Back from my GRRRL TRAVELER beginner solo trip with lots of cool experiences to share from Thailand and what I’ve learned about being on the solo road! Everything from mastering squat toilets and cold showers while trekking in the mountains, eating bugs, drinking tiger penis soaked whiskey in Laos, smoking with Buddhist monks, practicing circle 8′s with a guesthouse owner’s motorbike so I could rent a scooter, getting lost virtually …everywhere and more. I have the promise of upcoming tips and advice for beginning GRRRL soloists like myself, the leak of a GRRRL TRAVELER contest and challenge#2, and much much more…
Firstly, a shout out of warm Mahalos to all the friends following my fun updates on Facebook (sorry Twitterverse- you got gyped some…). Special Mahalos to those who super-caring and supportive of my first solo-solo and who went of their way to make sure I was safe and well-armed with Thai advice. You all Rock! my heart.
Here’s a breakdown of what I learned as a beginning solo traveler-
I survived my first beginner steps of GRRRL Traveler challenge#1 becoming a female solo traveler (of developing countries) and guess what- I loved every moment of it! I am converted- I totally understand how people can be attracted to both, Thailand and solo travel! Thailand is one of the easiest and safest countries to travel for a first time soloist: it’s well-traveled, the Thai are beautiful people (super-friendly and full of helpful smiles -the antithesis of NYC!) and the convenience of having multiple modes of transportation options (I’ve used almost all of them), ensured that I was never stranded or worried as to how I would get around. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and in Thailand, you are given many ways! Most importantly, as a female traveling alone, I always felt safe– even walking or biking home late at night.
When I first initiated my challenge to travel the developing world solo, I wasn’t sure what to expect or whether I would like it. All I knew is that expanding my notion of travel to countries which persevere through developing hardship and have an enduring cultural pride towards their traditions is my new passion. While this type of travel can feel physically demanding and challenging, I’ve found it definitely worthwhile experiencing. My first giant step however, was erasing the fear to find the confidence of traveling alone. (* Dealing with fear and trip preparations for this challenge are in my last 3 blogs).
Friends, family and the people I’ve met on my trip, all thought I was “brave” for doing this trip alone. No one would openly admit to me- that given the opportunity to travel solo they probably wouldn’t want to; and that being a female solo traveler in popular theory, probably ranks as high as the guy whose job is to clean up elephant poo! It hardly seems like a fun, hip and sexy way to travel. After this trip, I’d have to disagree.
The Hip and Solo (…but wouldn’t advise ‘Sexy’) Traveler
Carrie Bradshaw is the least of my role models when I travel. Why? I’m strapped to a backpack, a wardrobe of 3′s (shirts, pants & underwear) and camera equipment, sweating through 90 degree weather in a country with conservative traditions; sexy is hardly the attention I want to draw to myself! Still, unless your idea of traveling fun is bar-hopping with friends or a romantic getaway (you can still have these experiences as a soloist- it’s really dependent upon you!); then sometimes, being fixed to a partner or group can actually be more limiting to your experiencing the cultural interactions you’re there to explore! By drawing upon daily local encounters and being open to exchanges with a variety of people, I felt like I was sampling Thailand not only through the Thai, but through a mixed palette of cultural perspectives found in fellow travelers. In fact, I seldom experienced moments of feeling a l o n e (and these very remediable exceptions I’ll explain in a later blog).
For my shy friends:
Traveling solo has a natural way of inspiring social confidence, even if you don’t know the language!
1- You utilize your most basic human survival skills .
You MUST interact and initiate conversations with people in order to get around and upon doing so you quickly find that you WANT to interact with people! All people are interesting …especially when not from your own home country!
2- Everything around you is foreign but YOU are actually The Foreigner.
Waiting for their bus, Thai sisters- Kew and Nu- watched, giggling at me as I took photos of a neighborhood altar. Nu followed me to a Kuan Yin statue around the corner, then reported me back to her sister. Their curiosity with me paved a perfect opportunity for me to approach them conversationally about Thai religion. In my travel incarnation, I was re-born as “exotic and interesting”, even if just a curious American.
3- Soloists get instant Damsel-in-Distress sympathy.
…even if there’s no emergency to which you need rescuing! People were more inclined to approaching, helping and watching out for my safetybecause I was alone.
4- Language barriers are EVERYONE’s biggest stumbling blocks.
Truth– Aside from myself, even my Malaysian and Indonesian friends (southern neighbors to the Thai) were stumbling in their communication attempts in Thailand. In Thailand, the native tongue is Thai and the secondary tongue is Thai (not English); thus, not all Thai people speak English or even read it.
