(This is another overdue post due to problems with third-party hosting on my old blog.)
I’ve never traveled alone. The farthest I’ve gone alone is just within the city. Every time I go out of town or the country is either with friends and family.
Until last year.
Ann — a former boss, a good friend, and a fellow children’s book enthusiast — invited me to join a conference on children’s literature in Singapore. The Asian Festival on Children’s Content was a three-day event where all the children’s book writers would share their works, ideas, and work process to those aspiring to work in children’s literature — may it be with books, in the classroom, or in television.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Before I could process things, I already booked my flight and tickets to the conference. My first solo adventure was set.
I think the solo trip came at the right time. I was in the process of evaluating my life and asking myself which direction to move forward. The conference once again sparked my love for children’s books and inspire me to still pursue my writing dream. It was nice to be with people of all ages, talents, and backgrounds that share the same passion as me.
Besides the conference, roaming around the city during my free time also allowed me to learn more about myself as a solo traveler and reflect on things while in a foreign country. Going to Singapore is the best bet for a first-time solo traveler because (1) the people speak English, (2) commuting is such a breeze, (3) it is one of the safest countries for tourists and locals.
These were some of the things that I did during my week-long stay.
1. DIY my itinerary.
In true DIY fashion, I planned my own itinerary. I’ve had experiences in the past where my friends and I booked a city tour and hated it. We didn’t like the places that were part of the city tour and we just felt like the tour company led us to places where they can sell stuff and earn more money from it. From then on, as much as possible, we would create our own itinerary and visit places we were actually interested in.
Planning your own itinerary ahead of time is helpful for a lot of reasons. First, you can research days or weeks before traveling. As much as possible, I don’t like visiting the usual tourist places in Singapore — mainly Universal Studios or Sentosa. If I’ll be a tourist, I want to visit places that allows me to learn about the country.
Second, having a printed itinerary is a good back-up plan for the nosey immigration officers at the airport. Solo travelers tend to be a good target for immigration officers because they’ll always think that you’re leaving the country to work abroad. I understand that they are doing their job and avoiding letting illegal workers pass. So as a responsible traveler, it helps to be prepared with an itinerary to show them that I have a schedule and am sure to come back after a few days.
I didn’t have a strict itinerary, because I wanted to do it on my own pace and time. I just listed down the places I was interested in, noted which had entrance fees, and added a few directions on how to get there. There was also no pressure to visit all on my list because for sure there will always be a next time to come back for more.
2. Ask a friend.
One of the reasons why I like visiting Singapore is because of friends. Ann and her husband were kind enough to let me stay in their home for the week. Ann joined me for one day in the conference and also took me to some places during her free time.
I met up with an online friend, Ira, and had a huge dinner at Lau Pa Sat. I also had dinner with my cousin Thirdy who was working there before I flew back home. Since they were more familiar with Singapore, they gave me tips and suggestions on where to eat or go.
Meeting up with familiar faces made me feel like I wasn’t too alone in a foreign country.
3. Visit a museum.
I made a promise to myself that every time I visit somewhere new (may it be local or international), I would visit a museum. I want a trip to be a learning experience, and not just a trip for the gram. Singapore is rich in museums (even Sentosa has one) because it shows how much knowledge they want to share with their people and its visitors. I’ve seen the Asian Civilization Museum years back and this time, I went to their National Museum. The National Museum features every milestone of Singapore and their dreams for the country in the future.
Next in my to visit list is their Art Museum.
4. My time, my pace.
One of the advantages of traveling solo is that I get to do everything I like, at my own pace. When I was tired from all the walking, I could sit down and just go people watching for an hour. There was no need to compromise and ask for others’ ideas. When I wanted to just roam around and be lost, I got lost on my own. When I was interested in one artifact in the museum, I spent time reading about it and admiring every detail of it. Then when I was not that interested, I could just walk past it.
My of my favorite stops was Haji Lane. When I took a break for lunch after taking pictures of the narrow and artsy lane, I spent a good hour eating my burger slowly and just observe everyone passing by.
I also had a lot of alone time, meaning idle time where I just sat on a bench and did nothing. I made a few phone calls and messages back home to give updates on my whereabouts, but most of the time I savored the time alone. It’s calming and refreshing to reflect on that moment. It was one of those moments where I was thankful that I was able to discover Singapore and hoped that I could do it again in the future.
5. Google Maps is a savior.
Buying a local sim that has data was one of the best decisions I made. The only problem was that I had 16gb all to myself to consume in the span of 6 days. So I was connected all the time when I was finding my way around the city and Google Maps was my companion. I love how Google Maps even indicated the bus number that I had to ride from Haji Lane to the National Museum. It included a bit of a walk, but it wasn’t any trouble because I knew where to go. I think if I didn’t have Google Maps, I would totally be lost. Or even succumb to taking an expensive city tour.
The internet is not entirely evil. Google maps saved me a lot of money and forced me to take a gazillion steps. Yay, exercise!
Trying out different routes is one of the experiments that I did during my week-long stay. Even during the conference days, I tried walking different blocks just to get to the library where the conference was being held (but really, I took the wrong exit and just relied on Google maps to take me back to the library).
Another experiment was taking long exposure shots. My house isn’t near a city with pretty bright lights for long exposure shots, so I rarely attempt to take out my camera at night. But since Singapore is a bustling city at night (especially in the financial district), I decided to try out something new.
I visited Marina Bay Sands for only one purpose: to take long exposure shots of the bay.
7. Act like a local.
I purposely didn’t get a physical map. It was more convenient to rely on Google Maps and also I wanted to blend in. I wanted to experience the local sights by walking the not-so-usual roads that tourists would take. I took side streets, visited quaint shops, and ate the local dishes. It was like experiencing the city through the locals’ eyes and seeing what they do on a daily basis.
8. No picture, no proof.
The only disadvantage I saw is that I did not have anyone to take my picture. There were a lot of interesting spots around the city that would be perfect for a travel shot. Not the peace-sign-while-standing-at-a-famous-landmark shot, but the ones you see on travel bloggers where they would have walking shots on some side streets or beautiful scenery. If I didn’t meet up with friends, I wouldn’t have a single shot of me roaming around the city.
Just insert a walking and smiley me in the following photos. ehe.
I have one shot at the museum, but it was a crappy one and a forced one because there was a mirror in the room.
Walking around a foreign city alone was somewhat therapeutic for me. For the past years, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew what I wanted, but I lacked the inspiration and the “how” to get to that life goal. The conference definitely assured me that my life goal is attainable and that short trip gave me encouragement that I could do it on my own.
So Singapore, see you soon? 😉