My university orientation in Seoul, South Korea, will start in only a few days and I couldn’t be more excited for the bit of normalcy a new school year will bring. I’ve been working and traveling in Seoul for the last two months and the absence of a support system has taken its toll on my sanity.
If I were to describe myself in a few words it would probably be “self-deprecating introvert prone to bouts of neurosis”. Needless to say, being in a foreign country where I don’t know a soul had been more than a little bit stressful. But somehow I made it out with a few close friends that I know would give me a place to stay should I ever end up in Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Helsinki, or Bordeaux.
So here are some travel tips for those of us with mild to moderate social anxiety.
1.) Have a home base
While I absolutely encourage you to go to a lot of different places, coming back to the same place every night is not only really comforting, it also forces you meet people. There are probably hundreds of hostels and guesthouses in Seoul, but I chose one with an attached bar and an owner that seemed slightly eccentric in hopes that it would force me to meet people my age. After sitting in the open long enough people started talking to me and inviting me to dinner. Soon I found enough confidence to do the same. The thing about people staying abroad is that they usually seek out other expats to befriend. Making friends becomes so much easier.
2.) Travel around alone by day and with a group by night
A travel companion isn’t always necessary. Sightseeing alone lets you get lost in your own head and to appreciate the sights without the pressure of keeping a conversation going. It’s also a great chance to eat street food, which is almost always cheap and delicious. For dinner and late night, go out with people from your hostel once in a while – there’s undoubtedly someone willing to invite you if you make yourself available. It gives you the opportunity to share food so you can try a little bit of everything, as well as order family style meals. Besides, having a buddy is safer for nightlife and can ease the awkwardness of strangers approaching you in bars or clubs.
3.) Give yourself something to write home about
It’s probably the biggest travel advice cliché ever, but step outside your comfort zone. Tag along with people that are headed on an adventure and do things you couldn’t do at home. Frankly speaking, I know my friends and family don’t really want to hear about the temple I went to yesterday, nor do they want to see the hundreds of pictures of scenery that will inevitably end up on Facebook. They do, however, want to see a video of me eating unusual foods you’d never see in Indiana.