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I know, I know. Traveling isn’t exactly something we can do now. But there’s no harm in researching for a little preparation, for when everything blows over, right?
Last year, tired of tour groups and the hassle of traveling with too many people, I decided to backpack alone in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
A wise man once said, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Knowing full well how my mom would (over)react, I only informed her of my plans to solo-travel after purchasing my flight ticket and booking my accommodation.
Needless to say, mama bear wasn’t too happy, but she finally relented after we made a deal. I had to let her know I was alive, twice a day.
Here are what I learned from solo-traveling:
1. While familiarity is boring, unfamiliarity can be a nightmare.
I tend to wing it a lot when it comes to traveling. Sometimes it works out, but other times it doesn’t. Usually this means I waste travel time and energy.
Do your research properly. Before going, I’d Googled all the interesting things to see in Nha Trang.
[Tong Lam Lo Son – Image Courtesy of TripAdvisor]
My funniest experience though, was when I found the Tong Lam Lo Son Pagoda on TripAdvisor, and promptly took a GrabBike to the location.
Minutes after I was dropped off, I realized while the Goddess of Mercy statue looked impressive, this was actually a graveyard!
In case you aren’t familiar with Asian cultures, we are generally more sketched out by such locations. I promptly booked another ride and got out of there.
2. Language barriers can be scary…but it’s a-okay.
[The author at the Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang, Vietnam]
The internet is nothing short of stories of supposedly pompous Western tourists who expect everyone else to be able to speak a reasonable amount of English.
Actually, we Asians make the same false assumptions too and get frustrated when we can’t communicate.
As Nha Trang was a far cry from being cosmopolitan, most people can’t speak English at all. Surprisingly, this includes the airport customer service too!
If you’re planning to travel to a country where language can be a problem, you might want to download a translator app, which was what I used.
Of course, the translation didn’t always work out and it got funny when one of us realized.
3. Don’t eat anything too strange.
This is advice by my boyfriend, who had been to Vietnam before.
It might be tempting to try something exotic. However, always research if the food is safe for consumption.
As a matter of fact, while Delhi belly is real, tourists often get food poisoning from street food in Vietnam.
I had brought medications along with me. Nonetheless, I had no desire to visit a doctor in a foreign country where I can’t communicate.
So I stuck to cafés and restaurants even if it meant I had to spend a little extra.
PSA: Do NOT mix beer and fried earthworms. I made that mistake once in Thailand, and promptly fainted. My friends had to drag me back to the hotel.
4. For those who wear glasses or contacts…
Always bring extra!
On the first day, I went to the beach and the waves were big and beautiful. I sat at the shallow end.
Without warning, an enormous wave struck me in the face, taking my glasses with it.
It’s always been difficult to find my glasses without wearing ‘em, and the ginormous afternoon waves made it impossible.
I was freaking out because I couldn’t see, it was only my first day!
Thankfully, my Airbnb host Julia was kind enough to ride us out to a shop. And we got my new, temporary glasses done for only RM50!
[The author’s temporary pair of replacement glasses.]
5. You’ll make a lot of friends from different parts of the world.
While in Nha Trang, I had booked tours when it came to snorkelling at the Hon Mun Island and hiking at the Ba Ho Waterfalls.
I got to know people from Iran, Germany, South Africa, America, England, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland and the Philippines.
For many, this might just shatter any preconceived notions about certain cultures.
For instance, the Germans I got to know were super friendly! But oh yes, they were excellent drinkers.
I’d spent a total of 8 days and 7 nights in Nha Trang. It had been over Christmas as well.
Looking back, it was interesting that while the Westerners don’t bat an eye when they hear I was traveling solo, the Asians were generally concerned.
While extroverts may not enjoy traveling alone, introverts may relish the time and space for introspection.
For more stories like this, read: 5 Things I Learnt When Traveling as a Solo Female and I Travelled a Lot When I Was Younger – Here’s Why It Sucks.