48 hours of land travel, 16 days, 4 cities, 2 countries, 1 Cupcake Girl

I am very fond of lists.

So what do I do now that I have recapped my first ever solo trip out of the country? Make one!

The most common question I got asked when I told people that I will be traveling/has traveled alone is if I am on a soul-searching journey or I wanted to go off and “find myself”. I honestly have no idea why I still pushed through with this trip solo, but what I do know now is that I learned a lot from it. It was actually a bit hard to think of a title for this post because I didn’t know what direction to take in making a summary of sorts. I don’t think a “things you will learn from traveling solo” approach will apply to everyone since we all have different priorities and personalities. I also am did not plan on a “why you should travel solo” list because I’m not gonna lie, I find traveling with a companion cheaper haha (but if I did nudge you towards that direction, let me know and I am so excited for you! :D). I decided to simply write about what I think I got the most out of from this trip: learning more about myself.

Here are the 15 things I learned from traveling solo..

I can survive with a limited number of clothes (and things in general).

I decided that since I was solo, it would be more efficient for me to have my hands free while navigating my way through a foreign city. Also, there are two things you should know about me: when I buy things, I usually am a hoarder and when I travel with a suitcase, I have enough clothes to last me up to twice the duration of the trip. I live with the mentality that if I can’t pick between two (or three) items, I’ll just get all of them, which eventually results in wastage (didn’t really get to wear that outfit, only used this shade of blush once cos I bought all six shades). Traveling with a backpack and one small handbag has made me realize that I can survive with just the basics. I had to plan my bottoms to coordinate with at least two tops, so I can use it repeatedly. I didn’t even have space to put in my flat iron, my excessive makeup bag, the third pair of sandals and an array of accessories. I didn’t go crazy buying souvenir items I am going to forget about in a few months because I didn’t have space for it. It made deciding what to wear or whether to buy something easier. Surprisingly, when I got home I noticed the practice sticking to my everyday life: do I really need to buy all three colors of the same top/I already have a similar lipstick shade/I don’t think I can use this pair of shoes beyond this event. It doesn’t really mean that I will be traveling with a backpack for the rest of my life, but it has made me realize that I really do not need a lot of things to make me happy. 🙂

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I love traveling with C! He is my favorite travel buddy, primarily because he lets me take the reins in the planning. He’ll simply tell me the places he wants to go to, or the things he wanna try and I get to plan the rest. Going without him has given me moments where I see something interesting and I wish I can just nudge him so we can have the moment together. The physical distance made us feel closer than ever because our Facetime calls in bed are more meaningful, filled with more details about our days and we learned to truly enjoy each other’s company (albeit virtually). This solo trip just proved that I do not need him in my life, but I really want him to be. 🙂

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I like not having to wait for anyone.

Missing C aside, I loved not thinking about anyone else. Traveling with my family meant sleeping in the same bed as my siblings (my little sister plays with people’s hair when she sleeps), we only tend to go to family-friendly places, and there are four other people to contest your food choices. With C, I do have more freedom to do whatever I want, but it comes with a price. Literally, a hefty price tag because this guy likes staying in comfortable places and shopping. There are also differences when it comes to pocket money when vacationing with friends, which leads to different priorities on where to spend it. When it’s just me, I do not have to wake earlier than my siblings to get first dibs in the shower, spend 30 minutes just rousing C from his sleep, or argue on where to go/eat. I get to decide on my own pace. 😛

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It’s fairly easy to engage with the locals even if you do not speak the same language.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but when traveling in a pack (or as a couple), we tend to rely on each other. Are we lost? We can do this together! But when you’re solo, you rely on the help of friendly strangers. I personally was more open to engage with locals – would I have accepted that invite to get coffee with a local I met on the train if I was with C? No one would probably approach us. Or would I have hanged out with the cool girls from Saigon Hotpot on my last night in Ho Chi Minh? My mom would have insisted that I stay in and get some sleep so I can get up early. Again, I love traveling with family/friends/C, but it’s more likely for me to grab an opportunity to know people when I’m in an unfamiliar place by myself. Even when we have to rely on Google Translate to converse.

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It’s very easy to make friends.

Not only with the locals but with the Pinoys as well! There are A LOT of Filipino backpackers, and I never thought I’d say this but one week in, I missed speaking to someone who can understand what I’m saying. Whenever I hear someone speaking in Tagalog, I immediately strike up a conversation with them (or have a 7-hour one, like the one I had with the Pinay I met on the bus to Cambodia).

It’s okay to spend your hard earned money on experiences.

