Contributed by Zxian Sun
For years now, to my friends and family, I am known as the “Solo Sojourner” – the traveller who’s fearless with her yearly plight to see the world as far as she can, as fast she can. Whenever I’m back home from travelling, it has become a tradition for me to gather my family and a few friends for a sit-down dinner serving them not just food I’ve bought from the trip but also interesting stories from far away.
People who know of my stories would ask me for tips on how to go about planning solo trips. They’d also tell me how my travel experiences have restored their faith in themselves and the rest of humanity – they become a little braver in exploring the rest of the world on their own.
It feels good to have served as an inspiration to people but there’s more to this solo travelling business than meets the eye. Just as there are opportunities that you could seize for personal growth, there are also dangers you might have to evade, at some point. The reality is this – it’s not all pretty once you’re out there.
On my very first night in Hong Kong, after watching a film at Broadway Cinematheque, I decided to walk along the stretch of Nathan Road in Kowloon while sipping bubble milk tea just to see how alive the night was in the area. As I was taking countless photos of pedestrians, cars passing by and the night lights, I noticed a man from a distance walking towards me in zigzag. He had a can of open liquor in hand. I paced back and forth on the street near the Yau Ma Tei train station and whichever direction I went, he was only a few steps behind me. Clearly, he was drunk. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and I was unsure of how people would react if I shouted, so instead of asking for help, I quickened my pace and hid in a shop selling Chinese herbs and dried goods. I hid well enough to still see the drunk man on the street pacing about as if looking for something or someone. After a while, he walked far away enough for me to sneak out of the shop and run into the alley leading to my hostel. My heart felt as if it wanted to beat out of my chest. To say that the circumstance scared the wits out of me would be an understatement.
I felt that very same fear on one occasion when I was in Singapore recently, I was walking home from Kovan MRT station after having dinner with a local friend I made. As I was skipping and hopping my way back to my homestay, there was a man a few metres behind me singing a Celine Dion song at the top of his lungs. I took my phone out to record this funny circumstance. When I glanced back at him, he was getting nearer and nearer to me. He was already singing another song, and he wasn’t walking straight at all. I’ve been to Singapore so many times that I didn’t think I’d be in a situation that would make me feel threatened for my safety. In between songs, he’d laugh hysterically. This was no longer a situation I could laugh about, so once I turned the corner, I sprinted the whole uphill stretch of Flower Road until I was safe inside the house I was staying at.
I once took a quick leave from work and flew to Singapore (again) to watch the gig of one of my young music heroes named Birdy. On the day of her concert, a Singaporean guy in the Birdy gig group page posted an invitation to all solo concertgoers like him to meet up at the venue queue, get to know each other and watch the concert together. I don’t know what got into me but I commented that I was in on his idea. One year has passed since that concert night and on a recent trip back to Singapore, my Singaporean concert buddy and I had dinner and did a photo walk to celebrate one year of friendship. He has since booked me to sing for his wedding when the time comes. I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to maintain the long-distance friendship, but well, I was wrong.
Also read: A Travel Story Made in Singapore
This wasn’t the case on my very first trip to Baguio though. I was hanging out at this café overlooking the sea of trees at Camp John Hay. As I was jotting down notes on my journal, a guy from another table asked me a question. At first, I was wary to answer him but before I knew it, we’d already spent an hour talking while remaining a few tables away from each other. As enthralled as I was by our conversation, I didn’t see the need to stay in touch and establish a friendship with him. I was fine leaving it at that – a memory of two strangers enjoying each other’s company one afternoon up in the Summer Capital of the Philippines.
The encounters I’ve had while travelling alone could have turned out differently. They could have been ended up much worse – I might have gotten harassed and robbed of my belongings or my life, even. I’m thankful that things turned out the way they did because I was able to learn a thing or two on how to be better prepared to defend myself; I also learned to let my hair down and just allow myself to embrace unfamiliar experiences.
I know for a fact that in spite of the years I’ve spent doing this, I still need to sharpen my senses in responding to unlikely situations. I need to cultivate that discernment to figure out if engaging with a stranger would do me harm or not.
That’s the thing about travelling solo though – in spite of all the preparation you do to be in the best condition to take on any situation out there, you’ll never truly know what lies ahead. Good things happen the same way bad things do, as well.
Also read: Why Solo Travel is NOT for Everyone
It’s a call you make to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to anything or anyone – that’s just how it is when you travel alone.