I’m a solo traveler, but I’m never alone. Let me explain.
I flew to India by myself with a one-way ticket to the Philippines. I’m in this adventure myself. I don’t have a travel partner to worry about or have to compromise my plans for. The things I do and the places I see are completely up to me to decide and plan.
Despite all that, I have chosen to travel with travel groups, or organized tours so that I wouldn’t have to experience a country by myself. India was my first country outside of the Philippines and USA–where I was born and where I grew up, respectively–that I’ve traveled to, and I chose to do it solo. I joined a volunteer group which is to say that I had to pay for my volunteer experience. There are much cheaper ways to volunteer for free, but you won’t get them in groups! Think of volunteer groups as an alternative tourist package. I met a lot of interesting and new friends that I can come home to (“home” is subjective but in this case, the states) and hope to see again. Deciphering India by myself seemed way too overwhelming to me as a newbie traveler so I joined a group. There’s no shame in travel groups and tours! I like to experience something different than the usual tourist, and I tend to think of “tourist” as an insult, but when it comes down to it, travel groups can be useful ways to see a country. The advantage of groups is that you don’t have to worry about planning the trip; the trip is planned for you! This is a huge plus for someone like me, who is a horrible planner that it’s a wonder I even got this far and made it to the other side (of the world). With groups, you can sit back and relax and trust that things are taken care of. No stress!
During my experience, we had host families so that we could experience cultural immersion rather than a cold, westernized hotel room. I shared the home-living experience with three other volunteers and I will never forget the warm hospitality of drinking masala tea served every morning by our host dad. We were allowed to go out after our volunteer hours and explore the city by ourselves. Again, with the volunteers that I learned to love, I was never alone in the whirlwind of busy streets and chaotic traffic.
I don’t know whether I should call myself a traveler or an ex-pat. I’m stuck between the concept of “traveling” and the concept of “moving” to another place. But one thing is clear: I am a nomad. With my one-way ticket to the Philippines, I showed up in the airport with my signature dirty feet leftover from India’s dust and met my extended family. I must have looked like a total bum but I’m used to it now. How to travel in style is definitely not my forte and I’m left to throwing my previous work/consumption lifestyle completely away and sometimes wishing I had it all back just so that I could feel a bit more “put together”. For two months, I was at constant attention around my family when I found a Chinese Buddhist retreat (Ch’an style, which is the same as Japanese Zen) to whisk me away for four months at the temple in the world’s 3rd largest Catholic country. The journey there was accompanied by another girl who had joined the retreat and who I met prior during our interview. I always try to find ways to travel with others despite being a “solo” traveler, and my aunts make sure I’m being properly chaperoned in their overprotective way that makes me feel I am 17 again, and not 27.
Based in a temple, I was constantly around people 24/7 and living with 8-12 others in the program. We started in Bacolod City, Philippines and ended up in Manila. Six of us decided to take the opportunity to go to Taiwan for more temple hopping as we stayed in the headquarter monastery and then took an organized tour. I am now based in Manila, back in the temple, and volunteering while I figure out my next moves financially. I’m setting up a bit of a home-base here while I figure out dual-citizenship so I can be more of a global citizen. International and all that.
Friendships and Affinities
As I make friends along my journey, being alone is never an issue. Whenever I go out, I am always in the company of other people and the rare times that I am not, I take my own cab or walk the city streets as if it were my home. And it is, for now. The key to traveling solo and never being alone is creating friendships and affinities with people, both locals and travelers. I think of my current life as akin to moving to a new place on my own. Do you make new friends? Find local events and groups? I’m comfortable alone just as much as I’m comfortable with people. Sometimes, I’m even more comfortable alone than with people due to my introverted tendencies. Traveling gives you a bigger playing field but to me it’s just the same as moving to a new place and making new friends. The trick is being on the move, and finding opportunities with others that involve new places and adventures.
