9 ways travelling alone equips you in starting your own business

“Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

That was my main goal when I went on my first solo trip to Taiwan for two months. Why? Whilst I was happy with my life, I also wanted to see what I didn’t know. Given that the only certainty is uncertainty, why not embrace uncertainty?

  1. Be your own cheerleader — Travelling alone means you get used to cheering yourself on. You pat yourself on the pack for things that people do in their sleep. In my case, get myself from A to B. Actually arriving to the first hostel, intact, navigating different languages, planes, trains and roads without pavements! Now in business, I cheer myself for every new thing I learn, from getting insurance to converting word docs to ebooks. There’s a joy in figuring it out for yourself. So what if a gazillion people have done it before, I did it!
  2. Be more present, aka stop overthinking, overplanning, and be more flexible — In my first week volunteering at a hostel, I found it so hard to deal with the manager. Our shifts just came up with 24 hours’ notice, if we were lucky, and it felt really disorganised. I hated that feeling of not knowing, not feeling prepared, it’s like I needed to psych myself up for the day more than 24 hours in advance! In being more present, I learnt to be prepared to be unprepared. I found joy in taking up opportunities in the moment. With business, it means that I trust myself to have good intentions and have the flexibility to adapt to a situation if it changes, such as feedback during a workshop I’m running.
  3. Discover work-life balance — As I did volunteering for 25 hours a week in order to earn my keep, I was able to sample a different lifestyle. I soon realised that working 25 hours allowed me to feel that I had earned my play time and that my remaining time off wasn’t wasted in recovering from working. In running my own business, it’s so easy to feel like I should be doing more when I’m reading stories of entrepreneurs working 40–60 hour weeks. I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t and don’t want to maintain that many hours. I still continue to limit myself to 25 hours a week and I think I’m making good progress. I have energy to think creatively, to learn and reflect on what I’m learning and implement new skills. (Side note, I chose not to pursue a side gig just for bread and butter to maintain this energy too. The compromise is that I have to zone out of my parents’ old-married-couple arguments — that’s a different air of office politics.)
  4. Know when to leave it behind — Similar vein to being more present is recognising when you’re lugging dead weight. When you travel, you learn the joys of travelling light and so you get really picky about what you do keep. That mindset reminds me that whether I chose it or not in the first place, if something is no longer serving me or dragging me down, I can choose to leave it behind. Since starting this business, I planted different seeds and some didn’t work out as well as I hoped so I had to move on. I had to focus on the ones that did sprout and bear fruit.
  5. Remember and uphold core values — It can be easy to be swept up by the culture around you and forget what you truly value. Before my travels, I was mainly vegetarian from a health and eco stance. It would have been tricky but I could have stuck with being vegetarian in Taiwan. I chose not to because part of my values in that moment, in visiting that country, was to appreciate the food, and meat is a biggy! (plus I kept accidentally ordering meat dishes). When I finally decided to stick with being vegetarian it was difficult having to justify it all the time. In setting up my own business, just the act itself requires justification sometimes. You have to remember why you’re doing it. Those values expand to how you market yourself, how you network and collaborate, and most importantly, how you cheer yourself on.
  6. Enjoy the company of one — The fun of travelling on your own is that you do what you like. There were occasions when I did feel lonely, where I missed having people who really knew me. Other times I felt exhausted and needed time out on my own. Similar to starting a business, it’s full of opportunities but you decide what path you carve out. Be prepared to change your mind, unapologetically. You don’t have to be rude or aggressive, but honest and fair. If it’s just not your cup of tea, then move on.
  7. Retain a beginner’s mindset — No one judges you for asking directions when you travel to an unknown place, so why does that not apply to starting a business? When you’ve spent hours and days figuring something out, it can feel a little annoying, like someone’s cheated by asking for your tips. However, your knowledge improves by teaching it. Teaching itself is a skill that you can add to your repertoire. That shared beginner’s mindset also builds camaraderie.
  8. Build new connections — Embarking on a new journey means new people. Whether just for the season or a lifetime, these new connections give life meaning. One of my favourite memories is a random karoke night full of new acquaintances. There was a great joy in having a shared goal. Similarly in business, even though my business is just me, that doesn’t mean I have to work on my own. I can collaborate with different teams as and when.
  9. Recalibrate your sense of fear — Pitching to a room full of people versus dealing with an angry stray dog. You pick.

Find my brain at A Space For.

Like what you read? Give Jen Mak, A Space For a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.