I have some really incredible friends who motivate and inspire me every day. There are chicks that kill it in the workplace, rays of sunshine who touch everyone they encounter, and deeply thoughtful individuals who give me perspective and a sounding board when needed.
But perhaps the coolest thing that any of my friends has ever done is take a three-month solo trip to Southeast Asia to spend some time with herself and the world.
Meet Linda, Your Solo Travel Inspiration
Linda Hsu is a talented product + visual designer living in SF. I’ve known Linda since we were freshmen in college, and over time, it seems our molding minds have grown toward the same sun. We have both gravitated toward the mindfulness community in the years since college, trading in partying and drinks galore for yoga, meditation, and more time outdoors. She’s also one of the most talented artists I know and has such an incredible eye for photography (which you'll see in this post).
One thing that hasn't wavered in all of these years is our mutual love of travel. You might remember seeing her on the blog back when I was studying abroad. I visited Linda in Paris where she was studying, and we also traveled to Dublin together!
When she came back from her adventure in SE Asia, I knew I had to get her story on Blue Sky Mind. If I learned anything in my time studying abroad, it’s that solo travel can be a life-changing positive experience.
Yet it can be so dang uncomfortable that we seem to avoid it at all costs. I hope this post opens your eyes to the benefits of traveling solo and helps you feel like it's just a little bit more achievable than you thought before.
Linda’s Solo Travel Tips
1. Can you describe your solo travel experience?
Linda: In early January, I left for a 3-month backpacking trip throughout Southeast Asia. I started off in Bangkok, made my way north through Thailand, crossed over to Laos, travelled down through Laos and Cambodia, then crossed over to Vietnam, made my way north from Ho Chi Minh City, then flew back to Thailand where I spent a week in the South of Thailand before going back to the states.
So in three months, I traveled to:
2. What have been your favorite destinations? Why?
My favorite places in each country tended to be in the north. The landscape tended to be more green and lush and there’s a lot of gorgeous, untouched nature to be seen.
I loved Chiang Mai and Pai in Thailand; there's so much to do and see, but it still has a relaxed vibe, great cafes and restaurants, along with beautiful surrounding scenery. I also loved the laid-back atmosphere of Laos. It’s population is quite small and very spread out across villages, rather than concentrated in the “big cities,” so it never feels too crowded. I really enjoyed Luang Prabang in Laos, similar to Chiang Mai with a chilled vibe, great eateries and lovely nature reserves just a short motorbike ride away.
My favorite country I visited was Vietnam. It’s just so diverse and rich in culture, and the people are truly resilient -- man have they been through a lot. The landscape is absolutely stunning and the food is delicious. From the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh city, filled with seemingly more motorbikes than people, to the quiet rolling mountains in the center, beaches all down the eastern coast, the colorful ethnic tribes in the north, and endless rice paddies with the most vibrant green you’ve ever seen, Vietnam has got it all.
One of my favorite places in Vietnam was Phong Nha, a national park. Seriously jaw-dropping landscapes. Best seen by motorbike.
3. What inspired you to take this trip?
It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but the biggest trigger was coming to a crossroads in my life where it felt like it was going to be now or never. I had gone through a really hard time the past few years and was about to transition back into the “real world” with a full-time job in a new career in the Bay Area. I figured if I didn’t take the trip now, I might not be able to take it in the future.
During Thanksgiving, my cousin was talking about Southeast Asia with my sister’s mother-in-law. They both traveled there by themselves for months. Hearing them talk about it, I felt like it was calling me to do the same. I booked my flight a week later.
4. What were the highest highs of traveling solo?
Being on your own schedule and having the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want (of course, this can also be a double-edged sword). I love the sense of independence and openness you have to meeting new people and having new experiences.
Personally, I love being outside of my comfort zone, because I think that’s when you grow the most. When you’re traveling solo, you’re constantly out of your comfort zone, but in turn, you’re constantly learning and growing.
5. What were some of the lowest lows?
There have been times of loneliness and some situations where I wished I was with another person. For example, having to take a night bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville in Cambodia where you literally have to share a bed with someone, and if you’re by yourself you’re going to get stuck with a stranger. I was really lucky with that one and ended up having the bed to myself, but that could have been bad.
A lot of shitty things happened (lost my GoPro, got $300 stolen from me, got left at the border from Cambodia to Vietnam), but you live and you learn and the highs definitely outweigh the lows.
And sometimes you are so taken aback by the kindness and generosity of strangers or of new friends that it warms your heart and renews your hope in humanity.
6. How did you stay safe as a female traveling alone?
You just have to have your wits about you. Don’t do anything stupid and stay aware of your surroundings.
Southeast Asia is pretty safe as far as solo female traveling goes, so I felt pretty safe while I was there. There were times when I felt a bit scared walking home alone at night, but I think it was mostly all in my head. Oftentimes you'll sync up with another person or group of people and travel together for a few days or maybe even longer. You're never really alone for long.
7. What are your top tips for traveling solo?
Be open to meeting people! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Plan ahead, but don’t plan too far ahead. As much as you try and plan your trip it will always change and it's better to be flexible.
Say yes to (almost) everything; you never know what unexpected surprises are around the corner.
8. People often cite money as a reason why they can’t travel; do you have any advice on how to navigate that piece?
Of course, traveling is a huge privilege, and you do need to have some baseline needs covered before you can think about spending money on travel. But there are so many ways to travel on a budget, and if you really make it a priority, you can save for it.
Travelling also opens your eyes to the many extraneous purchases and material things we have in the western world. Why not forgo a few of those purchases for a while and use them somewhere where your dollar can go a lot further?
If you travel somewhere cheap like South East Asia and get a great deal on a flight, you can easily make it affordable. I probably spent less traveling in one month in Southeast Asia than some people spend on rent for two weeks (at least in San Francisco). I met a lot of people traveling who don’t have a ton of money or high paying jobs; they worked hard and saved their money.
There was one girl I met who spent a year saving up for her big world trip -- she said she basically didn’t go out with her friends or eat out for months, but it was worth it.
9. What’s your advice for someone has been thinking about trying solo travel and just hasn't pulled the trigger due to discomfort with the idea?
Try taking a smaller trip on your own, practice being independent and being by yourself in new and different situations.
If a 3-month Southeast Asia trip is a bit too much, try going somewhere closer to home for just 1 or 2 weeks and see how you like it.
I don’t think it’s for everyone, but I definitely think everyone can benefit from it.
10. As you end this trip, what are your parting thoughts about the experience? Are you a changed woman?
The experience was unlike any other -- some of the happiest and most fulfilled times of my life. It was a period of serious growth and learning. I feel like I expanded my mind and my worldview and I met some of the most incredible people along the way.
Traveling -- and really traveling, not just vacationing -- makes you realize how myopic your understanding of the world really is.
Some friends you just make in passing for one day, but they can be more meaningful than the relationships you have with people you have known for years.
You realize how enormous -- and at the same time -- tiny, the world is. I can safely say it was one of the best decisions of my life, and I can’t wait until my next trip. I’ve already planned it all out!
Time To Book Some Solo Travel
Linda decided to go on this trip to find something of a fresh start after a tough time in her life. Maybe that’s what will motivate you. But whenever you feel that pull toward experiencing the world on your own, don't let the fear of discomfort or financial limitations stop you. The world is waiting to be explored!