By Shintya Kurniawan
It was unplanned. It was fun and life changing. These are the four simple lines to sum-up my experience.
It started when a book-review competition rewarded me free plane tickets to Bali on 2013.
I can choose the dates, the sponsor reserved and paid for my tickets. I am grateful and excited. However, I have never bought tickets to travel alone. It was a first time for me.
When I go for trips, at least one friend joins me in the journey. Except having the free tickets, I have no particular reason to be in Bali. I have visited the island of gods multiple times. What would I do there alone?
Then, I remembered there was this annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to tick off from my bucket list. So I requested to fly on the dates to attend the event on October 2013. The event, however, fell on weekdays. Everyone was working and nobody wants to go with me.
I guess not too many people would take a leave from work for a literature event. My excitement turned into a dilemma – should I cancel or reschedule the trip until we have a national holiday? Should I still go?
Thankfully, my traveling buddy, Mardea, decided to join me. But she could only do it on the last three days due to work. That, at least, relieved me. I have three days to enjoy my own company until she arrives. It should not be too hard.
I decided to test my survival skills, packed my bags and just took on the challenge. I booked a motorbike and a hostel near the airport in Denpasar – Bali’s capital city. When I arrived, it was already dark and my GPS could not locate or direct me to the right hostel.
That night, I ended up sleeping at a different hostel – the nearest one I could find. The next morning, I decided to go to Ubud with the rented motorbike. I never drove a motorbike in Bali before. I vaguely remembered the road to get to Ubud from Denpasar. Normally I go by car with Mardea’s sister.
With the help of GPS, numerous wrong turns, countless stops and directions from friendly Balinese people, I arrived in Ubud in one piece. Finally! I did a daring 24 km drive by motorbike in an unknown route. Bucket list checked! The first day of the festival was a bit intimidating. I did not know anyone. Over time I learned how to start conversations and made new friends with interesting strangers.
My Bali experience opened my eyes to the world. After that, I have had the chance to travel alone to various places. During these times, I am bolder. These experiences shaped me to be more independent, raise self-awareness in many things in the world, as well as restore faith in humanity.
My prejudices on people got dramatically reduced as my sense of awareness towards new environments sharpened. I have met numerous angels (without wings) who helped me find direction, share travel tips (sometimes unsolicited) and clinch memorable experiences.
While in Frankfurt, Germany, a Spanish guy helped me buy the right ticket to Karlsruhe and even walked me to the right seat in the right coach at five in the morning. When I asked why he did it to me, he simply said that I looked confused and that I reminded him of himself when he first tried buying a train ticket in Germany. He got help from a stranger and he was happy to pay it forward. There is too much goodness in many people around us.
When I was in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, the hostel owner asked me to help her interpret for expat guests who missed their train. She then insisted to drive me to my next destination at a neighboring city called Malang. She even insisted to pay for my lunch. In Nagarkot, Nepal, two tourists from Italy shared laughter and lessons with me about surviving scams while traveling.
These adventures blur all the labels and boxes that divide us. Although I still enjoy traveling with friends and family, I realized that it is healthy to take time embarking on a journey on your own. Traveling solo encouraged me to be comfortable with myself as company – making peace with myself.
I will most likely not bother to talk to other people no matter how interesting they are if I am with friends. Alone in trains taught me how to live without internet connection and try to communicate even in different language. It makes you creative and resourceful! It also trained my senses to be more alert of what is happening around me.
A female solo-traveler still raises eyebrows in Asia. The risks will certainly make our parents worry – but once you go home safe, it also strengthens trust for your next journey. In the end, traveling alone helped me to be brave and to say yes with many adventures ahead. Indeed, happiness is made not found. Most of it along the road.
Shintya is a media and communications practitioner from Indonesia. She used to work as journalist and NGO worker. Currently, she is based in Poland to pursue her second Master’s Degree in Humanitarian Action. Photography, folding origami and collecting batik are some of her interests.