Inspirations

How I turned Low Points of Solo Travel into the Highlights of My Life

Anybody who has traveled for longer than a day will tell you that crappy days are bound to come, and low points of solo travel is an inevitable part a journey abroad.  After being on the road for over 6 years, I can attest that life of a traveler is anything but idyllic and perfect.  

While people back home imagine us having the time of our lives, making friends at every turn and becoming Instagram-famous, the reality is that a life on the road can involve suffering from Bali bellies, being a victim of scams or theft, getting stuck at airports and sleeping on cold metal benches, or feeling homesick, just to name a few.

Contrary to popular beliefs, traveling is not always rainbows and unicorns.  Long-term travel, in particular, can test your limits, patience, and boundaries.  After all, life on the road is LIFE.    

Don’t get me wrong – traveling has awarded me extraordinary moments, memories and friendships and I would do it all over again without question.  But as with anything else in life, these remarkable experiences are usually a culmination of lessons, struggles, and setbacks.

Below are just 3 of the not-so-bright moments of my travels (believe me, there were many more…), and how I turned them into positive life lessons that became the highlights of my life!

low points of solo travel: injury in Thailand
When I injured myself while trekking in Chiang Mai. Definitely not my brightest days.

Low Point #1
Lesson: Get Out of Your Way

Early in my backpacking trip in 2013, I signed up for the “Gibbon Experience” in the jungle of Laos. 

For 2 nights/3 days, participants get to hike and zip-line deep in the forest of the Nam Kan National Park and sleep in a tree house built about 100 feet above the ground.   An incredible once-in-a-lifetime adventure if you asked me!

But my excitement was very short lived.

On the day of arrival, I was assigned to a tree house with 7 other travelers from Holland and Sweden – all of whom were 19 and 20 years old.   I, on the other hand, was 36, and the only solo traveler. 

No no no nooooo.  This has GOT to be a mistake!  I can’t be stuck with these kids for 3 days…hecks no!

But a mistake, it was not.

What the heck am I gonna talk about with a bunch of 20-year olds?   And for THREE days!  Ugh…

My big and tough New York attitude was starting to kick in, convinced that the world was conspiring to make my life miserable.

I felt deflated and out of place, kinda like a new kid on the first day of school.  You look around for a posse to join but everybody has their clicks already except you. 

I had secretly fantasized about being paired up with a good-looking hunk of a Tarzan who would help me hop on/off the zip lines, exchange sweet glances with me and sweep me off my feet…but that was not to be.

low points of solo travel: zip lining
Zip-lining through the jungle of Laos

Then we started our excursion on Day 1. 

No words can describe the feeling of launching off of a wooden platform, flying through a dense green jungle high above the ground (50-70 feet in the air), and soaring through the misty air like a bird.   I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that kind of a thrill and a mental high.

And through this adrenaline-filled experience, the “kids” and I end up rooting for each other, high-fiving one another and bonding over the incredible adventure that we felt fortunate to be a part of.

I even found myself laughing and enjoying the company of my young teammates.   

Crazy, I know.

low points of solo travel: tree house at Gibbon Experience
The Treehouse inside the National Park. The only way to enter is zip-lining your way in!

Spending time with these young people reminded me of a time when I didn’t have a care in the world

I mean, wasn’t life great at 19 or 20 when you didn’t have to worry about bills or all the responsibilities of being a grown up?!  These “kids” were so vibrant, full of positive energy that being around them made me feel so young again!

When did I become so jaded and cynical?  I wondered.

Our bond didn’t stop there.  At the end of the Gibbon Experience, me and 5 boys decided to travel together to Luang Prabang, which required 2 days of travel on a slow boat. 

The boys and I picked up some cases of beer, a deck of cards for entertainment and we were good to go!

low points of solo travel: lunch at treehouse
Sharing a family-style lunch after a playing in the jungle like monkeys 😉

I could have never imagined that I’d end up drinking, laughing, and having the time of my life with boys so drastically younger than me

These 5 days I spent with the boys helped me realize that I had become judgmental and closed off after spending so many years in NYC.

I had forgotten how to let my guard down, let others in and share each other’s company as human beings.  

