Tag Archives: solo travel

How I Survived My First Day in Thailand

The first picture I took upon arriving in Thailand was not what you might expect.  I took a picture of my friend John’s bathroom.  Is that totally lame?  But in my defense, I’d never seen such a bathroom.  The shower isn’t separated from anything else in the room.  Which is handy if you find yourself in the shower and suddenly need to pee.  Otherwise, if you care for dry toilet paper, it can be a bother.

Reading through my journals from the first days of my trip, one thing stands out.  I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.  Seriously.  I booked my tickets with only two weeks notice and had no time to plan before leaving.  Instead, I was wrapping up and leaving one job, and writing and grading finals at the other.  On John’s advice, I ordered a copy of Lonely Planet’s Thailand, and that was about as far as I got.  I knew pretty much nothing about my destination.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do once I got there.  I didn’t know a single word of Thai, not even how to say thank you.  And I’d never traveled on my own before — not to another country anyway.  And speaking of traveling on my own, I didn’t even know how much I would be on my own.  Oh, and did I mention?  I sort of had a gargantuan crush on said friend.  I know — that’s a recipe for a Disney ending, I tell you.

When I arrived it was after 11 p.m., so I went to bed.  I woke in the morning feeling rested.  But I had no idea what to do with myself.  John lives in Rangsit, a ‘suburb’ north of Bangkok.  There’s nothing touristy about it.  It’s a small city.  Local.  And I had a funny feeling no one spoke English.  And did I mention John left for work early in the morning?  I was on my own…and hungry.  Oh, and there was no food in the fridge.  What the hell was I going to eat?

After getting dressed, I actually made a video I planned to post on the blog.  Sort of a first-day intro.  Unfortunately, the sound quality was non-existent, so it’s not worth showing.  But here’s what I said:  “I’m afraid to go outside.”  Haha.  Yes, that’s actually what I said.  How was I supposed to go outside and find food?  What the hell was I supposed to order?  Where was I supposed to get it?  Would anyone understand me?  And would they all look at me like some crazy white person?

So I got dressed and gave myself a pep talk.  I went walking along Khlong Si.  I walked up and down the road.  Roadside stands looked to be setting up something, but I couldn’t really tell if they were open.  I wanted to stop and ask for food.  But instead, I kept walking.  I essentially paced back and forth along the road, trying to look inconspicuous.  That went well.

Did I mention the 90 degree heat and 100% humidity?  I was a sweat-ball.  Maybe I should get something to drink.  I stopped at a stand and pointed at a bottle of Pepsi.  That had to be easy enough to convey.  He understood, opened the bottle, opened a small plastic grocery bag, placed a scoop of ice inside and poured my drink in the bag.  He topped it off with a straw and handed the bag to me.  What am I supposed to do with this?  Perhaps I’m an idiot, but should I be carrying around a bottle of Pepsi in a plastic bag?

Just act normal.

I paid, took my bag and drank as I walked down the street.  Which was all fine and dandy, except I hadn’t managed to get anything to eat.  Wait.  There was a guy roasting chickens nearby.  I turned back and made my way to the chicken stand.  “Can I get something with chicken?” I said.  He stared at me.  He started speaking Thai.  Fast.  I stared back.  “Chicken?”  I said.  He stared.  I pointed to the chickens roasting on the grill.  He rattled on in Thai.  I had no idea what he said but thought best to say yes and nod.  He kept speaking Thai.  I kept smiling and nodding yes.

Finally, he walked over to the chickens, pulled a whole chicken off the grill, chopped it up and put it in a box.  He wrote down a number.  I handed him some cash and grabbed my whole chicken.  Not exactly the Thai food I was hoping for, but at least it was something.  He chuckled as I walked away.  Oh, who am I kidding?  The man laughed at me.

When I got back to the house, I ate my plain chicken and drank my bag of Pepsi.  What was I to do with the rest of the day?  I came up with a brilliant plan.  Go back to bed.  Wake up when John gets home from work.  Feign jet-lag.  And then let him do all the talking.  Brilliant I tell you.

