And it just happened. From short-distance trip to crossing half of the globe, I found myself enjoying traveling alone–savoring the privilege of doing whatever I like in whatever pace I want while turning strangers into friends along the way. It has been an enriching experience that helps me to become more confident, thoughtful, and considerate. Some female readers ask me what are the things they need to consider if they would like to travel solo themselves; so I think I’ll just share some tips from my experience below:
- Don’t be a bitch. No matter how pissed off you are, how angry you are, control yourself, control your emotion. You are alone in a strange country–if you’re being a bitch and making hurtful comments to someone, you’re attracting unnecessary hatred towards yourself. Just be kind, but prompt. I know sometimes guys approach you when you’re walking or invite you for some drinks; other times a beggar follows you around asking for money. You can smile and say ‘no’ politely, and then say ‘no’ again promptly when they’re still trying, or say ‘no’ again and walk away briskly. But don’t make a drama out of it. If you don’t like the taste of a local food or find the streets so gross and dirty or think that a local custom doesn’t make sense, don’t make nasty comments or ugly faces or throwing evil judgments. Accept the fact that each country is different, and respect that. Think of how you would feel if a traveler made nasty comments about your country. Don’t make people hate you. Be kind. Be considerate.
- Be prepared and do your homework. Do extensive research about the country/city you are about to visit. Ask around, especially to friends/families who had been there before. With sites like Couchsurfing, you can always get valuable insights from the locals about the best location to stay, local transport, customs and traditions, and so on. Learn a little bit of local language always helps–at least in the countries I have ever visited. I realized that the locals–including immigration officials, became much friendlier when I said a few words in their local language. I think they appreciate the fact that you care enough to try. Find out the proper outfit to wear. In some countries, women adhere to a certain way of dressing. In other countries, you need to wear long skirts or sarongs to visit temples and religious sites. To me, following the dress code is more about showing respect to the culture in a certain country rather than an attempt to avoid unnecessary attention (though it also helps you gain respect when you’re trying to dress like a local). I would suggest you to have your accommodation booked at least for your arrival day. This would calm you down, knowing that you already have somewhere to go and someone to contact as you exited the airport.
- Make connections. You can stay with a Couchsurfer. It’s a great way to experience a country from a perspective of a local. You can select a female host to stay with if it makes you feel safer. I would suggest you to stay with someone whose location has been checked, the identity has been verified, has been vouched for, and has hosted several travelers before. Do read people’s recommendations/testimonials about the host. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of staying with a stranger, go for hostels. You can do your research at HostelWorld. Most hostels have reception areas and common rooms where other travelers hang out. Make friends with them, chat about your itineraries and plans, sometimes you can arrange some trips together or tag along with someone. Make conversations with taxi drivers, waiters, shopkeepers. Ask them about the ‘local places’ to eat or shop.
- Don’t look lost. Sometimes we got worried, scared, confused, got lost. But, no matter what, appear calm and confident. Act as if you know what you need to do. When you’re waiting for someone, appear busy. Bring a book with you, so you can read instead of looking lost. Of course, you can also pretend to take photographs or listening to music from your iPod or fake-texting on your phone–but in some places you don’t want to flash your gadgets out. Book is rather safe. If you need to ask for directions, enter a nice hotel/inn/store/cafe and ask the concierge or the bellboy or the storekeeper or the waiter. If you’re out in the streets, ask in front of a group of people who doesn’t know each other, like in a shop, small restaurants, or bus stop–thus if someone is trying to mislead you, other people will catch that and butt in. Trust your gut. When something (or someone) doesn’t feel right, walk away from it.
- Make sure you can contact someone and can be contacted. Even if you don’t have local numbers, make sure that you can make an emergency phone call or send text messages. Have someone to contact in the city you’re in; either someone from your hostel, your embassy, a fellow traveler, or a local friend. Let someone at home–either families and friends know your plans and your whereabouts: your flights, hotels, and so on; at least they have a grip on where to find you. It will make you feel safer.
- Just remember that we are all human after all. We like to laugh and smile and be happy. We like to make friends and enjoy nice conversation. Some things are universal, like kindness. Be positive and see your next destination as an adventure, as a journey to find that kind-hearted person inside of you. Go out and see the world with this frame of mind, and you’ll be able to see beauty everywhere you go–even when it’s hidden in the most unlikely places.
The next morning, I was on a boat for El Nido’s famous island-hopping tour. I was sharing the boat with two couples on their first and second honeymoon. One of them is Belle and Michael, who had just got married a few days before. Their love story was just amazing: from best friends to husband and wife :’) Island-hopping is a must in El Nido. What’s great is that the local authority have managed to regulate the price for such tours (tour A, B, C and D) so you won’t be ripped off. The authority have also decided on the islands we can visit (Turtle Island, for instance, where turtles lay their eggs, is closed for public. Only researchers can land on this island after obtaining a permit).