I also realized that I am the only barrier to experiencing freedom, fun, and aliveness.  After enjoying the company of boys 16 years my junior, I saw that I can play with, enjoy life with, and share moments with anyone, as long as I am willing to get out of my own way!

I was grateful that I learned my lesson early in my trip, as I allowed myself to be fully available for all opportunities that the world threw my way in the months to come.  After all, THAT was the reason why I started traveling in the first place.

low points of solo travel: traveling with boys during my solo travel in Laos
My new travel buddies

Low Point #2
Lesson: Just Say Yes

If you read my other posts or follow my blog, you may know that in 2014 I became a scuba instructor in Bali to continue traveling the world.  After I completed my initial one-year contract as a PADI scuba instructor, there was a span of a few months that I was unable to find steady work and felt down and out. 

I was barely making enough money to pay for my rent (which was already low in Bali).  There I was, a world away from my family and friends, practically jobless, and unable to make ends meet.    I felt lost, embarrassed, and alone.

It was during this dark time that I was invited to a dinner to meet Cat, a fellow American gal who had come to Bali to learn how to dive.  But at that time, I was in such a miserable mental and emotional state that I really didn’t WANT TO go.  I couldn’t imagine putting on a fake smile and pretending that my life was dandy. 

In the end, I convinced myself to get out of bed, shower, and get out for some fresh air.  I went to meet Cat for dinner….and that night changed my life forever.

low point of solo travel: Cat
Me and Cat traveling together in the Philippines

Have you ever met someone you instantly connected with, became inseparable from, or felt destined to be friends with? 

Well, Cat and I bonded immediately, as we discovered that we were both Americans who had lived and worked in New York City, obsessed with coffee and eating, listened to the same podcasts, and came to Indonesia driven by our passions.

If that wasn’t enough to make us BFFs, Cat is just an incredible human being. 

You know one of those people who naturally oozes positive energy, vibe, and aura; who makes you feel loved and valued; who has a great outlook on life; who is infectiously loving and generous; and who wants to make a difference in the lives of others.  

I know, it’s hard to believe that Cat is actually a human! 

On top of that, she is super easy-going and a great travel companion!

Today, Cat is not only one of my BFFs but also my best travel buddy.  Since meeting in 2014, we have traveled together to Camiguin (Philippines), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Ambon (Indonesia), and also met up in NYC and Bali between our adventures.  

Our friendship is so effortless – we have never argued or disagreed on anything, EVER.  And no matter how much time passes, it always seems like we had never been apart.

I always joke that Cat is my soulmate in a girl 😉

me and cat in Vietnam on Mekong River
Me and Cat cruising down the Mekong River in Vietnam

When I think about that day, the day Cat and I almost never met, I realize that the world is full of beautiful gifts.  But often our thoughts, points of view, and state of mind impair our ability to see and receive what the world is handing to us.

That day taught me to be “yes” to life, no matter the circumstances.  There are always reasons, justifications, and excuses for why we can’t or shouldn’t do something we want

When I look back at the most impactful moments or proud accomplishments in my life, they are all products of taking risks, being uncomfortable, and challenging myself rather than listening to my inner monologue (aka my thoughts). 

I believe that life rewards us when we step out of ourselves and take bold actions in spite of our limiting beliefs.

By the way, if you want to know more about Cat, she is the creative brain behind Cottontale, a children’s clothing brand that trains, employs, and empowers women living in poverty in Surabaya, Indonesia.  As I said, she is awesome.

Low Point #3
Lesson:  I can and I will

My body type has always been “athletic,” never thin or skinny.  And since losing my “freshman 15” at age 21, I had maintained pretty much the same weight for nearly 20 years….until I moved to a resort island in 2016.

low point of solo travel: Mo walking in rice field
My average physique = 5'3 & 135lbs

Between 2016-2017, I worked in a resort located on a tiny island in Indonesia (there was no other development on the island except the resort).   During this period, all meals were provided to staff, which meant that I didn’t have much choice when it came to what I ate

I was pretty much forced to eat what was prepared and served in the staff canteen.  For the majority of the time, fresh produce was scarce, while carb options (rice, pasta, bread) and sweets (cakes and ice cream) were ample.  

