Vacations and the introvert

What’s your ideal vacation? Many people would probably describe an idyllic retreat on a pristine beach. Others dream of action-packed adventuring or blitzing through foreign hotspots.

Me, I want a clean, well-lighted place. So I’d better figure out what I want to do with my vacation, or else I won’t get to make space for it.

I don’t think of a vacation as an escape from work. I like my work, and I live an awesome life even during the weekdays. I like investing blocks of time to prepare the foundation for even more awesomeness. I like developing skills. I like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. I like reflecting, writing, drawing, expressing. For me, a vacation is a block of unstructured time that I can use to make things happen.

Last August, W- and I took a staycation. We got so much done around the house. We picked up a new hobby (canning), deepened existing interests (sewing and photography), got some exercise (biking), and puttered around for two weeks of weekends. It was absolute bliss.

I guess I’m a strong introvert that way. It’s not about external stimulation from scenic views or activities. I want to explore the inner landscapes of my mind. This may sound self-centered to extroverts, but introverts understand that self-centering – becoming centered – isn’t necessarily bad, is even essential.

The previous paragraph still looks somewhat scandalous to me. I imagine other people’s reactions: “Are you saying that the world isn’t as interesting as your thoughts?”

It is impossible to explain. Yes, I see the value of stepping out of my comfort zone, of exposing myself to new and interesting things. I read with interest my eldest sister’s stories of awe in the African savannah, and the adventures my middle sister takes around the Philippines. But for myself, everyday moments already contain a universe of insights waiting to be unpacked. I don’t need to gaze on the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to feel inspired by the sublime (although I have, thanks to my mom’s love of travel; the painting was smaller than I’d imagined, but beautiful). The wood grain of a table is fascinating enough for me. I think of the complex processes needed to shape it and bring it to our kitchen, and I am amazed. I’d be perfectly happy to stay at home and explore the intricacies of Manila, or even to stay in Toronto and connect with people online, or even just to sit in silence, reflect, write, read, and maybe chat with a few people. Actually, I wouldn’t mind spending the vacation doing voluntourism instead. Building houses, that sort of stuff.

What an unpopular way of thinking! So I adapt, because my sisters chafe at being confined to the city boundaries during a vacation, and my parents insist on the value of shared experiences. (Which is true; we do have some great shared stories, such as the one involving schlepping a box of iced tea around Europe.) It seems to be the only way to convince my father to set aside his work, relax, and take a real break. Easier by far for me to pack a notebook, a pen, and the fortitude to ignore my sisters laughing at me for being such a geek. I do join in activities—I breathed water during our attempts to learn wakeboarding, and I got the hang of bodyboarding—but I don’t have to do everything or be into everything, and I certainly don’t need to be fixed.

The more I understand about myself, the easier it gets. For example, now I understand why that last car trip drove me crazy.

The introverted daughter or son in a family of extraverts, for example, may learn to be more extroverted to keep up with the rest of the family but also must find time alone, perhaps through reading in his or her room. However, car trips or other situations in which s/he can’t physically get away may remain difficult. 

Leslie Sword, The Gifted Introvert

By golly, it really is liberating to give myself permission to be myself. I’m happy that my sister’s excited about the vacation, and I’m okay with tagging along. I’m definitely going to geek out when I’m there, though, and my sister is not to drag me into activities or spike my orange juice.

What are the ingredients of a perfect vacation for me?

  • Time to meet up with family and friends. After all, that’s why I’m going halfway around the world, despite airfare and travel time.
  • Enough alone time, too. I realized that this had gotten on my nerves a few vacations ago, when I was getting stressed out over the fact that I didn’t have as much myself-time as I used to, and people expected real-time interaction all the time when I’d gotten used to being able to reflect on and get back to people about deeper questions.
  • Skill development. I want to get better at writing, sketching, sewing, taking pictures, and cooking.
  • Choice. I want to be able to spend time on the things I want to spend time on, and get out of the things I don’t want to spend time on.

I think we can make this trip work out, and maybe we’ll get the hang of the alone/shared-time dynamic too.

Sharing this here because I think other introverts struggle with this too, and I’d love to hear what you think and how you deal with vacations. My mom once asked why I blog about family things. People say it takes a village to raise a child. Y’all are my village, and I’ll take all the help I can get when it comes to figuring things out. And who knows, maybe sharing these thoughts will help someone else down the road…

So… Introverted? How do you deal with vacations?

(See my comment below for additional reflections.)

  • This reminded me that I haven’t had a really long vacation for quite some time now. Life has been keeping me busy and I don’t think I can have a vacation any time soon. Perhaps I’ll have one when I can already convince myself that the opportunities I will lose from the vacation is no longer greater than the well-deserved break.

