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Traveling as a University Student: Solo Edition

Solo-traveling as a university student, what's it like? Follow Writer Megan on her great tour around Korea!

From a young age, my family and I embarked on annual overseas trips throughout Asia during the December Holidays. Destinations such as Thailand, Bali, Japan, or Korea became familiar locales, almost a rite of passage for Singaporeans.

“Hold my hand tight. You’d never know if some random stranger takes you away,” my mother used to caution me during those early adventures, her concern palpable as we roamed foreign lands.

However, as I grew older, I felt a yearning to let go of the very hand that protected me all her life and venture out (to alter my brain chemistry or something). Excited yet trepidatious, I was ready to venture into uncharted territory - solo travelling.

Why Solo Travel?

How did this inclination take root in my mind?

Perhaps it stemmed from my upbringing; as a child, being alone was not unfamiliar to me. Walking home, attending concerts and even dining solo became my norm.

I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by loving friends and family. However, as an introvert, I found solace in my solitude. Taking pride in my independence and adventurous spirit, solo travelling found its place atop my bucket list.

(It wasn’t helping that my FYP continued to show me a bunch of #solotravel TikToks.)

The Solo Traveling Experience in Korea!

As the seed of solo travel began to germinate, I faced the daunting task of preparing and convincing my parents. Striking a delicate balance between having concrete plans and respecting their concerns, I approached them with well-thought-out reasons and adaptable itineraries.

For someone who’s neither here nor there, I sure caused a lot of fuss and trouble for myself. I hated sticking to an itinerary like some checklist I had to complete, which would stress me out if I didn’t manage to finish. At the same time, I wanted to maximise my day, which involved having a plan on some level.

I eventually settled on an ‘activities dump’, where I compiled the possible activities I wanted to experience on Notion (Boy, did I sort it out meticulously.)

Weeks passed and it was official. I was days away from flying to Korea. I have booked my flight, bought my insurance, and was confident.

Or so I thought. My paranoia kicked in at the worst possible timing. Would I be safe alone? Would I enjoy myself? My head filled with so many ‘what-ifs’ that I almost spiralled out of control.

But amidst the whirlwind of uncertainty, I remembered my initial resolve. I chose Korea as my travel destination as I was the most familiar with it.

Allaying my fears, I was off on the plane to Korea. Excitable feelings soon came as I was truly on my own in a foreign country. There was liberation. I was free to do whatever I wanted. People could judge me for all I care. I was a beckoning and unstoppable force, and it felt like I was taking on the world.

The 13 days spent in Korea flew by in a blink of an eye. I had massive ups and downs and experienced what every solo traveler says, ‘growth’.

From learning snowboarding to getting chased out of a restaurant, every day has new, fun adventures that I now call memories. By now, I was scaling my own overgrown beanstalk, just like Jack.

Tips for Solo Traveling

I discovered solo travel is akin to an art form – a skill honed over time through practice and experience. Here are some tips to master this fine art:

1) Be equipped!

While sharing our #solotravel experiences, most of my friends mentioned being fearful and not knowing what to do. As if a moment of consciousness hit, “Wow, I’m really travelling alone in a foreign country.”

This can be interpreted two ways, one in awe and the other in fear. However, part of the fear comes with not knowing what to do, so make preparations! Aside from getting insurance to ensure safety, it’s about being intentional about what you want to accomplish.

Have an idea of what you want to see, do, or even eat there! Going to see Choi Ung’s house from Our Beloved Summer was something I had set my mind on. 

2) Embrace spontaneity

Now this is a major contradiction to my very first point. But even within the most organised plans, a little chaos coexists.

Trust your instincts at that very moment and go with the flow.

You don’t have to choose spontaneity all the time, but be flexible enough to allow it. Spot a pretty cafe down the street? Don’t worry if it wasn’t in your plans. Just head in if you have the time!

3) Lower expectations

I mean this. A lot of people have been PREACHING about the benefits of solo travelling. But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Solo travelling is all about getting out of your comfort zone, confronting fears, and relying on yourself.

I clearly wasn’t prepared to lug two pieces of luggage weighing 15kg each over 2.1km to my accommodation - just so you know, I skipped the gym that day.

The second issue is the media we’re consuming. Influencers might rave over a certain eatery or tourist attraction, but it might not be the gospel truth. Just take information online with a pinch of salt.

4) Love your community

Love your community at home and the one you’re in whilst overseas. It doesn’t hurt to have your family check on you at times (and it really might just make your day).

After a whole day of being surrounded by strangers, sometimes you feel right at home when you’re on a phone call with them. But appreciate the strangers you meet - they can even become your friends!

On my trip, I met countless kind people who helped me, some of whom I still call friends.

5) Take heart

Lastly, be confident. You have paid to go; you have made preparations. So make the most out of it! I don’t know how many other articles tell you the same thing, but no one cares.

So take as many photos as you want. Buy that overpriced coffee. Do something nice for yourself. I had a ‘who cares’ mentality on my solo trip, and this made a huge difference in allowing me to be much more comfortable in my own skin and what I was doing.

Solo travelling may well be a rite of passage for university students, but it is a journey not to be rushed or taken lightly.

Approach it as an art form, finding purpose and fulfilment at your own pace. Be intentional about why and what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine!

As for me, having tasted solo travel, I’m getting greedier and looking forward to when I can have my next solo trip. I guess my brain chemistry was indeed altered.

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