When I left my position at the end of the 18-month contract, I had easily gained 10-15lbs.  I don’t know exactly how much I gained, as I never weighed myself before/after.  But having been the same body size for nearly 20 years, I knew that I had gotten fat (for my body type).

I could no longer fit in my clothes, I had rolls for the first time in my life, and my inner thighs were rubbing against each other more than ever.  It was probably the fattest I had been in my life, and I felt disgusting

low point of solo travel: resort island
My office view on the resort island

I was committed to losing the weight by doing what I knew to do and always did, which was hit the cardio machines in a gym and sweat out the body fat!

But this time, Bryan (my boyfriend) invited me to lift weights with him.  I initially resisted, as I naturally have an athletic build and I didn’t want to turn into a Hulk.   I just wanted to lose some pounds, not enter a Bodybuilding competition. 

Since I had committed to saying yes (lesson #2), I reluctantly agreed.  But to be honest, I initially agreed to please my boyfriend.  Since I was always the “cardio girl” who enjoyed pumping the heart rate and getting sweaty, I couldn’t see how I would enjoy lifting dumbbells.

In spite of my misgivings, I joined the gym with Bryan and let him take the lead in creating our training schedule and teaching me the ropes.

To my surprise, the weight training turned out to be transformative.   

Every time I completed 3 sets on a weight, Bryan pushed me to increase the weight on the following session. 

So essentially, I could never get comfortable with any particular weight.  I was always pushing myself to keep moving up.  There were many moments when I felt scared to lift because it felt so heavy. 

What I’ve learned about weight training is that it’s so much more than packing on muscles.  It’s mental training to crush your thought that says “I can’t” and prove yourself wrong.

Even though my initial goal was to lose weight, the training strengthened much more than my body – it also strengthened my mindset. 

The amount of weight that I thought I couldn’t lift 6 months ago is now used for my warm-ups.  The overcoming of fear, self-doubt, and apprehension is so empowering and exhilarating.  And it’s a bonus to look fabulous in the process 😉

In the short time that I’ve started to lift weights and train my mind, I have talked myself out of saying “I can’t” on multiple occasions.  

The proudest and boldest move I have taken to date is this very website.

Allow me to point out that I had every reason under the sun NOT to create this website:

  1. I have no website design experience
  2. I am the least “techie” person of anyone I know
  3. I don’t particularly enjoy social media
  4. Writing is not my strong suit, as English/Literature was my least favorite subject in school
  5. My grammar sucks not only because I hated English classes but also because English is not my native language
  6. I have always worked for someone else who has given me tasks and projects. I have never been my own #boss.
  7. Speaking of never, I have never done ANYTHING related to building a website, creating content, marketing, using social media as a platform, building email lists, or using Pinterest for anything other than collecting recipes.

In short, everything about this Travelust 101 venture was a new world for me, an unknown territory which remains to be highly uncomfortable on a daily basis.

But I am driven my desire to try something new, challenge myself to keep growing and expanding and make a difference for others in the process.   So here I am with Travelust 101.  I hope you enjoy the site and stick around ;-).  There’s much more to come in the future!

How I Turned Low Points of My Solo Travel Into Highlights Of My Life | Solo Travel | Female Travel | Life Lessons | #solotravel #solofemaletravel #girltravel #traveltips
How I Turned Low Points of My Solo Travel Into Highlights of My Life | Solo Travel | Female Travel | Life Lessons | #travelhighlights #travellessons #travellife

3 Comments

  • Sachi

    gurll, you’re so so right. I’ve recently had my first actual solo travel experience and it’s been such a rollercoaster. The problems and hurdles can just seem such blocks, especially as you’re tackling them alone, but the highs when you overcome it are nothing like I’ve otherwise experienced, as you so we’ll mentioned. Lovely post! Lots of love

    • Mo

      Thanks Sachi! I agree, tackling roadblocks on the road alone can feel lonely and can exacerbate the problem at times, but the reward at the end is like no other 😀 I hope you had an incredible first solo trip and sending lots of love back at ya! Mo

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