For many, that first solo trip is likely to be an extended adventure of at least months. My virgin solo trip however, wasn’t that bombastic. On a whim, I decided that I’ll like to give myself a birthday trip. And I had the crazy idea to go Japan by myself, although I can’t speak Japanese. So, 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. And off I flew to Tokyo for a few days. It was a short trip; it wasn’t the first time I have been to Tokyo (baby steps, baby), but still, memorable.
Well, at least I managed to tick an achievement off my list!
Here are the 5 ways that first solo trip changed me.
1. I start getting ready for the bigger adventures,
by embracing the smaller adventures.
Small adventures such as flying out alone [even if you’re petite-sized, Asian, a worrier, paranoid by nature].
Having booked a weekday morning flight out, at 4am, almost exactly 3 years ago, the day after my birthday of celebrations with friends, I was alone at Changi Airport, luggage checked in, waiting to board my Delta flight to Tokyo.
I’d worried about not having the strength to hoist my cabin luggage up onto the overhead compartment. (This indeed happened on my return flight, and 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. Was so glad!)
Having reached the destination country and making my way to the hotel was the next challenge. Thankfully, Narita Airport and Tokyo have a very expansive and efficient public transport system to see me through this with ease, without having to get past a swarm of intimidating-looking taxi-drivers which happens in many SEA countries. I purchased tickets to the limousine coach and it dropped me at my hotel in the city.
Not bad a room for my first solo trip!
2. Eating Alone is No Longer A Dreaded Experience
I’ve always hated having meals alone in my home country. However, Tokyo culture embraces the independent streak of the busy professional and the lone eater. Ramen restaurants and sushi bars have tables for groups as well as booth seats for individual diners where you’ll either face wooden panels or get to watch the chefs prepare food. At that time, it wasn’t that convenient to obtain 3G access in Japan, so I had no 3G to scroll through social media, no access to Whatsapp to chat with anyone back home, so I took to mindfully eating my ramen, resting and briefly thinking about the trip’s plans. *Solo Travel Tip: If you’re afraid to take the first step, choose a safe-looking restaurant or environment for your first meal!
On another evening, I wandered through the lively streets of Shibuya and ended up in a crowded okonomiyaki restaurant. There didn’t seem to be anyone dining alone, *gulps*. Everyone was chatting animatedly with their dinner companions and cooking their own okonomiyaki, while I was trying to figure out through the guide-paper 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 afterwards don’t seem that dreadful anymore. Nowadays, I pretty much relish quiet meals alone, with my Kindle in front of me.
3. I remember how it’s like to just be myself.
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 just to take photos, I do it. If I feel like visiting an advertising museum far away from town, I didn’t have to seek anyone’s agreement. If I feel like sleeping in a bit later, I don’t guilt-trip myself with thoughts that I should maximize my time. If I’m tired from too much walking, I just stop and take a break.
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 ways.
4. I take notice of things, especially the beauty that surrounds.
Your senses come awake when all that calls for your attention is right in front of you. During my solo trip, I noticed the cheery colors of the pretty flowers that adorn the streets. I noted the kindness of the locals that try their best to guide me when I need help, despite us not being able to communicate via a common language. I observed how Japanese cashiers flicked money notes in a particular, almost mesmerizing manner. I felt the crunching of the gravel stones as I made my way to Meiji-Dori Shrine. I observed how train-drivers operated the train, how well-dressed and well-mannered Japanese families are. I took a plane and watched in amazement: the fluffiness of the clouds, the beauty of the sky in the setting sun, the stars twinkling outside of the plane windows, and wondered how I was going to capture all these moments in my memory.
This awakening of the senses stayed with me, long after the solo trip ended.
5. A solo trip showed me the possibilities that I could create with my life.
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 activities and places on Earth.
I might not know where I’m heading, but I’m definitely on my way.
Have you travelled solo before? How was your first solo trip like?