Advice and tricks to dealing with language barriers
Be resourceful and always carry a sense of humor about yourself ! Everyone finds their own way of communicating across the great divide- from pointing at pictures, attempting to speak while “butchering” the language or accidentally discovering, as my Malaysian friends did, that your taxi driver knows Chinese!
I came equipped with all of three Thai survival phrases: “Hello”, “Thank You” and “Where is…?” Whenever I hit a barrier I couldn’t “butcher” or “point” my way through, I surrendered to the game of comedy- I Charaded my communications! I find people usually warm to you when you debase yourself at their expense… But being a foreigner amidst other foreigners (locals and travelers alike) is an opportunity to laugh at yourself as you experiment with fun (and not so clever) but creative means of communication.
Now “The Bad”:
The most life threatening thing that happened to me in Thailand- my DSLR camera didn‘t survive and is off to repair as we speak. The irony: it started going wonky just as I was about to take my very first shot. One purpose for my traveling is photography, so this was a major NON-work-aroundable drag. And while I carry a backup consumer video camera to document my experiences- it’s really the last thing I care to use. Other things inevitably went wrong also – my backpack didn’t arrive with me in Bangkok, parts of my itinerary fell through, I accidentally peed on my shoe, and got lost and LOST… But this all makes for interesting blogging.
Humans generally feel the need to control their experiences. When things inevitably go wrong, we try to force it into what we think it should be,…sometimes limiting our potential. This is a shame – usually a very positive and surprising gift is attached to it!
I’m a big believer in the universe, love surprises and feel most things occur for a perfect reason; even if at first, it seems like crappy luck. In fact, my most rewarding experiences have been a result of many moments of “uncontrollably crappy luck”.
Without my camera, I realized- switching in and out of lens gear, feeling compelled to shoot everything before I could experience it (in the way I’d shoot a reality show)… was actually burdening my enjoyment of this trip. I was growing resentful of it. While I was experiencing a lot of cool- embarassing- brave- horrific things for the first time, my camera was becoming a big ball and chain! Afterall, my first soloist journey wanted to be lived.
I spent half a day searching for a fun touristy point-and-shoot to at least salvage personal memories. What I discovered was a perfect and *completely genius* GRRRL Traveler camera, the Samsung ST500 (aka Samsung Dual View LT220 to the States). I am in absolutely crazy about this camera- I’d recommend it to every GRRRL soloist! The main feature: dual LCD screens so you can snap photos of yourself! What does this mean for a soloist? You know, those lonely moments when everyone is “click-happy” with friends and you’re trying not to look pathetically bummed you’ve got no one to take your picture? GONE!
The Inevitable (but hidden secret of surfing solo travel):
Initially, I believed the solo traveler’s myth- that “traveling alone” means you have to be 1o0% brave, in-control and self-reliant in your travels. It’s why I initially leaned towards a well-worn tourist path, guidebooks and itineraries… But the big irony once you get there and “get into” your journey, is you actually find you have very “little” control and this is perfect!
Every bad is inevitably a good. Always remain open and trust that the right experience will come if even if it’s not in the form you initially wanted!
My second day in Bangkok and my itinerary was already unraveling. A major meditation retreat I planned fell through. I had several days in Chiang Mai that I wasn’t sure how to fill as this retreat was the meat of it! Eventually, recommendations and advice from others activated creative improvising and a better plan. While I didn’t get my meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, I did get abducted by a monk in Sukhothai and got my chance to peek into the ordinary lives of monks…which actually was my real objective. Crazy universe!
Your trip can become 10x more amazing, when you surrender your need for control and just go with the flow!
Very surfer Zen, I know. Very scary. So I wouldn’t dump the idea of itinerary planning for my next trip, just yet… But developing this intrinsic trust of knowing things are going to play out perfectly- as long as you do your part of acting from wisdom or getting yourself to a certain place on time- is very liberating.
The advent of GRRRL TRAVELER challenge #2:
So while I will be blogging more about my *beginner* solo GRRRL Traveler adventures and discoveries in Thailand, my GRRRL TRAVELLER challenge #2 and its contest needs to be mentioned because it is coming up very very quickly (it’s already been partially leaked on Facebook which I’m sure have some of you guessing)! Let me just say- I am very passionate about travel and I will go through great and stubborn lengths to make it more of a lifestyle for myself. My new GRRRL challenge will offer a surprising twist for those of you who know me but can’t see how my mind silently ticks schemes about ways to travel. For me, it will raise the stakes of my GRRRL Traveler challenges for myself, so please stay tuned…
Thanks for your attention spans!