First, if you are shy, then it’s a huge struggle to get out of your comfort zone to be around a lot of people you don’t know. Second, if you are an introvert (like me) you probably can be pretty comfortable keeping to yourself. So the fact you are even thinking of venturing out into the world of traveling and staying in hostels is amazing! Congratulations! You are about to do something extroidinary that will change your life forever!
I didn’t think too much before staying in my first hostel, alone. I was in my early 20’s and it just seemed like the thing to do if you wanted to travel on a budget. I was looking forward to the freedom staying in a hostel allowed me to have. I was excited to be alone in a country far from my own without anyone to help me, and that should have been terrifying, but it wasn’t.
In another country, as a foreigner you stick out, and not only do you stick out to the locals, but to other foreigners as well. You are part of an exclusive club of travelers, except in this club any traveler is welcome. Somehow being a foreigner amongst other travelers dulls your shyness and you easily strike up conversations with strangers. It’s easy because if you don’t ask them what they are doing there and how long they have been traveling, they will ask you. You have something in common with almost every person you meet in a hostel, you are wanting adventure, to see something new, to have out of the ordinary experiences.
I don’t know if it works for everyone like it’s worked for me, so these are just my opinions on how staying in hostels can change you. If you want to get out of your shell, and get out of your comfort zone, traveling and staying in a few hostels can give you a confidence you didn’t have before. Here are my tips for staying in hostels if you are a shy introvert like me.
Use the common areas of the hostel.
UGH! This was not fun for me at first. I wanted to hide in my room and read or simply leave the hostel and find a pretty place and explore. I was not interested in meeting people when I first stayed in hostels. I do love people, and I do love meeting people, but sometimes the effort it takes for me to strike up conversations with new people is enough to keep me alone in my comfort zone. You won’t be sorry though if you hang out for a bit in the common areas of the hostel. Take a book, a computer, or journal, and practice relaxing and being around people. It’s normal. You won’t look out of place and someone might strike up a conversation with you so you don’t have to do any work.
Make occasional eye contact.
Ok, I don’t mean it in a creepy way, don’t stare people down. But don’t keep your head down the whole time either. If you see someone in the room that looks like they might want to talk, just be open to it, and look open to it. If you keep your head down in your book or journal the entire time you are in the common area, you won’t make any friends.
Bring a hat, iPod, and earphones.
One thing about hostels is they are friendly, and people want to meet you. In case you are tired and needing that alone time to recharge, bring a hat and earphones, no one will bother you. You won’t look like a loner (even if you do, who cares?). Most people will just respect that you are taking some you time and leave it at that, or won’t notice you at all. And this way you can hang out in one of the common areas or the your bunk, and not worry about anyone bothering you after a long day of site seeing.
Don’t stress if the first person you talk to doesn’t actually want to talk.
I stayed in one hostel for a week in Portugal. I was fine site seeing alone but after a couple of days I really wanted to find one or two people to site see with. I had tried striking up a conversation with a boy who was eating alone at breakfast and lunch on different days. While he said hi and was interested in talking to me for a little bit, he also seemed very stand offish, and I felt awkward every time I tried to strike up a conversation with him. Come to find out he was traveling with three girls, and they hadn’t arrived at the hostel yet. So I am guessing he didn’t want another girl hanging around, or he just really didn’t like me, haha. I felt slightly rejected, but didn’t let it get to me. One day I was eating breakfast alone and a girl from the Netherlands came over and sat by me. We started talking, she had just arrived and wanted someone to site see with. Bingo! We had a blast together, we did a whole day visiting castles and then the next day rode bicycles to the beach. Her friend joined us on our bicycle ride and we all had a great time.
Don’t be scared of public showers.
I can’t really think of anything to help a shy introvert with public showers. I have never had to talk to anyone in a public shower, it’s kind of like a public restroom, most people just ignore each other. Or maybe I just ignore most people and other people strike up conversations in the restroom? But that seems so odd to me so surely they don’t. I think it’s weird I am even talking about this. I guess the only tip I have for you would be to bring flip flops, don’t shower without them.
Take advantage of any group tours or meals
There are new people arriving at the hostel every day. It’s fun to see where everyone is coming from and traveling to. Taking a group tour is a great way to naturally meet someone. Sometimes the setting is all a shy introvert needs to come out of their shell. When you are on a tour it’s easy to talk to someone you don’t know because you are both excited about going somewhere or doing something new. Meals are a great way to meet people. Try sitting at a main table and not always a table in the corner. You don’t even have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to, though a friendly smile and a greeting goes a long way. Also when you smile and look people in the eye it shows them you are confident (even if you are faking it).
Keep an eye out for another solo traveler or a group of two.
Large groups traveling together aren’t always the best groups to try to break into. It’s not that they aren’t friendly, but they are there to spend time with each other. They may talk to you but if you are wanting someone to site see with or to make a friend, large groups aren’t ideal for that. I’ve found it easier to meet people when it’s just 1 or 2 people traveling together. One time I was hiking in the Rain Forest in Costa Rica and ran into a couple girls traveling together. We stopped to say hello and inquire where the other was from. Turns out they were from Austin. I was living in Dallas at the time. We kept in contact and I even drove down to visit them in Austin when we all had returned to the States. Pretty cool.
Be yourself and have fun!
At the end of the day, even if you don’t talk to many people, or if you talk to more people than you want, this is your trip! Have fun, be confident in who you are! You are a wonderful creation full of life, full of adventure, and you have a lot to offer the world! People need to know you, don’t hide behind any excuses you’ve made in the past to close yourself off to the world. Love yourself and do your best to love others, even if it puts you out of your comfort zone. Enjoy your travels!