An introvert’s approach to travel

 an introvert

A lot of people think they know me but don’t really know me at all.

People think that because I’m Trinidadian that I must be an extrovert. Firstly, they assume I’m loud.

Not loud or even Loud.

L O U D.

Bubbling with scandalous kya kya kya laughter.

Secondly, they think I must be easy-going, like a coconut tree on a breezy beach.

Thirdly, they think I must be a big time limer (party animal) because Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Kya-nee-val (Carnival, to the more refined folks out there) and that I’m comfortable with friends, acquaintances, and strangers wining on meh bumsee (gyrating on my butt) in public.

Sorry folks, I am none of the above.

I’m one of a rare breed: the introverted Trini who grew up in an extroverted Trini culture. I hate sweaty crowds so you’ll never find me in a fete or chipping dong de road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Even though I may seem talkative at a party, the day after, all I really want to do is go to the most deserted beach possible with my husband. No cooldown lime at Maracas Beach for me, thank you very much.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a pretty well-known personality test, I’m an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). INTJs are bookworms by nature. They think strategically and move through life as though they’re playing chess. Sore points: they don’t like small talk and hate the spotlight. Also, they can also come across as insensitive because they don’t allow their feelings to sway how they relate to people.

If you read a lot of travel blogs, there is a prevailing paradigm that travelers have to be super-extroverted and open to anything in order to maximize the travel experience. Travel bloggers, Two Drifters, have challenged this notion and applied MBTI to travelers. They write (tongue in cheek) about sixteen travel personality types.  That’s right: sixteen. And guess what? Not every traveler’s an extrovert.

Under their system, I  could be classified as an INTJ traveler. Here’s what Two Drifters have to say about the INTJ traveler:

The INTJ loves to create ideas and possibilities and then capitalize them. Not content with daydreaming, INTJs know how to turn their goals into reality, and they proceed with ambition and strategy. The INTJ is highly intelligent and insightful. This type works hard to understand everything they encounter, with keen observation and an interest in understanding inner workings and patterns. The INTJ travel personality is likely to be found exploring foreign cultures with depth and passion, moving past “touristy” distractions and seeking authentic immersion.

Spot on.

As an INTJ traveler, I like to quietly observe a place and its people. To do this takes time. I have had my most rewarding travel experiences when I have spent a long time in a country. Long enough to immerse myself and peer under the glittery, touristy surface.

As a student in London, nothing made me happier than walking along the Thames or exploring the city’s dusty churches and cobbled alleys. I would spend hours on my feet, sometimes missing meals because I loved to explore the city alone. I saw a side of London few tourists ever see: a money-grubbing city, a city swollen with cultural diversity, a historical city sometimes struggling to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Introverted travelers also tend to see a country from a different perspective. Unlike many other millenial travelers, my Instagram feed shows what the place actually looks like. You will never find a picture of me in a bikini on a boat over crystal-clear water looking dreamily in the distance while clutching my partner’s hands.

I like to travel (or specifically, live in a foreign place for an extended period of time) because it challenges my natural INTJ qualities. It forces me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. For example, when I’m abroad, I rarely pass up chances to have a genuine conversation with locals. Not questions about what I would like to buy or why I love their country but stuff that transcends the usual tourist/local spiel.

When I spent some time in Japan teaching English, I had a few opportunities to make real connections with strangers. Once, I was buying lunch in a busy bakery and there was only one seat left. A distinguished-looking older woman removed her jacket and motioned that the seat was available.

I was crunching down on a pastry when she just started talking to me. In English. I thought, “Oh well, here’s another Japanese person trying to practice her English with a foreigner.” Imagine my surprise when the conversation took many turns and corners and we ended up talking about waka poetry written about her hometown in Wakayama! If I had just sat there quietly, I would not have discovered a fellow poetry lover in a perfect stranger.

If you’re an introverted traveler, you’re not weird. Celebrate your difference and share how you see the world.

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Spending Christmas abroad

For many Trinis, spending Christmas away from home is nothing short of sacrilegious. No one disagrees with Susan Maicoo when she sings, “Oh yes! Trini Christmas is de best!”

Spending Christmas Abroadwww.hotfoottrini.comFirstly, why would anyone want to skip the food: rum-soaked black cake, meaty pastelles, pineapple-studded ham, roast turkey, sorrel, wild meat, ponche de creme? Then, there’s parang music and carols on the radio, Soca Santa on trucks and fire engines, Christmas Day services that finish at sunrise. And oh! The preparations for the Big Day: dressing the Christmas tree, putting up new curtains, whitewashing the palm tree trunks and rocks that circle the Julie mango tree in the front yard, licking the bowl clean of raw sponge cake batter, trawling the Christmas flea markets and city streets for bargains, buying Red Delicious apples by the box. Children looking forward to Christmas treat in primary school, Sunday school, and in the villages, comparing and trading snacks, balloons, and toys. The annual pilgrimage to the big malls to see which one had the best Christmas decorations. Was it the elves and cottony snow at Long Circular, the sparkly Christmas trees at Trincity, the blood-red poinsettias in Gulf City, or the giant baubles hanging from the roof of West Mall? 

