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Mexico, Miscellaneous

7 Tips For First Time Solo Travelers

July 1, 2019

I’ve been on this solo world tour for almost a year now, but I often forget that many people have never traveled alone. I really enjoy solo travel, and have absolutely no regrets about my decision to go alone this past year. Whenever I come home, I get lots of questions about traveling alone, and I want to encourage more people to give it a try.

Maybe there’s somewhere you want to go, but none of your friends are able to come with you. Or if you are yearning for an extended trip, it can be difficult to convince someone to come with you for such a long time. Don’t let that hold you back! These are my best tips for first-time solo travelers to make the most of your trip.

1. You won’t be alone most of the time

This is the #1 thing I want would-be solo travelers to know. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you will be alone all or even most of the time. In fact, the majority of the time I am hanging out with other people! There are many ways to connect with other travelers, such as in hostels, group activities or tours, social media and Facebook groups, or even Tinder if you are inclined. Once I meet people, I try to make plans to go out and see things together.

For me, the most common way I meet other travelers is through hostels. Some hostels are really social, and offer group activities such as walking tours, day trips, or pub crawls that bring people together. Hostels typically have some common area where you can hang out and chat and many of them have an adjoining bar or restaurant. When I am traveling to a new place, I pick a hostel that has good reviews for having a social atmosphere.

While the conditions in hostels vary, if you don’t want to sleep in a dorm, getting a private room in a hostel is a good compromise. You have privacy in your room, but still benefit from the social atmosphere in the common areas. You can read more about different kinds of hostels I’ve experienced here.

I went to explore Mayan ruins and cenotes with this awesome crew from my hostel!

2. Talk to other travelers (aka new friends)

Of course, in order to not be alone, you will get used to talking to strangers. If you’re an introvert like me, this may be challenging at first but it will get easier over time. Sometimes I approach people, sometimes they approach me, and we often start with icebreaker questions like where you’re from and how long you’ve been traveling in the area.

I typically meet young people in their 20s and 30s who are from North America, various countries in Europe, and Australia or New Zealand. Since traveling in Spain and Mexico, I’ve also met people from South America. Sometimes, I run into the same people in different cities because we’re both traveling around the area and have similar itineraries. Or I exchange Facebook or Instagram info to stay connected if it works out to meet again in the future. I find that other solo travelers are the most receptive to meeting new people and hanging out, but I also meet some couples or friends traveling together.

Friends from the hostel biking around Tulum together!

3. Sometimes, you do have to do things alone

Yes, this is true. Sometimes you might not find anyone able to do a certain activity with you at the time you want to do it. Or sometimes you might find your hostel is quieter than expected, as I recently did in Cancun. While it is generally easy to meet new friends, it still depends on the luck of who is there when you are, and I don’t want to paint the picture that you will never ever have to be alone.

When I first started traveling alone, I was always trying to do activities with other people and tagging along with others’ plans at the expense of not doing things that I wanted to do. After a few months, I was tired of this and decided to just do things on my own. If someone wanted to come along, then great! Otherwise I would just go by myself and not be too bothered about it, just enjoying my own thoughts and my own company.

I ended up on the beautiful beach in Isla Mujeres on my own. While I would have preferred some company, it was still a beautiful day out.

4. Some places are easier for solo travel than others

It’s also true that not everywhere is friendly for solo travelers. I think key considerations for whether I go somewhere solo is the availability of hostels, cost of solo transportation, and type of activities available.

For instance, I found Southeast Asia perfect for solo travelers. Most of the people I met in hostels were solo travelers themselves, and bus transportation was cost-effective for a single person. I also thought Japan was a great solo travel destination, though I happened to go with friends. The excellent train network made getting around easy, and I felt like most people there were in their own world, so being on your own didn’t feel so strange.

On the flip side, I think destinations that require lots of travel by car (either rental or taxi) aren’t good for solo travel because it tends to be expensive and you aren’t splitting the cost with others. Also, destinations with many outdoors activities aren’t great, because you need a car, plus I wouldn’t go hiking or camping alone for safety or injury reasons. For these reasons, I think the US is hard to travel alone, and besides hostels aren’t so common.

