The Quiet Traveller
by Simon Phillimore
In 2013 my life was changed by a book. The completely ice white cover intrigued me, so I picked it up, and from that moment, although I did not yet know it, my perspective on life would be altered.
That was how the Bible became my source of inspiration. I have spent the last years as a Jehovah’s Witness, going door to door, saving sinners from the fiery depths of hell, repenting their sins and subscribing them to a biblical barrage of religious literature.
In reality, the book was called ‘Quiet’, and was created by one Susan Cain, who had a career as a lawyer before becoming a successful writer. The book’s tagline was ‘The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. To summarise, it’s all about introverts and how they fit into our societies, what their abilities are, what their preferences are, and most importantly for me, how they should view themselves.
What exactly is an introvert? The terms extrovert and introvert get banded about a lot on places like Buzzfeed these days (I simultaneously loathe and love Buzzfeed) but it’s hard to find a genuine definition. Introverts prefer one on one conversation to group chats, mindful activities like reading, and need time alone to recharge their batteries. The battery is a fantastic analogy for introverts. Solitude recharges the battery; social activities drain it. But it is important to note that this drain is not a necessarily a bad thing, it is simply a consequence of a social activity. Spending time at a party might be an enjoyable experience for an introvert – they get to see their friends and laugh with them and share stories. But this also drains the social batteries, and after a certain amount of time, varying person by person, the battery will be empty. At this point, solitude beckons to relax and recharge.
The reason ‘Quiet’ changed my life, was because it made me realise I wasn’t broken. Year after year, during parent evenings at school, the teachers would always report that I was a great student, but just didn’t participate enough. This was incredibly frustrating for me. ‘Fuck you’, I thought. ‘I’ll speak when I feel like it.’ But at the same time, this made me wonder, what exactly was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I speak more in class? Why was I so quiet compared to everyone else? What was wrong with me? There was undoubtedly a layer of shyness, which has been very nearly completely lifted at this point in my life. But there was something deeper than that. I hadn’t realised that my personality was that of the introvert, someone who was being drained by the large groups that make up day to day classroom life.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to say all this when I set out to write this, but I’m on a roll so let’s roll on. It’s really quite depressing to think you’re broken. Numerous times I just collapsed in my mind, because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It didn’t help most of my friends were and are real characters, so I was comparing myself to people who didn’t have a problem participating and floating their conversations from person to person.
‘Quiet’ made me realise that these things I thought were problems were simply my personality, and that a huge number of people have got the same personality as well. It made me realise that there are strengths to being an introvert, which I’ll explore during my tales of adventure. It made me realise I’m quite good at listening, which can’t be bad given a lot of people I know like to speak a lot of words (which isn’t a bad thing in itself, as long as the words makes sense). And it made me realise it’s ok to be the way I am.
But to clarify, I do like people. I need people. Everyone does. But my favourite kind of conversation with people is 1 on 1. Because there’s no distractions, no external factors, no pressures, it’s simply the two people conversing. It’s a real connection, as explained in this quote.
People are so much more interesting when you know where they come from, what they hope for, why they do the things they do. This information is hard to come by when everything is noisy and high-octane. The quiet moments allow for connection, and connection is important to introverts. – Michelle Richmond, author.
Well, it’s connection until someone pulls out their phone, which is fine if a wild Charizard appears but other than that it’s just a bit rude isn’t it?
On a side note, why do people always assume quiet people are serial killers? My theory is that people are afraid of the unknown, and what they can’t easily make an assessment of. Although I guess yes, it does help if you don’t talk a lot to prevent the spilling of the hidden body location beans.
So the above is the hard spirit of this series. The mixer? Travelling the world has always been a dream of mine, and luckily enough, I got to do just that earlier this year. But at first glance, travelling solo as an introvert does not seem like the logical thing to do. You’ve got to talk to a lot of people. A lot of the time. With few opportunities to recharge. But it can be done, because I did it and enjoyed it. And hopefully, this series will show you how.
To help me with my mission, I made some rules which I wrote down in my journal to remind me of why I was doing this grand adventure. 1. Relax and don’t worry about stupid shit. 2. Be confident. 3. Take lots of photos. 4. Make useful and interesting observations. All were referred to at some point, although number four often turned into useless and idiotic observations.
With that written down and everything packed, I prepared to set off. Where to? A week in Melbourne, staying with my cousin and his wife. 3 weeks in New Zealand on the Stray Bus. Then a month in the USA – 1 week in SF, 1 week in Portland, 5 days in Seattle, 1 week in NYC staying with my uncle and then finally 5 days in Washington DC. And to cap it all off, a couple of days in Reykjavik before returning via the construction site that is London Gatwick. In total just over two months solo on the road. Time to strap in.