4 Things I Learned While Traveling Solo

1. Being alone is not the same as being lonely

Most people look at me in shock whenever my mother broadcasts my plans of traveling alone, and they usually ask why I wouldn’t take my mom with me. I almost always answer that it would be too expensive. The locals also raise their brows when they find out I’m without a companion, but perhaps it’s more about my stature than my gender. I’m short – not even 5’0″ tall, and I wear shirts tucked into the waistband of my thigh-high shorts, and if I’m not in running shoes, then I’m in slippers. Most people think I’m no older than 15, and I get incredulous remarks that go, “You’re in College? Really?!”But the thing about going off to see the world by myself is that I have full control of my schedule. I don’t have to wait for others to get ready, I can walk as fast or as slow as I want, and I have the freedom to visit all the museums and historical landmarks my heart desires. It also gives me the chance to bond with my self. To meditate as I roam around the streets whose names I can hardly remember without a map. It makes me realise that I don’t need the constant presence of people who belong in my comfort zone to have some fun. Being alone is very liberating. It gives me peace of mind, control, and a sense of calm I don’t get when burdened with the pressure of being in a group.

2. Getting lost is only fun when you’re not actually lost

I’m a stickler for preparation. I hate putting myself in situations that make me anxious – of time, directions, names, places, etc. Getting lost in a big city where you don’t know anyone is a major trigger of the physiological signs of my anxiety. I break out into sweat, my heart palpitates, my eyesight gets blurry for a while… To sum it up, I feel like shit. I don’t know how people do it, actually. Finding “fun” in having no idea where you are and how to go back to your hotel. The illusion of getting lost, however, is an entirely different thing. It was in the Lake Garden area of Kuala Lumpur that I first experienced being lost in a place I knew I’d still be able to get out of and eventually return to my hotel. At first, I followed my map religiously and took what I thought were the right turns. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it wasn’t that useful at all, and instead of aiming for the Islamic Arts Centre, I reached the National Museum – which, I tell you, is quite far from each other. After checking my schedule and seeing that I had more than enough time, I kept my map and decided to continue being ‘lost’. In the end, I still managed to arrive at my original destination, albeit several hours later, but the journey was worth it.

3. Not all locals will understand you

Even though you communicate in the kind of English that will do the Western world proud, that is not an assurance that the locals will understand what you’re saying. From the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, I took a train to KL Sentral. My hotel was one train ride away, so I followed the queue at the ticket counter, and asked for one ticket to Bank Negara. The woman punched some buttons and handed my three pieces of paper with the label ‘KL Sentral > Subang Jaya’. I was quite baffled, but gave her the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps one was for the guard at the current station, another for the guard at the exit station, and the last one for me. However, when I got into the train and saw that Subang Jaya was at the opposite direction of Bank Negara, I began to think that perhaps there was something wrong. Upon disembarking at the station, I approached the guy at the ticket counter and asked about the situation. Turns out I paid almost five times more than what I should have paid, since the woman misheard me. In Shanghai, I also had an encounter with a shopkeeper who couldn’t understand a word I was saying. Luckily, there was a University student who could translate English to Chinese, and she helped me get my point across. In Asian countries, not everyone can speak and understand English. Some even more so than others. It always pays to have a dictionary (whether a book or an app) with you, and in fact, learning the basics of the language before your trip will earn you a slightly less uneventful time.

4. When you go back, the itch to travel will be stronger

Some people need time to get over the after glow of their recent trip, but some people also don’t need it. I’m one of those travellers who just can’t seem to squash the want to go out and see more of the world. It wouldn’t be very hard if airline prices weren’t so expensive, but with the prices fluctuating and my travel fund empty, there’s not much of a choice but to stay where I am until I get the resources to go out again. Travelling is such a beautiful and life-changing experience, and it’s also very irresistible. So although I’m still on my current trip or I just got back from one, my mind can’t help but think of my next great adventure – whether that be in another country or just another city.

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