Updated: Aug 15
How our dream vacation soured and how we tried to salvage it.
My wife and I realized after the first day of our two-week vacation we were trapped on an introvert's Titanic and sinking fast. Our energy level tanked, our anxiety skyrocketed, and we felt immediate regret for booking what was once a bucket-list vacation.
Cruisin' for a Bruisin'
My wife, Jennifer, and I have been fortunate to do a lot of world-traveling. In the middle 2000s, while we were on an ex-pat assignment in London and along with our young kids, we visited all of the UK, most of Europe, and a few other locations as well.
We've also had a passion for cruises - from the short Bahamas Honeymoon cruise to sailing the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, and much of Central America and the Caribbean. We just love the family aspect and the ability to escape, explore, and relax on cruises.
Along the way, Jennifer and I developed a crush for a European River cruise. It sounded great - a 14-day cruise to visit Budapest, Vienna, Cologne, and many more stops on the Danube and Rhine rivers. Finally, when we became empty-nesters last year, we immediately booked our river cruise for two and have been counting down the days ever since.
We were especially excited to celebrate our first 9 months in Austin, Jennifer's burgeoning art career, and the drafting of my 3rd book, all of which kept us very busy through the second quarter.
So on June 16, we headed to Budapest to board the Viking Eistla for our two-week voyage across Europe.
Trying Something New is Good, Right???
Now I suspect many of you have done ocean cruises in the Caribbean, to Alaska, Hawaii, or elsewhere. And like me, you likely joined about five thousand others in gorging on round-the-clock food buffets, enjoying a wide variety of entertainment, and exploring the many shore stops. We knew our river cruise would be different - only 150 passengers, over a dozen stops, scheduled meal times, no kids allowed, and limited entertainment onboard.
We knew these things going in and were excited to experience a bit tamer cruise visiting all new sights.
But after that first evening, Jennifer and I looked at each other and had this sinking feeling that this was not what we had expected.
We're Not in Kansas Anymore
All 150 passengers have three meals a day at the same time and place. Most tables seat six so we either join others for each meal or sit at an empty table, wondering if others will grace us with their presence.
We certainly did meet a lot of interesting people, but we found after a few meals we were repeating the same questions and answers - where are you from? Have you river-cruised before? How were the flights over and what excursions did you experience today?
In the back of my mind, I could hear my extroverted relatives reveling in the opportunity to meet so many people and perhaps striking up lifelong friendships or business contacts. But in the front of my mind, I felt trapped!
As many introverts can attest, these situations are exhausting, even if pleasurable. And to have three per day for 14 days, well that's a lot of exhaustion. This is supposed to be a vacation!
Soon, we found ourselves entering the dining room with trepidation - not anxious to engage new contacts and unsure what to discuss to deepen those introductions we had established previously. We welcomed the respite of a meal alone but could not help but feel we stuck out when no one joined our table while most other tables were stirring with the fury of chitchat that extended to the lounge later that evening.
Stretch Kindly...I Said KINDLY!
I've preached a mantra of "stretch kindly" in previous posts. Basically, we introverts can benefit from not just remaining in our warm, comfort zone, but that we learn and grow by stretching - not leaping to scary places. By stretching just a bit, our comfort zone is a little bigger and we are happier for it. We may continue to stretch but if it gets too uncomfortable and the exhaustion becomes greater than the learning or pride, then it's okay to say it's too much.
We definitely stretched to the point where the rubber band popped a few times on this trip.
Worse, besides the shore excursions, there really wasn't much to do onboard. Even as an introvert, reading, cards, and naps can get boring after a while. The nighttime entertainment was limited to our very nice, monotone keyboard player. So no shows or comedians to provide an escape or a less stressful environment to hang out with others that are not solely reliant on talking.
Searching for a Life Vest
As the days added up, our meal meetings along with the cobblestone street, castle visits, and medieval church tours, we realized this dream cruise was not the vacation oasis we'd expected. Could we salvage it?
I return to the "stretch kindly" philosophy. Stretching requires interest and initiative. If we don't have the desire to build relationships that will likely only last for the duration of the cruise or even have an interest in their stories, then I'm surely not ready to sacrifice my coveted energy.
As the vacation days dwindled, we took a more laissez-faire approach. Happy to join others if we wanted to that meal, or equally satisfied for just the two of us to dine alone.
I've been on an introversion journey for several years and believe I've made a lot of strides in my own self-awareness and confidence. But I felt that confidence waiver considerably during such a long voyage.
Finally, I tried to step back and realize this is just Jennifer and my vacation. No, it's not the experience we expected, but if we don't want to socialize with others, that is perfectly fine. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do." I'm sure she's right. So as the trip wrapped up, we worried less about the social living experiment and just made the most of our time together.
When we finally returned home we discovered perhaps our fatigue and indifference were exacerbated by our new COVID positive diagnoses. Our symptoms appear to be mild as we are quarantined for the week. Yet the lessons learned are real.
On our cruise, I was reminded that life is a journey. We are all progressing through the Five Phases of Introversion toward Contentment and Flourishing, but it is okay to stall out a bit along the way. These pauses act as useful reminders of how far we've come and that the ultimate goal is not to stretch to the point of anxiety, unhappiness, and unrecognizability, but just to grow and flourish with peace.
My biggest regret on this vacation was not that I didn't socialize more but that it took so long to recognize this was a time to embrace my comfort zone with pride and confidence. I forgot to cherish my introversion.
I hope you enjoy your vacation this summer, whether it's camping near home, exploring a new city, or cruising the world's oceans and rivers. As introverts, I can now speak from experience in encouraging you to consider if this will be an energy-draining vacation or a relaxing, soothing vacation we all yearn for. And if it's a bit more stressful than you had hoped, just lean on your introversion. Muster the courage to be proud of your true self.
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The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. This book contains many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.