I love going - it's always fun and I always learn new things and have great experiences, but I have had to learn to manage my time and myself when I am there, so that I can actually enjoy it and not feel out of place or like I want to go hide all the time.
I know I am not the only one who has this type of issue, so here are some tips that I hope can help you the next time you go to a conference, business trip, or even just a vacation with friends. Any place that might be a bit "peopley" and you might feel a bit uncomfortable.
1) Social anxiety is often misunderstood and not taken seriously as a real thing. If you don't constantly talk to people, and you don't always participate in conversations because you are more comfortable just listening and observing, you may be thought of as "rude" or "boring" or even "full of yourself" or "snooty".
You will get comments like "YOU DON'T TALK MUCH, DO YA", and "ARE WE BORING YOU?", and the first thing you have to learn is that this is not personal. It'll feel like it, but it isn't. Not really. People get uncomfortable when you don't talk, and the reason is usually the fact that you aren't stroking their ego. You do not have to talk just to make someone else feel comfortable. You worry about yourself feeling comfortable, and if you aren't, it's OK for you to get up and leave. You are under no obligation to entertain others, and if someone comments on your quietness, just agree. My favorite reply lately when someone informs me that I don't talk much is "I know, isn't it nice?".
2) FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - can really interfere with your need for alone time. You'll be up in your hotel room, pretty tired, really quite ready to call it a night, but you know there is a big closing party going on downstairs! You know there are people there that you would want to meet. You know there are people down there that you know and want to say hello to. You know that right now, FUN THINGS ARE HAPPENING AND YOU WANT TO BE PART OF THEM.
So you put your shoes back on and head to the elevators. And when you get downstairs, you immediately regret your decision. Turns out, you don't know anyone, really. You make your way through the crowd, say hi to a few people, maybe try to join a little circle of people and chat, but then you find yourself by the wall, in a situation that COULD be great, if Peoplewatching was socially acceptable at parties. But it isn't. You can't just sit in a corner and look at people interacting. People find this extremely offensive! Some may even feel sorry for you and will try to rescue you. But mostly you will annoy people with your unwillingness to participate in meaningless talk.
Make sure you go with someone who is also an observer. Do NOT attend these parties with your friend The Social Butterfly Who Knows Everyone - you will be left behind and feel lonely and weird. Go with a small group of people who have decided to attend together - that way, you won't feel left out - you can talk to each other.
Most importantly, learn to be comfortable not going, or only going very briefly. I usually come down and just circle the room once - if I run into someone I know and there is good conversation - great! If not, I circle back all the way to the exit and leave! I still worry that I might miss something and that everyone will forget about me, but I am more concerned with my own comfort level at this point.
3) Have your own space to retreat to. If you can afford a single hotel room, that's really the best. A space that is just yours, where you can go and have much needed quiet time. Again, people may not understand why you don't want to have a roommate, but for many of us, this is really important. I always try to get my own room - it is necessary for my sanity. However, sometimes circumstance prevents us from having our own private space, and you have to share. It's doesn't have to be the end of the world. Find the person who is like you. Who likes it quiet. Who doesn't want the party to be in your room. Who maybe likes to go to bed early. Make sure your roommate is the independent type - someone who can manage themselves, who doesn't need to be woken up in the morning, someone who doesn't need to do everything together. It may seem like these things go without saying for grown-ups, but you'd be surprised at how many grown-ass women I have met over the years who are incapable of just waking the hell up in the morning without assistance. I can't do that. I can't be responsible for getting someone else going in the morning, and these days, if I am in a room-sharing situation, I make sure I tell them that, and that we agree that we're each just going to do our own thing. Most people are willing to respect your space if you just say that that is what you need, and it may turn out that they are the same, and then you'll likely have a wonderful co-existence in the room!
The most important thing is to accept yourself the way you are and realise that you do not owe anyone your company or conversation. It's great when other people accept you too, but that doesn't always happen, and you have to learn to be OK with that. This can take some time! You don't want to feel left out, and you certainly don't want people to think you're rude! Just remember that other people's perception of you does NOT define who you are - you do! And you are the quiet type. You are the type who likes to be by yourself, or being the observer in a group of people. Own it and enjoy it. One day, we will take over the world! Quietly, from our own rooms.