When you pay for the tour, included in the price is the boat, guides, lunch, and snorkeling gears. And snorkeling is also a must, because the underwater view is just amazing! The clear water and the fish and the colorful corals… breath-taking! And don’t worry if you can’t swim (or too lazy to swim). You’ll have a life vest, so you can just float lazily there. If you don’t know how to snorkel, the guide will teach you how.
There are two lagoons included in the tour (small lagoon and big lagoon). To reach these lagoons, you need to swim through an opening between the cliffs, because the boat could not get in. But if you can’t swim, the guides will help you to get there. No worries. Traveling alone? The guides will take your camera and put it inside their waterproof bag, and will take pictures for you during the trip (good pictures, too!). I love the guides! And they prepared our lunch-by-the-beach, too! ^^
What’s better than enjoying lunch accompanied by such a beautiful view (and a cute dog)?
It was during lunch when I met Mischa and Julia and some of their friends. They were about to take a group photo by placing their camera on a rock. And because I overheard them speaking in Russian, I greeted them and offered them some help. We ended up conversing in Russian (well, perfect Russian on their side because they came from Moscow and could not speak English; and broken Russian on my side) and took turns taking pictures of each other.
Matinloc Shrine was amazing. It was located in a small island, surrounded by the forests and the cliffs. It was also known as Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc or Shrine of the Blessed Virgin). The view from the top of the cliff were just awesome; it was worth climbing.
And it won’t be complete without lazying on the beach, waiting for the sun to set, and drinking young coconut water (buko in Tagalog) before heading back to town.
The photographs tell it all :)
This is my typical morning in El Nido: woke up at around 7 or 8 in the morning, had a shower, and walked lazily to the small hut in the inn’s area; had my morning dose of coffee, toast, and omelette; and sat there for around an hour—enjoying the view of the ocean and the cliffs while listening to the melodious sound of the waves.
Then I would be taking a walk by the beach, dipping my feet in the water, joining the kids who were playing catch, taking pictures… and breathing in the fresh morning air. It smelled of summer and flowers and daydream.
El Nido town is very small; you could walk your way everywhere. After taking my morning stroll at the beach, I would just wander around the streets—checking out the small cafes, still-closed bars and restaurants. When I looked up, I could see the sky and the cliffs surrounding the town.
When the sun became too hot to bear, I would just sit at a small diner in front of La Banane’s hostel—having iced coffee, juice, and cheeseburger for a quick lunch while conversing with the owner; a very friendly lady. When she saw me reading a book there while munching my cheeseburger, she said, “Why don’t you just come inside the hostel? We have a terrace there, and you can read there. Will be more convenient than reading here, and cooler, too!”
Afterwards, full and a bit sleepy, I would retreat to my hammock at the inn to read and write; glancing at this view every once and a while.
One afternoon, as I sat there, a pretty little girl came by and watched me taking pictures with my DSLR. She wanted to try, so I taught her how to snap some pictures. And then she saw me taking pictures with my iPhone, and she wanted to try, too. Her name is Maria, and we spent that entire afternoon taking pictures of the beachside.
Then her mother, Lani—who turned out to work in El Nido arranging tours, came along and we chatted for a while under the shade. She brought along a plate of Philippine’s typical jelly (she said), made of coconut milk. It was really refreshing for such a hot and humid afternoon!
Not long after, Maria’s brother, Klein, joined us and took pictures of everything, too. They are so cute—and they definitely know how to pose in front of the camera!
“There will be two couples going for island-hopping tour tomorrow,” said Lani afterwards, when I asked her about the island-hopping tour in El Nido. “Why don’t you just join them, so you can split the cost and do not have to hire your own boat?”
I agreed to that. Deal. It would be two couples on their honeymoon and yours truly, alone.
