As many of you know already more often then not, I travel alone. While at first it was purely just because I wanted to get out and see new places and none of my friends could take as much time off from work or life as me to travel, now if given the option to travel alone or with somebody I would pick alone. And maybe I am just a crazy flight attendant (and I have become what I always laughed at- the crazy senior mamas!) who values their alone time being around so many people all of the time, or maybe I like the comfort of not having a plan, or nothing to tie me down, or no real set schedule. Just this week my travel plans changed a hundred times alone (I am sorry mom for giving you so many headaches this week) and it’s because through traveling I have truly found what activities I like and what I do not like to do.
For example, just yesterday while I was booking my bus ticket to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang, the travel agent told me that it would be the same price to continue into Vientiane, or just straight to Vang Vieng. Seeing as there really isn’t so much to do in the rural town of Vang Vieng and I didn’t really need the rest, I decided to stick it out and go for the full thirteen hour bus ride to Vientiane. It was a choice (one of many I make on a daily basis when traveling) and I was able to make seamlessly and efficiently based on the amount of time I have here, needs, and desires. A choice I was able to make alone, without having to consult without anyone else. A choice that was completely up to me.
But I’m not here to write a whole blog post to encourage all of you to get out and see the world (I have already wrote something similar to that see here), rather I’m writing about just the experiences I’ve had in one week alone with new friends, traveling alone. The unforgettable experiences and memories I wouldn’t trade in for anything else, that I will look back upon and cherish forever.
I’ve already wrote a little bit about the group of four Japanese university students I met on my trekking tour the tour the other day, in which I went to trek and kayak to the Pad Ou Caves and Kwangsi Waterfall (in which you can read here). Indeed, I instantly became friends with a group of kids from Tokyo (they were my age), that were on holiday here in Laos. We shared a bunch of our travel experiences, exchanged tips, and they even invited me to visit the sauna with all of them after our extremely long day of trekking. Although I politely declined the offer to go to the sauna with them, we spent the whole day together as new friends trekking around northern Laos.
Just the next night and after my second trek, I decided to hit up one of the two gay-friendly bars in Luang Prabang (that I discovered a few nights before that I enjoyed) Lao Lo Garden. My first night there I happened to meet the owner, who happens to work there as well. We got to chatting about various topics, and instantly became friends.
Two nights later when I arrived back at the bar, he introduced me to a group of his friends- some gay boys, and a few straight girls. They were all having a fun time drinking, chatting, and dancing. They all instantly warmly welcomed me into their group, and I had some drinks with them. Although they made fun of western dance moves, it was all in good fun. That night one of the boys had invited me out to a picnic with all of them the next day, in the countryside outside of Luang Prabang. At first I was slightly reluctant to go with a group of strangers one hour outside of town to the countryside (mom if you’re reading this there’s a reason I didn’t tell you!) but I’m sure glad I trusted my gut and felt safe with them.
My one new friend Alex, drove us all out to the countryside. From there we are a river-side restaurant and enjoyed some typical but yet extremely popular BeerLao, and some native Lao cuisine. We enjoyed lots of different seafoods, many of which were caught fresh out of the river we were dining next too. The view was absolutely stunning of the river, mountains, and overall countryside landscape, and it was a warm beautiful Lao day.
Over brunch we shared various topics of conversation including chatting about our friends, to talking about different cultures and lifestyles, to even our intimate past. To my surprise one my friend Alex owned a large textile business here in Luang Prabang, and lived abroad in Switzerland for quite some time. Our other friend Vee lived abroad in the United Kingdom for nearly seventeen years, and probably knew more about U.K. culture then my friends that live in London. She also shared similar taste in music, which was nice to find someone who likes my obscure tropical house. All of the friends I had made happened to be extremely nice, genuine people who wanted to give me a glimpse into the Lao lifestyle and culture.
Through talking to them at brunch, we got to chatting about how I joined in with them at the bar the night before. We had discussed that if I wasn’t alone and was with someone, they probably would have never approached me and asked me to join. But since I was alone and foreign, they welcomed me into their friend circle. Which made me think, how often do I go out with my friends back at home and I do not meet anyone new because we are all too consumed in one another to even notice another person. And yet I always wonder why I do not meet anyone new in New York City, but I think it’s because I refuse to go out alone there (it would be social suicide).
But it was in this thinking that I realized it is when I’m traveling that I am always meeting new people and coming back with these crazy experiences and stories that will last for me a lifetime. Like the one time I met this gorgeous boy in Fresno, California and went on a date with him to a local brewery. Or the time when I was walking back to my hotel in Sydney and a group of girls chased after me and asked me to go to “after hours” with them and we somehow all ended up back in their hotel room at the end of the night with some other Italian boys (that is a story for another time)! Or the time in Hong Kong when I met a handsome business owner and we toured part of the city together at night. Or all those crazy night outs I’ve had in Paris <3. Or when I met an amazing friend in Sydney who was there alone for work and we coordinated our schedules and did everything together for a week. Or the time in Melbourne, I went out and explored the city with this handsome boy Jordan whose friend got sick and he was left all alone. Or when I spent my week in Phuket with my two newest friends from Michigan doing all of our crazy island tours together!
Just the night after I took the day bus down to Vientiane I decided to check out the local gay nightlife scene in Laos’ capital. Upon sitting down at the bar, one of the guys from the bunch sitting outside together came into the bar and invited me to have a drink and join all of them. I ended up staying out late with them (way past Laos’ implemented curfew) and we even all went to an after hours bar together to share more drinks. Just the next morning I was hopping in a tuk tuk to head to a Wat, and one of the boys I head met the night before approached me on the street. Turns out he was headed toward the Wat as well and we hung out for the day.
And just that same night when the tuk tuk came to pick me up to bring me to the train station to go from Lao PDR to Bangkok I met an American/Mexican whom I instantly bonded with. She was spending two months backpacking through southeast Asia and her stories of volunteering at an elephant orphanage for a week, and going meditating in the countryside for a week left even me speechless and impressed. We had dinner together on the over-night train to Bangkok and gossiped all about our traveling until we were sleepy.
The point is, even though I have traveled alone, I never really feel like I am alone. I always leave myself open for engagement, do not shut down any opportunity, and make conversations with random people (who are not complete weirdos, do not worry mom)! I’ve found that happy hours at bars is a great way to meet other solo travelers. Or at common rooms in hostels or guesthouses. I’ve even met people on shared airport services to the city center (just today I bonded with a Thai woman and chatted with her for a while about how crazy AirAsia and their boarding process is in Bangkok)! There really is not one particular area or place to meet other solo travelers, but I find that if you just try and put yourself out there, one way or another you will meet some one, somewhere. I have been out here in Asia for almost two weeks already, and I have made new friends everyday.
But just remember, asking for a table for one occasionally is better than never opening yourself up to the new experiences solo traveling can bring you!!
Laos you will always and forever hold a special place in my heart, and I can not wait for the day I get to return. Next destination: Singapore & until then, XoXo.