Travel evokes all kinds of wonder and excitement. But going on your own? That’s a whole other adventure. Some do it for freedom and flexibility. Others travel in search of themselves. There’s certainly a treasure trove of experiences for solo travellers. Here are four solo trip advisers with their not-so-lonely planet perspectives.
On a shoestring
An encounter at a bookshop kick-started Tan Winson’s solo travel adventure. He struck a conversation with a stranger who was browsing a guide on Japan, and a few weeks later Tan booked his own flight to the Land of the Rising Sun. “After the trip, I realised that travelling doesn’t have to be expensive,” says the accounting student, adding that he spent around RM1,500 for a week in Japan.
Since then, the 24-year-old from Kuala Terengganu has travelled alone to Singapore, Australia and Taiwan – all on a budget, of course. One way he keeps expenses in check is by boarding at hostels. “They’re cheaper and they give you the chance to mingle with travellers from other countries. Maybe you will even get ideas for your next trip from them,” he shares.
He also limits the number of gadgets he packs. Additional devices mean extra weight and more cost on baggage. He doesn’t splurge on souvenirs either. “Focus on spending on experiences by visiting sites and trying local cuisine,” he says, citing a skydiving episode in Perth as one of his most memorable experiences.
That said, he believes solo travellers are sometimes at a disadvantage when it comes to booking tour or cruise packages.
“Most of the travel industry is set up for people travelling in pairs and groups, and they often price things for two or more. You can get a better deal on tours and hotels if you’re with someone,” he says. “This is probably the biggest annoyance for solo travellers. The travel industry adds a hefty premium for those who travel by themselves.”
Being levelheaded and some planning goes a long way, too, he says. “Solo travel requires a degree of common sense and a willingness to take a long view of your journey, realising that sometimes it’s not wise to try to do everything at one go, and that living to travel another day can be a good idea.”
Kalaivaani P. Silvarajah, 28, didn’t care much for travelling when she was younger. But that changed after her first solo trip to Vietnam in 2015.
“It sparked my love for travelling, realising I absolutely loved the feeling of exploring places alone, immersing myself in local cultures and interacting with people from different walks of life.”
She says the experience was her way of testing the water of going solo. “It was challenging initially, but by the end of the trip I headed home with newfound confidence, passion and a renewed sense of independence.”
Since then, Kalaivaani has travelled by herself to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, where she looks to interact with locals. “Travelling solo forces me to interact with people with different perspectives,” she says.
“Such interactions deepen my experience in many ways. In the process, I learn a little more about my strengths, weaknesses and my ability to adapt to any given situation.”
On the matter of staying safe as a female traveller on her own, she says, “I trust my instincts to keep myself safe. I avoid shady places and areas that feel ‘not right’ to be explored alone. I have learned to be aware of my surroundings and to trust my gut when something feels wrong.”
She adds that it’s important to do your research, and that other women who would like to pick up solo travel should just go for it.
“Don’t let fear hold you back. Focus on the positive and go see the world,” she enthuses. “Gender should not be a barrier. Be mentally prepared and just go, girl!”
Through the years
Clement Lee, 53, has travelled alone for over two decades and he’s not stopping any time soon. He has visited Barbados, Rio De Janeiro, Machu Picchu and Egypt all on his own, just to name a few places.
So what inspired him to do it himself? Freedom. “I feel empowered as I control my own time and itinerary,” he says. “I can always change my plan and extend or shorten the duration at any destination.”
Lee, a consulting engineer from Penang, says he goes on group tours when he travels with his family. But he also notes that technology has made travellers more independent, and he has accrued plenty of know-how over the years.
“For a cost-saving holiday, avoid tour packages. Use hop-on, hop-off busses instead and free walking tours. Avoid expensive car rentals and taxis. Instead use ride-sharing apps,” he advises.
Lee also suggests that travellers pack light and do their research before going anywhere. “Read travel guides or search online for places to go and free things to do. Also buy tickets to galleries and museums beforehand to avoid disappointment (of their being sold out).”
“The world and the travel industry are changing. There are many tools and gadgets that allow us to travel solo without relying on agents. The key is to do your homework and always have a backup plan.”
For Chee Shok Fong, 60, travelling on her own allows her to go on a journey of self-discovery and reconnecting with herself.
The therapist and active meditation facilitator from Kuala Lumpur went on her first solo trip in 2010, to Spain. She did this right after she concluded her psychotherapy training.
Despite being nervous initially, Chee worked through her anxieties and successfully completed her first solo trip to several Spanish cities.
Since then, the mother of three has travelled to France, Hungary, China, Taiwan, India and Italy on her own. Solo travel, according to Chee, provides a great avenue for self-exploration.
“Emotions like anxiety, insecurity and fear of the unknown can be triggered,” she says, adding that all these actually help one grow as a person.
“It is a process to know myself better, to develop inner strength with mindfulness,” Chee adds.
She relates how much the ordeals she had gone through and the kind souls she had met add to the experience. Chee recalls an unfortunate incident involving an unscrupulous acquaintance, and the kind stranger who “saved” her.
She had followed the acquaintance to her mansion in a rural area in France, only to be subjected to forced labour!
“I then contacted a woman I had met earlier at the train station, and she provided me a place to stay for a night before travelling to London to meet my son,” she shares.
That harrowing experience taught Chee to be more vigilant. She now keeps a record of phone numbers of important places like the embassy and local authorities when she travels.
That aside, Chee makes it a point to reach out and connect with people she meets on her travels – from stall vendors to museum curators to street musicians.
“There’s no time for loneliness when you travel solo. Instead, there’s a lot of time for aloneness,” she says adding that it’s great for self-reflection.