I was a non-believer of solo travelling. I could not imagine myself visiting a new place alone. What’s the point of travelling if there’s no one beside you to share the happiness with? What if there is an exciting forest adventure you want to participate but you have no one to talk to about it, wouldn’t it be sad?
Well, ironically enough, some chain of events had lead me to (and allowed me to) travel all by myself for a good two weeks. A two-week time frame is not a lot compared to months of travelling around the globe by those wanderlusts who head to wherever their hearts lead to. For me, this is already a supreme privilege as I’ve never taken more than one week off from work for three consecutive years. Sounds sick, doesn’t it?
I had a lot of countries in my wishlist but after several considerations, I decided to go to Taiwan for 10 days and Hong Kong for 4 days – both of which places I had never been to. And by the way, when I told my mother about my solo backpacking trip, she thought I was joking. Ha, so much for the encouragement.
The trip happened amidst the busiest time of my life and I didn’t manage to plan it properly. I bought my air tickets less than one week before my departure date and booked the accommodation 3 days prior. To top it off, my itinerary by the time I printed out was only about 60% complete – most of which was a direct copy from one of my friends’ itinerary.
I was absolutely exhausted both physically and mentally, and on the verge of a major freak-out or panick attack due to other changes happening in life. I was overwhelmed by an amalgam of emotions: excited, drained, happy, sad, scared, adventurous and so on. Nonetheless, I did what I could; I packed about 8kg of stuff in a backpack, collected some tourist brochures from the Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore and off I went.
In Taiwan, I visited Taipei (the bustling Capital with lots of shopping places and night markets), Wu Lai (where you could almost meditate while dipping in the authentic hot springs), Qing Jing (a cooling mountainous place where furry sheeps are found at their natural habitat), Tai Chung (where the legendary Sun Moon Lake is located) and Hua Lien (where you can enjoy nature at its best). All these places were absolutely amazing and after the trip, Taiwan has become one of my most favourite places for travelling. I will not elaborate much on my itinerary here but share more on the memorable experiences as a solo traveller for the first time.
So these are some of the moments; simple but priceless to me.
- The moment of trepidation and excitement when I decided to trek up a mountain alone without knowing what’s really ahead and no one else around. Of course the kind of achievement when I made it to the peak even though it was an easy trek.
- The moment of curiosity when I stroke my first conversation with a stranger who turned out to be a nice person and later became a good friend
- The moment of disappointment when I bought the wrong train ticket and had to stand in the train for a 1.5 hour long journey
- The moment of gratitude when the lady sitting next to me on a train gave me a random gift and offered me her biscuits (which was one of the best I’ve ever tried! Pity I was too shy to ask the name of that snack because I knew for sure that she would give me her whole pack if she found out I liked it)
- The moment of adventure when I cycled for 2.5 hours to a beach of which 1 hour was spent on getting lost in the city because all I had was a map in Chinese (and yes I don’t read Chinese)
- The moment of being lost when a bus driver dropped me off on the highway when he realized I was on the wrong bus
- The moment of fear when I heard dogs barking after me on a narrow mountain trail where no other humans were present (one of the dogs almost bit me and I thought to myself that could have been the end of me)
- The moment of “extreme loneliness” when I fell sick, got weak, lost my appetite and had to run to a hospital
- The moment of honor when the husband and wife who were managing a villa in the mountains were so exhilarated to learn that I was the first ever Burmese guest staying at their place
- The moment of pride when a very unassuming old folk who was helping out at the same villa actually spoke of Aung San Suu Kyi once he knew I was from Myanmar (Oh yes she rocks!)
- And the countless number of times the kind local people would take extra miles to help me out with directions. Indeed countless.
Most importantly, there are a few key takeaways from my little adventure:
Having lived in Singapore for almost 8 years, I realized I have been trapped in the routines and plans that I almost feel lost without my schedules. My phone calendar is full of remarks with to-do-list and appointments which I religiously follow. During the trip, with no fixed itinerary, I found myself very spontaneous and fluid in where I went or what I did. For instance, I took a 40-min bus ride to meet up with a friend from Singapore who also happened to be in Taipei and we had a good impromptu catch-up. I also met up with another friend in Hong Kong who was in town for a business trip.
When travelling solo, schedules only serve as a guide but you don’t need to get caught up in them. It’s okay if you spend too much time at the museum that you do not get to see the sunset at another place. It’s okay if you take the wrong train which takes you 2.5 hours instead of 45 mins. It’s okay if you miss out to see certain places because they are temporarily closed on that day. Best part is, you could get up at either 6am or at noon, who cares?
Face the Uncertainties
This trip was remarkably full of uncertainties for me; largely because I was alone and partly because I did not plan or research much beforehand. On top of that, I was travelling to Chinese speaking countries while my conversational Chinese was pretty basic but just enough to get myself out of difficult situations.
The whole plan could have turned into a nightmare but it turned out to be the most wonderful trips I have ever taken! Things fell into place gradually. I read up on the Taiwan tourist brochures on the plane and noted down some questions to ask my hostel. I got a map of the train stations and cities. I asked for directions many times as I traveled along and I felt accomplished once I reached to my destination smoothly.
Feel the liberation
Well this part is a bit more philosophical. This is something that I believe other fellow solo travellers would be able to relate to. When you travel alone, you have plenty of “me time” and a lot of topics ceaselessly run through your mind. Ultimately, you feel liberated – free from worries, negative vibes and people who bring you down. You are at a place where no one knows you and you become aware of how different you are at the new place as compared to your daily life routine. You concede that you are just a tiny piece of living thing on this earth as you discover more places and talk to more people. And in a spark of thoughts, you realize there’s so much more to life than going after materialism and getting buried down by stress in your daily life.
I can’t thank myself more for having taken this solo trip. It has taught me to see the beauty of the world and the people. An achievement unlocked before I turned a quarter century old!
In my honest opinion, everyone should have travelled solo at least once in a lifetime while still young – especially women. In some societies where women’s roles are considered secondary to men, you may not feel as empowered or capable. Try a solo trip and be the captain of your own ship – know what’s it like to take charge of your own course of direction. To avoid danger, learn to be vigilant and smart while partially relying on your gut feels.
My small piece of advice to those who have not tried yet –
Pack your bag, choose a destination, prepare some cash and passport, and just go. Things will fall into place.