Embracing the Path Less-Traveled — Michael Hsun

TravSolo aims to inspire through authentic storytelling, by sharing real travel experiences

Tell me a little bit about yourself: What do you do for a living?

Officially, I am the VP of Business Development for Next Gen Summit. In short, I’m responsible for partnering with organizations who bring value to our community of young founders and entrepreneurs, helping them find success in their personal and professional ventures. There’s nothing more I love doing than helping other young, aspiring entrepreneurs take their businesses and ideas to the next level and I wake up every day feeling like I have the best job in the world!

Solo Travel: What do these two words mean to you?

Freedom and ownership. Freedom, because you’re unconstrained by the needs or preferences of anyone else you travel with. Ownership, because you fully own your travel experience. I sometimes think of solo travel through the lens of the industry I live in — startups and entrepreneurship — where successful founders truly take advantage of the freedom they have to own their future.

What inspired you to take your first solo trip?

My first solo trip was to Kazakhstan. Being the travel hacker that I am, I chose Kazakhstan because Almaty was the furthest city away from Pittsburgh (where I went to college) that I could get to at the lowest cost per mile. I asked all of my friends if anyone was interested in backpacking through Central Asia with me. Unfortunately, it was the end of the academic year and everyone I knew was more interested in the classic euro trip than a trip through countries most people couldn’t identify on a map. Nobody came through, so I ended up, rather unintentionally, solo for the trip.

Favorite International Meal?

I grew up abroad so this answer is biased, but chili crab in Singapore is simply unbeatable.

What was the most memorable and/or let down travel experience you have while traveling

My most memorable travel experience was my first trip to South America — specifically, to Iguazu Falls. I love the outdoors and visiting the falls had always been a bucket list item for me, but the memory of walking through the rainforest and seeing the waterfalls appear before my eyes stunned me in a way that I had never experienced before. I think it took me a good five minutes of standing in silence and awe before I was even able to move. No picture, magazine, documentary or story can do the falls justice.

Coincidentally, my biggest let down was when I crossed the Argentina-Brazil border after visiting Iguazu Falls from the Argentine side. I was taking a bus from Puerto Iguazu on the Argentine side to Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side, and because I was the only non-Argentine or Brazilian passport holder on the bus, I was dropped off at the checkpoint to get my passport stamped and instructed to catch the next bus that would take me from the border to town. Unfortunately, I just so happened to catch the last bus of the day so there was no “next” bus, which left me stranded at the border for two hours before I hitched hiked my way on another bus that brought me into town. Being stranded at a border crossing is definitely not a good feeling.

What is the most memorable moment you had with a traveler or local?

In North Korea, one of the stops on my group tour was a bowling alley in Pyongyang. The three other members of my group were all retirees and had no interest in playing a game, so I was the only one who ended up bowling. Of the two guides who kept an eye on us throughout the entire trip, the senior guide stayed back in a restaurant with the rest of the group while the junior guide who was about my age joined me in a game. As we made our way down to the lanes, my guide ran into a group of his college friends and we were soon invited to bowl with them.

To this day, I will never forget the scene where I, the lone foreigner, ended up bowling with a group of North Korean students who did not care if I was an American. We shared beers, talked about our favorite TV shows and music, and complained about school and work. We saw each other not by the cover of our passports, but by our shared curiosity of who we were as an individual.

What is biggest risk you have ever taken on a trip?

My first trip to Ukraine in 2015 was barely a year after the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew the previous government. Ukraine remained highly unstable after the ousting of the president and the annexation of Crimea, causing its economy and currency to collapse. As an outsider, I saw Ukraine as an amazing opportunity to pick up flights (priced in the severely devalued local currency, the Ukrainian hryvnia) on the cheap.

Little did I know until I set foot in Kiev was that the country was still unstable. But because everything was cheap and there were so few other tourists, I had an incredible time. Everyone else I met were either as brave, crazy, or oblivious to the state of affairs of the rest of the country — and that created friendships that last to this day.

What inspires you to travel more alone?

My solo travel inspiration is a bit unconventional. I travel based on the cost of getting to a place I haven’t been to before. In other words, I don’t pick a destination before I plan my travel. As a result, I often end up in places that are not necessarily on someone else’s travel bucket list.

I’m inspired to travel alone because I have a desire to see every country in the world. And because not all countries are created equal, I’m in constant awe at what I see that most people often miss out on when they travel to more popular corners of the world. The road-less-traveled is my traveled path.

What advice might you give people afraid of being on their own or thinking of taking their first solo trip?

Don’t overthink. Plan less and embrace spontaneity. And when things don’t go your way, know that there remains a lifetime of experiences waiting to be discovered.

If you were writing a book about personal solo travel story, what three words would you use for the title?

Live. Learn. Love.