I’m taking a long fucking stroll to nowhere. It’s been over 6 months of funemployment and I’m still surviving. Thriving. But how do you move across the world with no money, no job, and survive? I know my circumstances are unique. Not everyone can just up and move across the world. Quit their jobs, sell their possessions. I flew to Asia with less than $1,000 to my name and no plans on when to return. Is it clueless? Is it stupid? Is it crazy? I got more funds since then but the need for funds to keep me afloat is daunting my sense of time and space. With November looming ahead, my student loans which are currently frozen, will begin again.
I can’t speak for others, but I can only provide my own experience. With no formal plans on my travel adventures, I found myself in situations that provided me the most optimal ways of living and traveling on the cheap.
Traveling on the Cheap
For four months, I’ve been living in Buddhist temples to study Mandarin Chinese, Buddhism, and practice meditation. This zen retreat program has been entirely free of charge and I’m grateful for the experience. It has been life changing and I can honestly say that I feel like a new woman. More on that later. Living under the monastery walls has kept me well fed, a budding vegetarian, and my basic needs taken care of, and then some. For four months, my spending has been next to none. Small monthly allowances were given, and I felt a sense of productivity, responsibility and minor volunteering that could carry over as skills in the “real world”.
On August 6th, having been associated with the temple, I got an opportunity to fly to Taiwan where I’m currently at, and attend an International Youth Seminar Buddhist conference at the headquarter monastery for the Buddhist organization that sponsored the zen retreat. The cost of the plane ticket was the only expense I needed to worry about which is a lot cheaper since I’m already in SE Asia. Some spending money for Taiwan was provided by the temple, as well as a scholarship grant of $300 from the conference (an unexpected surprise) that covered the cost of my plane ticket and then some. Yes, I’m bragging, but this experience has been entirely FREE.
For those who are unenlightened, couchsurfing is a website network that links travelers together for free accommodations and newfound friends. The idea of sleeping at a stranger’s home might sound weary to some, but the site is set up like a Facebook page for travelers. People can add comments about each other to review their experience and rate you as “positive” or “negative”. The more positive reviews you get, the more trustworthy you seem to others. The network also has an optional system for validating your identities. The opportunity to meet new people–strangers–means the opportunity for making friends.
While I have little personal experience with couchsurfing, I have met many avid couchsurfers who travel solely using this network and live by it as a valid nomad lifestyle. It is a great way to share cultures, make new friends, and travel cheaply.
Freelancing keeps me afloat and gives me enough funds to survive, though not enough to live on should I decide to go back to the decadent American lifestyle. My skills are already set and primed for a travel/nomad lifestyle. Everything I can do is online-based. From web design, social media, graphic design and writing, the myriad of options that I have are optimal for all sorts of projects. Now I just have to implement them, start working, build up my funds to travel sufficiently, and start moving again.
A Long Stroll to Nowhere
The longer I’m in Asia, the more the nomadic lifestyle appeals to me as a longer-term way of life. No permanent address, but “homebases” in the Philippines and Oregon, where my family lives, respectively. It’s a dynamic way to live. Where complacency and being static and “settling down” are scary concepts for me, the exact opposite is where my heart is. Home isn’t a place for me now, but a sense of contentedness in people and my changing surroundings.
I prefer slower travel. Staying in one place from six months to one year at a time. Hopping around and exploring each countries’ surroundings while finding a temporary base to live. Sometimes, I feel like a loser at life because I don’t have anything that I could call a “career” at this point, and my state of confusion over what to do with my life is constantly on my mind. But what I’m doing now is perfect, and at the end of the day, I still have a roof over my head and food to eat. I don’t aspire for material wealth, and poverty is a choice. My life is new and exciting every day, filled with good people and lots of laughter. I’m rarely alone, and rarely lonely. I can’t say I have much to complain about.
OK. So I feel constipated again. Emotionally. Or whatever. And my blog sucks with that kind of thing because blog articles are just different. They can’t be mind dumps. I mean, maybe they can be. But not the kind of blog I have. Ugh. I almost wish it was web 1.0 again when blogs WERE just mind dumps and no one cared. But now, it has to be something polished and nice. It has to be engaging. You have to think about your audience. Whatever. I wasn’t even going to talk about bloggging. So I should stop now. On to the next topic…
What was I going to write about? I want to write about so much I don’t even know where to start. This is one of those FUCK ME IN THE ASS WITH A SPOON moments. It’s my own phrase I made up. I like it. You can’t steal it. You can’t steal the spoon, either. There is no spoon.