The system of collectivos (shared vans) made solo travel in the Yucatán really cheap and easy and they took me right to the entrance of Chichen Itza!

5. For staying safe, use common sense

This is especially a concern for solo female travelers. However, I think claims about danger from the media and well-meaning family and friends are often overblown, and once you get to the destination you realize that the same things you use to stay safe at home apply when traveling. Do look up the safety situation of the destination you’re traveling to and be aware of common scams, but unless you’re traveling to a notably dangerous area you likely will be fine just using common sense.

In my year of travels I have had nothing stolen or really felt unsafe in any situation. Of course, keep your valuables on you or in a locker, don’t drink too too much (or be with people you trust when you do), and watch out for scams on the street. I have walked alone at night before, but only for short distances in well populated areas, the same as I would do at home. It’s true that anything can happen anywhere, but awareness and common sense can mitigate most situations, and it shouldn’t stop you from seeing the world.

6. You can still get great pictures by yourself

When I first started traveling alone, I didn’t know how to get any photos of myself without asking a stranger, which was hit or miss anyway. Now, I carry a small tripod that can grip onto things (similar to this one, although mine is a knockoff I bought from a street market in Cambodia). I connect my phone to my camera and remote control the shutter after I’ve gotten in the frame. I also use a time-lapse feature on my camera that I set to take one photo every second for 30 seconds, in order to let me relax a little and get a more natural pose.

If you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera, it likely has these capabilities. I use the Sony a6000, which I absolutely love. Also, this article from one of my favorite travel bloggers taught me a lot and inspired me to take the effort to get more photos of myself.

I took this photo by myself using a small tripod and the time lapse shutter.

7. Traveling alone is the ultimate freedom

I love traveling alone. You have the complete freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. If you want to be with people, you can be with people, but if you want to be alone then you can be alone. You are on your own schedule and don’t have to compromise on plans with anyone else.

It’s not all roses and smiles, but neither is life. Sometimes you are alone when you don’t want to be or you can’t find anyone you connect with. It’s a definitely different flavor of trip rather than traveling with friends or family. But it’s become my favorite way to travel and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Traveling alone may sound scary, but trust me, once you take the plunge, you’ll find it’s a lot easier than you think.

Truth. It all begins here!

Happy travels!


Miscellaneous, Spain

My Haphazard, Inexperienced, and Hopefully Not Completely Useless Packing List For The Camino de Santiago

April 10, 2019

I am en route to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to start the Camino, typing this from an airport gate seat as I wait for the plane to the Old World. I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Europe, and I am so excited to be back! I was packing up until the last moments before I had to leave for the airport, which had devolved into removing any possible thing from my pack before I’m stuck with it on my back for 500 miles. Like my previous posts about packing for Southeast Asia, I’ve put together a list of the things that made the cut. Now you can know exactly what’s in my bag as I struggle my way across Spain!

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My Experience Traveling Southeast Asia as a (half) Asian

April 5, 2019

I am half Asian and half Caucasian, and it’s always felt a bit weird. To make sure that we’re all on the same page on my actual background: my mother is from China and my father is from America, with British and German ancestry and family in the Amish. I was born and raised in Chicago, USA, and while I can understand some basic Mandarin, English is the only language I speak fluently. My skin is relatively light in the winter, (which is most of the year in Chicago), but I tan heavily in the summer, becoming several shades darker than my winter self. When I traveled Southeast Asia this year, my race influenced my travels in some ways I didn’t expect.

In the US, I was pretty racially confusing. Almost nobody guessed my race correctly on the first try, and I often heard guesses that I was Filipina or Latina. (People, including total strangers, are very curious about my race. I’ve often been asked “What are you?” Um, I’m a human being.) I do believe I benefit from some privilege as relatively white passing, as people are usually too confused to know which racial stereotype to apply to me, and I haven’t had any negative incidents targeted at my race from strangers on the street aside from confusion.

