As I boarded the plane, I was both thrilled and nervous. My very first solo trip and to my dream country, no less!
I had placed months of effort and thought into making that occasion special and memorable. You’ll find many articles on reasons to travel solo, or how solo travelling can change your life. Although it was certainly one of the best decisions I have ever made, it still came with its fair share of challenges.
Here’s how I managed to turn my four biggest obstacles into a 5-star solo trip of a lifetime.
Challenge #1: The approval
I’m from a family where you cannot simply go on a trip alone without their blessings. You see, I’m a Malaysian girl who’s just under five feet, whose looks can pull off as a high school student despite my age. Plus, I was still recovering from a knee surgery from about a year ago.
My family was reluctant. Safety was one of their main concerns, followed closely by finances. So I made sure I gave myself enough time to recover from the injury before the trip, and I told them that I would use the money which I have kept aside for such an occasion (for the past two years, in fact).
I was not about to neglect my responsibilities to the family just because I wanted this trip to happen. I didn’t think it was an easy decision for them to make, but they were certainly more at ease after seeing how much I have prepared for this.
Life lesson: You are not a lone ranger in life. Every decision you make will have a ripple effect on others, especially those whom you are accountable to. Be prepared to present your case with solutions at hand to alleviate people’s fears and concerns.
This might interest you: Take The Road Less Travelled, It Will Get You Places
Challenge #2: The limitations
I had eight days and RM6,000 (approximately USD1,500). Half of it went to flights and accommodation. I’d also set aside 10% for emergency. That left me with about RM2,400 for transportation, food, recreation and shopping during the trip.
This is actually a decent budget to work with, but who am I kidding? When is money ever enough when you’re in Japan?
I wanted to dress up in a kimono, eat in the best sushi/ramen/soba/tempura restaurants, visit all the animal cafes, and go to both Disneyland and Disney Sea World. Plus, I’d not even started on my shopping list yet.
So, I had two options: (1) expand my budget by digging into my savings, or (2) stick with the same budget and forego some activities.
Despite what the travel advertisements might say, you can’t have it all. There will always be a tradeoff. So yes, I went with option 2. Although sacrifices had to be made, I learnt to be creative in getting the most value for each dollar, such as visiting the museums for free on a national holiday.
Life lesson: You can’t always have it your way. Sometimes, you just need to put to good use the limited resources available for you and just make it work by considering other alternatives out there.
Challenge #3: The golden moments
This was an important occasion so I wanted to ensure that my first solo trip album would not consist of mainly picturesque sceneries and food pictures, nor did I want to see my face covering 70% of the photo by taking selfies. Sure, I could get strangers to help from time to time but I wanted something foolproof.
I had friends who would write little quotes on small pieces of paper, and they would take pictures of the places they visited with it. I thought those were pretty neat and decided to do the same.
However, I had a tough time coming up with suitable quotes, and since my handwriting is not exactly the best in the world, I decided to forego this idea.
The next thought is for me to look great in the pictures by having different outfits to match. While I was looking through my wardrobe and struggling to decide how much clothes I should be bringing, an idea hit me: What if I could take pictures of myself before the trip in different outfits and poses, print them out, and use them so I would be in the picture?
To know what I mean, here is how my idea translated into:
Source: Buzzfeed, The New Selfie For Solo Travellers
It’s the birth of the Mini-Me series! I could dress myself up without bringing along my whole wardrobe, and I now have an album which contains some pretty unique pictures to capture this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Life lesson: You can always take an original idea and turn it into something that works best for a given circumstance. It’s called reinvention, or innovation. Also, for every challenge we face in life, there is always a solution if we look hard enough.
Challenge #4: The mishaps, missteps and misfortunes
I’ve invested so much time preparing for this, and yet Murphy’s Law slapped me right in the face during the trip.
I found out that the subway pass I purchased was not enough to cover all of my travelling expenses. I end up having to fork out extra money from my budget for transportation, and by the time I was halfway through the week, I’d lost my hostel key card and the train pass.
I was annoyed and I had to remind myself not to let those misfortunes ruin my trip. To make it worse, I then fell ill the next day from dehydration.
Despite having set aside some cash for emergency, the consequences were painful. Every decision I made after that (i.e. what to eat, which train route to take) had to be calculated very carefully.
So you can imagine how it was such a huge relief when I finally checked-in at Haneda Airport on the last day with just enough cash for one meal. I almost didn’t have enough to make it to the airport.
Life lesson: Things don’t always go according to plan, and it is so easy for us to focus on the negatives that we sometimes have to take some time off to recollect ourselves. Make the conscious effort to focus on being grateful for the opportunities, instead of focusing on our losses.
After reading about some of the unpleasant surprises that come my way, you wouldn’t see this as a 5-star experience, would you?
Aptly, Charles Swindoll puts it:
“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.”
To me, all that happened during the trip – the good and the bad – are what made this trip so uniquely mine. And that is my secret to having a 5-star experience in everything you put your heart and mind to do in life.