Solo but Not Alone

What does bungee jumping, elephant bathing, cooking classes, and riding off into the sunset with your most recent Tinder date have in common? They can all be done in one week while traveling solo on the other side of the world.  That’s right, true story.  It was one magical week in Chang Mai, Thailand, which was part of a two and a half week solo trip.

I get it, traveling solo (as a woman in her mid-thirties) isn’t for everyone, especially halfway around the world.  But after many discussions with friends and family, I’ve discovered that these types of adventures get put aside not because women aren’t interested, but because they are taught that there are just too many scary things to face when alone.  I’ve discovered time and again that traveling solo is empowering, enlightening, and can be the adventure of a lifetime if you push those fears aside.

A preliminary plan.

After reading through travel guides, I created a top ten list of things I’d like to do.

I chose Chang Mai because I wanted to be close to the mountains and according to many websites I found while researching, it was listed in the top ten safest places for solo female travelers. (I’m fearless, but I’m not stupid!).   I planned for a few weeks in advance and discovered through the help of the internet, friends, and lonely planet what kind of activities I’d like to do. I made a list and I made a plan, and when I got there, I threw it all away and went with the immediacy of the moment!

The Awana House was a perfect place to stay in the center of old Chang Mai, and cost less than $20 USD per night.  The rooms are colorful and warm, but the pool was cold and so was the beer.  I stuck to Chang, which translates to “elephant”.  It’s a curious beer because the alcohol content is never truly known, based on local sources. It’s an adventure in every sip.

Day 1 I woke early to a “Western” breakfast of coffee, toast, jam, and a fruit smoothie.  I had no idea Thailand has some of the best coffee in the world. I found the place to go bungee jumping.  I chose this activity purely because I had never done it before, and thought it would add to making Thailand such a memorable experience.  That, and, there is something inherently awesome about being able to truthfully say, “I went bungee jumping…in Thailand”.

It was scarier than sky diving!

Certificate of Courage.

Exhilarated and high on adrenaline, I chose to attend a cooking class later that night.  We all met at the fresh air market to buy our ingredients brought from the farms that morning.  My fellow classmates, all from China, and I learned how to cook spring rolls, Thai red curry, and mango sticky rice.

The market where we bought ingredients to make dinner.

Thai red curry, spring rolls, and mango sticky rice made from scratch.

As I was befriending my fellow classmates by exchanging cultural information and learning about a new one, it occurred to me that through traveling solo, you are not only unafraid to meet new people, but you crave it.  And when you connect with another human being, you become an ambassador of change and cultural representation.  These beautiful, short, but incredibly deep connections are the ones that shape our views, and help build global trust in humanity.

My new friends.

Day 2 and I was off to the elephant reserve.  I spent my day with Mr. Young from Sweden, elephant caretakers, traveling volunteers, and two baby elephants the size of jeeps.  On this reserve, they believe in the humane treatment of elephants.  The animals simply, exist.  They are taken care of, fed, and respected.  They are protected from being used in inhumane tourism.   I fed them sugar cane, and jumped in a river to bath them. I threw their turds, the size of softballs, to the fields where it’s used for manure. The elephants behaved like puppies, which was a bit scary due to their size!  But the love and respect that these humans had towards the protection and preservation of such beautiful creatures moved me to tears.

We shared a smile.

Back at Awana house, I met a couple who suggested going to North Star bar that does open mic Jazz on Tuesday nights.  In the spirit of immediacy and a love for spontaneous acts of musical creativity, I joined them.  Not only was the music fantastic, but I ran into a few people who I had met at a restaurant earlier in the week and also made some new friends.  We spent the night sharing travel stories and tips, our personal stories, and laughing at afterhour shenanigans that can only happen at clubs named “Spicy”.  Sharing a tuk tuk together to get home was a welcome relief.

 

The following day, feeling somewhat groggy from all the previous night’s adventure, I was casually perusing Tinder over breakfast.  I was new to the app, and was using it not in the way one might expect, but as a way to meet other solo travelers.  This was suggested to me by an American friend in Bangkok who reported great results.  Sure enough, I started chatting with Steve*(name changed) from England.  We had similar interests and he suggested renting motorbikes and going to check out a very unique waterfall in the jungle.  Expectedly, the decision to join an unknown man to travel into the Thai jungle with on motorbikes was not an easy one.  But my spirit of adventure and trust won out, my intuition had been working well thus far.

The rainbow came out to play as I attempted to be an intimidating biker.

Steve met me at Awana house, and I knew immediately that this experience was going to be fantastic.  We went off to rent our motorbikes at a whopping $4 USD for day, and we agreed to rent them for the next two days.  This decision led to the best unexpected adventures yet.  We first rode to a place called Buatong Waterfall, in English, “sticky waterfalls”.  After learning how to drive a motorbike (Steve was very helpful in this!), riding through mountains and rice fields, and getting lost many times we arrived.  The stone of the waterfall is a limestone deposit that provides a grippy surface, so no slime or algae will adhere to it, and you can walk right up the waterfall as if you were on dry rock.  It was one of the most magical places I have ever been.  Steve and I spent the day sharing stories of inspiration and resources on how to live a more meaningful existence.

I climbed up three different sections of this most sticky waterfall.

Care for a hike up Buatong Waterfall?

Cool and refreshing showers.

We agreed to meet the next day to ride to an unknown rock quarry referred to as “The Grand Canyon of Thailand” and the highest peak in the country, Doi Inthanon. This day consisted of so many things including 30 foot rock jumps, bamboo rafts, paying a $15 “you’re not from here” fee on the side of the highway, a very spicy food stop prepared by a man and his wife, and a waterfall from Thailand’s highest mountain.  The day was so long, and we did so much, that upon our return trip, the two of us were literally riding into the sunset together.  Our connection was not about a Tinder date, it was about friendship for and because of an adventure.  We are still friends to this day, and in my mind I still think of him as “Sticky Rock Steve”.  My two day excursion taught me a lot about freedom, being present and mindful, and incredible connections that can occur when you are not afraid of and assume the best in people.

Riding into the sunset, with beautiful views along the way.

Rice fields.

A waterfall at the base of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak.

A leap of faith.

Freedom.

I survived!

Traveling solo is my favorite kind of adventure.  It can be done on the other side of the world, in other states, and in your own neighborhood.  Keep an open mind and heart, don’t listen to the fear you are conditioned to feel, talk to people, make a plan and then disregard it.  Be present and say yes.  You’ve always wanted to take the leap, so don’t be afraid to jump.

Adventure Therapy.

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11 Comments

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    I love stories about travel, courage and personal growth, and this combines all three. Wonderful, inspiring story.

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    Very energizing and inspiring story.
    It was definitely worth reading to the end, as you encouraged:
    I especially liked her reminder that adventures can be around the world or around the corner.
    That’s a good reminder.
    Nice idea to have a guest blogger.

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