A Traveler’s Personality

“Do you like traveling?”

Most people I know would answer yes. Who wouldn’t? When my friends answered it and I answered it, I felt something was amiss. If only I could put my finger on it…

Unfortunately, my family doesn’t think I’d ever taken a vacation even though I’ve travelled to over thirty states, Mexico, and Canada. I was always on the go while traveling, they said.

First, I needed a month of planning if I were my own tour guide, and I usually I am. Where am I going? How? What might I do there? What do I know about this place? Do I know friends or friends of friends who can help show me the place or tell me which parts to go?

That’s when my mind internally did a finger snap. What she said matched what I once read: a traveler is not a vacationer, and in my experiences, it was true.

In many countries including America, traveling is a luxury and what you’d do to break out of the monotony of life, not for a living or a career.

Before graduating from college, traveling was a luxury that was out of my reach. Since then, traveling has become a middle class excursion, and you can also do one of those super-budgeted travels. Who wouldn’t want traveling to be widely accessible?

I decided to invite people to join me, and started conversations by asking them if they liked traveling. If it was a yes, then it was good, I thought. The answer was mostly yes. However, almost just as many said they didn’t have the time or the money. The trips got postponed for weeks, then years. Some were forgotten.

Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t plan it, and like go on a tour? They didn’t want to take the less expensive, backpacking-style traveling. A tour might have been better but as Americans, we pay the American price for tours.

I didn’t want to ask wouldn’t you get the satisfaction of planning a trip and doing what you want? Eventually, they told me that they were homebodies, preferring to stay at home and staying a significant amount of time at a place and relaxing.

“Do you like traveling” became too broad of a question.

No, I guess I don’t take vacations. Traveling for me involves a lot of planning, talking to locals, learning, photography, and documenting.

I might even treat it as an intense exercise and walk up to twenty miles a day, around twelve on average on a moderate “walking day.” I love traveling, and most things don’t stop me. When you grow up having to work for things, you learn to make do with what you can.

Traveling doesn’t mean taking a vacation

During my travel, I wonder who are the travelers of today? Do they have lots of money and time? If they were suddenly not rich, would they stop traveling and stay in the comfort of their homes?

My passion for traveling needs nurturing. I can’t imagine forgoing a passion because I don’t have the money. The lack of money hadn’t stopped me from my other passions. Rather than waiting until more money, a lot of serious travelers learn to save and to travel with less. They aren’t fair-weathered travelers. They take it in. They’re living while traveling.

Travelers come from all backgrounds

Sure some travelers are rarer but there are many that you might meet on the road. Some were almost homeless. Can you sleep in a car? A bench? At a stranger’s house with the goodness of their heart?

I heard these stories… one of them was a biker who rode from NorCal (Northern California) to SoCal. She slept in a tent, and once, a farmer took her in. It seemed to be taken straight from a book.

Another time, I met a traveler who hitchhiked from SoCal to home in Washington. An American hitchhiker.

I don’t know how they do it. All I know is that they could, and then I ended up doing my version of the same thing.

A lot were high school and college graduates, who stayed in hostels. One was a professional who traveled very often. Another was a family. All I can say is that they work hard to travel.

It got me wondering why there isn’t a lot of people who would just travel a lot since it’s fun? However, not everyone was born a traveler.

Could the answer be found in psychology?

What exactly determines a successful traveler? What makes someone more likely to travel with a passion than for pure leisure?

Here’s what I come up with:

Traits of a Traveler

  1. Travelers love expanding their horizons

They like to take random trips, go explore different cultures, and they will explore even if it isn’t the most popular place (yet).

2. They’re people you’d want to take on an expedition 

They know the East from the West, and the North from the South. You can have them draw you a mental map or name the streets and highways near a destination.

They can tell you in miles or minutes. They can describe the buildings and streets in great detail, and they’re great at finding amazing, hole-in-the-wall places.

They use local transportation like a pro and eagerly board public transportation. They have taken all kinds of transportation.

They talk to a lot of locals to learn about another person’s life. They divert from the common paths and have really crazy travel stories. 

To them, traveling is like solving a fun puzzle or like an Indiana Jones movie.

3. They are curious.

The people who travel are curious (they like to get out there and explore), they get restless (they need to travel often or just get out there), and mentally flexible (enough to sleep at odd times and to adjust to life). I don’t think travelers are strict planners. They may be prepared to face the unknown, but it’s just impossible to plan the unknown. Half the time, we’re living life on the edge. Not quite a vacation.

For example, once, I was in a tornado area or that time when I was driving in Maine, the highway became sheets of whites, and I accidentally rolled into the lane where there was a truck driving behind me. Or that time when I was planning for Iowa, and the newscaster made it sound like all of Iowa was flooded.

For me, the change of life was a change of scenery. One day, I’d be in California in 80F and the next, I’d be in Washington DC and it’s 15F. Or I’d be in Albuquerque, and it’s pouring rain outside and I have to ask some locals what I should do. A person with a dopamine personality would see it as another adventure. Something different to add to life.

4. They are flexible and athletic.

It was after reading into personalities that I realize that not everyone can become a successful traveler. A flexible mind and an athletic body allow so much more.

People who prefer structures probably weren’t explorers. People who weren’t athletic probably couldn’t afford to carry a twenty-pound backpack for hours.

Travelers have their way of dealing melting makeup, tanning on their trips, and getting through crowds.

5. They are likely to be sociable but can also be extroverts or introverts.

You might wonder, does being an extrovert or introvert matter? Well, being a self-proclaimed ambivert (at some point, people have thought of me as introverted and extroverted), I’d say that introverts might schedule a lot of self-time while traveling.

As an ambivert, I’ve never really understood the whole being recharged thing because I just sleep when my body’s tired. Oh, but I also last forever with great company or on a great project in solitude. I’d say that travel does demand more extroverted skills though, and a great opportunity to practice it! (I think you lose it if you don’t use it.)

6. They can get adjust to different environments.

I wandered in the city a lot, but I’ve also been out in the country and enjoyed it. I think it actually made me more extroverted again and again, but we’ll see. I’ve always had a hunch that most people are ambiverts though. It just doesn’t make sense to have a majority of people belonging in one group or the other.

7. They are dopamine-driven.

I found Helen Fisher’s personality test to be a great explanation.

Her personality test gave four distinct styles of thinking based on brain chemistry: explorer (dopamine), builder (serotonin), director (testosterone), and negotiator (estrogen). It was pretty obvious that I was an explorer.

It seems that what defines a traveler’s personality more as a traveler is his or her drive to travel and to make it happen. Having more of a “dopamine” dominate personality probably made it easier and more likely for people like me to be a traveler. It just comes naturally to us.

8. Their skills and personality support their travel.

This is why we travel, and why we travel more often than anyone else… because our personality allows us to do what we like. It feels like you don’t need to fight a self-battle to convince yourself to go. There’s no convincing, cajoling, or selling needed.

Next time, I won’t be asking “Do you like to travel?” Instead, I’ll ask what kind of travel do they like. How often do they travel? What have they done and what do they like to do while traveling? Are they a budgeted or a luxurious traveler? Do they like exploring the unknown? Do they dare to take risks? Do they crave adventure?

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