Sometimes plans don’t always go the way you would have expected. That’s how my story begins. I had always intended to travel around Southeast Asia before coming home, after my year teaching in China with AYC. This trip, however, was never meant to be a solo journey. As friend after friend turned down travel plans, I started to see the reality of my situation. If I wanted to travel, which I fully intended to do, I would have to do so alone.
For me this was a big step. I’ve never been great at meeting people. I’ve often felt that I didn’t have a story to tell. That my life was mundane. I didn’t have anything significant worth sharing. China helped me learn this wasn’t entirely true, and with this trip I wanted to prove to myself that I had a voice worth hearing.
My tickets were booked and my hotels were found, the last step was to tell my parents about the journey. My mom was less than pleased.
“Can you just not go?” my mother asked. While that had crossed my mind in my nervousness, I knew I could not allow myself to back out of this trip. I made a promise to myself to do things that scared me, and to face my fears.
My mom offered to join me, or even to send my brother over, but that wasn’t the same. I was presented with the opportunity to travel by myself, and right then I realized that this was something I had to do.
So bags packed, goodbyes said, I was on my way to Cambodia. By the time I got to my hotel, it was raining and already dark outside so I stayed in and ate dinner by myself. That first night was the hardest of the trip. I was alone in a hotel, and because I thought I would ease into the journey instead of staying in a hostel, not going to lie, I was a little sad. I had just left behind all of my China friends and didn’t know what to do or where to go. But I was determined.
The next morning I went to the front desk and booked some tours to get my self out of the hotel and seeing things. My first tour didn’t start until that afternoon so in the morning I went out and explored Siem Reap alone. Ate my food alone. And shopped alone. And like the night before, I felt a little alone.
But my tour to the floating village was booked and off I went. It was a really cool place, and even though the rainy season hadn’t started yet it was great to see what the village looked like without all of the water surrounding it. The buildings and houses were up on stilts 12 meters high. Somehow rainwater fills the whole area up with water reaching to the front door of the buildings. It was astonishing. Despite the amazing location, I still had some trouble meeting people. I had some nice conversations, but I didn’t meet anyone I felt comfortable hanging out with. So once again, I went home and ate dinner by myself.
The next day I booked a full day tour to Ankor Wat, and within minutes of getting in the bus I had made a new friend. Things were finally looking up; he and several others on the tour were great to talk with. And I ended up meeting up with several of them that night for dinner and fun. It was my last night in Siem Reap but it felt more like my journey had just begun.
From then on out things became easier. In Thailand, I made friends quickly everywhere I went. I found in myself something that I never knew I had. I found my voice. And I was starting to gain more confidence. So after a day of exploring with two new friends, I booked my elephant tour solo. Playing with the elephants was at the top on my bucket list when I left my house in Massachusetts. And once again I made friends within minutes. The whole elephant tour was my favorite part of the entire journey. I had the chance to feed, ride, wash, and play with the elephants, including two baby elephants. It was wonderful! I was on the mama elephant so the two babies followed me around and they were adorable. I made some great friends in Chiang Mai I hope to see them again someday soon!
My last two days I spent in Bangkok. I was a little nervous when my hostel turned out to be a little more upscale than I had expected, but I still managed to meet people. Once again, my first day was a little lonely, but I saw the grand palace, and made plans to meet up with a friend I met in Chiang Mai. We took a boat ride, explored the city and even ate a scorpion!
It’s amazing the close connection you can make with someone in a day when you’re traveling. You find that people are more open to making friends and are more understanding and accepting compared to when you are at home. It’s amazing, but it’s also a wakeup call. I was able to recognize in others the same fear I felt, and I knew to reach out to them. That’s something I hope I can carry into the rest of my life.
Those eight days I spent traveling were both the most terrifying and the most exciting days of my life. I learned more about myself then I knew there was to learn. I discovered a passion I never knew I had. I found friends that I never would have met. If you are someone like me, maybe a little lost or confused about what to do next. If you are scared to challenge yourself and you’re not sure what your purpose is then I suggest you do what I did. Take a risk. That risk doesn’t have to be moving to a foreign country or traveling around like I did, but it should be something that is equally as monumental to you as it was to me. Just take a deep breath, and take that first step.
If, on the other hand, you do want to travel, here’s some advice:
- Book the cheap hostels
This is where you meet people. You don’t have to book the cheapest, grungiest hostel you find. Just one that is cheap. Single travelers, like you, will want to save money and these hostels are a great place to chat and find friends.
- Book Tours
If you’re like me and want to experience some of the adventures than don’t be afraid to book some tours. They do cost a little bit more money then exploring on your own, but you can do some pretty interesting things. If you love just wandering and finding the hidden haunts of the city, though, that’s great too!
- Talk with people
Don’t be afraid. Just introduce yourself.
- Have Fun!
Try new things. Break out of your comfort zone. And have a blast while doing it!
By: Sarah Minkoff
Sarah Minkoff (Brandeis University, 2014) is an AYC alum from the 2014-2015 cycle. Her experience in China has inspired her to encourage the discussion of differences in people, anything from race to taste in music. She hopes to continue traveling to gain more knowledge and experience about the world.
Next country she wants to visit is Canada, and then Ecuador/Brazil.