Perspective from Abroad: Lessons from an introvert

One of the most famous museums in Basque Country is the Guggenheim Museum. The museum exhibits modern and contemporary art and was built by the famous architect Frank Gehry. (Flickr/Andrea Ciambra)

As soon as I found out that I would be spending this semester in Spain, I knew Basque Country was one of the places I had to visit. I had heard that it was a quirky little place with a very unique history, culture, language and landscape, a funky art scene, and ancient churches.

Being a quirky little person myself with a love for funky art and charming villages, I was dying to visit Euskal Herria, as the locals call it, but I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to go.

Some people who read this might think, “If you want to go then go.” Others might think, “Just do what your friends are doing.” I agree with both sentiments, to an extent.

While the idea of traveling somewhere by myself and being an Independent Young Woman for a weekend was very appealing to me, I've always seen traveling alone as something of a taboo.

For women, being alone is often seen as a liability. If anything bad happens to us—if we get lost, if we’re attacked, if we’re robbed—admitting that we were alone when the bad thing happened can be self-incriminating.

Growing up, I was often criticized for spending too much time alone and for not following the crowd. I guess I’ve always been more of an introvert, but I haven’t always accepted this label; while introverts are supposed to enjoy their alone time, I often felt anxious and ashamed of being alone. When I was younger, I felt as though my inability to socialize for hours on end indicated a fundamental flaw in my character.

I’ve only recently begun to think otherwise.

Being an introvert in Spain can be interesting. Between its late night bar and tapas scene, its multi-hour, sangria-fueled lunches, and its stereotypically fast-talking inhabitants, Spain seems like a natural magnet for extroverted college students.

In the same way that being the only white person on a bus makes me more aware of my race, or that being one of four female students in a class makes me feel more aware of my gender, being constantly surrounded by extroverts has made me more aware of my introversion. 

The more obvious it has become to me, the more urgently I’ve needed to accept it. I think that my decision to go hiking through Basque Country alone was part of that road to acceptance.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons why young women are advised against traveling alone that have nothing to do with assumed extroversion.

For women, being alone is often seen as a liability. If anything bad happens to us—if we get lost, if we’re attacked, if we’re robbed—admitting that we were alone when the bad thing happened can be self-incriminating.

I understand that most of the people who advise us not to travel by ourselves are doing it out of concern for our safety, but this advice can also help to create a world that limits that potential for individuality and freedom.

I’m not trying to suggest that women can’t be fully-formed individuals until they travel alone, nor do I think that being free of responsibilities for others is a great ultimate goal to have.

All I’m saying is that I needed to prove to myself that I could find joy rather than anxiety in solitude, and that I could be competent, sufficient, and outgoing on my own. I’m glad that I had the opportunity and the freedom to work towards those realizations by hiking through Basque Country.

The nice thing about traveling is that even when you’re going solo, you’re never going alone. Sorry if it sounds like I ripped that sentence out of an "Elite Daily" piece, but it’s the truth. I met other travelers from Europe and North America on the road and in the hostels, and we stayed up drinking wine and discussing politics and religion. I watched the sunrise over the Bay of Biscay with a local couple and their dog, I went to museums in Bilbao and Guernica, and I met more cool locals when I stumbled upon a medieval fair in a fishing village.

As good of a time as I had, I don’t think that this solo traveling is something I could do more than once a month or two.

I don’t prefer it to traveling with friends, not by a long shot. However, I think that this experience aligns well with the study abroad mantra I pulled from the hit early 2000’s tune “All Star” by Smash Mouth: “You’ll never know if you don’t go.”

I’ve realized that time alone can be enjoyable sometimes, and if there’s something that I really want to do, I don’t always need to wait for other people to do it with me.


Molly Miller is a staff writer for The Daily Campus currently studying abroad in Granada, Spain. She can be reached via email at molly.miller@uconn.edu.