I’m a practical person, and admittedly, frugal on some things. I, unfortunately, have never been rich but I realized that with experiences, you never know when the chance to do something will come up again. So I paid for the experiences that seemed exciting, booked a 4-star hotel room for my last nights on vacation, and ate like a queen as much as I can. (How luxurious is it to bathe in a tub while watching television after a long day, right?)

The world is huge and yet small at the same time.

It goes without saying that we never really run out of places to see or adventures to try. But no matter how different the culture, we all live almost the same lives. We go through the same struggles: will I ever get what I want out of life? Do I get to pursue my goals someday? Is someday today? What about the bills I have to pay? I got to talk to so many people of varying races, from opposite parts of the world, only to find out that we are asking ourselves an alternate form of the same question.

Going home is as exciting as leaving.

Sure, I do not anticipate the work load I eventually have to tackle. But there is familiarity in routine that you just cannot get out of vacations.. Knowing what you know now when you get back and applying it to your life is invigorating in a weird kind of way.

 

I am more than I give myself credit for.

When I got on the plane to Vietnam, I couldn’t sleep. I was going through another level of anxiety that I don’t normally experience because I didn’t know if I could actually do it. I was raised to believe that whatever I put my mind into, I can achieve. But I rarely ever get to test my limits – how long can I walk with a 12-kilo backpack in high heat, can I sleep with seven other people in the room, I can’t eat a frog right?? And I did it all! 🙂

I rarely get enough alone time.

Growing up in a family-oriented household, we were expected to share and ensure that everyone has got a share of everything. Working with teams, you are expected to be one harmonious unit. Being part of a couple meant constant attuning to your partner. By yourself, you can be selfish – and it’s okay. 🙂

It truly is about the small things in life.

May it be that hole-in-the-wall with the amazing pho, or little acts of kindness (men drinking coffee in the street walks you to your destination, two guys stopping on their tracks because you looked lost and helped you, I have endless examples!) – it is easy to find joy in the small things. My daily life is spent chasing down career opportunities, wanting better clothes, rushing to get to the office before rush hour.. but there is a different kind of satisfaction in eating a bit of grilled frog, running to catch your train and finding out you got in a few minutes before it leaves, a flat surface I can put my camera in to take photos during the golden hour or catching magnificent sunrises.

It’s okay to make mistakes (within reason).

There is a negative stigma attached to failure. Nobody’s perfect and we slip up from time to time in making those life decisions, the small ones such as where to eat or life changing ones like “WTF I’M TRAPPED IN A TAXI IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY AT 2 AM”. Some people had to chop off their arms because of these mistakes, but as unfortunate it is at the moment – we have to admit that it’s a learning moment. I forgot to bring my sunscreen and suffered from sunburns because I thought it would be okay not to buy one.. now I learned to ensure that sunblock is always in my things to pack list. I made the mistake of not doing the smart thing such as insisting that the hostel send me a car to pick me up from the airport, and I learned to always confirm before I arrive at my destination that I will get picked up. You know what they say, experience is the best teacher. 😛

The world may be a dangerous place, but you got your instincts to get by (again, within reason).

Everyone who knew I was traveling solo was very worried because (I have to quote Jab We Met again) “a girl traveling alone is like an open treasure chest”. Even my mom agrees with that, but the stubborn person that I am believed that if all the other solo female travelers can do it, I can as well. With this experience, I learned how to prepare by doing lots of research and trust my instincts: if something feels off, remove yourself in the situation and always be alert. I was lucky to not go through anything traumatic that could discourage me from going on another solo trip. In fact, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

I should not care about what people think of me.

It is significantly different when you are aware that no one you know is watching your every move. I am very conscious of taking food photos in restaurants, posing in public, or being spontaneous. When I was solo, I couldn’t care less if they choose to stare when I sit down on museum floors, stand up to take nice food photos for my blog, or do math problems in cafe. I was so afraid of judgment from people I actually know that I have limited myself to do what I considered where “acceptable” behavior. Now, I dyed my hair the color I wanted to, sang in public karaokes and take wacky ass photos.

There is something very liberating knowing that you can go anywhere by yourself.

Funny story: I had no plans of buying souvenir sleeveless tops from the night market, but when I saw this top I knew from the depths of my heart that I had to buy it! Backpack + glasses + selfie = so me! Only the caption is untrue because even though I was alone, I wasn’t lonely. My self-confidence even increased with the knowledge that I got my own back. I can trust myself and I can take care of me. I spent my own money, carried my own things, and even washed my own clothes. This may not seem like a feat to a lot of people, but it is for me. 🙂

Who else here has traveled alone? Share in the comments below the things you have learned while doing solo travel and let’s celebrate our independence together! 🙂

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