60 Days of Solo Travel: What I’ve Learned So Far

Overlooking the Ubud forests in Bali (November 2018)

It’s been exactly 60 days since I started traveling the world, and it’s been a hell of a ride. With so many new experiences, emotions, and friendships, I thought it would be fun to capture my thoughts at this checkpoint, so here it goes.

Here are five takeaways from my journey so far:

1. Instagram is changing landscapes and creating economies

Less than three years ago, Tegalalang Rice Terraces and Kelingking Beach, two of the most famous sites in Bali, were still unknown to most of the world. While the Balinese people discovered them centuries ago, these sites hadn’t attracted any tourists yet.

That changed when Instagram took off. Beautiful photos of both locations were instantly shared to hundreds of millions of people, attracting photographers from all around the world. At Tegalalang, the surrounding neighborhood now has a dedicated car park, tour guides, hotels, and dozens of street stands, none of which existed three years ago. At Kelingking Beach, roads were built (albeit poorly) to support bringing tourists from the pier to the beach, creating an economy and jobs for the local community. Our tour guide said he’s seen a 10x increase in tour demand over the last year alone.

While this growth might change the natural beauty of these sites, it’s phenomenal to see how a single mobile app can transform the world and how we interact with it.

2. It’s almost always better to rent a car/bike to explore a new place

Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, there’s value in booking a guided tour to discover hidden gems and learn the local history. However, most of the time, it’s far more exciting to rent a car, motorbike, bicycle, kayak, etc. and go out and explore on your own.

I’m someone who typically likes to have a plan and know where I’m going next, but there is no better feeling than when I unexpectedly stumble upon something breathtaking. It can be in the form of a waterfall, hike, restaurant, or even a hidden bar, but the spontaneity of exploring the unknown is incredibly thrilling. It’s often the things you least expect that surprise you the most.

3. Traveling alone is far more rewarding than I imagined

In my last few weeks before I took off from San Francisco, I felt increasingly anxious that I wouldn’t enjoy traveling alone. I had a fear of loneliness and was worried I wouldn’t make friends easily on the road. As soon as I stepped on my first flight, all of the fear and anxiety immediately dissipated.

Traveling alone has taught me to be comfortable with myself and by myself. I eat 80% of my meals alone, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The freedom allows me to choose where and when I want to eat, how I should spend my day, and where I should go next, without needing to check in with anyone else. It also gives me the headspace to take it easy at my own pace, especially after a long day of outdoor adventures.

4. It’s easy to make friends if you put in the effort

When you travel alone, you’re more likely to put yourself in environments that are more conducive to meeting people. The most popular method is through hostels and couchsurfing, but as someone who’s approaching his thirties, I’m starting to appreciate my privacy and quality of stay, so I only book Airbnb homes.

Yet making new friends hasn’t been an issue at all. I’ve had coffee, meals, and nights out with people I randomly met at Crossfit gyms, coworking spaces, and pool parties, to name a few. I’m also currently in several Facebook groups to find buddies to trek through New Zealand with next month. If you put in the effort and take the initiative to start a conversation with a stranger, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make new friends.

Equally exciting, the more I share about my travels, the more likely an existing friend just so happens to be in the same place at the same time, and we meet up on the other side of the world. These are my favorite memories, and it’s happened three times in two months already.

5. Everyone has their own unique definition of happiness

At one point living in San Francisco, I was so caught up in the tech scene that it started to consume me. Tech news on my morning commute to my job at a tech startup. Tech discussions over lunch, dinner, and weekends. Funding, valuations, unicorn status. Growth at all costs. It was easy to believe that I was happy immersing myself in all of it. I wasn’t.

On this world journey, I’m realizing that I am happiest and most fulfilled when immersed in a new culture, interacting with new people and hearing their stories. When I removed myself from the San Francisco tech bubble, I started to have deeper, more engaging conversations with people about what they value in life. Some people are driven by money and focus on building wealth, some are tirelessly chasing their career passions, some choose to live close to family and loved ones, others care most about their relationships and friendships. Everyone has their own North Star.

I used to judge and compare, but everyone has their own definition of happiness. There’s no value in comparing.

It’s crazy to think it’s only been 60 days since I started this journey. I’m excited to see what the next 60 will bring.

Traveled the world for a year in 2019 as a remote startup consultant. Follow my adventures at instagram.com/johnnychen0

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