I did just that.  And as the day ended (after having an awesome dinner of Thai food with John), I thought to myself, “Okay.  Not so bad.  Now I just have to do that for 49 more days.”  What could go wrong?

Posted in Southeast Asia, Thailand Also tagged , |

In Search of: A Little Self Discovery

For 33 years, I’ve told people I’m a loner.  Um.  I don’t think that’s true.

It’s funny how a few weeks on the road can make a person see themselves differently.  Like, I had this ridiculously obvious epiphany a few hours ago: I’m not a loner!  I’m not.  I’m not.

Did you already know this?  I didn’t.  Whenever I meet new people, that’s one of the first things I tell them.  I love to work alone.  I love to live alone.  And, quite often, I love to be alone.  I’m not a big fan of large social gatherings.  In fact, I get nervous thinking about them.  I joke that I’m a bit anti-social.  Put me amongst of group of strangers, and tell me to make friends.  I’ll look at you like you’re a nut.  Because I don’t need more friends.  I’ve already got damn friends.

So all of this together sort of pegged me for loner-hood.

Except that leaves out the part of socializing that I do like.  Such as spending evenings working out with my sis-in-law and having dinner with my niece and nephew.  Like cooking with my friend, Carrie.  Or hiking with Christy. Or what about the fact that I seem to choose careers that put me front and center with people?  Every.  Single.  Day.  Jobs that isolate me from others have historically driven me to near madness.

The fact is, I like being around people.  I like having others to keep me company.  I like talking and sharing and laughing.  Actually, I LOVE laughing.  But you guys already know that.  The thing is, it’s hard to laugh when you’re by yourself.  (Not impossible, actually.  It just happens less often.)

I’ve been traveling alone for the last couple weeks, and I’ve been having these amazing experiences and loving every second of it.  But I’ve also been feeling a little off.  Or maybe a lot off.  And I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Until today, when I freaked out at my dear friend for making a suggestion that I visit another place.  His response was something of, “Dude, WTF?  Chill out, lady.”

So I took a step back and realized something: I don’t like being alone.  Yep.  Awesome adventures and amazing experiences aside — I sort of love being around people.  I love having people to talk to, people that understand me.  Friends.

That’s not to say I’m not absolutely loving my trip.  I am.  Did I mention the awesome adventures?  It’s just this: I spent the last eight years living with another person.  I wasn’t all that alone most of the time.  I do enjoy my alone time.  We all know that.  But then that pretty much ends with morning reading and oatmeal.  The rest of the day?  I like interacting with people.

I thought back over my meetings with other traveler’s thus far, and omg, I cling to them.  I talk, and I talk, and I talk.  And then I talk some more.  Wait…you have to go?  But I’ve got more to say!

Yes, it turns out, I’m a bit of a talker.  Shy, quiet Heather can’t seem to keep her mouth shut.  And so it is.  I’m not a loner after all.

So although I’ve sort of fallen in love with traveling, I’ve also fallen out of love with the idea of traveling alone.  Sort of.  Because there’s a certain freedom that comes with heading out on your own, a certain level of excitement.  Plus there’s the part where you don’t have to make compromises about how much to spend or what to do next.  I mean, seriously, what other friends of mine would want to bike for eight hours through Angkor?  For that matter, what other friends of mine could take two months off from work to go on a random trip with me?  I’ll answer that.  None.

And thus, the conundrum.  What to do?  Have you ever traveled alone?  If so, how do you solve this problem in your own travels?  I’m in need of a solution here.  Because I assure you — this trip has merely stoked the travel flame.

Posted in Southeast Asia Also tagged |

Sawatdee Kaa from Southeast Asia

I know it’s been about forever since I last posted. I left on a jet plane, and then pretty much left you all hanging. Is anyone still there? Sorry, readers. But seeing as how I have perhaps the best excuse (I’ve been off on a whirlwind adventure in southeast Asia), I hope you’ll forgive me!

