5 Lessons I Learnt from Solo Travel
Before you think I'm another privileged backpacker from a rich country, let me say I write to you as someone who has to travel solo for work. My work is in music production, which means I follow concerts and musicians in Asia to help them reach their audience. I come from a humble home and I'd like to think I'm a good money saver.
And because my work and schedule is rather crazy, I squeeze short solo trips to balance it out. If anything, it helps me learn some universal lessons no matter where I go or what language their music is in.
Lesson #1 - Living with the essentials
Everyone has heard that "money doesn't buy you happiness", which is true to an extent. But what is more resonating to me is the lesson that 'minimalism grants mental peace' (not as catchy though). If you find yourself living in physical disorder on your work desk or in your bedroom, chances are you're also struggling to find peace inside. I don't say this to act zen - it's fundamentally the business model of the Marie Kondo show. When you go solo travelling, this lesson stares you directly in the eye. Bring too many things, and you'll be anxious about not losing them. When you're on the road alone and find something essential that you forgot to pack (like your phone charging cable! we've all been there right!), it's likely that you got distracted packing the non essentials like an extra pair of sunglasses. The more I solo travel for work or for leisure, the more it disciplined me to live with the essentials, the less stressful are my trips.
Lesson #2 - Going slow is as important as Going fast
I am a big fan of tools and technologies that make your life more efficient. I use Google Assistant on my phone to add reminders and calendar appointments on the go. I listen to world news with earphones in my commutes instead of sitting in front of a TV for an hour. The only thing I'm looking to optimise is washing, drying and folding clothes! But there is a catch. You can go fast when things are in your control, and solo travel reminds you of a million things which are not. Now we have a choice in these situations - wait in frustration over why things aren't going fast, and wait with patience when things are going slow. It's almost counter intuitive that going slow is harder than going fast - but it really is, and solo travel helps me train the "go slow" part of my brain. Learning how to go slow will also give you a better appreciation of things that go fast in your life.
Lesson #3 - We humans are amazing at thriving
In the early days, I took any and every assignment to make a living. I've been to far off islands of the Philippines to the remotest grasslands of central Asia for my work. Solo travel in these unconventional grounds gets very challenging for people like me who enjoy moderate temperatures throughout the year and have super markets at driving distance. It's challenging for me but not for the locals. When I see my fellow human beings thrive - not just get by, but actually nurture families and grow businesses - in such regions, it reminds me of the "superpower" inside all of us in the face of adverse environments. Objectively, it should not surprise us; the first 190,000 years out of the 200,000 years of our existence we had been wandering and migrating. I don't think you would have an appreciation of this if you were to travel to those places in an organised tour. I think only solo travel allows you the opportunity to do so.
Lesson #4 - Travel is not to escape your problems
You may have seen those social media posts about 'quitting my job and going to travel' or 'had a bad break up so going to travel'. I may not have posted online but yes when I quit my first and only 9-to-5 job in dissatisfaction, I actually did go solo travel for a few weeks before deciding to work in music production. But to those out there hoping to solve a problem by going for a solo trip, it may not actually work out so easily. Solo travel is an excellent avenue for you to look inwards and think mindfully about your joys and sorrows. But you will still have to come back and put in the work at your next job or relationship. If anything, solo travel will often leave you in a 'zone' where your problems or failures come to haunt you and force you to make an action plan - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Lesson #5 - Knowledge is power, but Intuition is Fuel
This lesson to me is the most important one. I'm not sure why but there may be an overemphasis on being book smart over street smart in our Asian culture. In my solo travels I have met fellow travelers with advanced degrees as well as those with no formal education or school dropouts. One cannot draw a straight line to show that their academic backgrounds guarantees them a safe & successful solo trip. When you travel solo, your "gutt" or intuition is what keeps you alert and helps you take good last minute decisions. Knowledge is power in your travels for sure - I too read reviews and blogs before heading out. But circumstances change in the middle of your journey. Straight forward things like vehicle breakdowns to more bizzare things like political uprisings can throw you off very easily. An example from my solo trip was that when I was in Singapore, a city world famous for its public transport, on my way to the airport on the subway lines had a breakdown. The subway company provided buses to the affected commuters, but there was no way a bus was going to take just one solo traveler to the airport in time. This was way before Solopacker came into my life - but if I face such a challenge again I'll be sure to quickly check in, go to the live map to find a local whom I can trust, and request them to drop me to the airport in exchange, and offer to pay for the fuel expense as a small gesture of gratitude for their help.
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