Before my first solo adventure, my mind was racing anxiously. Will it be safe, how would I deal with everything by myself, would I have enough money…Most of all, however, I worried that I would spend 5 lonely weeks, craving human relationships.
Before I set off, many of my friends tried to convince me that it would be easy to find company, while traveling. As much as I wanted to believe them, the fear of loneliness kept eating away at me.
At First It Was Hard…
Even though I met fun people the minute I set foot on Thai soil, the first couple of weeks didn’t go without tears. I couldn’t let go of the problems I left at home, and felt sad at times – without any loved ones around, or an internet connection to help me contact them, I had nobody to share my heartache with. Yet at the end, these 5 weeks turned out to be one of the most social and exciting times of my life. They were filled with amazing experiences, unforgettable stories, and some of the most fascinating people you can imagine.
What I would like to do with this post is use a fraction of my interactions on the road, to show how easy and natural it is to meet people while traveling. Hopefully, I would encourage travelers to try solo travel and forsake the fear of loneliness. During my time away, I found all the right people at the right time, and that was an important part of the adventure.
…But It Got Better than I Thought Possible
At my first hostel, in Bangkok, I met a few people and ran into them again in the second town of my trip – Chiang Mai. Just as I was starting to worry that my hostel in Chiang Mai was too quiet and I would have nobody to go out with, I spent one of my craziest Thai night with this group of people.
One of them was an Argentinian called Juan. It turned out that he was going to Laos on the same day as me, so we left together, on a slow boat across the Mekong river. We spent our time in Luang Prabang, Laos, together and with a fun group of other people, whom each of us had met along the way. In a city where there is virtually no public transportation and the distances are big, I worried that I would miss out on the best spots. However, thanks to Juan and our new group of friends, we rented motorbikes and saw the Kuang Si falls (arguably the most beautiful in Asia), shared beers with a local soldier, and chased the impressive sunsets over the Mekong.
The Unexpected Twists of Solo Travel
One day, in Luang Prabang, I needed to stay by myself, do some soul searching, and go back to the core of solo travel. So, I agreed to meet Juan and the rest of our friends at sunset, in the Phou Si hill temple. They had spent the day with two guys – Arnaud and Carlos, who, just like me, were going to Vang Vieng the following day. A few minute later and I had returned by bus ticket, to join Arnaud and Carlos on their motorcycles.
Southeast Asia on a motorbike is a dream come true. Because of the speed, you are rescued from the 40-degree smoldering heat, you immerse yourself in the culture, because you are traveling like the locals do, and nothing, not even lack of roads, can limit your freedom. You don’t just use the road, you become a part of it, and of course, it’s also great fun.
Carlos, Arnaud, and I set off through the mountains of Laos and stopped at the highest point, to take in the views. In this region, there is a bizarre contrast. While the land is flat, enormous rocks and mountains stick out, as if they are breadcrumbs that a giant has sprinkled around, thousands of years ago. Covered in thick tropical jungle, these formations are a breath-taking phenomenon. As we admired them, three other bikers stopped behind us to say “hello”. That’s how we met the Germans Jonas, Laura, and Patrick, who had been traveling around Southeast Asia on their bikes.
All of us, along with other people we met on the way and in our hostels, spent a few days together in Laos’s party capital – Vang Vieng. We embraced the backpacker culture, in its die-hard-partying, greasy charm, and had fun together like old friends do.
Separations and Reunions
When the time came for Carlos and Arnaud to leave, each on his own journey, I went through my first painful separation on the road. As I waved goodbye, tears streamed from my eyes and I was convinced that I would spend a few sad, lonely days without them.
However, it turned out that our German biker friends were headed in the same direction as me, and when we met again, this time in the capital city of Vientiane, they agreed to take me with them on the bikes. We spent the Buddhist New Year together and organized everyone in our hostel into a war platoon.
During the 5-day celebration, the streets turn into a water-war battlefield. Water guns, hoses, and buckets are favorite weapons and the goal is to have everyone more soaking wet than they ever thought they could be. We joined the locals who play the worst and loudest techno, dance on the streets, and drink beer with ice. Those who can afford it get in the back of pickup trucks, drive around the city and instigate battles on the move.
It was in my Vientiane dorm that I had one of those “I am so lucky I met you at this exact moment” experiences. Minutes before I had to check out, I realized that my lock had miraculously changed its combination, leaving my passport, money, and laptop, stranded inside the locker. Luckily, a member of our water war platoon was the French soldier Hadrien. He tapped, turned, and examined my lock to figure out the new code and rescue my belongings.
The Germans and I spent a few days together, traveling from North to South Laos, we shared experiences, stories, theories, and even though we soon had to go our separate ways, they left a permanent mark in my heart. At the end, as we waited together for my bus, I felt like I had the support of good friends.
So, thanks to meeting a few people on the very first day of my trip, I made great friends and memories for weeks. They enriched my life and gave me the courage to experience adventures I never even dreamed of trying.
Partying With People From 5 Continents
Another important friendship began in the second town of my solo travel – Chiang Mai.
I was there for my birthday and before leaving for the trip I worried that this special day would be devastatingly lonely, away from family and friends. Yet I had a party with people from 5 different continents, among them Daniel and another Arnaud. As they were two of my favorite people in Chiang Mai, we hugged with joy upon reconnecting in Siem Reap, Cambodia. For 2 days, we explored Angkor Wat and I am certain that nobody has ever laughed so much among the ruins of this candidate for world wonder. If you can have fun and share deeply personal things with someone, even when you are hungover, have had 2 hours of sleep and have been walking on hot stones all day, then you are a good match.
While Daniel continued his journey to Vietnam, Arnaud decided to join me south. Without him, Cambodia would not have been the same and fear would have been a frequent companion. Cambodia is a bizarre, gorgeous country, but it’s not necessarily safe, so I will always be grateful for Arnaud’s support and friendship. We partied hard, escaped rabbit dogs, hiked and snorkeled, got searched by the police, and shared our life stories. So, despite of the language barrier, Arnaud became a friend who I hope to have for the rest of my life.
The Price of Friendship
During my 5 weeks in Southeast Asia, I met dozens of people and had hundreds of conversations, just like most travelers do. Many of these interactions are nothing more than the exchange of information – where you’ve been, where you’ll go next, and all the weird experiences you’ve had in between. I laughed and danced with many people, but truly connected to few. On the road, friendships have a different dynamic. You grow close with the speed of light, because you know that your time together is limited. With these people, I shared moments and thoughts that helped me get in touch with my true self. I realized that traveling is priceless not because of the temples and beaches you upload to Instagram, but rather because of the people who add value to your existence.
Having to say “goodbye” over and over again is the price you pay. You’ve shared your soul with someone, knowing that you might not see them ever again. Still, whatever happens, I will always treasure the people I met on my journey. They now reside permanently in my heart and I will be forever grateful for the lessons they helped me learn.
Have you ever tried solo travel? Tell us about your experience in the comments below! 🙂[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]
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