I grew up in a community that, while generally racially diverse, contained very few Asians. My main interaction with Asians outside my family came from the Chinese-American church I attended while growing up, which introduced me to some contemporary Chinese culture but was still multi-racial and contained a diverse congregation.

My mixed family celebrating my Nai Nai’s (grandma’s) birthday

All of this is to say that when I left the US, I felt like I identified more with the white half of my heritage. I was raised in America, had limited connections to the Asian-American community, and didn’t really engage with contemporary Chinese culture or customs. This feeling intensified when I moved to Sydney, because I now saw many more Asians, particularly young people raised in Asia who were working or studying in Sydney, and I felt so apart from them culturally. Even my Asian-American friends seemed to feel more connected with the Asian community in Sydney, and I found myself clinging to my American identity because I didn’t feel like a “real Asian.”

However, I didn’t think much of my race when I set off to travel in Southeast Asia. After all, I don’t have roots in any of the countries in Southeast Asia. I was excited to travel and see new places like any backpacker would. But with my skin soon darkened by the sun, I started having a few different experiences than my white backpacker friends.

Chinese outfits at Christmas!

For one, I was often mistaken for a local. In Bali, Cambodia, and Thailand in particular, I had the conversation that I was half Chinese but from America multiple times per day with local people. If not being mistaken straight out, they would often say “but you look Asian!” at which point I would explain my background. It’s not a big deal, really, and I generally treat it as harmless curiosity. There was one time in Bangkok, however, when I got in a taxi with a white male friend and the driver assumed I was a prostitute and started asking him where I came from.

Another way my travel experience differs as an Asian is that I’ve never gotten the feeling that the locals of a country are particularly friendly, though I’ve heard this sentiment from quite a lot of other backpackers. I have met some very nice and friendly individual local people, but these people are usually workers in hostels or restaurants, where it is part of their job to be nice to foreigners. I don’t feel like I’ve experienced exceptional friendliness from people that didn’t have to give it, which is perfectly fine – we just treat each other like strangers and move on. (For the record, I’m not saying the kindness I’ve experienced from hostel workers is fake, but that the kind of people who work in hostels tend to be more open to tourists anyway, and thus do not accurately represent the general population.) Plus the kindness I’ve received appears uniformly distributed across the countries I’ve visited, and no one country stands out as being particularly nice. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or maybe I wonder if my race influences how local people react to me, and I don’t attract as much attention on the street. Also, other travelers have mentioned how locals want to take a picture of them or with them simply because they are white, and this has never happened to me.

At the end of the day, I’m still a foreigner, and any preconceptions people have are dispelled as soon as I open my mouth and reveal I can’t speak the local language. I still got harassed by tuk tuk drivers and shop keepers who want me to buy things, and if I have my camera or backpack with me I’m definitely getting treated as a tourist. Ultimately my experience here is not hugely influenced by my race, and has been rewarding and educational nonetheless.

My first (and hopefully not last) visit to the Great Wall

Still though, I have to say there are some unexpected benefits to this experience, and there’s something nice about being recognized as Asian by local people. When coming from a background of always being mistaken for a different race (even sometimes by Chinese people), to be seen as Asian works to legitimize that part of my identity. It reminds me that I am Asian after all, and maybe I can feel more belonging with the Asian community than I’ve felt in the past.

I’ve also realized while traveling that I know more about Asian things than I thought, and this has mostly been through food. I realize I’m much more familiar with the flavors and ingredients of the cuisines in Southeast Asia than other backpackers are. Before traveling, I considered the only very Asian thing I did was deeply love fish sauce <3 but I realize this extends to various tofus, glass noodles, Kong Xin Cai vegetable (translated as morning glory on menus), and longan fruit, which are a few childhood favorites that are unfamiliar to Western audiences.

