Take the plunge and fulfill your wanderlust. But caution, your life will never be the same again.
It was a Wednesday, 27 August 2011. I was fresh out of bible school, having graduated just 3 days earlier. But this day was a little special. I was about to jet off to Taiwan for my first solo backpacking trip with a flight ticket I bought last Friday. The decision to backpack was spontaneous, one that I never regretted. Although my virgin backpacking experience was just a week-long trip, it very much changed how I travel and even my lifestyle choices. At present, I have been on 5 solo backpacking trips, seen beautiful sights, experienced diverse cultures, acquired crazy experiences (more on that in future posts) and met people with stories far more interesting than mine will ever be.
Travelling alone, I met travellers from different countries and we had such a fun time hanging out. One observation I made was that, I was perpetually the only Asian (or Singaporean) traveller in the group most of the time. While I understand that Singapore is different from other countries in that we Singaporeans are cash-rich time-poor, we have our reservations about travelling alone, we fear the unknown (of being robbed, kidnapped and murdered abroad), and we prefer to use our annual leaves for more luxurious forms of travel, it is such a pity if we have never discover the joys of sojourning the world on a backpack. Solo backpacking is really easy and so much more fulfilling than you think.
Hence, I have written this post to persuade more Singaporeans (and Asians) to give solo backpacking a shot. Here are 10 reasons why you should try out solo backpacking. More on backpacking and related topics in future posts. Feel free to write to me if you have any questions and I would be happy to address them to the best of my abilities. Enjoy and go satisfy your wanderlust!
1. You Experience Travelling In A More Intense And Authentic Manner
Backpacker arrives at the airport, first order of business… ‘Find out how to get to the hostel via public transport.’ (Laughs) That is just the beginning of a series of challenges a backpacker will encounter while travelling. And there are languages, culture and food amongst a whole host of other challenges that one has to figure out along the way. Solo backpacking pushes you out of your comfort zone. It could be overwhelming at the start but frankly, this is one of the most authentic ways to see a country.
You will be taking local transport with the locals and dining at the locals’ (favourite) eating spots (not restaurants and relatively cheaper). You will be staying in hostels with other travellers. You will find yourself getting lost (almost all the time) and asking locals for directions. And often, those events leads to interesting encounters with the locals and other travellers which money can’t buy, really. These are invaluable memories that stay with you for a lifetime.
2. You Decide Your Own Itinerary (Or Lack of)
You want to go skydiving in New Zealand, but your best friend has no more paid leaves left. You want to spend an entire day in the Lourve Museum but your girlfriends prefer shopping in the malls. Or you simply want to take it easy and experience the culture of a country slowly, but your friends wants to quickly visit and mark all the tourist destinations off their checklist.
Your friends are your mobile comfort zone and it’s always nice travelling with them, but they are often the same people holding you back.
Deciding your own itinerary easily ranks as the best reason for solo backpacking. All that bucket list and wanderlust you have, you can see and experience them all. It can also be very liberating to not have a fixed itinerary – you can change it at the last minute if you so desire. One of the most selfish decisions you can make is to travel alone. But it is also one of the best things you can do for yourself, because you have to first love yourself before you can love others.
3. Solo Backpacking Is Easier And Safer Than You Think
Did you know that the Singapore passport is the 4th most powerful passport in the world, giving us visa-free access to 154 countries? Yup, that is how powerful our passport is and there’s no reason not to make use of this privilege we enjoy as a Singaporean citizen. And did you know that Thailand is ranked the second country in the world with the most traffic fatalities? Yet we see our family and friends going on weekend trips to Thailand for shopping all the time! Thus, I conclude that when it’s your time, it’s your time (Laughs).
Like propaganda hardwired into our minds, we view travelling within another country as dangerous, let alone backpacking alone! We fear getting mugged, kidnapped, raped or murdered, especially with headline news of tourists meeting such mishaps over mainstream media. That was exactly what I feared just before I started backpacking. But I stepped out of my comfort zone and discovered that really, the world is not as dangerous as we (were conditioned or led to) think.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Brazilian author Paulo Coelho
That is not saying we shouldn’t take the necessary precautions when travelling in another country – which we should. But believe, believe in the goodness of people.
4. Solo Backpacking Can Be Affordable
Many people find travelling an expensive hobby when it really doesn’t have to be. But there will also be some trade-offs. Do you want to eat at some fancy restaurant (serving Western comfort foods which you can easily find back in your home country) or you want to eat some (cheap) local food? But isn’t eating local food part of what travelling is all about?
