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How Being an Expat Helped Cure some of my Solo Travel Fears

Me, putting my color post-its to good use!

Tick-tock… Vietnam. I leave this Friday!

I’m launching solo again.

I don’t know what to expect or how things will play out, but this time I’m excited. I certainly have more of a positive outlook on solo travel than I did last year and I have Thailand to thank for such amazing and serendipitous experiences!

But maybe being an expat in South Korea has something to do with it .

Remember last year’s nightmare of planning my first solo-solo trip?

Foreign doesn’t feel as scary if you already live in it.

Recently, a fellow expat friend, Veronica, mentioned how launching from Korea to another foreign country feels a bit weird to her.

She’s right. It’s weird to me too.

As expats, South Korea is our new home base and it feels strange to call it “home”, when I’ve spent over half a year here and it still feels so foreign.

I’m still struggling with language barriers, finding foods which fit my diet, plotting routes for my weekend getaways to explore the country and finding items and products which help
me to recreate a bit of my old western life. This is far from the cool and romantic  Korean drama lifestyle I thought it could be. It’s not even close.

Yet, it’s navigating these struggles and learning to cope with the cultural barriers, which make me think that being an expat has gained me more confidence as a solo traveler!


I’ve gotten into the robotic mentality of ‘Just do, don’t over think’.

Each day I’m in Korea feels like travel survival.

I’m re-configuring my life to adapt to the new culture and  juggling work-around tactics for my daily needs! This part isn’t easy, but I’ve learned to deal with it “matter-of-fact” way vs. feeling paralyzed with nervousness and self-doubt.

For instance, planning a travel weekend in Korea has become swifter, easier and more unconscious to me. Thursday evenings, I  jump on the internet to research one thing– the bus/train schedules and routes. By 6pm on Friday, I’m sitting on the long-distance bus, with a small backpack of clothes and toiletries, ready to begin my weekend. My dreadful what if’s are replaced by A and Z plot points.

I’m not as worried about packing, where I’m going to stay or my sightseeing itinerary.  My main concern is, knowing the transportation schedule of the most immediate bus out of my town on Fridays and the last bus that will bring me back into town on Sunday.

I’ve developed an armor over some other of my weaknesses and cultural concerns.

As I deal with cultural barriers and differences on a daily basis, I’ve gotten a little more practiced at handling things I used to feel shocked by.

Squat toilets?

–  Passe. Already broken in…

Can’t find vegetarian food?

–  Just keep walking. Dip into a convenience or  grocery store to pick up some yogurt or power snacks.

Lost and don’t know how to get around?

–  Carry a map and ask ask ask… the next friendly smile you see.

When home is something foreign and strange to you, then the rest of the world feels pretty normal.

In many ways, traveling to Vietnam, feels like I’m exchanging vices with a hope for possible upgrades. A new country might have familiar accommodations that Korea misses on, like… stocking Crest or Colgate toothpaste,  more vegetarian-friendly food options or foreign restaurants with items I miss, like falafel.

There’s also a possibility I may come back appreciating Korea more, for things like it’s cleanliness, low crime rate and sense of city organization.


The reality of  travel time

So what is my top concerns these days?


As my days are limited, the bent of my trip planning went to number-crunching my transit times and routes to find the most efficient schedule for my travel.

Vietnam is a large (and long) country with efficient bus transportation, but they’ve also only one railroad track!My ambitious itinerary of five cities, got diced down to two major ones, which I’ll make my homebase for short-term and day trip activities.

For example: the travel time from Hanoi to Halong Bay is 3 hours by bus. Hanoi to Sapa Valley is 10 hours by train. That’s a lot of time to spend on one’s butt.

How is my ass-warming tolerance these days?

Daegu to Seoul by Express bus takes 4 hours.

My ass tells me it has this position down pat.


  1. Carroll Merriman says:

    Can anyone believe it, I got goosebumps from this incredible blog post?

  2. That’s an interesting perspective: I guess expat life is in many ways a solo journey (though in some countries, that means a ‘solo journey’ that includes maids and drivers!). Have a great trip to Vietnam! You’ll love it there!


    • @Keith: Wow, give me the maids and drivers! Just kidding. Though I’m not sure if people w/ maids & drivers would want to be solo travelers? I wonder… Thanks for your comment, Keith & for the good wishes on Vietnam! 😉

  3. Gray says:

    Ha! Yes! I knew there was a solo traveler in you. 🙂 Practice makes perfect, that’s what I say.

  4. Laura in Cancun says:

    Have fun in Vietnam! Can’t wait to see your photos

    • @Papa: Thanks Papa! Just skyped Mom today– I promised to be safe. You know how she worries. Love you both, C!
      @Laura: Thanks– let’s hope I survive the monsoons!

  5. Papa says:

    I just don’t know what to say but wish you a safe journey . Be safe . Love Papa

  • […] [Reply]Christine Ka'aloa Reply:May 17th, 2012 at 10:25 [email protected]: I consider your year in Britain long term travel. The difference between RTW travelers and expats is that you need deal with the culture shock, oddities and intricacies of making your new foreign home work. You’re actually trying to understand its culture on a deeper level than a tourist. So far, I’ve lived in Korea for a year and although I lived in an apartment & had a steady job, each day was “traveling” for me, not to mention the weekends when I explored the rest of the country. If you’ve moved there alone, consider that an initiation into solo travel! You’re doing it and I think living abroad helps to make the solo concept easier! […]

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