HAPPY Songkran Day!!

สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ (pronounced: suk san wan songkran) means “Happy Songkran Day”

A year ago, I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on the last night of Songkran. When my taxi driver dropped me off at the round about in front of Swenson’s ice cream shop (steps from the famous Khao San Road), almost every person had a water gun, bucket or Super Soaker in hand. The streets resembled the aftermath of a big rainstorm. Puddles everywhere. People walked up and down the streets, soaked from head-to-toe. Everyone was happy, big smiles on their faces. Luggage in hand, I could not retaliate until I dropped off my luggage. Continue reading

She did What!?! ~ with Danyelle

Single Woman Travels! (SWT) is a place to inspire and motivate women (and men) around the world to travel. She did What?! is a  Q&A – asking women around the world to share their past travel experience. From this, I hope a few more women who are on the brink of expanding their world will be inspired and motivated to turn their dreams into reality.

Bio…    Danyelle. Toronto, Ontario. Real Estate Agent.

SWT:   Where was the destination of your first / favorite solo trip?

D:          Asia

SWT:    How old were you?

D:          25

SWT:    Were you single or attached at the time?

D:          Totally single.

SWT:    What inspired the idea?

D:          My father had been in 1979 and came back with the most awe inspiring photos of Thailand, India and Malaysia. We had National Geographics in the house and I remember spending hours reading them and then looking up countries in my atlas, thinking I’d like to experience a culture very different from my own one day.

SWT:    What was your trip style? (backpack, tour group, comfort, meetup with family/friends)

D:          It started out teaching English in Taipei for one year and it turned into living there for 3 years and later backpacking around Asia for 6 months by myself.

SWT:    What type of accommodations? (family owned, B&B, tents, if a hotel, how many stars)

D:           Hostels, family run guesthouses, bungalows on the beach.

SWT:    How long was your trip?

D:           6 months of actual travel time.

SWT:    Who looked after the logistics?

D:           I did. I think. Or I used a travel agency to buy plane tickets to Bangkok only. From there, I improvised and bought tickets from various travel agencies depending on what I felt like doing. I used Bangkok as my hub because tickets were cheap to other countries. I had a Lonely Planet guide to get an overall idea as well as talk to other travelers returning from destinations that I was interested in. I never booked a hostel beforehand because I wanted to see it for myself and go somewhere that looked appealing.  For safety’s sake, I made sure to arrive during the day, and not at night, when landing in new cities. Once arrived in a new city, the taxi situation is always scam. They never want to take you to the destination you ask for. They are paid a commission if they take you to a specific one. You’re new, you have a backpack, therefore you’re a target and so you feel somewhat vulnerable. Sometimes we fought it, sometimes we just went along with it, stayed for one night, and the next day found something we liked better. ( I say we, because I traveled with different people along the way.)

Another way around the taxi scam is to book a room with a guesthouse that has airport pick up for the first night.  That way, someone at the airport greets you with your name on a placard and all that disoriented airport stress goes away. Once you get your bearings and you know how things work, you can switch hotels or stay if you like it. I did this in Phnom Penh when I arrived alone and I totally was grateful for it.

SWT:    If you planned and/or booked the itinerary, did you enjoy the process?

D:           I had no itinerary. I want to be free to go where my curiosity took me and leave when I felt it was time.

SWT:    If you worked with a travel agent, how was the experience?

D:           It was adequate. I was just buying tickets for transport.

SWT:    Would you / have you booked subsequent trips yourself?

D:           Yes, especially now with the internet.  I don’t like being committed to a preset list of cities and hotels. Saying that, on my last trip to China and Cambodia, I did use a travel agent specialising in Asia to book flights because my route was complicated and she was able to get me a great deal. I found my own hotels though.

SWT:    What would you do different – in hindsight?

D:           Nothing. I don’t like planned group travel. Although, doing group day trips is a good idea sometimes. i.e., horse riding in the mountains, snorkeling, going to see gorillas, etc.

SWT:    Did you feel comfortable traveling solo?

D:           Yes, it’s my preferred way of travel. It leaves you open to new experiences and meeting people. If you’re with an old friend or spouse, you’re buffered from what’s actually going on around you in a sort of home culture bubble. If you’re alone, you’re more approachable and it’s you and the world. Plus, everything seems more intense.

SWT:    How much research did you do in advance?

D:           I pored over books, asked around to people who had been, watched documentaries, and asked questions on the Lonely Planet website.

SWT:    What was the biggest surprise on the trip?

D:           That things work out. No need to stress if things go tits up. Just have a positive attitude, things will work out, and you’ll draw people of like mind and good experiences to you.

SWT:    What did you learn about yourself during the trip that you weren’t totally aware of beforehand?

D:           Life can’t always be exciting when you’re out on the road. Life is life, no matter where you are. Some days can be lonely.  I learned to be content with my own company. A great book feels like a best friend on rainy days. Sometimes you might feel the pressure to see all the major landmarks and museums in a city because you SHOULD.  But nah, you don’t. There are many ways to experience a new culture and for me it’s mostly about feeling it, observing, talking to people, eating what local people eat.

SWT:    Was there any close calls or run-ins?

D:           Yes. A few. The most memorable one was in Kathmandu. I can’t believe I was so stupid. At that age, I was usually street smart and was aware of what was happening around me.  A group of friends and I befriended a bartender in a local pub. At closing he invited us to his place to continue chatting, but he said to go on ahead outside while he shut down the bar. I went to the bathroom while my friends exited and I didn’t see where they went. As I left the bar, a man, who had been in the bar all night and had talked to my friend the bartender, beckoned me to follow him because we were all going next door. It sounded right because that was the plan. When I asked him where the rest of my friends were, he said they were coming along soon. He led me to a closed hotel next door with people sleeping on the floor and woke up the attendant and asked him for a key. Alarm bells went off. Duh. I repeated again, “where are the others?”  He said they were coming and we should just go upstairs. If not and I went outside, the cops would handcuff me because it was past the curfew in Kathmandu. (Did he think I was that stupid? Well, I did trust him to follow him there.)  I knew I had to get out so I pretended that all was normal and I asked him about his wife and job as I edged myself towards the door. Once there, I just said, “BYE, gotta go! I’m tired!”   And I ran out just in time to see my friends returning.  I yelled to them that I was here and where the hell had they been!?  (They had gone back to our hotel room to get a sweater.) Phew. Was I glad to see them!

SWT:    Where is your next dream destination?

D:           Laos. I never managed to go when I was nearby in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was on my list, but I just got swept up in other plans and then I ran out of time. All the women I’ve met say that they loved it and that it was one of their favourite countries in Asia. It was safe. People are friendly. Food was fabulous.

Next time, we’ll hear from Diane who chose to travel on her own…

If you’d like to share your story, contact me! 🙂