I think this is why I enjoyed my time in Singapore so much. There’s people there from all over Asia, including mixed race people who are descendants from the colonial era. It made me feel like I could fit in there, that my own amount of Asianness was perfectly normal. And besides, the food completely blew me away 🙂

Proficient at chopsticks at a young age (but I needed three of them back then)

How has your travel experience been influenced by your race? Have you had any unexpected experiences because of it? Let me know, I’d love to hear.




Nanners’ Wallet: The Real Cost of Traveling Southeast Asia for 6 Months

April 3, 2019

I’ve now wrapped up my nearly 6 month trip backpacking through Southeast Asia, and had some time to reflect on the experience. Some of you have asked me directly about the cost of the trip, and some of you may be wondering internally, so I thought I would write this article to share my experience in this area. Money is certainly one of the most important considerations when planning a trip like this, and often determines the length of an extended trip. I want to share this article to show the true cost of traveling in Southeast Asia and maybe help you if you are considering a trip yourself.

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Goodbye For Now, Asia

March 17, 2019

It’s my last day traveling in Asia. My last day out of 160 days in Asia, to be exact, about five and a half months. Add on the month and change I spent in Western Australia at the beginning of the trip for a grand total of seven months on the road, almost continuously, across nine countries. What a trip it’s been.

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Laos, Miscellaneous

Evolution of Nanners on a Motorbike

February 16, 2019

From Being Scared Sh*tless to Driving A Multi-Day Motorbike Loop in the Bolaven Plateau, Laos

The automatic motorbike is a key mode of transportation in Southeast Asia: they are ubiquitous and are ridden by locals and foreigners alike. Motorbikes provide a cheap form of transport to many sights for tourists, and locals transport a ridiculous amount of things or people on a single bike. I learned how to drive one despite some (literal and figurative) bumps in the road, and just completed a 2-day motorbiking loop on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos. While many people say that riding a motorbike is super easy, my thoughts went through a lot of ups and downs to get to this point…

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The 5 Types of Hostels You Meet While Traveling Southeast Asia

February 3, 2019

For those traveling Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget, and particularly if you are traveling solo, hostels are the mainstay of accommodation. They are cheap, sociable, and some of them even have pretty nice facilities. I’ve been staying in hostels since I first traveled in Europe in my university days, but I realize that not everyone is familiar with the hostel experience. While you have to give up some privacy and you have to deal with less than luxurious accommodation, hostels are a great place for young travelers to connect, share stories, and make new friends. I honestly really enjoy them, and actually start to miss them if I haven’t stayed in one for a while. I hope this gives you an insight into the hostel experience and encourages you to check them out if you have never stayed in one!

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Nanners’ Knapsack: Update to my Southeast Asia Packing List

January 26, 2019

It’s been over 5 months on the road now (wow!) I’ve packed and unpacked my backpack so many times, carried it around on planes, boats, and buses, and done my fair share of digging around for that thing at the very bottom of the bag. By now, I’ve gotten a good handle on what I need and don’t need, and when I visited home during the holidays I blissfully lightened my load and left some things behind.

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Indonesia, Miscellaneous

On Authenticity

November 24, 2018

UBUD, Bali, Indonesia – “I just want to see something in Bali that is not so touristy,” the girl sitting across from me said. It was our last night in Ubud, and my friends and I had wound up chatting the night away in a restaurant with some other travelers and an Italian expat filmmaker. The restaurant emptied around us as we talked, the night growing darker and orange lights dancing around our peripheral vision. We shared large Bintangs and discussions ranging from getting high on garlic smoothies, to Balinese cock fighting customs, to magic mushrooms’ role in human evolution. It was one of those rare travel moments, spontaneous and satisfying and deeply alive.

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The Journey Must Go On

November 9, 2018

I never really believed I’d make friends while traveling. Sure, it’s easy to meet people in hostels, and maybe you go to some attraction together in the day or share some beers at night. But I always thought that these would just be friends of circumstance, only knowing each other for 1-2 days at a time, and that with my shy, nerdy personality, I wouldn’t find anyone I’d want to spend more time with anyway. In general, I don’t often find people I really ‘click’ with, and I thought traveling would be no different, if not worse.

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