About two years ago, my fascination with solo travel began to take root, and subsequently I made my way around the various cities of Taiwan on my own. Next came Canada… and then Okinawa… currently I’m typing this article in England!
「Nobody has achieved success or happiness accidentally, you just haven’t seen all of the hard work they’ve done to get there」
「It seems like she is really enjoying herself, traveling all the time~」Every time my penchant for solo travel gets brought up in conversation amongst friends and family, I am showered with praise regarding my courage and bravery and am told my traveling lifestyle is certainly enviable. However, while of course travel is undoubtedly wonderful, there is a gritty aspect to it. All of the beautiful, mesmerizing pictures you see on FB and IG don’t show the greasy, three days sans shower hair, nor the no make-up, sweaty, puffy face that is a staple of every traveler’s life on the road.
In the background of each fairy tale-esque photo lies a heap of real world challenges and problems. It seems like many people, myself included, must work day and night for years to save enough money just to leave the country one time! I’ve had the goal of taking a trip to Europe before I hit 25 years of age for quite some time.
Sitting here in England, after diligently using various strategies to attain this goal as well as an abundance of hard work, I can confidently say it’s all been worth it!
「Solo travelers need more than just courage」
Of course, even though the freedom and autonomy that come along with solo traveling are liberating, there is also a responsibility to handle all issues that come up on your own~ being self-reliant and self-sufficient are absolutely fundamental. By this I don’t mean that local people aren’t kind or aren’t willing to help you, rather that in order to receive assistance you’ll first have to take the initiative and seek it out, otherwise nobody will be aware of your predicament.
A lot of people say, “How did you pluck up the courage to travel alone in a strange place for so long?” In my eyes research and preparation are much more important than courage. You must understand how to take care of yourself in a foreign environment- knowing the best angle to take photos is great but knowing the most practical methods to wash clothes, cook, and respond to crises all on the go is far more invaluable. Of course, I haven’t roamed about Africa or ventured into true wilderness; I haven’t needed to eat worms or filter seawater or demonstrate other wilderness survival tactics, however here in England I have quite frequently encountered situations that require me to independently manage my resorces at hand and overcome a previously unforeseen challenge. Obviously, the longer the trip, the more opportunity for plans to become askew and to suddenly realize certain conveniences found back home in Taiwan are not universal!
In Taiwan, most people are used to living comfortably and being taken care of by loved ones, essentially not having to worry about anything critical. I’m willing to bet there are quite a few college graduates who still haven’t left home to work, haven’t washed their own dishes or clothes, haven’t figured out how to navigate public transportation alone (being accustomed to rides from parents), etc. If life at home is too easy, we will slowly forget how to adapt ourselves to new and challenging situations.
In foreign countries, places where you can’t understand the local language and don’t know a single person, you must confront many things by yourself and are forced to learn many new things as you go. Although this is a painstaking process, the fruits of your efforts will be worthwhile!
If you’re planning to get out and adventure by yourself, here are ten things you should know first!
1.你必須要自己做功課You must do your homework!
Before you set out on your journey, do your research! Unlike traveling in a tour group, nobody is going to make an itinerary for you, drive you around, or choose everything for you; therefore it’s necessary to understand the local transportation methods, figure out the best and most economical lodging choices, and logically plan your itinerary, otherwise you’ll be wasting a lot of money (if money’s not an issue, then feel free to carelessly roam around until you stumble upon a 5-star hotel). In my experience traveling in Canada and the UK, one trip on a bus or subway is going to cost you around 60-100 NTD, not to mention riding the notoriously pricy trains in England will cost you an arm and a leg (can easily exceed 1000 NTD). However, there are ways to obtain cheaper tickets, and planning your journey carefully will save time and money (there are plenty of attractions clumped together!). In the age of the Internet, it’s simple to find heaps of information about attractions just about anywhere- it’s just a question of you spending the time to do the required research!
2.拍照靠自己，有臉沒風景The art of the selfie and who to trust with your camera
Every solo traveler must master the art of the selfie! In certain places such as Europe, with grand castles and majestic landscapes, it can be a bit tricky to capture the moment perfectly- you need favourable conditions, good resolution, nothing or nobody disrupting the background- there’s a reason professional photographers exist! Anyways, if you take enough shots there is sure to be a solid one in there somewhere. Sometimes you will come across a stranger who asks if you need help taking a picture- be aware that in Europe you must be careful who you give your camera to. Usually I won’t hesitate to hand my camera over to:
Other tourists!：Normally you can judge this from the language they speak and the way they dress.
Camera-wielders： For one thing their skill is probably pretty decent and secondly, they may also need your help taking a photo! Who knows, maybe you’ll become friends, lovers, spend the rest of your days growing old together- you can thank me at your wedding!
Families：They can’t exactly steal your camera and run away fast enough with those strollers or wheelchairs slowing things down.
The elderly: Same reason- they can’t run away quickly either! Be careful though- if you don’t turn on the automatic focus mode you may be dealing with a “ghost picture”!
Handsome guys: So handsome that you are totally OK with it if they walk away with your camera and your heart!
3.想吃美食恨不得拉路人一起The perils of eating alone
Every time I go by a great looking restaurant that has enormous portions I want to murder somebody! Food in England is rather expensive~ if you don’t have a huge appetite, as is my case, you may feel that spending a wad of cash on a meal you can’t finish is illogical. Ideally you have a friend or somebody to share with, if not you may find yourself in a difficult situation just like traveling to Korea and realizing that the only individual-portioned dining options are kimchi or tofu hotpot- imagine going to a traditional Korean restaurant by yourself and trying to down a whole living octopus by yourself! How lonely~ that octopus might be your closest companion that day!
