Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Misconceptions About Solo Travel (My Take)

I used to be intimidated by the idea of solo-traveling. Now that I've discovered the beauty of it, I encourage everyone to try it at least once. There will be ups and downs, true enough, we have to be aware that solo-traveling is not all unicorns and rainbows. I agree that some bloggers (including me) do unintentionally makes solo-traveling seems too easy to be true (which is far from reality). Solo-traveling mean you are on your own from prepping to trip planning to maps reading, it requires hard work but it IS possible and it will most certainly be one of your fondest memories to look back at and proudly proclaim “Been there done that”! These are some common misconception about solo-traveling, especially when the traveler is a girl.     
travel misconceptions

Myth 1: Solo travelers are fearless! (some say Naive!)

       Fearless is not the word to describe solo travelers. In fact, when I started out, I was literally filled with more fear and doubt than I could handle. Even now, the fear doesn't go away. I did everything afraid. Then soon enough, I realized that I am not the only one, there are solo travelers EVERYWHERE and when I talked to them, it is clear to me that everyone still has some remnant of fear even after long years of traveling solo, just that we refuse to give way to fear.  
       True enough that we put on a brave facade from the outside, but deep down inside I am still afraid of the dark. I remember my heart pounding like an elephant doing a 100 m sprint when I was walking alone at night, I remember hiding in the toilet cubicle coz I heard a men's voice in the ladies washroom (it was the janitor, lol), I remember walking towards a group of girls because I suspected someone is trailing me, I remember praying to Jesus, Buddha, Brahma and Allah when my own tour guide (someone I thought trustworthy) wouldn’t let me out of his car… and if I were to travel back in time, those experiences still scare the shit out of me. 
       We are not any braver than the average woman, neither did I become braver after my solo traveling experiences, but one thing for sure: I became mentally stronger (calmer) and my confidence level skyrocketed. 

Myth 2: You have to be extremely strong willed to travel solo

       Wrong! I am probably the most indecisive person on this planet. I can’t even decide what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner back in Malaysia (we have too many choices!). But trust me, once you spent your hard-earned RM2000 to buy that flight tickets, all those doubts you have will vanish and the next thing you know, you are already sitting on the plane. You just have to make that first step.  
Switzerland Train

Myth 3: You have flings all around the world

       Often I got some questions that sound like these: “So, found a guy on the road?” “How do you find Italian men?”… the worst has to be this “Who are the best kissers in the world?” One word, people: FACEPALM! We travel to open our eyes and heart to unknown cultures, meet different people, try different cuisine, find inner peace and relax! It isn’t fair to label every female solo travelers as “this kind of girl”. 

Myth 4: You have to be an extrovert in order to make friends.

       I’m a melancholic, an introvert who rather spend time tapping away on my laptop, listening to JJLin and day-dreaming about my future husband. Despite all the solo travels experiences I’ve accumulated, I’ve only been to a club and a pub once in Tampa with my     Couchsurfing host and that’s it. Not in Budapest, not in Thailand, not in anywhere else in the world, simply because I don’t see a point in it, needless to say, to enjoy it. Yea I look 16 but house the soul of a 60 years old. My new friends in the hostel say I was missing out on all the fun, but in my eyes, they are the ones who are missing out on genuine human connections (my honest thought). 
       I like to sit at the riverbank, listen to underground singers, have some deep conversations about life with someone (My roommate Cynthia knows this the best), and due to the “Law of Attraction”, I never fail to befriend like-minded travelers everywhere and still keep contact with them on Facebook until today. Meaningful long-term friendship is what I am looking for, and I’ll stick to that for now. 
*ps: I am talkative once I get comfortable with people and every possible method used to stop me from talking will be in vain. Wait, on second thought, maybe food will get the job done.  

Myth 5: You’ll be lonely, really, really lonely.

