Around last year, I created a tiny “Things to do before 30” (didn’t express it in this blog, poor neglected blog) list. The list only had 2 simple things.
1. To embark on a solo trip
2. To volunteer
For #2. I actually volunteered at a soup kitchen and distributed food to the needy/homeless. However, that was just one off and the soup kitchen seems to have enough helpers now. Just need to find another avenue to volunteer my help then. So, I suppose #2 can never be struck out and will forever be something that I’ve to do.
#1 however is easily achieved but will I be brave enough to travel alone? All my trips before this (even when I studied in Australia for a year) were accompanied by friends. Travel with friends if of course safer, you get to rely on each other, more fun, builds relationship, so on and so forth….
Traveling solo however is a whole different thing. I made the wise decision to embark on my first ever solo trip to Taiwan and had this ambitious task of circling the entire Taiwan in 12 days. My itinerary was as such
- Day 1 & 2 – Sun Moon Lake 日月潭
- Day 3 – Alishan 阿里山
- Day 4 – Alishan 阿里山 (Stayover at Kaohshiung 高雄)
- Day 5 & 6 – Hualien 花莲
- Day 7 – Jiu Fen
- Day 8 to 12 – Taipei
“What? So packed?” That’s what most of my friends said when they found out about my itinerary. There were also a lot of questions on “Why Taiwan?” Why not? It’s safe, it’s easy to travel, it’s relatively cheaper than my other choices of Japan and Korea, communication should be alright (I speak pretty basic mandarin), this should be a breeze!
Research was easier than expected. They have a lot of information in English available. However, I noticed that the Chinese version of some sites are more informative. I even saw a hotel having different prices in the Chinese and English version of their website (not very ethical there). Since reading the sites in mandarin will take forever for me, I just read the English ones. Should be substantive enough. Traveling around was also smooth sailing and in Taipei particularly, even the buses announce the stop location in Mandarin, Taiwanese (similar to Hokkien), Japanese and English. I could go on forever about how I planned my days but I shall skip you’ll the boring decisions.
So to get to my main point, here are my thoughts on solo traveling, which also sort of relates to life…
- Choices are all yours to make = Freedom!
Basically, the World is your oyster! (Ok… maybe not the world but just Taiwan) Every decision you make is well, your choice. What you eat, where you want to go, what you want to do, where should you visit. Too much freedom can be a bad thing because if there are too many choices and you’re torn between 2, there is no one to add weigh to a particular choice.
Some of these decisions were a bit difficult to make but most were a breeze. I chose to make Sun Moon Lake 日月潭, Alishan 阿里山 and Taroko Gorge 太鲁阁 must visits. Which was kinda difficult because the first 2 are on the west side of Taiwan while Taroko Gorge is on the east side. There is no public transportation across the island. Hence, my need to circle the entire Taiwan and make a scheduled overnight stop at Kaohshiung 高雄. I don’t regret it though. I ended up having more time in Kaohshiung 高雄 than expected and it was good fun (also links to being open point). The experience was good and I’m very amazed by Taiwan’s railway connectivity.
- You set your own pace in life
Kinda linked to the above point. At times I realised I was rushing (walking too fast, anxious if I could make it on time) and then I thought “Why am I in a rush? What am I rushing for? I paid to be here, I should enjoy every moment of it and take my time.”. Same goes with our usual lives, why are we always rushing? Time is of course valuable but we should take the opportunity to enjoy every bit of activity that we are doing. I.e, reading, watching the television, conversing with people…
- Be open
I suppose being on this trip. I wanted to try out what it would be like. I guess I was open to a lot of things, suggestions from other people, and multiple changes to what I was going to do, other than things that I thought would be dangerous, i.e., walking around alone after 10pm.
– I rented a bicycle from a breakfast place’s owners friend
– I drank beer at a kiosk and chit chatted with the barkeep
– Walked a path suggested by a guard (there were other people, so it was pretty safe)
– Randomly took a bus to another part of Yang Ming Shan 阳明山, turns out there was a Calla Lily Festival there. 😀
– Sat a Taiwanese lady’s rented motorbike around Taroko Gorge 太鲁阁
– Met and spoke to quite a lot of random people. From the temple worker to other travelers. Quite a lot of them were surprised that Malaysians can speak mandarin. And the younger China travelers are actually quite adventurous (traveling alone, lots of them) and are much nicer than their tour bus counterparts.
- Stepping out of your comfort zone
I’m not saying that You need to be the exact opposite of who you are, but just change how you usually act a bit. I’m personally an introvert. Making the first move to talk to strangers can be a bit difficult for me. In previous travels, I wouldn’t be the one making friends with other travelers. I enjoy my own free time, but I know that if I travel without talking to anyone or engage in conversation with anyone for 12 days would be a waste of an opportunity to meet all sorts of people.
So at hostels, I tried to greet my fellow roommates (if I had any) and most of them were quite eager to meet other people too! We shared stories and where we have been in Taiwan. Very surface level sort of conversation but it was good. Changed my general perception of China tourists definitely. Funny thing though, the first thing that most of us ask first is not “what’s your name?” but “where are you from?”.
- It’s nice to have some familiarity
Stepping out of comfort zones aside. Having a bit of familiarity is also good (yes, it’s quite contradicting to the above point). In the first 8 days of my travels, all I spoke was mandarin. Back in Malaysia, I barely speak any mandarin. Even if I do, it’s mixed a lot with Manglish and Canto. Once I checked in at the Taipei hostel, I finally gotta speak English with 3 Germans and a Singaporean. On my last night at the Taipei hostel, I finally got to use my lahs with fellow Malaysians too! How exciting!
The above are are of course my main thoughts on traveling solo. I’m sure there are a lot of other things that cropped up in my mind. The 12 days will forever be etched in my mind and although I just left Taiwan 2 weeks ago, I have been entertaining the thought of returning. There’s just too many things to see.
12 days was definitely a bit long for my first solo trip. A fellow Malaysian, whom I met at a dorm in Taipei, was surprised that I took 12 days to travel alone for the first time. I initially wanted 14 days, so I was only 2 days short. There were definitely downer days. I.e., when it rained the entire day when I reached Hualien 花莲, the occasional thoughts of “wouldn’t it be nice if I could share this (trip) with someone?” and the tiredness. Once I reached Taipei or rather Jiu Fen, I felt tired. Must have been all the moving about. In that 12 days, I stayed in 6 different accommodations. The longest was for 4 nights in Taipei. But once I started walking around the attractions, I felt rejuvenated. Especially at Yehliu 野柳, where you get to enjoy the cooling winds of the Pacific ocean.
To sum it all, I had a blast in Taiwan! Met quite a number of random strangers along the way. I kinda enjoyed the solitary moments, although there were definitely times of loneliness. Sharing food was difficult as was taking pictures. Moving around was a breeze because transportation was great and I didn’t bother with a huge luggage! Furthermore, the Taiwanese people are so helpful and friendly! (Everyone I met in Taiwan also said the same thing) 9 of 10 people there will be helpful and friendly. 9 of 10 people in Malaysia will be the exact opposite. I would most definitely return. “When?” would be the most appropriate question.