The warmer months are often an ideal time to travel. With spring break and easter holidays around the corner and with summer on its way, many people are hitting the road and jetting away to popular destinations in Europe and Asia. What if you have been there and done that with traveling in groups with your gal pals and are wondering how it is like to be a solo traveler? Perhaps you have always dreamed of creating some adventures while you are still young, but are concerned with travelling alone as a woman? Owner of Jewelsalem, Sereine, shares how traveling alone changed her life, and hopefully you can be inspired to up-and-go by yourself.
I was 22 when I embarked on the journey that changed my life. Prior to this, I have been living a comfortably sheltered life, contented with school, chilling at Starbucks, weekend shopping and hanging out with my close circle of friends.
Out of boredom, I was persuaded by friends to apply for the overseas exchange program organised by Singapore Management University - where I was studying for my business degree. It was and I believe, still is, common (and encouraged) for students to participate in exchange programs as part of the education to widen one's horizon. I was learning Spanish then, and Barcelona appealed to me. I had never traveled by myself nor lived alone at that point. No one I knew had even traveled to Spain then (Spain only become popular the few years after my trip. Kinda feels good to be a pioneer at something!) But the idea of going away was attractive, I thought it was time to learn some independence and despite my fears, I went for it.
I remembered crying as I bid my family farewell at the airport, and then, crying again as I boarded the plane. I was truly terrified at the thought of living alone, fearing for my safety, wondering how I was going to survive. I was clumsily looking for my seat on the plane, dragging bags and luggage containing food and other unnecessary items, as I assumed that strange faraway land that I was heading to had nothing to offer me. How wrong was I? I ended up loving Spain, loving its cuisine and people, and now, I cannot wait to return each year to the warm embrace of what I named my second home.This leads me to my first few early advices and tips.
I arrived a few days before school began, and took the weekend to explore the city centre and to find my bearing around my neighbourhood. Initially I was apprehensive even with grocery shopping - I bought a loaf of cheese and ham bread (pan con jamon y queso) and thought that would be all I eat for my entire stay. I got lost constantly, even though I had a map. What I wore was screaming "Tourist!" despite my best sartorial effort! The school I enrolled in had a welcome party and I was assigned a local student as a "buddy". But after that, you are left on your own. The first week I remembered feeling like a hermit. Went to school and went home. No exploring of the city, not much contact with the locals. I was determined not to let this trip be a waste and was patient in trying to settle in. I never gave up.
Gradually I became stronger. I was no longer afraid. I knew my way around so well, I was taking different routes home each day. I relished in getting lost and chancing upon quaint streets that I would otherwise have never found. I realised I had overpacked for the mild winter weather in Barcelona and edited my style to fit in with the locals. I dined with my landlords in the apartment I rented, and befriended their friends. We took midnight walks and taught each other our native tongues. Me in English, them in Spanish - and we understood each other! Grocery shopping became the highlight of my day (I never touched that cold, hard cheese bread anymore). I experimented with the local ingredients and tried out various recipes. I grew accustomed to my new life. Sometimes I would go to restaurants and dined by myself, other times, the friends I made in school and my buddy would take me around, sharing with me their Barcelona. We went salsa dancing one night and met some cool people to have tapas with after that. We also went clubbing a few times and everyone was right - the night only began at 3am in Spain. I was beginning to settle down and falling in love with this gorgeous city.