But I did. I skipped Christmas at home a couple of times.

First snow

Christmas was the first time this tropical girl saw snow. On a road trip from Toronto to Montreal, my uncle stopped the car and woke us up to see piles and piles of white stuff gleaming along the highway. Tiny flowers frosted with ice. Sunlight sparkling on the white. It was so still. Then, on Christmas Day, there wasn’t any real snow, only flurries that melted as soon as they hit the window panes.  That didn’t stop me and my cousin from making a snowman or rather, snow creatures: solitary heads with twig hands and stone eyes, that lay flat on a picnic table in the backyard. We were so proud.

A very British Christmas

There were times as a uni student in the UK when I couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas so I spent the season with my friends and their families.

In the flat, before everyone went North or South for Christmas, we strung fairy lights and paper chains from the ceiling, made Christmas cookies, mulled wine, mince pies, and roast dinners, and sang along (sometimes, terribly) to the entire Lion King and Les Miserables soundtracks. There were Christmas markets too, stalls selling mini Dutch pancakes flecked with powdered sugar, chocolate and banana crepes, pork sandwiches smothered in warm applesauce, and real glühwein.

Ellie was adamant that I should spend Christmas as I did at home so together with her Uncle Bill, we went to Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Eve. I know they meant well but we left before the service ended because I couldn’t understand the complicated traditions. Plus, the church was rather cold and I was rather sleepy.

On Christmas Day, we popped Christmas crackers to don silly hats and read silly jokes. Afterward, we stuffed ourselves with roasted meat, roasted vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings smothered in gravy. But Christmas dinner was all about Ellie’s masterpiece, the trifle. Thick layers of custard, jelly, whipped cream, and cake, sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Surprisingly, no one (except Uncle Bill and I) touched the traditional Christmas pudding: doused in brandy, set alight, then served with warm custard. I loved it because it reminded me of a Trini black cake. After the meal, we didn’t go to bed like in Trinidad. We went walking! To Kenilworth Castle, sliding down the green hills and skipping between the ruined stone walls on a cold, gray Boxing Day.

Then, in London, when everyone left during the Christmas break, I headed North to celebrate the season with Dan and his family. Just like at Ellie’s, after Christmas dinner, we galumphed around Manchester’s suburban fields and muddy roads, chatting about philistines and Sigmund Freud. The cold air whipped my nose into a runny mess but I was happy moving about the landscape. Although Dan’s family also asked whether I wanted to go to church for Christmas, I chose to spend this holiday watching a play about an imaginary rabbit called Harvey.

Another Christmas I spent at Becky’s house in Kent. We watched Christmas shows on the telly and played party games with her grandparents and younger nieces and nephews. However, later on in the day, I started to feel ill and felt so bad that I took the train the next day back to Leamington. Becky later told me that her grandmother wanted to know whether the “island girl” was okay (bless her heart!)

Spending the holidays in rural Japan

Spending Christmas in Japan was different. People still went to work on Christmas and Boxing Day even though the department stores were stuffed with Christmas decorations, lights, and fake snow.

Kunito sensei invited me and Jesse over for a holiday dinner where we drank lots of sake, shared our first Japanese Christmas cake, and chatted to an old guy who had climbed snowy Mount Daisen that morning (he had pictures on his phone to prove it). Ayaka, Kunito sensei’s daughter, was the perfect diplomat, switching seamlessly from Japanese to English and back again so that everyone at the table knew what was going on. I also practiced my Spanish, chatting with a neighbor who had lived in Mexico for many years.

On Christmas Day, I took the day off work and Jesse and I went to Mount Daisen. We left the mud and sludge of Yonago for the crisp, white blanket on the foot of the mountain.  It was eerie, the quietest we had ever known Daisen to be. For Christmas Day dinner, even though we couldn’t bake Christmas treats because we didn’t have an oven, we invited our friend, Fernanda, over for Trini fried chicken and fried rice, fresh strawberries and the most Christmasy-looking pastries we could find for dessert. She brought fresh bread rolls, wine, cheese, and presents and we passed Christmas in a very quiet yet sublime way.

Photo: © Hot Foot Trini

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? What was it like?

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