       On the contrary, I find it really really hard to feel lonely. I loved my new found freedom and flexibility… but if I feel like spending time with someone, I’d just ask my hostel mates if they would like to hang out. Most of them said yes and we ended up becoming close friends after the trip. Any ideas for introverts you asked? Maybe joining in a local board game, joining an interesting conversation about world politics over dinner. 
       For the most part, people (travelers and locals alike) like to approach solo-travelers more because they are generally keen to meet new people and once engaged, willing to share their knowledge in every possible aspect. 
       Locals want to talk to me out of curiosity (of my race, tradition, and country), Asians love to befriend other Asians (why not? We found each other on the other side of the world! ), travelers love to exchange stories and opinions… There are really countless topics to talk about. 
       See, I was never alone all these while, so how could I possibly feel lonely? 
The most beautiful thing that could happen is that you both feel so connected (you know, the feeling like you’ve found an old friend) and so you both adjust your plans to spend one more day together… and then you make plans to visit each other in the future! Former strangers, current best bud. 
Read more: 
beautiful Thailand girl
With a beautiful girl from Thailand in Austria.

Myth 6: You’ll face everything alone, no one is gonna help you. 

       I believe life is like a mirror, if you smile at it, your reflection will smile back. Always be kind and keep a positive mindset. Besides, let me tell you something, the world is no short of genuine people who are willing to go out of their way to help you. I have met some of the kindest souls on the road and they have taught me to trust and extend the kindness offered. 
       Being a pure Asian, I am genetically shorter than European women and look a lot younger than I really am. During my travels, I was mistaken as a teen countless times. I was described as being fragile by a new friend who took good care of me, feeding me good food and preventing me from getting lost. I was forced to “call my mom” in the train (they thought I ran away). In Croatia, a mother of two offered to drive me back to Zagreb and in Venice, a couple walked me to the brighter part of the town. In my case, looking younger than I actually am might be one of the reasons why people I met were so protective but generally good people exist and he/she might be sitting just next to you.
Read more: 
Budapest shoes

Myth 7: You can't make new friends in a non-English speaking country 

       People will still talk to you even when you clearly don’t speak their language. 
I’ve met a french guy in Brussels who tried his best to engage in a conversation even though we don’t understand french and his English is limited. When I was in Naples, a cute Italian girl spent time drawing on the paper while his boyfriend took on the body language method to talk to me. And there is where I met a Korean girl and held a hilarious conversation about Running Man via google translator. 

Myth 8: Everyone wants to harm you.

       Although you should be well informed about the social security in a destination and take precaution, you don’t have to be panaroid. The reality is, most people would try to help you rather than harm you. 
       I lost a bag (with cash, camera, cell phone and passport) in a French Train Station and got it sent back to me on the very same day. Someone found it at the train station and send to the "lost and found" counter, the counter operator called my hotel after scanning my bag for contact numbers and a stuff from the hotel drove 40 minute south to return my bag with everything important still intact. 
       Although I’ve encounter as many as 22 tourist scams during my 70 days long Europe trip, I did not lose anything, simply because there were good people who constantly reminded me or came to my rescue.   

Myth 9: Travel is dangerous for women.

       I've heard this line way too much, it's like a broken record, playing over and over and over again. I agree that it is a scary world out there, but both genders face the same risks. You just have to stay alerted and keep your common sense intact. when I am afraid to do something alone, I drag another solo traveler along from my hostel, and people are normally happy to find a companion for the day. 
       Earth dwellers are generally nice, there are no hordes of psychos lurking in the dark waiting to get you… I am not saying that there isn't risk in solo-traveling, but the fact is, treachery and danger exist everywhere, you don’t have to be traveling to come face to face with one.
       In my opinion, everything in life possesses a certain level of risk. Driving? Accidents happen. Staying at home? Robbery is common. Eating? People choke to death. You get my point, the fear of the outside world should never be the reason stopping you from living a life you long for. Just travel smart and you’ll be alright. 
       When I first came to Russia, my mom was so worried like her daughter was a meat going into the crocodile’s mouth, thanks to faulty media coverage and the shadow of USSR’s past history. Well turned out she has nothing to worry about, Russia is an amazing country, perfectly safe (even has lower crime rate than my home country), just misunderstood by the public. False impression installed by Hollywood Blockbusters are to be blamed. 
       When people back home heard about my experiences in Couchsurfing and Hitchhiking, all hell broke loose. The idea “staying with strangers” is nuts, you are asking for trouble, you might get yourself killed!!! I used to have so much trouble trying to explain the concept of Couchsurfing to my friends but in the last year, I’ve seen some progress as I got more and more “(someone) has recently joined you on CS” email notifications. But as for hitchhiking…. well, it is getting there. 
crocodile and girl, Brussels

