnegie look like Bashful (the dwarf). Anyone would be a social midget compared to him.

      I’ve thought about couchsurfing, and honestly, I’d really have to take a deep breath because it involves, um, interacting with people, like, for more than a DAY. I should try it, though. Just as a getting over myself exercise.

      I’ve been to Mexico City twice, but once when I was 17 and once more recently, but only for a day. So–not much help. Teotihuacan, of course. We catholics have to visit the Guadelupe (basilica), of course. If I were going, i’d find some Frida Kahlo stuff, but I’m sure you will.

  2. Justin 28 September, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Not weird Kate, just insightful!!

  3. Kate Convissor 27 September, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    I didn’t get a part in the Christmas pageant, either, but it was because I couldn’t sing. (Still can’t)

    I think I’d be ok with introvert. It’s the shy part that holds me back. All these new hats I’ve been wearing lately (transient, trailer trash, er, inhabitant) haven’t been great for self-image, but maybe self-image was a little shaky to begin with.

    Yes, I DO know how sweetly many people respond to being noticed. I think one thing we introverts do well is to notice other people, maybe because we don’t tend to toot our own horns?

  4. Lois 27 September, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    I was so shy as a child that my Sunday School teacher wasn’t sure I could talk. I didn’t get a part in the Christmas pageant. I still feel myself to be introverted, but I’m not sure I’m “shy” any more… Partly it’s been increasing comfort with myself, partly it’s been seeing the effect on other people when I reach out. People *like* to be noticed! Hey! Remember that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth takes down Darcy (at the piano, I believe) for lack of practice?