Travelling the road less travelled
Things on my bucket list include cliff-diving, crashing a wedding, as well as pretending to be shocked when I see policemen walking towards me and running in the other direction screaming “I DIDN’T DO IT!!!” Things not on my bucket list include traveling solo, because I’ve already checked that off. Holla!
Yes, solo travel, particularly as a female, can be daunting, but no, you don’t need to wear a fake wedding ring or keep your money in emptied tampon applicators.
Ladies, read on for 13 things I learnt about traveling solo.
1. Plan your daily itinerary well, then stray from it
I’m a bit of an organized freak myself - I insist on hitting all the worthy attractions when visiting any city. But don’t get too carried away with treating your travels like a checklist. It’s great to have a plan for the day - and doing so also gives your loved ones back home a peace of mind - but solo travel is a perfect time to take life slowly yet spontaneously, while getting lost along the way.
2. Don't be (too) wary of fellow travellers
Traveling solo doesn’t mean traveling alone - you’ll be surprised how much you have in common with other travelers simply by way of the fact that you’re treading the same trail - but only if you let your guard down! The world is generally a good place, and not everyone is out to either mug or murder you.
You’ll find that you’ll meet all sorts of interesting people - some will tell the most enthralling of stories, some will ask the most insightful of questions, and everyone will leave an imprint on you in one way or another.
3. ...or the locals!
Ditch some of the advice your mum drilled into you since you were young - talk to the local karung guni if you like, he won’t catch you.
Sometimes, when your Angkor Wat guide takes you around the temple for free while talking about how he’d like to marry you and then offers to take you somewhere else to “meet his parents”, he isn’t trying to steal one of your kidneys. He’s really taking you to his parents’ beef noodle stall to offer you a bowl of beef noodles with extra beef.
This piece of advice holds true until - as I’ve seen happened to some others - they start demanding a fee for their time, in which case dish out a handful of coins that add up to about 30 cents and run away before they can finish counting the coins.
4. But know your the limits
Protect your drinks at the bar, don’t get too intoxicated, you know the drill - but really, these are precautions you should take be it locally or overseas, so just keep doing what you’ve been doing to stay alive.
When you’re traveling solo, you’re at your bravest and are on a constant adrenaline rush, and sometimes, there’s a fine line between putting yourself out there and putting yourself in trouble, so be careful not to tread that line!
5. Stay connected back home
Getting some phone reception can be difficult in the middle of nowhere
Getting the most out of your travel experience and keeping in touch with your loved ones back home are not mutually exclusive. Of course, I don’t mean live-tweeting your travels or telling your boyfriend how much you miss him in 50 differently phrased ways - in fact, absolutely don’t do that - but check in with your loved ones back home as and when you can.
6. Don’t be a changed you, be the you that you’ve always been
When you’re traveling solo, you’re free from the influence of the expectations and judgments that are inevitably placed upon you back home, and you can be whoever you want to be. It also helps that most people don’t have any preconceived, stereotypical notions of Singapore, other than the fact that you can get fined for chewing gum.
That being said, you don’t have to try to be someone you’re not. They say travel changes you; I say travel brings out the you that you’ve always been.
7. Fight back against propositions
Blatant sexism is still all around, most annoyingly in the form of lewd catcallers and chauvinistic debauchees who have no shame in staring you up and down. Whether you ignore them or respond with sass, you’ll meet another one down the road, or the next, so why not get the last laugh?
Of course, exercise caution - retaliate if you like if you’re on a main street where there will be onlookers, not when you’re walking alone down a back alley, which you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
8. Werk it
Walk confidently with your head up, even if you don’t know where you’re going. You aren’t any less supposed to be there than anyone else. It baffles me how even fellow travelers sometimes respond in shock when they realised I was traveling solo. “A girl like you, though?!” Yes. Problem?
9. You WILL be alone sometimes
There, I said it; I have spoken the unspeakable. Inevitably, you will have to do some things alone. And that's fine. Besides, the taboo against doings stuff alone is just plain illogical.
Sure, you may have fellow travelers with you, but there’s still a lingering sense of solitude stemming from the fact that you’re in a foreign land by yourself. Other times, you’re literally physically all by yourself. You’ll be forced to learn to be by yourself and love yourself - undoubtedly one of the most valuable takeaways from my solo travels.
10. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad
That being said, it’s only natural to sometimes feel a little down or a tad homesick. Even if you live away from family in University halls or across the island from your best friend, it’s never hard to meet up with your loved ones for some much-needed comfort in a country as small as Singapore.
But being alone overseas is a whole other story. So if you ever feel bad, don’t beat yourself up over it! These times don’t define your travels - as long as you don’t let them.
11. Don’t hesitate to pay for comfort
I once took a 9-hour overnight bus to get to another city on a whim. Gotta embrace the backpacker way of life, right? Wrong. I had to share my already tiny seat with the clammy arm of a 160kg man sat to my right and at least 10 dust bunnies, while having to deal with unyielding stares straight into my eyes, of the resolved ascetic on my left, as he chanted a Martian incantation of some sort.
If you’re not comfortable with doing anything or don’t like to rough it out, don’t hesitate to spend a little more for a better alternative. Book a couchette in a train if you find an overnight bus ride way too bumpy; get a private room in a hostel if you don’t fancy waking up at hourly intervals to the alarms of 7 other people - that way you’ll get your privacy and comfort while still getting to meet fellow travelers in the common areas.
12. You might meet your Mr Right… or not
Girl meets boy. She’s traveling, he’s traveling. She likes his cheekiness, he likes her spontaneity, but most of all, they are both headily enamoured by their shared passion for exploring the world. 3 days later, they part ways; their little travel romance goes on for 5 months but eventually dies down. 2 years on, girl writes article about boy on TSL.
There’s something about the titillating high of being on the road that expedites the blossoming of an amour. By all means, go for it! You’re enamoured by the country, the food, the culture… why not also a human being? But be careful not to put yourself into any disadvantageous position, or chances are, you’ll only be checking yourself into heartbreak hostel.
13. The beauty of solo travel lies in its unpredictability
Embrace uncertainty - it can be one of the best aspects of solo travel.
There are no set rules to follow to have the ideal solo travel experience. As for me, I’m still alive with all my limbs and internal organs intact, so I must have been doing something right. Follow some of these tips, ignore some others - to each his (or more aptly, her) own. Most importantly, have the time of your life!
The world is your oyster
If you’re still on the fence about embarking on an adventure on your own, remember that even if you end up hating the experience, you’re only a plane ticket from home - that beats spending the rest of your life wondering what could have been.
My fellow XX chromosomes, go forth and see the world - it’s yours as much as it’s anyone else’s!