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Trapped on the Introvert's Titanic

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

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 around-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 of 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's not solely reliant on talking.