I had heard about Palawan before. But El Nido—particularly, came to me in a dream. In the dream, I was spending some time there; at a beach house; with a guy I had a crush on (later on, I found out that the guy turned out to be a jerk). But, anyway, El Nido had captured me somehow. My boss—who had been there in the 80s, also encouraged me to go there. Thus, just like that, El Nido became one of the destination for my one-month traveling journey. A week before my departure, I found a cheap ticket from Philippine Airline via Skyscanner (oh, I love this site!) and booked my flight from Jakarta to Manila and from Manila to Palawan. Two days later, I checked the weather forecast for El Nido and Palawan during the dates of my stay. The results? Rain, storm, rain, rain, storm, rain… whatever! >__<
It took around 3.5 hours to fly from Jakarta to Manila, an hour flight from Manila to Palawan (Puerto Princessa) and 6-8 hours ride on a public van (around 500-600 Pesos) or the green-yellow RORO bus (300-400 Pesos) to reach El Nido from Puerto Princessa. Public van or buses are available near Puerto Princessa airport; even if you have not booked in advance, you won’t find any trouble in getting a transport to El Nido as long as it is still under 6 pm (oh, and it seems like everyone speaks English which makes it easier for you to ask for help or directions). I took the Eulen Joy public van to El Nido that day. “Marina Garden,” I told the driver when he asked where I stayed in El Nido. And so the bumpy ride began: downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill, mountain forests, villages, mountain forests, villages, it was very similar to riding a roller coaster (apart from the somersault)—but of course, being me, I just sat by the window, put on my sunglasses, hugged my backpack, and slept throughout the journey.
I had booked an accommodation at Marina Garden Beach Resort in El Nido beforehand; via SMS (turned out it was faster to arrange everything via SMS instead of emails).
Don’t expect anything fancy from this place though the name might suggest so. El Nido is a newly-developed tourism destination, so most accommodations in this area consist of home stays and small inns (though constructions for hotels and inns were everywhere when I was there. well, there is this fancy El Nido Resorts in Miniloc Island if you’d like to go posh). In Marina Garden, the rate is around 700-800 Pesos per night. The room is very basic: bed, desk, bathroom, fan, old air-con, no television set; but it’s clean and tidy. Like everywhere else in this island, the electricity runs only from 2 pm to 6 am. So it’s best to go out in the morning and enjoy the sun!
Marina Garden’s location is very convenient because it is right in the middle of everything, including the police station (safe!), tourism office, and the rows of cafes, restaurants, and bars (you can just walk for 1-5 minutes to reach those places), plus, the departure point for the island-hopping boats is right in front of their yard! But what’s best is that they have this amazing ocean view only 10 steps away from the room; a small hut where you can have breakfast or coffee; and the hammock—my hammock (!).
Thank God I got some sunny days while I was in El Nido (don’t trust the weather forecast?)—though it was usually raining or drizzling in the evening and very early in the morning (I got my umbrella with me!). However, the mist that rose up afterwards from the rocks and limestone cliffs surrounding the small town gave such an amazing view; I could not complain.
And that was exactly how I spent my first days in El Nido: woke up at around 7, took a shower, ate my breakfast, got a cup of coffee, then retreated to my hammock to read and write all day.
I want this view from my backyard. I can get used to this.
Dear ___ ,
Have I told you that this journey is different? I have decided to skip all the touristy spots in Kyiv, and left my camera at the hostel. The idea was just to enjoy Kyiv from a perspective of a local—and to spend more time connecting with people: just hanging around, laughing, talking, eating out. It was fun. It was a great fun.
From Couchsurfing, I met Kyryl and his lovely girlfriend Ieugenia.
They were such a cute couple! I had so much fun taking pictures of them both, because they were so kind and fun and affectionate and down-to-earth. They made jokes out of each other, yet you could clearly see the sparks of love in their eyes as they looked at each other (I was thinking of us when I saw them).
Together with my wonderful interpreter at TechCamp, Inna (right) and her friend Anna (left),
the five of us went for a stroll around Kyiv one lovely afternoon, practicing some Russian phrases along the way; and ended up in a small Sovyet-style diner with loads of magazines and books from the Sovyet era,
attacking a plate of Vereniki (a kind of dumpling that can be filled with mushroom, beef, chicken, etc., served with sour cream)
and drinking Kyiv’s local liqeur Hrenovuha—that was made of horseradish (smelled and tasted like one, too, with the after-effect resembling eating too much wasabi).
It was raining that evening, as we got out from the diner. Inna and Anna went back home, and I went with Kyryl and Ieugenia to Ieugenia’s apartment. “It’s a typical Sovyet apartment,” said Ieugenia. “All the apartments look the same, with the same furnitures, cupboards, stoves…”
We talked all night long on Ieugenia’s kitchen table, sipping cognac and eating melon; while listening to the government’s radio playing on the background. The cold wind was blowing from the open window and it was drizzling outside. It was such a wonderful time.
Earlier that week, at the hostel, I also met Francois—a Canadian who lives in London at the moment,
and Fransisco, a Brazilian who gets fascinated by my name and kept on teasing me when we bumped into each other (Hey, Hanny *wink* Can I call you Hanny? *wink* Hello, Hanny *wink*) and we laughed out loud every time. “Sorry, I can’t help myself. I know, lame jokes, but I just love it!” he said.
With the boys and some other Ukrainian friends, we went for a bar-hopping experience in Kyiv one night, and ended up eating chicken soup at a restaurant and spent the rest of the night conversing as we walked back home.