Fuck. See this isn’t what I was going to write about either. Matrix. WTF? Drivel. Just useless drivel. I’m being a dumbass. I’m just prolonging and avoiding what I want to write about. Because that’s what I do. OK. So lets cut through this bullshit. I need a therapist. Lets just get that straight. I miss having a therapist and I fucking need another therapist. That’s the one thing that sucks about third world countries. There are NO therapists! And despite how HAPPY I proclaim to be at this point of my life, and I am. I’m fucking happy. I really am. No joke. Despite all that though, I STILL feel like I need a therapist. Why? Needing a therapist isn’t admitting that you’re fucking messed up. But, maybe I am. Needing a therapist just means you’ve got some shit that you’d like sorted out in your head.
I’ve got some shit that I’d like sorted out in my head. I guess that’s the point of this entry. What shit?
If we go deep deep deep, I’ve always been an introvert. Maybe partly by personality and partly because I’m an only child. It’s been hard. I always wanted a brother or sister for Christmas, not one of those cool, fancy new toys. Yeah, I admit I wanted a playmate in the form of sibling. But it’s not like I didn’t have any friends. There were neighbor boys. Or girls. I became friends with one kid named Brent because he shared my last name, and wasn’t that something? We’d play dominoes together. He’d visit his grandma or maybe it was his babysitter that was my neighbor. I don’t know. He was around a lot.
I don’t really want to drivel on about my childhood. But suffice it to say, I was shy. Painfully shy. The kind of shy where I was basically mute. Even in highschool, despite how hard I tried to “grow out of my shell” and become a “social butterfly”, the thought of speaking to boys made my hands sweat, my heart pump louder, and my mouth dry. And that was EVEN if I found them fucking horrible to look at. Meaning, it could be ANY male species and not just someone I thought was hot or had a crush on at the moment. Anyway, that fucking sucked.
I’ve tried all my life basically to “grow out of my shell”. I’m an adult now. I’m almost 30. All of a sudden, I’m in my “late twenties”. That kind of shit just creeps up on you. It’s not that I’m dreading 30. I’m actually looking forward to the 30s. Two words. SEXUAL PEAK! There will be a lot of “making love” in my 30s. I can guarantee you that. Fuck yeah!
But, the thing about 30 is, I’m an ADULT now. And the farther away I am from my 20s, the more “adult” life just seems to get. You have no excuses anymore. You can’t act like a dumb little shit because you’re 20. That may have been cool when you were 20, and the 20s afford you those little mistakes and “lessons”. And it’s not like you have to be PERFECT in your 30s. I’m not saying that. There are still a lot of dumb people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. I don’t know. I guess I’m just saying you have to own yourself a bit more though. And my entire childhood was spent in depression and angst and being a “victim” which is entirely immature pre-fabricated mind shit. A change of perspective would do me good and NOW. Now I don’t even sweat when I talk to guys. I’m not nervous. And I know how to carry on a conversation, for the most part (I won’t lie that I can still seem socially awkward). I LIKE meeting new people. Life is peachy and I’m no longer a victim, but the master of my own destiny. No, I haven’t been reading self-help books. OK, maybe I’ve been reading new-agey books. Which is probably even worst.
Fuck being a victim. Being in the temple, I feel like a new woman. One of the monks pulled me aside one day and said I needed to “talk more”. That I needed to spread my joy and friendliness. That I’m a nice girl, a good girl. But I just needed to share. Quit hiding behind my walls. Because essentially, there’s nothing to hide. It got to me a bit. It reminded me of those mute days. And how far I still need to go, I guess. How much I still need to just LET GO. All that emotional baggage. I need to stop carrying it now. But whatever. I’ll take that not as a downer, but as something positive. I’ve got a lot to give, and YES, I want to share. I’m reborn now. It’s so cliche, but it’s true. I’ve come a long way.