One of the best things about working as a teacher in China is the amount of vacation I have! Teachers in China have about two months in the summer time and about one month’s time during Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year typically lands mid January so I usually take this time to travel!
For this holiday in 2016, I had been planning to travel Bali with some friends and then head to Vietnam to meet up with another friend. Eventually plans with my friend who I was going to meet in Vietnam fell through.
I was about to embark on a solo trip that I wasn’t expecting to be a solo trip.
With this news I was a bit terrified. At that time in my life, I had never traveled solo. For many years I was in a serious relationship and had done most of my traveling in Asia with my significant other. The idea of traveling alone always depressed me because you wouldn’t be able to turn to a companion years later and say, “Remember that time?!”
In apprehension of my trip I crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s, at least twice, by printing out flight tickets, hotel information, and planned itinerary. Luckily I was to travel for about four days then meet friends for a couple days, then return to solo traveling for nearly two weeks.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after a gorgeous week in Bali. While taking the taxi from the airport to my hostel I was excited yet a nervous knotted ball. I checked into my hostel and tried to explore the city as the sun went down. I felt extremely cautious, curious, and somewhat uncomfortable of my surroundings as I dodged the millions of scooters crossing the bustling roads of Ho Chi Minh.
I came back to my empty 6 bed room hostel slightly after sundown and felt alone.
When it comes to meeting new people I often find myself introverted until it comes to developing relationships and then I find myself extroverted. So when it comes to putting myself out there, it has always been a challenge.
The next morning at the free breakfast, I tried to smile and make small talk with fellow travelers with hopes of finding a friendship. With no luck, my selfie stick and I headed out to explore the city.
As I started off on my day, I slowly started getting into my head as I fumbled with my selfie stick, feeling sorry for myself and losing the joy in travel.
I spent the next few days trying to loose my nervous vibe and find the joy in travel again. Throwing myself into new situations and trying to make the most of it.
My mood leveled off when I realized I would be joining some friends in Da Nang in just a few days time.
Once I arrived in Da Nang, I felt like jumping with joy to be reunited with friends, people who understood me!
Soon my time with my friends was up and as I headed to the airport, I felt like crying. I arrived at my next destination Nha Trang, Vietnam. I was fortunate enough to figure out an old friend from Shenzhen was also in Nha Trang at the same time. That night we explored a bit of the city and headed our separate ways over the evening. The next morning as I sat alone, another solo female traveler approached me during breakfast and asked to sit.
I was relieved to have found someone else to share my journey with.
Together my new friend Simone and I attended snorkeling trip. I ended up having a great time with Simone and was able to meet with her at the end of my trip in Ho Chi Minh.
I soon realized that there are some pretty cool travelers out there if you let yourself be available and meet them. But still felt weary towards trying to make connections with other travelers and just being alone.
Everyone says to travel solo at least once, and at this point I had, so I decided solo travel still wasn’t for me.
Forward to a year later as I planned my 2017 Chinese New Year holiday. I was dreaming of Myanmar and booked my trip early in hopes my friends would follow suit and join me. A few did, but unfortunately because of time we would not be able to travel together long.
I was to embark on another solo journey.
After I joined some friends for an amazing few days in Yangon; I apprehensively took an overnight bus to my next destination in Myanmar, Bagan. With the insight from my last solo trip, I realized that I needed to put myself out there to hopefully make some friends. I arrived in Bagan around 5am and shared a taxi to my hostel. The morning I spent resting in the hostels rooftop lounge, waiting to check in and grab a shower. After I had checked in and showered; I rented a scooter and joined several others with my hostel to see a guided sunset tour. I made small talk with nearly everyone but did not make any connections with anyone.
I felt somewhat sad by this, but at peace. Over the last year since my last solo journey, I was learning to enjoy the beauty of being alone. I was ok.
That night I went back to the hostel and found a quiet corner to study for some upcoming education tests. Another traveler came and sat near me and struck up conversation. We hit it off. After hours of conversation, we agreed to meet up in the morning for the hostel’s free scooter tour through the pagodas.
A magical day was spent scootering on dirt roads, climbing up temples and pagodas bare foot. To follow, the hostel provided a sunset boat tour. For the first time in my solo travels I felt present in the moment and alive.
Soon my new friend, Alex and I befriended a girl named Vigjilenca, who also happened to be a solo traveler. We later joined her at her hotel for a swim and drinks. Over the next week and some days Alex, Vigjilenca, and I each traveled to the same cities through Myanmar on the same days.
It was perfectly said, “Solo travelers find each other”
From Bagan to Inle Lake to Ngapali beach. I found the joy in fleeting moments, I found a friendship, I found a romance. I learned to open myself to travel in a way I have never before.
The day I was leaving Bagan to fly to Inle Lake, I woke up early to see one last sunrise. My new travel buddies had left for Inle Lake the day before me so I found myself alone once again. I began my scooter trip in the early morning dark, somewhat unsure where to go, so I headed on the main path I had for so many days before.
A local started to get my attention, asking me if I knew where I was going. I found myself a little worried that this man would try to scam me. He explained to me he was a local artist going to see the best sunrise. I decided to trust him and followed him by scooter to a local temple.
The sun was still nowhere to be seen as he helped me climb up the temple in the dark.
The local artist and I sat on a ledge a top the temple as the hues of the sunrise began painting themselves in. We talked of how I am American: How Obama once visited and how the people of Myanmar love him. As other tourists began arriving, we sat in silence as the balloons began to rise over the sunrise over the breathtaking temples of Bagan,
After purchasing some postcards from a local boy who sold them to tourists before he went to school and buying a painting from my new Myanmar friend I scootered back to my hostel smiling. As John Mayer sings his song 3×5, “You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes, It brought me back to life”
So here I am, about seven months after I have finished my second solo journey, would I recommend solo travel now? Yes. Why? You will grow.
Each of these times I have traveled solo, I have had to attempt to get out of my comfort-zone. This can be pretty challenging at times, but I have felt the rewards from leaving it. Whether it be memories from a cool experience (snorkeling), learning a new skill (Vietnamese cooking class) or just plain doing something that makes you uncomfortable (taking an overnight bus, alone): these have all lead me to become a stronger, better, me.
I also have learned that by becoming comfortable in my own shoes that beautiful things can come your way by being open to the world. The more I live life, the more I realize that, “The energy we put out, is the energy we get back”. So embrace the challenge with an open heart!