Two carry-on bags and a smile were all I had as I boarded the plane and waited ecstatically for take-off. This trip would be a tell-tale of whether or not I could handle the quest of solo travel. Traveling alone allows you more autonomy to design a splendid day of discover or a disastrous one where you’ve reached the exact edge of your wit’s end and are searching for the nearest jumping point. Geronimoooo!
I have certainly had State side solo trips that temporarily went awry, but Thailand was different. Thailand isn’t an English speaking country, so it added angst and mystery – who knew what I’d get into relying on mere hand gestures and smiles. It also added suspense and paranoia: Would I be hi-jacked in a tuk-tuk? Would I be led astray down a dark alley while trying to find my way home at night? Were these local vendors really out to take advantage of this unsuspecting, wide-eyed traveler with ridiculous mark-up prices?
During my trip, I visited Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Phuket and Phi Phi Islands. My travels could not have gone more smoothly – however, there were two potentially threatening moments where I caused havoc, and could have been arrested, but I’ll get into that later.
TIPS: Meanwhile, Here are a few (solo) travel tips:
Plan ahead, but be flexible – Like life, travel will – not maybe, WILL – throw you curve balls. Don’t react to them kicking and screaming: assess the situation; realize that you DO have options; consider those options and choose the best one; don’t let that one glitch in your perfectly crafted plan ruin your entire trip.
Keep it cool, keep it classy – Losing your cool and showing how pissed you are may work in the U.S. or other Western countries, but it doesn’t work everywhere. In some Asian countries, it’s a huge turn-off. It will make matters worse, and won’t get you what you want. Use patience and charm when traveling in unfamiliar countries and cultures – expressing your dissatisfaction, smiling, and being as helpful and understanding as possible with the person will go much further than a frown and a few insulting slurs.
Know what kind of solo traveler you are – Do you enjoy roaming the streets and finding hidden gems? Do you prefer to let others do the work, or feel safer in numbers? If so, signing up with fully planned travel groups may be for you. Do you enjoy the freedom of singularity, but like to book day tours? The options are endless. I often do a mixture of all of the above.
Don’t be a dummy – as the seatbelt commercials warn, be smart and take precautions for your own safety. It is wise to use the same safety precautions you would back home: be mindful of your surroundings and personal belongings – keep them close to your body; if you feel a situation or a place may endanger you, trust your instinct and leave or don’t go there; DO NOT GET SLOPPY DRUNK and expect strangers to take care of you – in cases of positive outcomes, that’s usually the exception and not the rule. Carry yourself with confidence; usually, particularly in Asian countries, foreigners are easy to spot, but if you walk around looking disoriented and helpless, the tricksters and criminals of the streets will see a big fat red target on your back labeled “SUCKER!”
Thailand is also known as the Land of Smiles. Well, they could’ve fooled me – I experienced more frowns and blank stares than smiles in Thailand. That’s one thing you’ll discover as you travel: the things people tell you to expect aren’t always true for you – everyone’s experience will be different and unique. I wasn’t expecting a welcome wagon, but the universal response to making eye contact – smile and nod – was not my experience in Thailand.
Further, you will collect stories to tell of your own – good and bad. For example, those two incidents when I almost caught a case for losing my cool, but didn’t. Well, here’s one: Sometimes when budget-traveling internationally, your flights will arrive in the middle of the night. That’s what happened when I flew from Bangkok to Phuket. I notified my guesthouse of this, and they said, “no problem.” I arrived after midnight. The airport bus shuttle driver dropped me off at the end of an alley, and pointed aimlessly to his right. After walking half a block, bug-eyed and wary, in the dark, deserted streets, I found the place. The door was locked. I knocked. No answer. Then, I read a sign that said to call or email or go next door. Naturally, “next door” was closed. I hadn’t gotten a sim card for my phone and didn’t want to risk a high phone bill for calling a long distance number, and the internet on my phone wasn’t working. Then, I heard voices… I followed the sound a few buildings down, and found two women and a couple of children in a room with the door open. I repeated the name of my guesthouse three or four times. They responded in Thai with a go-away-you-crazy-strange-person response. That was it. The point of “pisstocity” (yes, pisstoicity) had been reached. As I walked back toward my guesthouse tired, scared, and rejected, I yelled and screamed, “This is some bull!” As my voice resounded in the midnight air, I continued with several more choice words cursing the moon, the sky and any other sleeping travelers who were awaken by my wrath. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Tears of anger and frustration streamed down my cheeks. Suddenly, a man came trailing behind me asking me what was the problem. After insulting me by doubting that I indeed had come all this way – in the middle of the night, a woman alone – to stay at this particular guesthouse, he finally made a call. Minutes later, I was checked in, and in my room staring out of my window looking down upon the charming streets of Romanee in contempt. I could only hope that tomorrow wouldn’t be another debacle as emotionally charged as this one.
Thankfully, the following day wasn’t as discouraging. Here’s what happened: (Phi Phi Islands speed boat tour)
The following are photos from a couple of tourist spots that may or may not be under the radar, but I’d recommend them.
AYUTTHAYA: Thailand’s capital before Bangkok during the 12th century where the original Grand Palace and Reclining Buddha still remains. Read more
KANCHANABURI: The floating hotel where I stayed offered a great tour of the Death Railway and Thailand’s history on the Japanese occupation during World War II and the River Kwa Bridge that was built by POWs. Read more
Thailand offered memorable lessons – both functional and historical – that will stay with me. More specifically, this trip taught me that I can, in fact, handle solo travel… even in my darkest moments. How about you – what lessons have you learned from your travels?