How a Solo Traveler Came to Love Group Travel

Melissa Renzi
November 14, 2016

Group travel once sounded dreadful to this traveling introvert.

I did it. Before 2008, I traveled with family. I traveled with my boyfriend when in my early 20s. I traveled with friends.

But after a trip to Costa Rica with five grad school friends in early 2008, a specific feeling washed over me--the same one I had after living with five girls in college. I needed to live alone. I needed to travel alone. Space. Flexibility. My own rhythm.

The Costa Rica trip was wonderful. Social workers are mostly self-aware, easy-going people. I love these friends. But it was that feeling. Too many planners. Not enough personal time. Other people’s schedules. So many dinners calculating how many colones each person owed.

I wanted to travel alone for once--to be able to coast with the wind and change my plans at the drop of a sombrero. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and discover my independence.

So, I did. By the end of 2008, I was off to study Spanish in Guatemala for five months. It changed my life. And before I knew it, I was addicted. I had developed an affinity for solo travel and was off on a new adventures every year for the years that followed.

I loved the flexibility. I did what I felt like doing in any moment. I had entire days without having to talk to anyone. I relished romantic dinners with myself. I went salsa dancing when I felt like it or maybe I snuggled in bed with my Spanish books. I could soak up the wild sensory experiences of local markets and leave them when it became too overwhelming.  

But the thing about solo travel is that unless you are Chris McCandless or Robyn Davidson, you are never really alone.

THIS I believe is the most special part of traveling to new places--whether you are traveling alone or with others or you are an introvert or extrovert. And well, I happen to be an introvert that really values community and likes people--but I need alone time and I dig smaller groups and meaningful conversation over big parties and small talk.

The connections with other people--locals, indigenous peoples, and other travelers--has altered me and the way I see the world. It gave me a new appreciation for humans...

I have been taken in by the kindest families and experienced the beautiful inner workings of authentic cultures of Guatemala and India.

I have met kindred spirits in Ecuador that grew up just blocks away from me; yet, we didn’t meet until we found ourselves in a quaint valley of longevity called Vilcabamba.

I have been comforted by a kind Indian man on a train when I boarded in tears after a particularly overwhelming experience.

I grew to love my Guatemalan “tio” or “uncle” just like he were my own blood. He graced me with his wisdom and gentle spirit always talking about the beauty of nature and finding peace in humanity. I had the opportunity to mourn his death just a year ago or so. I say opportunity because to me it signifies the true connection we had while he was alive.

I could go on about learning to make “gougeres” with a language barrier in rural France or meeting my gay soulmate in Mexico.

It has all made my life richer, my perspective wider, and my heart more open.

Whether someone has come into my life for a reason, season, or a lifetime, in each of those moments, my life was graced with meaning...and I could be myself...which is what makes human interaction more beautiful to me.

I wanted to share breathtaking nature, diverse culture, local foods, and experiences that connect people while allowing people time to connect with themselves. And so I did this leading two retreats to Guatemala in January 2015 for my business, EarthFoodYoga.

What both groups talked about as being one of the most special parts of these retreats were the connections made. Yet, guests had plentiful free time.

I fell in love with these groups.

As self-described introverts, Jason and I have talked extensively about the unique needs we have as travelers. The need to know you’re not joining a giant party. The need to know you can disengage at any time to recharge. The need for flexibility. The need for respect and understanding.

We thought--as counterintuitive as it may sound to lump introverts together in group travel--it wasn’t. It made perfect sense to create the environment that could allow each individual to experience the surroundings in their own way while offering an opportunity for connection with others who get it.

Hence, InnerConnected was born.

Melissa Renzi

Melissa, MSW, LSW, CYT-200 is a licensed social worker, yoga teacher, and the founder of EarthFoodYoga, a company that weaves together yoga, healing food, and outdoor experiences to guide others toward self-care. 

Melissa is passionate about the outdoors and has backpacked solo around the world. Melissa also identifies as: Earth spirit and grounded gypsy, self-taught health chef, amateur salsa dancer, expert crossworder, scuba diving mermaid, holistic nutrition advocate, creative event planner, comfort zone escape artist, culture craver.

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