4.行李都要自己背，童話故事情節不會出現You have to carry your luggage by yourself, this isn’t a fairy tale!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a backpack or a suitcase, if you’re on a trip for 10+ days your luggage will definitely have some weight to it. Oh, you think you’ll meet a gentleman on the street who will help you carry your bags? It’s possible, but usually only if your bags look ridiculously heavy. Actually the streets are inundated with young female travelers in the same predicament, hauling their luggage around, so it would place any gentleman in a dilemna as far as who to help, anyways. Also, nobody’s going to put on your backpack! In my experience, if you are planning to travel abroad, especially in winter, I recommend a suitcase over a backpack- not because somebody might help you haul it but rather because backpacks don’t have quite as much volume and they can lead to shoulder discomfort. Don’t forget you probably also have a handbag and water to carry (water is expensive in foreign countries, I always start with a full bottle in the morning to last me the entire day). If you don’t injure your shoulders, well maybe you’ll hurt your back…I always start fantasizing about a Thai massage when I’m lugging bags around.
5.要習慣迷路這件事Get used to getting lost!
Since you’re in an unfamiliar place and probably don’t have constant access to Google Maps, you may find yourself completely lost at times, especially since in Europe there are countless twisting little alleys that all look identical! Even locals get turned around sometimes- I was approached daily on the subway in London and asked for directions! In short, just get used to getting lost and try to appreciate all of the accidental discoveries you discover along the way!
6.上廁所像是地攤老闆一樣大包小包The puzzle of going to the restroom with luggage
Traveling with friends has one distinct advantage: When you go to the bathroom, somebody can watch your stuff! If you think this is trivial, just wait until you are no longer sitting in front of a computer and trying to cram a suitcase, backpack, umbrella, shopping bags, etc. into a small toilet stall with no hooks! Yeah, it’s not easy! And yes, the floor is as filthy as it looks.
7.要像如履薄冰一樣的小心Be watchful of your belongings and surroundings
Taiwan’s passport is becoming more and more valuable, so when you’re out and about be aware of all your belongings, not only cash. A lot of people say Europe is dangerous, or that Taiwan and Japan are the safest places, but actually anything can happen anywhere, it just depends on your degree of caution. For example, I will be sure to follow several preventative measures to avoid mishap:
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket： I will usually separate my passport, credit card, big bank notes and pocket change to prevent a skilled pickpocket from taking everything valuable in one deft maneuver. If that happens, you’ll be in quite a pickle and all of your tears won’t help you recover your valuables!
Inspect your surroundings: In Taiwan, no matter where you live it seems pretty safe since although there are people from many different backgrounds, the socioeconomic differences aren’t as apparent as in the West. The social strata here is typically divided by physical neighborhoods, like when I did a homestay in Canada, the neighborhood I was staying in was quite wealthy and safe, contrasted by surrounding areas. Be especially careful when booking Airbnbs: a lot of the cheaper offerings are cheap just because the location may not be the safest.
Don’t go out alone in the middle of the night：I’m not saying you will necessarily “disappear”, but in general you want to be smart and put yourself in good situations.
8.世界上的好人比壞人多Good people outnumber the bad
In my opinion, there are way more kind people out there than unkind, during the course of my travels I frequently experienced many touching small acts of kindness and offers of help, had many people ask me how my day was going, had help hauling luggage around, etc. I still adhere to the Golden Rule: If you treat other people well, they will treat you well in turn. If you trust others, they will trust you (the caveat being don’t be a fool!).
9.美景看久了也會無聊，孤單遲早找上你Even the most beautiful scenery won’t stop you from feeling lonely in the end
It seems to me that the one essential step to truly enjoying solo travel is the ability to get along with yourself. If you are unaccustomed to spending time alone, you will likely take every opportunity to check Facebook and chat with friends~ while solo traveling it’s hard not to realize the true importance of your loved ones.
Even though I am accustomed to traveling alone and take great pleasure in it, on this present journey I’ve had several sudden attacks of loneliness, notably while taking the bus, and also in the aftermath of enjoying a scrumptious meal or a beautiful view I’ve had the urge to share the experience but because of time difference that was simply out of the cards. QQ!!!
My solution to this problem is simply to plug in my earbuds and turn the music up, or painstakingly read a favorite book in English or any second language, or if you are really desperate…just call whoever you miss the most and wake them up! Your true friends will forgive you anyways~
10.發生衰事就當笑話看。Roll with the punches, laugh about mishaps later.
「You don’t always have to handle everything by yourself.」
No matter where you are, and no matter what happens, always remember that your friends are just a phone call away and can help you sort out whatever mess you’ve found yourself in. There’s no need to handle everything by yourself! You can also walk into any coffee shop and vent to a random stranger, the English are very polite and will most definitely hear you out! Maybe some people will think you’re annoying but since they’ll only have to see you once it’s no biggie!
At the end of all long trips, you will inevitably feel exhausted~ it’s at these times that a phone call to your loved ones is most needed! I think of Taiwan as a loyal partner and foreign countries as a mistress; sure, it’s great to go play but at the end of the day there’s nothing like returning home to a welcoming embrace and to all that you know and love.
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