  • Elena

    Sacha, I think finding the time to be alone is essential for everyone, and vacations are perfect for that…especially mornings, I find. I love yoga in the mornings for that, too – it kind of \centres\ you – in a good way, body and mind. I also found that when I build some structure around the \unstructured\ time there’s less regrets, cause I get to do things I want to do, instead of wasting time on things I didn’t really want to be doing.

    The most important thing especially with family vacations is to enjoy the craziness and the time spent together. It is good to not be selfish and give some of your time to others, kind of like volunteering but for your family, cause you are all \building a house\ together in some way. Hope I’m making sense. Hugs,


  • That reflection notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family. Vacation is nice because I get to hear stories and hang out, as I only get glimpses during the rest of the year.

  • I used to go on trips with loads of people, especially winter hols and would find the numbers too much to deal with. Sitting and looking at snowy mountains didn’t seem enough for most people, you needed to be on form! Whatever that is. So I would often come home actually depressed that I couldn’t fit in.

    For the last few years we have done the same thing, go and spend 4 weeks with my in-laws, which gives me the time and space to do pretty much what I want . As we all speak different languages I don’t need to be on form all the time, just helpful.

    The 14 hours on a plane I can well do without though.

    Don’t think making yourself happy is a bad thing or rather doing the things that make you enjoy. The main thing is not to do things that you know hurt others.

  • Maybe it’s because of my cultural background, but I see vacations as shared time more than I see it as individual time. Because I’m happy at work and with my everyday life, I’m not starved for time that I control, so the way I think of it is: the rest of the year is mine to decide, and these are the weeks that I share with my family, because I don’t get to see them and they don’t get to see me that often.

    With that in mind, I’m actually okay with letting them call the shots, especially as I probably wouldn’t come up with any better suggestions on my own. I like how my sister’s practically our travel agent, sending write-ups of interesting destinations and even figuring out our flights, accommodations, and activities. It’s a great stress reliever. And she isn’t planning a three-week extravaganza: a week is probably all they want to spare from work, and that should be okay for me too (with enough introvert-recharging breaks!).

    Siargao is a beautiful place, and we’re lucky to explore it with my sister, who’s been in love with it for a number of years. It’ll be fine.

    I may leave my laptop at home, though (seawater! scary!). I’ll take a paper notebook and an assortment of pens and pencils, though, and I’ll use the time to braindump and brainstorm.

    So I guess the key thing I gained from this reflection was an understanding that my personality strongly influences the way I enjoy spending my vacation time, and that’s okay. I’m “boring” by other people’s standards, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be changed. Not that my sisters are probably ever going to give up on trying to get me to be more adventurous (I am, just not about the things they think of!), but I can be okay with that too. And maybe I’m a little like my dad–I’ll resist the fuss of preparation, but I’ll be open to enjoying things while I’m there (as long as I haven’t been dragged into something and not given a way to opt out!).

    I enjoy so much flexibility during other parts of the year. I’m willing to cede some of that control in order to be able to see the sides of my family that I normally don’t get to: my middle sister’s glee as she rides the waves, my eldest sister and her husband’s adventurous explorations, and a mom and dad as relaxed as I remember from the great trips of our childhood.

    Having reflected on this, I think I’ll be better at listening to when I need alone-time. I’ll be better at making sure I have that, so that I can be fully there for all the rest of the times.

  • Jacqui

    My family is going on vacation to Gatlinburg in a couple of weeks. Whereas everyone else is very excited about going, I have been (secretly) dreading it. I love my parents, but hanging out with them plus my siblings and their kids and my kids, all confined in a cabin for a week makes me stressed out. Then, I found your blog. Thank you!

    I have realized that I need time where I can just sit and stare into the distance for awhile, without being judged for it, or time to write or read all by myself. So, I hope to plan time away from everyone, and I won’t feel guilty about it (at least, not very much) and it will help me want to play games and be with them when I’ve recovered. I also like your idea about painting, sketching, and taking pictures. Hopefully, I can do those things so I can be recharged to be with everyone. Lastly, I hope to go shopping by myself sometime, so I don’t have to feel like I’m dragging everyone along, or hear my Dad say “Artsy-Fartsy” if I go into a gallery. And, hopefully, I will come home with good memories and also recharged.

    • It’s nice to know that one’s not alone in enjoying a bit of alone time. =) Good luck! On one vacation a few years ago, I practised insisting on having that time to myself, whether it meant that other people went somewhere without me or the other way around. It took a little getting used to, but I’m glad I started giving myself permission to do that.