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Solo Sentiments: Conquering the challenge of traveling alone

Whenever I tell someone that I want to travel on my own, I always get one of two reactions: an excited, “Me too!” or a scrunched-up expression followed by, “Why do you want to do that?” or some variation thereof.

Maybe it’s the communal nature of Filipinos that makes this idea so alien to us. Whether we’re eating, exercising, or watching movies, we love being with our friends and family. I do enjoy traveling with other people, but I’ve wanted to try it solo for some time now. So that’s exactly what I did a week ago—despite my parents’ worries.

Part of my reason for doing so was that I wanted to prove to other people that I could hack it on my own, no matter how sheltered and introverted and neurotic I am. But more than that, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to escape my safe little box and test my mettle. And I didn’t want my fears to hold me back from living.

I’m so glad I went ahead with it. My Yogyakarta trip was just a quickie, but it was a good baby step. Now I’m even more determined to backpack Europe next year.

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If you’ve been toying with the idea of traveling solo, I say go for it—but be prepared. Do what you can to ease your nerves and your family’s as well. For me, that meant getting travel insurance, booking my hostel ahead, and reading other blogs for tips. And if you’re still on the fence about it, I’ve put together the three common perceptions about solo travel and my own insights regarding them. I hope my experiences as a newbie will push you to step out of your comfort zone too.

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1. It’s not safe.

I’m a paranoid person, which is why I never plan to watch Taken 1. All kinds of scenarios ran through my head in the days and hours leading up to my trip. My AirAsia flight was going to go south. I was going to get mugged on the bus to the hostel. I’d be harassed by a random roommate. I’d fall off Borobudur never to be heard from again.

None of those happened. My plane took off and landed without a hitch. Aside from some eager peddlers, people left me alone on the bus and on the streets. My roommates turned out to be lovely, interesting people I hope to meet again someday. And Borobudur did nothing to me other than take my breath away. *cue sappy music*

That’s not to say that the worst couldn’t happen. But let’s get real—accidents and crimes can find you even in your hometown. If I have to go down, I might as well do so while indulging my passion for travel.

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2. It’s boring.

There are only so many attractions you can visit in one place, right? I actually found that the beauty of traveling solo is that it gave me space to chance upon things and experiences that I probably wouldn’t have found if I’d been caught up with my friends.

I enjoyed walking down the street and taking shots of locals having lunch on mats and random paintings brightening up the walls. And I squealed to myself when I spotted a Google Street View car on my way back to the hostel. You might just spot me grinning behind my camera while riding a becak.

In a way, it’s like those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I could choose to laze around in one spot or go out and seek my thrills someplace else. Either way, it was my decision, and I enjoyed the freedom that gave me.

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3. It’s lonely.

I won’t lie—there were moments when I did feel lonely. At times, I missed having someone to gush to about something amazing that I’d seen, and I actually missed hearing my native language. Those moments were few and far between, though.

I realized that when you travel alone, the lines between strangers get blurred, especially among fellow travelers. For all your differences, there’s that one huge similarity that ties you together, and that’s your shared love for the world. And once you get past those initial hellos and how-are-yous, you find that you’re more alike than you thought.

I was so lucky to have met the people I did. On my flight from Singapore, my seat mate offered to translate the customs form for me, then he gave me a crash course on Indonesia. My tour mate from Korea who happened to be an art teacher shared what he knew about Hinduism as we explored Prambanan temple. Then there was the man at the Sultan’s Palace who noticed I was lost and accompanied me in the right direction.

And of course, there were my hostel mates. They surprised me with unexpected tokens, entertained me with their backpacking adventures, and humbled me with their genuine goodness. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to learn so much about somebody in such a short period of time, but I did, and that discovery was one of the greatest gifts of my trip.

These people I met along the way gave me more reasons to open up to others and to travel more. I can’t wait to do it all over again.

 

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