Quirks of travelling solo

One of many of my famous solo travel “selfies”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone from back home – just under 2 months in fact. Tomorrow I take a flight from Koh Samui to Taiwan to visit family and friends, which will mark a temporary pause of my solo travels before continuing onto my year in Australia. As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun,” and it certainly has been the case.

When I first started out this adventure, I knew I had to mentally prepare myself to be on-the-go for an extended time without much assistance from people whom I can trust. You hear about all these tourist scams and travel horror stories that gives you an uneasy feeling, especially being in countries where English is broken at best (and often, totally different from what you said).

– Keep valuable belongings on you at all times, even while sleeping.
– Don’t go out alone at night.
– Watch out for bag snatchers.
– Border crossing between countries by land are sketchy, fly if you can.
– Taking a minibus between cities can be fatal and you can fall off the edge of the cliff and no one will know.
…and the list goes on.

I’m not saying that these things aren’t possible. They are definitely risks and has happened before – or else how did it get passed on “from a friend of a friend of a friend?” But in all honesty, I think a little travel common sense and vigilance will go a long way. Especially when you’re travelling by yourself, you don’t have a second person that can tell you “that doesn’t look right.” Trust your instincts, and being a bit overly cautious never hurts (contrary to what I’ve said about choosing the scary thing over the comfortable thing… that’s a different topic).

Contrary to popular belief, SE Asia is actually quite a safe place to travel. And in particular, the local people of Cambodia and Laos are some of the nicest I’ve met.

If you’ve ever wanted to travel somewhere but you can’t find another buddy, fear not, your dream vacation isn’t doomed. Plan a trip for yourself, and it may turn out to be one of the most rewarding things you do – especially while you’re young.

Anyways, I digress (somewhat). Here are just some of the many positives for travelling by yourself:

1. Freedom to see/do whatever you want
See a street performance that you like? Just stop and watch. No, really – you can watch for as long as you want, or if you’ve seen enough temples, you can change it up and head to the shopping mall. This is probably the most enticing part of about solo travelling. It’s incredibly hard to find someone who has the exact same interests as you. Even most couples argue about what to see and what to skip. At times, you may feel like changing up the schedule a bit because you heard someone else say good things about a city. Now that’s true flexibility, enough said.

2. You’re on your own budget
I think budget is also something quite important. Even though we would all love to visit everything, and do all the excursions offered, we’re still limited by time and money. Most people have their own budget in mind before the trip, and how much they are willing to spend on, say, a multi-day tour, a meal, or on a fancy hotel over a hostel. If you’re travelling with your significant other, chances are you’ve already discussed it, but if you’re travelling with friends or people you just met, you might not want to spend an entire day’s budget on booze at night. Actually, if it’s the latter and you’re travelling alone, it’s easy for you to turn down the offer – most backpackers understand. If you love coffee, you might fancy a visit to a coffee shop which serves a $10 latte, but your friend won’t be so happy.

3. You meet new friends much faster
Unless you’re a hermit and really enjoy solitude, I’m sure we’re all social creatures to some extent. Half of your travel is about the places you see, while the other half, or even more, is about the people you meet. Sure, landscapes and monuments are beautiful, but they don’t talk back to you nor show any emotions and share experiences like people do. During this trip, I’ve found that wherever I go, there are always someone doing crazier things, or travelling for a much longer than me. In a group setting, when I say I’m travelling for 2 months, it’s usually the shortest duration, haha. During rainy days or at night, people tend to socialize over drinks in the common area, which is where you can chat about your pre-travel life, upcoming destinations, and exchange tips.

I’ve met some of the nicest travellers who would go out of their way to offer me accommodation and show me around their city if I ever visit. Not only do you have friends in your hometown, you now also have multiple guides and places to stay around the world. I met someone in Halong Bay which I spent a bit more time trying to help them take a properly lit photo, and he offered his contact information if I ever visit Malaysia. Another fellow Canadian has offered to contact their relatives in Australia and see if I can stay with them for a short period of time while I look for housing. How awesome is that? Similarly, I offered to show others around Vancouver if they ever visit :-)

Bottom line: you’re not alone. People see you by yourself and they’ll say hi. You introduce yourselves, and you could be best buds for the next little while. Remember to be as open and honest as you can be. No one is judging.

4. No more blame games
If you make an awesome decision, you give yourself credit and a pat on the back. However, this works both ways. If you make a mistake (whether it’s overpaying for a particular attraction or picking a bad place to eat), you have no one to blame but yourself. This is a good thing – as it leads right into the next point. You don’t have to worry about other blaming you for making a decision.

5. You learn a lot about yourself
You’ll no doubt spend some, or a lot of time travelling alone. That is ok. During this time, you will find out what you are good at and not so good at. You will find out what you like and dislike (or even tolerate), by trying different food and seeing different landscapes. You will certainly learn from mistakes much faster. I’ve been ripped off by tuk tuk drivers several times, but that’s because I had no one to validate my decisions. After a while you learn to travel much smarter. You start shopping around for different prices for tours before settling with a particular company.

Most importantly, you have lots of time to reflect. Whether is it what you want to do after travelling, your next destination, how you want to contribute in making a difference to this world, or write blogs like this :-P It’s your time.

There are definitely downsides – if you’re a foodie and want to try the local cuisine, you are limited to only a couple, if not just one dish a meal. You won’t be able to try and share different things on the menu (this can be counter-acted by what I said above about making friends ;-) ). Things generally cost higher, whether you’re taking a taxi to/from the airport by yourrself, taking private transportation for sightseeing, paying full price for private rooms (where dorms are not available), to losing the power of bargaining with taxi drivers and tour excursions. Finally, there are times when you really want to share how you feel at that moment with someone – how happy you are, disappointed, or just gossips in general?? Better remember those and tell stories later!

Almost two years ago, I remember reading and sharing an article about the “3 Reasons to Travel While You’re Young“. Looking back at it today, it comes back to a full circle and is one of the things that has sparked my journey.

Even though I’m travelling solo, I’ve been encouraged by all my family and friends who’ve been super supportive, and to those of you that read my long posts :-P Remember: living vicariously through others who are travelling is nice, but experiencing is a whole different level.

I leave you with this: if travelling has always just been a dream for you – go out and travel, make mistakes. The world yours to explore.

“As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.” – Zachary Scott


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