Don’t travel alone because you’ll find yourself in a foreign country, illiterate and uncomfortably different than everyone else. You’ll struggle at everything, even finding drinkable water and getting groceries, which will make you feel helpless. You’ll have no choice but to rely on intuitive judgement and human kindness to navigate the new terrain. You’ll learn that discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it makes you more patient, expressive, and present to your surroundings.
Don’t travel alone because you’ll be scammed and made to feel like a walking ATM machine. Every interaction seems transactional, just because you come from a country wealthier than theirs, which will be frustrating because you’re not even that rich. But over time you’ll learn to become street smart and haggle. You’ll even pick up a bit of the language from the local merchants, who will give you a discount because they think your awkward pronunciation is adorable. With time, these transactional strangers will turn into friendly faces whom you stop by to talk to throughout your day.
Don’t travel alone because you will be harassed and might get assaulted as a woman. You learn to say no, sometimes kindly, sometimes firmly and with force, whatever it takes. Most importantly you’ll learn to protect yourself, be prepared and not feel apologetic about your looks. You’ll learn to differentiate the creepy folks from the kind strangers who compliment you because it happens to be part of their culture. You’ll pick up on the word “beautiful” in their language, and find yourself using it often in conversations with women and children. They are beautiful, after all.
Don’t travel alone because you’ll eventually come down with a strange sickness with no one to look after you. You’ll feel embarrassed to ask your new friends for help — the friendly vendors down the street and the beautiful women who work in the coffee shop. But they’ll show up at your doorstep without hesitation, at midnight, bringing food and medicine. They’ll stay up with you and tell you jokes that make you laugh so hard that you forget about how much pain you’re in. During the day they’ll drive you around, and that’s when you’ll find out that whole community has been worried about you.
Don’t travel alone because you’ll meet people whom you’ll eventually have to leave behind. These kind souls will welcome you with open arms into their homes and cook for you. They’ll tell you colourful stories of their lives, they’ll take you to places where outsiders have never set foot, all without expecting anything in return. You’ll both shatter some serious cultural barriers and discover that you are not so different from each other. You’ll sing for them, and you’ll fall deeply in love. When you inevitably have to leave to continue on with your journey, you will gladly leave a piece of yourself behind and carry a piece of them with you onward.
You’ll be traveling alone, but you won’t be alone.
In 2015 I embarked on a six month solo journey across Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Thailand to become a Muay Thai fighter. Above is a tiny snippet from dozens of thoughts, conversations and artworks I’ve amassed on the road. I’m currently working on a memoir to share my full story. Stay tuned on Twitter. ;-)
In the meantime, if you enjoyed reading this you’ll enjoy reading Love Letters to my Friends.