After years and years of wanting, I finally went on an overseas solo trip!
It’s a plan I almost didn’t want to tell anyone, worried that they’d stop me or worse, worried that I’d chicken out and not go through with it. But for safety, I did tell a select few that I was going on a solo trip before my birthday, something I had to do for myself.
I didn’t tell my family till I was on the boarding gate because I knew they wouldn’t approve. If I were them I wouldn’t approve either. I mean, I’m an absentminded klutz, how could I survive alone?
But I survived!
Dear reader, I am suprised, too.
Of course, the trip didn’t go as smoothly as planned, though I do admit that I did very little planning. But there are two things that I know to be true:
- For four days, I explored Penang, Malaysia by myself and enjoyed it.
- I managed to go back to Singapore alive and whole.
And despite every mishap that happened during the trip, I am glad I did it and I’m excited to do it again.
I used to travel a lot when I was younger, when filing for annual leaves was easier and I still hadn’t fully realized the weight of my responsibilities. So I think I’m pretty good at planning trips, including booking flights and hotels and even making detailed itineraries.
Maybe I’m rusty, or maybe I just didn’t plan enough. But from the beginning of the trip till the very end, I encountered one misadventure after another. Thankfully, the years have toughened me that I was levelheaded enough to calmly handle all the challenges I encountered during the trip.
First, I got bumped off my flight from Singapore to Penang, but it was within my expectations since I was a chance passenger after all. I still got on the afternoon flight easily so it wasn’t that bad.
Second, when I arrived at my hostel in Penang, I found out that they didn’t get my booking despite me having received a confirmation email from Agoda. They were fully booked and didn’t have an available room or bed for me. The uncle at the hostel said the hostels around the area were fully booked, too. At this point I almost panicked, but I Google searched hostels in Penang and managed to find two options easily. I found an available solo room just nearby and instantly reserved it. I just thanked my lucky stars that I managed to find a hostel that could house me for the coming days.
Third, it rained when I visited The Habitat at Penang Hill! Thus, I wasn’t able to go up on the platform. I was most excited about this part of the trip, but I didn’t check the weather, lol. I still enjoyed it, though! Maybe I’ll blog about it more. MAYBE.
Since it was a day before the public holiday, Penang Hill was jampacked and I had to line up for more than 30 minutes to get on the tram that would take me down the mountain. It was around 9PM by the time I got off the tram and couldn’t book a taxi. But luck was still on my side since I met some French interns who were looking to share a cab with to go back to Georgetown. They didn’t have cash. I felt like an auntie ferrying my nephews and nieces home.
Fourth, it was raining again on my third (and supposed last) day so I wasn’t able to explore Georgetown as much as I intended. I was also supposed to watch the sunset at Chew Jetty but I dashed that plan due to the weather. I spent my remaining hours in the town looking for a place to kill time. There was a Harry Potter cafe on Google Maps but when I went there was nothing Harry Potter about it, haha.
Fifth, the most stressful part of the trip happened on the third night due to my supposed flight back to Singapore. Since I was just a standby passenger, I relied on the chance that there would be no-show passengers or the flight wasn’t full. Due to my travel dates falling on a long weekend holiday, I didn’t get on the last flight back to Singapore. I instantly enacted on my Plan B which was to take the night bus instead. But I went to the bus station at Sungai Nibo just to learn that even that was fully booked.
I considered booking online for the next day’s trip but the booking app wasn’t showing any trips at all. I had no choice to book the ticket from the counter. Unfortunately, they could only accept cash and I had none. I had to hide all qualms to ask other passengers if I could exchange my SGD for their Ringgit.
Sixth, I had been lucky enough that my hostel could still take me in for the night even though it was really late already (past 9PM!). But on my way back to the hostel, I realized that my hostel only accepts cash and AGAIN I didn’t have cash.
When I went back to Georgetown and after I dropped off my bags at the hostel, I went out again at past 10PM looking for an ATM. I went to the nearby mall which was a street away from the hostel. I tried two banks and I just failed to withdraw money for some reason! There were no more money changers open, too, so I had no choice but to go inside one of the travel agencies still open that time and to ask if they could exchange my SGD to ringgit. Fortunately, I had extra SGD in my wallet, but that was the last of it.
And lastly, I tried sunset watching again on my fourth and last day and even that was a failure. But after all the hiccups I encountered previously, it was a non-issue issue and just funny now in retrospect.
My last day went by smoothly and I manged to survive with just having 25RM. Basically, a lot of my misfortunes would have been prevented if I brought enough cash AND if I paid everything online before going to Penang. Lesson learned, lol.
And yet, and yet, I enjoyed every minute of it. Even the stressful parts. I encounter a problem and I just think that as expected, the unexpected happens.
As an introvert, the thought of solo traveling has always appealed to me. But knowing how clumsy and absentminded I could get (e.g. leaving my backpack on a Busan MRT platform, tripping my way around Taipei, getting sick on long van rides, getting robbed a couple of times through the years, misplacing things from childhood to adulthood, and many more), I was apprehensive if it’s something I could survive. In Tagalog, I’m someone you’d call “alagain”.
Street smart I am not. Space cadet I am very much so.
Yes, I am saying this despite having already lived abroad, away from family for the past two years. As my lola puts it, “sanay na sanay nang mag-isa.”
But it’s different. At least I have friends here. If I get stranded or get in trouble, friends are just one call away. Definitely not something I could say when traveling.
- I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. I had complete control of my itinerary without having to consider whether my co-travelers would go along with it.
- If I enjoyed something, I didn’t have to worry about someone else not enjoying it much as I do.
- I unapologetically took my time doing nothing or enjoying the litte things. I relished on drinking Sprite on top of the KOMTAR tower and sitting at Chew Jetty staring at the horizon, doing nothing and alone with my thoughts.
- Relying on no one else but myself made me feel responsible and strong. But I also cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for the kindness of strangers.
- Penang is a lovely old town, albeit a bit similar to Singapore in many aspects (food and architecture!) and I love every nook, every cranny. Even the not-so-pretty ones.
I had a couple of considerations when deciding where to go for my first solo travel. It felt like Malaysia was the obvious choice due to minimal travel restrictions and the proximity to Singapore, and I am glad I chose Penang.
Honestly, I knew I had to go on this trip just to see if I could do it. I do not want it to be one of my regrets when I get older, always wondering what would have happened if I travelled alone.
I was pleasantly surprised at how it all turned out, surviving four days on my own without feeling antsy or anxious. The past few years changed me in weird ways. There were days that I just couldn’t stay home alone or spend time by myself as it left me alone with my not-so-healthy thoughts.
But the fact that I didn’t get bored despite not really making new friends and talking to no one 90% of the time proves that I’m still the same old me. I was scared that I lost the me who’s very comfortable on spending time on her lonesome.
Of course I missed having friends or family to travel with, but solo traveling has its own charm.
One afternoon during the tour, when I was supposed to be working, I opened Agoda and started checking where and when I can do this again. Hopefully, not that far from today.