Myth 10: Travelers have rich family backgrounds.

       "I can’t travel, I am not as rich as you." This is what I often get when I share about my travels. Most people seem to think my family has a shit ton of money, which I really wish that this was the case. Instead, I am a student who used to earn extras by selling soya drinks and homemade halal Tambun biscuits, good in designing the most budget friendly travel route and never stop finding out various ways to earn money on the road. 
       Being short on money has never been an obstacle. Budgeting is a very crucial step in travel planning, don’t be fooled by travel quotes like “don’t think just go”, it’ll never work. I managed to travel on an extreme shoestring budget as a result of my highly adaptive flexibility and sturdy personality, as a matter of fact, not everyone is willing to tent-camp for a week or longer in jungles or free campsites, sleep in the train station and so on. Yea, I admit that it was dauntingly hard to pull it off but I had chosen to prioritize my opportunity to see the world over comfort, at the same time, putting attention to safety. 
       I started this blog in September 2015 with some pretty crappy travel pieces (I did not delete them, you can probably go back and find out how crappy they are. ) But after a few months practicing and Improving my writing skills, my first article got featured on the Huffington Post USA and tons of opportunities came rolling in. Today, my travels are sponsored by (carefully selected) official tourism boards, hotel chains and international companies. See how I started out by reading the following articles: 
57 ways to save a lot of money and fund your own travels as a student
57 ways to save money on the road
10 ways I used to make money on the road
How to budget a trip
Websites and apps to help you save money on a trip
(These articles will get posted in December. (Like+See first) the FB page so that you won't miss out)

Myth 11: Solo Travel are for the young and single.

       “Do it when you are young and able”. We have seen this advice all over the internet. But the truth is: age doesn't matter. I’ve seen seniors backpacking around Europe… The quote should emit the word “Young”. Do it when you are able, as simple as that. 
       There is also a stereotype that solo travelers are single. Because relationships can’t survive distance and instability. (Oh really?!) 
       "Oh, you are married? You’ll get divorced soon." This is by far the most insulting comment (probably a joke, but an insensitive one) I heard a female solo traveler got when she showed her wedding ring after telling us her plans to travel around the globe for a year. I don’t know what happened to this lady now. I cannot speak from experience about having marital status, job commitments, and household responsibilities but my long distance relationship is thriving and I hope (and I know) she is doing well too.  

Myth 12: You are not serious about your life and career

       I can’t comment anything about the career part because I am still a student. But, travel blogging and freelancing are considered my part time job. Since I read about the lack of posts for medical officers in government hospitals, I am creating a sustainable plan B for my life. The only difference is, I started early during my university years... simply because I am a planner (just my personality). So am I serious about my life? Hell yeah! 
       Also, solo-traveling boost your confidence and improve your soft-skills, something you won’t get in the classroom but oh-so-crucial in the society. For people having a fixed job, traveling is a great way to unwind and you go back to your post totally refreshed after a week of stress-detox. To further establish my point, do you know that Steve Jobs' journey across India was a stepping stone to his success? So what are you waiting now?

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Thank You for Reading! This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!


The Blogwalker said...

I am totally agree with these points you have point out so far especially on myth 10 and 12. Thanks for writing this and sharing it to the world.

Happy travelling more and more!

richard yeoh said...

super article. I started solo travel very late in life (in 2013) - it's enlightening!