Sunday 10 August 2014

Travelling solo: the good, the bad and the ugly

Many friends have asked me about my experience as a female Asian traveller so I decided to write a post about it. If you've been thinking about that solo trip but need some reassurance/advice, hopefully this post will help you out.

1) You'll have A LOT of freedom. 
Being alone, you can decide on every single detail of your trip. Can't wake up for the hostel breakfast? Just sleep in! Tired after walking around for two hours? Find a cafe and rest! Want to go skydiving? Just do it! Don't feel like going to a certain attraction? Skip it! It's all up to you! What you want to do and eat, when you want to sleep and wake up, where you want to go or not go, who you want to talk to in the hostel, etc. You don't have to discuss the options with anyone.. When else would you get to make all these decisions by yourself? For yourself? Especially when we usually live with our parents till marriage, there's always someone in your life you have to consider when making decisions. So traveling alone gives you the opportunity to be the decision maker of everything and you don't have to be responsible for anyone but you. Plus, no fighting over which attractions to go, no one to nag at you if you can't wake up for the sunrise, no one to shout at you if you missed the bus.. freeeeedom!

2) You'll learn how to take care of yourself.
Since you're alone, you have to know how to take care and protect yourself. Don't go out late at night, walk along brightly lit roads, dress conservatively, carry your bag in front of you, keep an eye out for strangers, etc. These are just some of the basic things that you'll learn when you travel alone. Your senses will be sharpened and you'll be more alert of your surroundings. You'll also learn to bring your own medication, how to dress your wounds, what to eat and what not to eat if you're feeling unwell, all these important life lessons will come to you when you travel alone.

3) You'll know yourself better.
We are in a world of constant connectivity online or offline and thus we are never really truly alone. But when you're overseas with no WiFi for the day, who can you talk to besides yourself? Through conversations, we find out about people, so by having inner monologues, you're basically having a conversation with yourself and that's when you find out about yourself! Listen to your own voice, sometimes our voices are drowned out by others' so let your voice be heard (by yourself for a start). Furthermore, you also discover more about yourself through interaction with other people, people of different cultures, races, languages, backgrounds. This self-discovery is fascinating.

4) You'll have friends from all over the world.
When you travel with friends or family, the probability of you striking up a conversation with a random traveller is close to zilch. But when you are alone, chances are you'll be looking for people to talk to. Yes I know I just talked about having inner conversations with yourself but man, I can't do that for a prolonged period of time and I miss hearing my voice. Slowly as you travel, you pick up friends from different parts of the world and though you only know each other for that few hours or few days, when you think back to that place, you'll always remember those friends who had been a part of your journey.

1) You'll get lonely and homesick.
If you don't find suitable people to talk to or you're just too shy to take the first step, you will get extremely lonely and depressed and you will want to go home. You will miss having deep meaningful conversations with your close friends and family (sometimes Skype or online chatting just isn't quite the same). You will miss your home, your bed, your mother's cooking, your pets, all things that remind you of home.

2) Nobody to take photos for you.
Well, you can always invest in a selfie stick. I didn't want to be caught with one so most of my selfies contain a huge face (mine) and a tiny bit of the scenery. I know I can approach passers-by but I get tired of asking because I secretly want to take photos everywhere HAHA. So I'm always glad to make friends along the way because then I'll have someone to take photos for me! Hehe.

3) Nobody to share meals with you.
This is one big con of travelling alone BUT can be easily solved when you make friends! When I was in Barcelona, I didn't get to meet any cool happening people yet so I had to devour a huge plate of Paella, an enormous glass of Sangria and two Tapas. Obviously not meant for one but what to do, I was craving for some Paella and the waiter asked "Drinks? Sangria?" I said yes but didn't expect the glass to be THAT huge. I could obly finish 2/5 of it.

4) Nobody to take care of you.
This was mentioned under learning how to take care of yourself. But if you look at it in the less optimistic way, you learn how to take care of yourself because YOU HAVE TO. I had to learn how to do things with one good arm and though I've met really nice people who gave me a hand (geddit? hehe), most of the time I was still on my own and had to manage things by myself.

1) Tourist scams.
I'm sure you're well aware of the many tourist scams around, see this. I've been warned about some of these but thankfully I didn't encounter any.. except the man in Cambodia who forced us to tip him when he helped us to take photos.

2) Men.
Some men seem to think that when females travel alone, they are out to look for pleasure. I've had people trying to pick me up by saying "You're alone in a beautiful romantic city... You should have some fun... Nobody will know..." And I've met a French guy through Couchsurfing who tried to kiss me barely an hour after we met. He was like "I like girls... Korean girls go all the way, Chinese girls just kiss... Taiwanese and Singaporean girls (blahblah, I can't remember what he said because I was busy being grossed out)" MY GOSH. He was totally abusing Couchsurfing to hook up girls. So everyone, watch out.


And there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly of solo travelling. It actually all boils down to meeting the right kind of people to hang out with. So I shall end the post with...

I always make friends during Walking Tours because most of the time those who join these tours are solo travellers as well so they will be looking out for people to hang out with for the day too. So with an easy 'Hi! Where are you from?' at the meeting point, you'll be able to get the conversation rolling and viola, a new friend found. Hostels are another place to meet people though I find it a bit harder because I don't like to insert myself into conversations. Usually a group of people will be talking and I just find it reeeaaaallly strange if I suddenly sit down and join in. I can't do it. So if I were to meet people in hostels, it would be travellers in the same room. And the benefit of making friends with your roomies is that you can stay out a little later because you'll have company on the way back!

Photo credit: David

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