Meditations: on Travelling Solo, The Anti-Story.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Travelling alone is a known unknown. You don't know who you will meet, what could happen, and sometimes you don’t quite know where you will go. You’ll be changed in some way, that’s what you do know. It’s dangerous and exciting stuff - even more so when the place you travel to is ‘home.’ You stand to not just be changed, but shaken.

I embarked on a mission to Asia with a few things to accomplish like travelling alone for the first time, completing a summer study program, and exploring my best friend’s home country. Taiwan and the Philippines. No big deal. There would be no one with me on the flights, no one to welcome me at the airports, no one to check up on me and ensure everything was okay. But I was more concerned about who was going to take my photos. Asking a stranger every time was the only gamble I felt nervous about making. I didn’t realise that this would be the least of my challenges.

Travelling solo tip: strangers don’t mind taking your photo, you just have to ask nicely and be yourself!
Taroko National Park
Travelling solo tip: travel with an open mind, make new friends and have a means of staying in contact.
Arriving in Taiwan I realised the battle between myself and the humidity was going to be a long, uphill one. Pretty much like my burgeoning relationship with the people of Taiwan. It’s weird to be in a place where everyone finally looks like you, but they don’t, and they take every opportunity to remind you. I had a month to throw myself into the culture and learn a language they thought I was a disgrace for not already knowing. It happens. You come from a mixed heritage family and one culture might dominate the household more than the other. For me speaking Vietnamese but not Mandarin or Cantonese, was natural. I didn’t feel that not speaking the language(s) of China made me any less Chinese. But the Taiwanese locals felt otherwise and were very vocal about why I shouldn’t “claim” China or any of its territories. 

Locals at the markets in Jiufen, New Taipei City
Taipei 101 viewed from the Elephant Mountain Trail
Zhinan Temple, Taipei
There was the challenge of language. Then there was being unafraid to tan, wearing LBDs, and having extraordinary height. Little things that betrayed my foreign-ness, specifically my Western-ness. Despite the slanted eyes, which Western popular culture would have you believe were enough to pass. Again, popular culture makes you think that travelling alone is this zen experience where everyone is always nice to you, and your quirks are always met with positive intrigue, and knowing a few phrases is enough. 

It’s not always Eat, Pray, Love

Sometimes travelling alone means you see the more complicated side of life, far beyond your comfort or #inspo zone. In its awkwardness, it equips you with perspective, diplomacy, and a certain resolve.

Taroko National Park
Study fuel, Tian Ma Mongolian Hot Pot 
At first not fitting in was bizarre and upsetting, then just funny. Come to think of it, Taiwan isn’t really China. I was a foreigner there and having grown up in the UK identifying more with my Vietnamese roots, I would be a foreigner in my actual ‘home’ country China. So as the days went by I got used to the locals and their stares. I met their comments with indifference and focused less on feeling at home in Taiwan and more on embracing and standing firm in the complexity of moving around the world as an outspoken and outgoing British born, Chinese Viet. I set my mind on completing my study program and enjoying it with fellow foreign students I met through the university, accomplishing their own missions too. In this way I was surrounded by people but this travel experience was one I truly faced alone with nowhere and no one to run to. What I knew changed. Who I was, grew. I learned that ideas of home don’t always have to be attached to land, a physical space, or a people. Home can be a feeling or an experience.

Like my week in the Philippines with my best friend. Encored by the sun and the beach, we swam with sharks and fed fish in the open sea. We climbed mountains. We ate, a lot. We passed days doing absolutely nothing. We stretched each others souls talking late into the night, and arguing. All of that felt like home and it was more than enough for me. With these two different experiences in mind I'm excited to travel solo again soon and see what I discover about myself and the world around me. 

Where would you go if you could go anywhere alone? Comment below!

 As told to Esmé, 

 Tiffany Xo

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