Spend only on necessities and experiences so that you can travel further. Backpackers often rule out comfort and choose to stay in a hostel because the money you saved can pay for lunch and dinner the following day. It’s also normal to get conned and ripped off while travelling. But it also makes you street-smart, makes for an interesting icebreaker, and you won’t fall for the same trick again.
After I started backpacking, I could almost shed a tear whenever I recount my past lavish travelling habits. The S$3,000 you spent for a week in Japan last summer, you can probably spend that same amount travelling around Japan for maybe two months through backpacking. Singaporeans are a hardworking bunch. We slog hard at our jobs, and I don’t think we should mindlessly indulge in expensive travel with our hard-earned money. And backpacking is in no way lesser than luxury travelling – if not even better than the latter. See point 1.
5. There Will Never Be A Right Time
We are too young in our teens. We need to build our careers in our 20s. We need to start a family and pay our bills in our 30s. We need to take care of our kids in our 40s. We need to take care of our grandkids in our 50s. We are too fragile to travel in our 60s. Really, there will never be the ‘right’ time to travel. The question is, can we live with the decisions we have made? The definition of ‘right’ is subjective and relative because ‘right’ can be any moment. Read the inspiring story of a Singaporean family of four and a Chinese elderly couple who travelled the world. There are no lack of examples over the internet.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – American author Mark Twain
Many Singaporeans also have the misconception that backpacking is an ‘angmoh’ (Caucasian) thing because we have mortgages and bills to pay and we simply cannot travel. I’m not saying that we should all just quit our jobs and go backpacking. You don’t have to backpack for a year like other backpackers. Don’t compare who travelled longer. Everyone has their own journey to make.
According to Ministry of Manpower rule, every full-time employee is entitled to a minimum 14 days of paid leave. That plus another 4-6 days of weekends equates to easily 3 weeks of travelling time – more than sufficient to travel the Tran Siberian railway or to explore one entire country.
6. Meet People From All Walks Of Life
It is a common misconception that we might feel lonely when backpacking alone. It cannot be further from the truth. In fact, having a friend or partner with you can sometimes make it harder for you to meet new people. While backpacking, you will meet people from all walks of life. Rich or poor, gay or lesbian, Egyptian or Norwegian, backpacking is like global Facebooking in real life. Because you are living in hostels or couchsurfing, there is no way you will be alone all the time.
Solo travellers are usually open-minded to meet people too, so let your hair loose and go talk to someone. Things always gets going after a few drinks and you might find a kindred soul in a local or another traveller. Who knows, love might just come knocking at one’s door.
7. You Can Be Anti-Social (If You Want)
You are tired. Or you are an introvert. Some days you don’t want to hang out with any traveller, and you just want to explore the city and countryside alone. That’s okay. It is very empowering to know that you have the final decision on who you want to hang out with, or who you want to let into your life for that matter. This is an important state of mind to adopt when you go back home.
8. Be Yourself
You get to be yourself, or whoever you want to be. You get to do
crazy things that you normally will not do back at home. We are all conditioned to behave in a certain manner that is considered acceptable by the society and the communities we live in – the conservative society that is Singapore. But travelling alone takes away all the restrains and help us to experience it all. Ultimately, we discover for ourselves what are our own boundaries, and what we can accept. I’m not going to list any examples here because my family and friends might be reading this!
9. Rediscover Yourself
People travel for all sorts of reasons. There are travellers who are travelling during their gap year in college, travellers who are nursing a broken heart. And there are travellers who quit their jobs to see the world or to escape the corporate life, and travellers who left everything back at home so that they can find out what they really want to do with their lives. Every traveller has a reason to travel or are in some form of transition. And it’s okay. It’s okay to not know what you want to do in life yet. It’s okay to reject the societal norms of work and living. And often, we find the answers and the strength that we need while travelling.
But you are already stronger than you think you are. It takes
balls a lot of guts to drop everything behind and travel alone into unknown territory. You are already bolder than 99% of your countrymen. I made that statistics up.
10. You Become A Better You
“How do I behave around other travellers? How do I handle getting lost in a foreign country? How do I handle being alone?” Being alone in a foreign land gives you the opportunity to discover for yourself who you really are. And in that journey of self-discovery, you also become a better version of yourself. Besides becoming cultured and rewarding you with many kickass stories to tell, solo backpacking makes you more independent, widens your horizons and your international social circles, and gives you different and broader perspectives to life.
In short, I hope that you will embark on your own solo backpacking trip. Backpacking sucks, says no backpacker ever. There are simply too many reasons to take the plunge and I leave it to you to discover for yourself the marvels of solo backpacking. Now go! And tell me your own travel stories. RW
Editor’s note: The author reserves exclusive rights to all the photos (watermarked or not) in this post.