Alone but not lonely: the introverted traveler

4 years ago by in 2013 Tagged: , ,

Keith Mellnick likes to get away.

The Washington, D.C. freelance photographer spent the past two-and-half years traveling the world, taking pictures and blogging about far away places, such as the Togean Islands in Indonesia.

Mt. Everest catches the last bit of sunlight as the moon rises above. Keith Mellnick took this photo from Everest Base Camp in Nov. 2012 (Keith Mellnick)

Mt. Everest catches the last bit of sunlight as the moon rises above. Keith Mellnick took this photo from Everest Base Camp in Nov. 2012 (Keith Mellnick)

“It’s exactly how I imagined being on the edge of the earth,” Mellnick says. “Perfect water, beautiful, no access to anything – it’s not often that you actually feel like you’re in your fantasies as a child.”

Mellnick got a second-class cabin on a 30-hour boat ride to Bali for his return trip, and saw no other passengers on his deck.

Being alone may seem boring to some, but not to Mellnick, who is, as he puts it, “not very good at being extroverted.” He relished the time to decompress on his travels.

Many introverted travelers – who by definition don’t talk much to each other – were found a common voice in Sophia Dembling’s 2009 article on the travel-writing site World Hum, called “Confessions of an Introverted Traveler.”

In the article, Dembling ‘confesses’ that she doesn’t travel to meet people. It became the site’s most-read story of 2009, and even helped launch her blog in Psychology Today, “The Introvert’s Corner.”

“It’s nice when we do meet people, but sitting and watching, and absorbing what’s going on around me is enormously pleasurable,” Dembling says.

Author Susan Cain gave a popular TEDTalk in 2012 about introversion, in which she describes how seekers of the world’s major religions, such as Moses, Buddha or Muhammad, had epiphanies while alone in the wilderness.

“We have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude,” Cain says.

Solitude is not just defined by the absence of other people. A 1998 article by Ester Buchholz describes how one can find solitude in a cafe, concert or crowded dance floor. Some introverts can find solitude though linguistic or cultural isolation. They can find the independence of solo travel to be invigorating.

“I love the ‘travel of travel’ – when it’s reasonably comfortable to watch the world go by and there’s nothing else you should be doing,” says Mellnick, who travels by train whenever possible

Mellnick’s friend Maggie Koziol says introverted travel doesn’t always mean going alone.

She joined Mellnick for several weeks in Nepal to hike up to Mount Everest base camp. As a self-described introvert, she and Mellnick made excellent travel companions.

“We could be sharing a hotel room,” Koziol says, “with each of us on our beds, sort of staring off into space in complete silence and be totally okay with that.”

Their independent personalities would be well-suited later on in the trip, when Maggie got altitude sickness around 18,000 feet. She had to turn back on the last leg of the hike, leaving Mellnick to finish alone.

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“People look at Keith and say, there’s no way he’s an introvert,” Koziol says. “He has the ability to put himself out there. He’s not shy.”

After spending some time with Mellnick, one can easily see how people might be thrown off. He is a tall, slender man in his late 30s with a relaxed demeanor, and thoughtful eyes. In conversation, he can be very funny, which often puts people at ease.

Keith Mellnick in Karakol Valley

Keith Mellnick set up his tent high in the Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan. Mellnick stayed awake all night, as a wolf lingered outside.

After reading his blog, Mellnick’s introverted side becomes more apparent. In his quest for solitude he went camping high in the Kyrgyz mountains last August, where he could have been eaten by a wolf. His entries are often reflective; he loves the process of writing as a way to understand his experiences.

Mellnick even keeps hand-written journals.

“It feels less rushed,” he says, “and I don’t need to be typing as fast as the stuff that’s going on in my head because it’s not coherent.”

Mellnick prefers it to photography in some ways, because it allows him to revisit a moment over time. Like many introverts, he looks for depth in an experience, which is why his writing tend to be more about self-reflection.

One reason he came back home was to take time and process his experiences abroad. He has thousands of photographs and stacks of journals to go through. He has a lot of thinking to do.

Keith’s journey is divided up into four legs. Each leg is symbolized by a color in the legend, starting with yellow. Click on a link to view some blog entries about that location.

I'm an online journalist, HTML/CSS coder, traveler and dad.

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