There’s much to update you about. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. Here’s what I can tell you: this trip has been everything I imagined and nothing I imagined all at the same time. I’ve been away from the U.S. for just about three and a half weeks. It seems a bit like I got here yesterday and a bit like I must’ve moved here, seeing as how I’ve never taken a trip this long.  Yet, I don’t feel like I have enough time. I’ve seen more places than I thought I would see. But also, I’ve missed places I wanted to see, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to squeeze them in.

I’ve surprised myself in that I’m not homesick at all. That’s unusual for me. In the past, when I’ve traveled, I always felt homesick in the first few days (at the very least, in the first week). Generally, I get over that feeling if I stay long enough, but it’s always been there at some point. This time, nothing. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if I’m ready to pack my bags and move to Thailand. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m staying with a friend off and on in Bangkok, and when I get tired of traveling, I just go back. So although it’s not my home, it is someone’s home and maybe that feels home enough. Of course, that’s never done the trick before. Or perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’m not quite sure I feel at home in Vegas; thus, I don’t have much to miss. Except I do because I certainly miss my favorite people back home.  Can I pack you all up and take you with me next time?  Anyhow, I haven’t felt homesick. And this is a seriously good thing, seeing as how I’m here for a while.

So here’s the deal.  Although I haven’t posted since I left, I have been writing every day.  I’ve journaled about everything.  I have journal entries in my handwritten journal, in my online journal and in Word files.  I’ve pretty much taken advantage of whatever writing medium’s on hand.  I’ve got lots of material, and I’m excited about what I’m going to do with it.  One of the things I plan to do is walk you through the trip.  I had planned to do that from the beginning, but now I’m so far behind.  Likely, I’ll wait until the trip is over, then get to telling the stories.  Until then, I’ll probably just do updates like this one.

What else?  So I mentioned the trip has been everything I expected and nothing I expected.  For the most part, it’s been a blast.  I love not feeling rushed.  I sort of love not having a plan.  This is the first time I’ve allowed myself to show up at a place and just go with the flow.  I book a bus ticket (or a plane or a boat) and go when I feel like going.  If I don’t like a place, I leave.  If I love it, I stay longer.  If an unexpected opportunity comes my way, I take it (like visiting Kampot in Cambodia).  The cultures are incredibly different from my own but then much the same.  The people have been really sweet.  At the same time, I’ve been surprised to find that traveling alone can feel really lonely (go figure).  I can have the most amazing time doing something I adore and suddenly feel sad I don’t have someone to share it with.  Or worse, when something goes horribly wrong (like Ko Chang) and my best friend isn’t by my side to laugh at our misery.  Joy (and misery) is simply better when shared.  On the other hand, it’s pretty damn freeing not to have to check with anyone about what I want to do.  I do what I want, when I want, and I spend as much or as little as I want.  No need to compromise.

In many ways, the whole trip has been more emotional than I expected.  Many hours spent on buses has a way of doing that to a person; making you reflect on your life and your choices, I mean.  And we all know I don’t need any assistance in the overthinking and overanalyzing department.  Though, in some ways, all this time to reflect has been good.  I’ve made some big decisions since I’ve been out here.  Or, at least one.  I’ll share that with you in a later post.

All in all, I think I’ve had too much  time to myself and have gotten way to philosophical.  It’s probably good that I’ve fallen down a flight of stairs (or two).  Gives me something to laugh at.  You can’t take yourself too seriously while sliding on your ass down a flight of stairs, pack on back, with a group of strangers stairing at you wondering why they invited you to climb a mountain with them.  Yes.  That really did happen.

And so, I’ll leave you with that lovely image.  Heather, the klutz.  I’ve had more than one incident between myself and the ground.  And spiders.  And mosquitoes.  Even a snake.  Good stuff, I tell you.  Until next time, here’s to taking changes and following your bliss.

Posted in Southeast Asia Also tagged |