For many, that first solo trip is likely to be an extended adventure of at least months, or somewhere halfway across the globe.
My virgin solo trip, however, wasn’t that dramatic. On a random whim, I simply decided that I’ll give myself a trip to Tokyo as a birthday gift. Before that, I’d already been to Tokyo twice, in a group. I reckoned I can travel on my own and survive this trip.
My first solo experience was just four nights, but left a deep impression on me. Without sounding over-dramatic, I would say that first trip alone overseas was an event that changed me, for life.
How that very first solo trip changed me, forever
1. It made me realize that sometimes, all I have to do is to bravely take that first step.
With one of my best friends on the other end of the line because I needed the moral support, I held my breath and clicked the Book button on Expedia. The flight and hotel reservations were non-cancellable, which means there’s no turning back. I really am going to Tokyo, all by myself. It was a big decision at that time, but it taught me that as long as I dared to take the first step, the rest will become easier.
Big goals can be scary and daunting. Fear and anxiety have immense power over us, but when we break the road ahead into smaller milestones, all we have to do is to conquer each part bravely.
2. Embracing small adventures will prepare me for bigger adventures.
When you’re travelling on your own, everything becomes an adventure.
Small adventures included my first time flying alone, in the middle of the night on a weekday, with no one to send you off at the airport. It sounds mildly terrifying, especially if you’re petite, Asian, a worrier & paranoid by nature, like me.
(I’d been worried about not having the strength to hoist my cabin luggage up onto the overhead compartment. That indeed happened on my return Delta flight, plus the overhead compartment was exceptionally high on that plane. I turned around wanting to seek help and this man, a seat behind, literally hopped up to offer help. Was so glad!)
Having reached Japan, making my way to my chosen hotel was the next task. Thankfully, Narita Airport and Tokyo have a very systematic transport system to see me through this easily. I purchased tickets to the airport limousine coach and it dropped me at my hotel right in the city centre.
Bigger adventures include heading out in Confusing Tokyo without mobile data or maps, without international calling cards. All I had was my instincts that I’ll be alright. I did feel lost at times, but I survived.
Adventures are something that once you went through, they clock up as experiences and future stories for you to tell.
3. Dining alone went from being scary, dreadful experiences – to my actually enjoying solo meals.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always hated having meals alone outside, even in my home country. This is more of an ego issue than otherwise, as I do enjoy quietness. Honestly, I just didn’t want ‘frenemies’ bumping into me and questioning why I have to eat alone, so sad!
Everyone dines alone in Tokyo.
Tokyo culture respects the independent streak of the busy professional and the lone eater. Plenty of ramen eateries (eg. Ichiran Ramen), restaurants (eg. Yoshinoya Restaurant) and sushi bars have counter tables or booth seats for individual diners, designed where you’ll sit alone but not in a lonely manner, and even get to watch the chefs prepare your food.
| Read: Why Tokyo is Perfect for Solo Travel |
When I was in Tokyo alone (in 2012), at that time, it was close to impossible for tourists to obtain 3G, which means I was definitely off the grid till I got back to the hotel (WIFI was also only available at the hotel lobby). I didn’t get the luxury to scroll through Instagram or Facebook, nor had I chances to Whatsapp. The only thing I could do was to focus on the food and observe my surroundings. I kinda miss that now.
On another evening, I wandered through the lively streets of Shibuya and somehow ended up in a rather crowded okonomiyaki restaurant. There didn’t seem to be anyone dining alone. Everyone was chatting animatedly with their dinner companions and cooking their own okonomiyaki, while I was trying to figure the paper guide out on what to do with that bowl of raw food in front of me.
A staff came over and volunteered to help me cook, a gesture I totally welcomed! I ended up with okonomiyaki that was perfectly cooked, and photos that documented the process! Double win!
Once you’ve gotten past the first experience of dining alone, other times afterward don’t seem that overwhelming anymore. Nowadays, I pretty much relish quiet meals alone, with my Kindle in front of me.
Solo Travel Tip: If you’re afraid to take the first step, choose a ‘safe-looking’ restaurant or environment for your meal!
| If you’re an Introvert too, check out my guide on how to enjoy solo trips more as an Introvert! |
4. I began to appreciate how it’s like to enjoy me-time.
I started listening in to the voices in my head, speaking of my wants and needs. During the trip, if I feel like visiting certain places (such as Hanayashiki Amusement Park or Ueno Park!) just to take photos, I do it. Or, if I have the urge to check out an advertising museum far away from town, I didn’t have to seek anyone’s agreement. If I’m tired and feel like sleeping in a bit later (I woke up at 11.30am once!), I don’t guilt-trip myself with thoughts that I should have maximized my time alone abroad.
When my feet get tired from walking for too long, I just stop, take a break and admire the roadside trees flowering into autumn colors.
There’s a certain level of liberation knowing you’ve managed to spend a few days in a foreign country, having only yourself as company. An experience like that builds up your self-esteem in its own quiet, sure ways.
5. Being alone, I started to notice just how darn beautiful everything is.
Your senses come awake when all that calls for your attention is right in front of you.
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At that time, I hadn’t known the term, but I was actually experiencing the benefits of mindfulness on my trip.
The cheery colors of the pretty flowers adorning the streets at Harajuku cheered me up. Interesting toys at Kiddyland brought me smiles. I noted the kindness of the locals that try their best to guide me whenever I need help, despite us not being able to communicate in a common language.
It was both amazing and mesmerizing to watch the way all Japanese cashiers flicked cash notes to count the change. I felt the crunching of the gravel stones as I made my way to Meiji Shrine. While train-drivers operated the train, I took photos of all the buttons on their dashboard. I observed how well-dressed and well-mannered Japanese families are. On my flights, I marveled at the fluffiness of the clouds, the beauty of the sky at sunset, the stars twinkling outside of the plane windows.
Everything around me is just so darn beautiful.
How am I gonna capture and document all these moments?
| Read: Where in Tokyo to go for your first trip |
This awakening of the senses stayed with me, long after the solo trip ended.
6. The first solo trip showed me the possibilities I could create with my life.
When you can learn to be alone, many possibilities will start showing up.
Before the trip, I faced issues doing things alone. Heck, I don’t even feel comfortable going to yoga classes alone! But now, having stepped out and faced my tiny worries and fears, having conquered my first solo trip, I simply cannot wait to explore and experience more places and activities on Earth.
7. It got me addicted to solo travel.
That first solo trip to Tokyo was the very beginning of my solo travel adventures.
From there, I’ve since traveled solo to Santorini, Stockholm, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and also took solo day trips in Kyoto and Tokyo again. Each trip has given me new experiences and lessons in life. I’m really grateful for all the conditions that gave me the privilege of solo travel.
I might not know where I’m heading, but I’m definitely on my way.
Have you traveled by yourself before? How was your first solo trip like?
Interested to try traveling by yourself? Here’s a few posts to inspire you!
• How to conquer your first solo trip (This post was also featured on Thought Catalog!)
• Why Tokyo is a perfect destination for a solo trip
• How it really was like to visit Santorini solo
• What everyone got wrong about their weird, solo-traveling friend