When I booked my first ever solo, overseas, 14 day group tour with Contiki I thought I had gone absolutely mad. Social anxiety and shyness had always affected my life and this decision to travel suddenly became so intimidating.
My brain would over think every impossible scenario and the idea of being alone in foreign countries utterly terrified me! But surprisingly, this shy AF, low-confident introvert managed to somehow make absolutely amazing, life-long friends. Crazy, right? As a little kid, I’d walk around with my elbow covering my face, afraid of all the strangers swarming around me. I’d bury my head in my Mum’s shoulder, words would get stuck in my throat, school lunchtimes were spent eating away from the other kids.
Whilst I did manage to make friends over the years, those ugly traits transitioned into my adult life, what if I’m the only loser who makes no friends on this trip?
Leading up to the trip I tried to familiarize myself with other travellers in our Contiki Facebook group hoping this would increase my chances of making new pals. Unfortunately, the reality of our first meeting didn’t exactly meet my fantasy. Being surrounded by strangers in the Contiki Basement gave me the worst trembles. Each time I’d almost say “hi”, I’d choke. I felt jealous of their confidence, angry at my inability to speak and fear of ending up alone.
Every fibre locked up in my muscles, my jaw kept trembling, eye contact was practically impossible, I started hyperventilating; the struggle was literally real. But after all these crises I approached some girls I recognized from Facebook – it was awkward AF but a moment which would eventually lead to the most incredible friendships.
The first few days were brimming with awkward smiles, cringe-worthy small talk and anxious thoughts. I couldn’t bunk with those I’d already met and it made me feel “left out”, I worried if all of these were signs of failure. But in reality the awkwardness was super normal, the rooms were only twin-share and it was simply just okay to feel nervous! The ability to make friends immediately was a totally unrealistic and unnecessary pressure I had put upon myself.
As the days progressed, I was placed into situations needing me to socialize and work as a team; from navigating the streets of Paris, splitting food bills and organizing late-night Ubers, these dilemmas helped to build my social confidence and strengthen friendships. Eventually, I fell in love with my new gal pals and little did I know that I’d even get to meet my current amazing BFF.
In the end, I had proven my anxieties wrong and achieved something only travel and a desire to change could provide me. The feeling was literally mind-blowing.
New friendships shall always await you, but remember that it’s okay if they take time or are not with everyone – quality beats quantity! To make the most of your trip, it’s important that you try gradually overstepping your comfort zone and attempt new things. And if you see someone struggling to escape their shell, give them a friendly nudge; say “hey”, make them feel welcome, get to know them! For us shy people, these little interactions can lead to the biggest improvements in confidence and mental well-being. You might even meet your newest BFF too!
Your journey is how you define it. Travel is an invaluable tool to help break the shackles of shyness and social anxiety – and whilst it may not be immediate, the patience is so worthwhile.
Has travel helped you to come out of your shell? Share your stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…