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An Introvert Goes Exploring

Self-proclaimed introvert Rhonda Muir wondered if she’d be overwhelmed travelling on our Scotland Slowly expedition. She was happy to find quiet places for solitude while aboard the Ocean Endeavour, loved the opportunity to explore on her own while ashore, and met like-minded kindred spirits among her travelling companions.
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© Rhonda Muir

A fellow explorer in contemplation near Dun Carloway Broch

I eyed the ship warily as our bus approached Fairlie Quay where we would all embark on the Ocean Endeavour. This ship was to be our home for the next eleven days. Was it going to be a glorious adventure, or an introvert’s nightmare?

I was inclined to be hopeful. By this time I’d already spent a few hours among my new travel companions and found them to be a friendly and positive bunch. It seemed that many of these folks had travelled with Adventure Canada before—a favourable sign, I thought.

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© Rhonda Muir

Solitude on Mousa, Shetland

Just a Few Words about the Introversion Thing

Most people don’t need a definition of introversion or the genetic trait of high-sensitivity these days, as we’re (quietly) creeping out of our dim, soothing corners to say, “Hey, we’re here, too. We’re not weird, we’re just wired differently than most people.”

Many of us are not at all shy, we’re just genetically designed with a more highly-tuned than usual sensitivity to stimulation from our environment. Things like loud and inescapable sounds, strong smells, bright lighting, visually busy surroundings, large and energetic crowds, and shallow small talk can be physically and emotionally draining, even when we’re actually enjoying the experience. Happily, for many of us, all that’s required is a quiet place where we can recharge and then we’re good as new.

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© Rhonda Muir

In the Glasgow Marriott Hotel for our pre-expedition orientation briefing

First Impressions

We’d started that first day at the Glasgow Marriott Hotel. First we (and our baggage) were efficiently sorted and then we were introduced to the way expedition travel works.

Each of the experts who would be guiding us through our adventures had something interesting to offer from their unique perspective. On the way to Stirling Castle before heading off to the ship, the folks on my bus heard castle ghost stories from Tom Muir, the Orkney Islands storyteller (also my husband), and excited descriptions by our botanist, Dawn Bazely, who cued us in on the recently restored and historically important rose garden we would see at the castle.

This first foray was a bit crowded, since a lot of other people picked that day to visit, too. But it was worth braving the crowd. Being American, I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit many castles. There were lots of intriguing bits to explore. Sadly, I didn’t leave enough time to visit the old cemetery that I’d spotted on the way in. That miss pointed out my need to develop more skilful handling of the limited time we’d have in each location.

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© Rhonda Muir

Stirling Castle

I made a note of this as I hunkered down on the bus. Enchanting as it was, I was relieved to be away of the bustle at the castle. Raising my invisible introvert shield, I turned to the window, preparing to enjoy the drive through the beautiful Scottish countryside.

A Pleasant Rhythm

After embarking on the ship, I was guided through what seemed a bewildering labyrinth to finally arrive at our cabin. (I did eventually learn my way around the ship.) The space Tom and I would share was small, cosy, and clean. I liked it immediately.

I picked out my bunk, enjoyed a few moments of quiet restoration, and then found my way toward the welcoming tea we’d been promised, while our crew got our luggage sorted. Already I’d decided that I’d rarely found a gathering of such nice and enjoyable folks, both my fellow explorers and the super-friendly staff. This expedition was looking very hopeful, indeed. Oh, yes, I could get used to this.

My husband was busy with staff duties, but I soon developed a pleasant rhythm. I sought out company when I wanted it and scouted hidden corners to settle into with a cup of tea and a good book when I preferred solitude. It was easy to spot the other introverts. Most of them were doing the same thing.

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© Rhonda Muir

Exploring near Broch of Mousa, Shetland

Sweet Solitude… And Sweet People, Too

I soon had the less-trafficked nooks ferreted out all over the ship. There was a surprising number of them. In fact, the ship was far more spacious than I’d expected. This knowledge was paramount to my overall comfort. Knowing that I could seek quiet places whenever I needed to gave me the freedom and energy to mingle happily with the other guests. I began to relax into the experience, unafraid now of the nerve-jangling symptoms of overwhelm.

I found that arriving early to large gatherings was a good strategy for me. I could usually get a table in a back corner—the most comfortable position for enjoying and observing what was going on in the room with a comforting wall sturdily behind me, limiting unnecessary stimulation.

Another thing that I found helpful was the option to watch the evening shipboard entertainments on the TV from the comfort of my room. Depending on my energy level by evening, I could choose to sit with my husband and our new friends, sipping a glass of wine, or I could retire and enjoy the talks, singing, stories, and other goings-on from my own cosy space.

The Love Boat

Onboard life was lovely, then, but what about the expeditions to the shore? Previously, I’d gathered a few misconceptions about expedition travel, no doubt formed by years of watching The Love Boat as a kid in America. Shuffleboard, anyone?

I was interested in experiencing what’s currently being called meaningful travel, slow travel, or the like. How could a quick trip around each location, bustling about in the midst of a herd of fellow tourists, be rewarding? Again, I found myself happily mistaken.

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© Rhonda Muir

Hirta, St Kilda

Blissful Choices

I was soon on friendly terms with almost all of the other explorers in our surprisingly intimate group of, I think, about 200. This camaraderie enhanced every experience. During our expeditions I was free to go about with small groups of friends, join one of our expert guides for a specialized tour, or simply wander off on my own—not too far, as we’d been strongly encouraged to stay near others, especially in remote locations.

I usually opted for wandering off on my own, but was always mindful of the time, having dutifully noted when the last Zodiac would be returning to the ship. In most locations I felt there was plenty of time to stroll about, take some photos, and still find a quiet spot for contemplation.

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© Rhonda Muir

Tom Muir storytelling on Skye

A Poignant Farewell

So much for my Love Boat-induced assumptions. I’m happy to say that I completely enjoyed my first ocean expedition. I felt quite sad to be leaving on our last day (not in small part due to being spoiled rotten with all the wonderful food we’d enjoyed). I’d made friends, had many lovely conversations, learned interesting things, and experienced locations that I’d never have been able to visit otherwise.

To my fellow introverts and HSPs (highly sensitive persons), I would say, don’t be afraid to try an Adventure Canada expedition. I found the experience beautiful and often moving, and one which I hope to repeat. Who knows, you might even discover a kindred spirit or two!

About the Author

Rhonda Muir

Rhonda Muir

Adventure Canada Guest

Rhonda Muir is a writer from rural New York State, USA. Researching Orkney as a setting for a piece of fiction led to the introduction to her Orcadian husband, historian Tom Muir. Rhonda now lives with Tom in the wonderful coastal village of Stromness in Orkney, where the only good thing missing is her family.

You can read their story on the website the pair are developing about all things Orkney.