Solo travel is not easy. Things not only can, but will go wrong, and it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to handle it. Here’s a story about a perfect plan gone awry during my last trip to Southeast Asia as a solo traveler and what I learned about myself in the process.
On my last day after a week of traveling around Malaysia, I set off to explore the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur. With one precious day left, I was determined to see and experience as much as I possibly could. I heard from a local that on Fridays, Muslims head to The Malay Prayer Bazaar near Masjid Jamek to eat before worshipping. Being the street food fanatic that I am, and a newbie to Islamic culture, I decided to make my way over to the bazaar to feed my belly and my curiosity.
After ordering Nasi Kukus Ayam Berempah, a popular fried chicken with spices dish, and a milky tea drink, I took a moment to enjoy my meal before heading to the rooftop infinity pool at the Regalia Residence for a little post-breakfast R&R. Although I was not a guest of the hotel, I somehow convinced the security guard to let me through, and boy am I glad he did.
The panoramic city views were some of the best I’d ever seen, with the Petronas Towers visible without a single other building obstructing the view. After a few hours of basking in the sun, relaxing by the pool, and taking in the beautiful urban scenery, I jumped on the subway towards the famed Batu Caves.
Here I would witness the tail end of Thaipusam, the biggest Hindu festival of the year where over a million devotees go to worship. Could my day get any better?
However, not five minutes into the 35-minute train ride, a rush of panic washed over me. Beads of sweat started to roll down my temples, and chills ran through my body. I closed my eyes and only focussed on not getting sick on the pristine, air-conditioned, women’s only train car.
The next thirty minutes felt like hours, but I made it off the train just in time to fall to my hands and knees on a patch of grass — affably purging the street food I had consumed just hours earlier. I looked up through red, watering eyes to see that I was in the middle of a highly populated area of the religious festival. Awkward.
At this point, it was clear I had contracted some sort of foodborne illness, and although I was feeling very weak and sick to my stomach, it wasn’t going to stop me from seeing what I had come all this way to see, the Batu Caves!
The only catch? There were 272 stairs to climb in order to get there. Light headed and nauseous, I took my first step. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “One down, only 271 to go.” It may have taken me three times longer than it usually would have, but I mustered up enough mental and physical strength to climb all the way to the top (not without stopping a few times along the way to repeat what had happened on that patch of grass outside of the train stop).
I powered through and was able to see the colossal caves, as well as devotees bringing offerings of flower garlands and pots full of milk to the temples inside of the Batu Caves. After a train ride back into the city, I even made it to the base of the Petronas Towers just in time to see the sunset before finally calling it a night.
WHAT I LEARNED:
It’s important to realize that travel is not always glamorous. Sometimes, it can be downright ugly. You’ll get lost, ripped off, miss flights, lose something important to you, and may even need to seek medical attention for injury or illness. It’s all part of being a world traveler!
The important thing is to not let it stop you, to not let it bring you down. Travel, specifically solo travel, truly tests your strength, because you won’t have anyone else to rely on if something goes wrong. Ultimately, you learn how to deal with challenging, uncomfortable situations on your own, and that in itself builds remarkable character and self-confidence. I learned from this unfortunate (now laughable) experience that when you keep a positive attitude and tell yourself you can get through it, you can.
This is how I travel. I don’t give up. I always keep a positive attitude. I am resilient and always overcome the challenges that I face on the road, no matter how big or small. Looking back on this day, I know it would have been easy to have gone back and relaxed in a hotel room. Hell, I could have just stayed by the pool while I recovered! But then I wouldn’t have seen or experienced all that I did that day and I wouldn’t have this funny story to tell.
Has anything ever gone wrong in your travels? How did you handle it or how would you have handled it differently?