On my last day in Kyiv, I met Natalya Kovalienko as I walked around the artsy stretch of Andriyivzkyy in the morning. Natalya sells arts & crafts in a street stall. She is an artist; a painter—and she painted all of the souvenirs she offers: matryoshka dolls, fridge magnets, hair combs, mirrors, jewelry boxes…
In one of my letters, I told you how I was scared and nervous and anxious when I first traveling alone, because I was such an introverted shy girl, and I doubted myself a lot. I told you that often times, I wasn’t sure that I could, that I would make it. “But soon, I started to enjoy the feeling of being on my own: of making connections, of trusting people I have just met, of initiating a conversation with a total stranger,” I said.
And this was exactly how I met you. This was how you ended up in my letters and I ended up in yours. I am glad for now I can say that when it comes to us, I have no regret. No matter what awaits us in the future, we know that together, we’re awesome, and we’re great! See you in a couple of weeks!
I know that I’ve been postponing this for quite some time. A part of myself refused to say an official ‘goodbye’ to Santorini—thus, I found it difficult to actually sit down in front of my computer and write this last part; the epilogue. Finally, I’m writing this from Almaty, Kazakhstan, somewhere in the midst of the mysterious charm of Central Asia. An encounter with someone here a few days ago reminded me of a conversation I had with G inside the car on my last day in Santorini, when he drove me to the airport.
It’s all about living a life without regret. A life worth celebrating.
“I love my job, I love what I do. I get to talk and meet with a lot of interesting people,” said G that cloudy morning. “But I don’t like money. Really, I hate money. That’s why I spend it. I travel around the world and spend loads of money. I even invite my friends to come along with me. Then I go back here, without money, and start working again. But it’s been an amazing life. You know, if I should die today, I have no regret. The business is running well, I know that my family will be alright without me. My father, my mother, they are doing fine. And I am happy, Hanny. If I die today, I will die happily. I will die a happy man.”
The following week, I received a reply from AP about the thank-you note I’ve written for the great meal and the great service I’ve experienced in his tavern. “Honey, I’m really happy because you’re the proof of all the hard work and efforts we make everyday to be everything-perfect! We see our customers as friends first,” wrote AP. “We’re learning, from generation to generation, to give our best. To be hospitable. And to do everything with love. One baklava is waiting for you, so come again as soon as possible!”
If there’s any secret ingredient to live a life without regret, that must be it. Love. To do things that you love, and to do things that you might not love that much with a lot of love. It’s about seeing people that you love happy and content. It’s about radiating the love inside of you, which in turn will make people around you feel accepted and comfortable. You do not judge. You do not compare. You do not count. You have no fixed plans. You seize the day and grab the opportunity. You never wish that you said ‘hello’ because you always do. You connect. You smile. You laugh. You flow. You love. You live.
- George Katsipis | Villa Evgenia Hotel in Fira, Santorini. Ranked #1 of 25 specialty lodging in Fira by TripAdvisor (that’s what love can do). If you’re at the reception area, look for an owl postcard on the customer’s board: that’s mine!
- Alexandros Passaris | Petros Fish Tavern in Oia, Santorini. Enjoy the tasty grilled fish while admiring the sunset view by the ocean.
- Oliver, Craig, Tim, Maria and Chris | Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini.
More in this series:
- Santorini | 4. Romance in a Bookshop
- Santorini | 3. Those Who Leave Traces
- Santorini | 2. The Road Less Travelled
- Santorini | 1. The Art of Travelling Alone
- Santorini (Prologue) | 0. The City
In the end, it is not about the city, nor the streets. It is also not about those picturesque hills or beaches or mountains. And it is not about the local food or delicacies, traditional dances or performances. It is definitely not about the tourist attraction, nor the hidden exotic spots. And, surprisingly, it is not even about the photographs you have taken, no matter how wonderful they turned out to be.
From my previous travelling journeys, I realized that the places I cherish the most are places with names and faces; places where stories and dreams are being shared with someone you have just met for the very first time; places where you arrive as a stranger and depart as a dear friend. It is that connection that matters. It is that warm feeling of friendship that lingers—even long after the post-journey excitement fades away. It is that kind of feeling that stays with me after I got back from visiting Karachi, Pakistan, June last year; and it is also that kind of feeling that remains as I was sitting on the plane, leaving Santorini behind.
It is about G, and our casual talk at the reception area.
About how he introduced me to his friends and showed me the best spots in town to eat, hang out, or take beautiful pictures. About how he wanted me to bring a bottle of his family’s wine back home. About how he gave me his phone number and said, “Anytime you need anything, just call. I’m available 24 hours.”
It is about AD who greeted me every morning just because I always walked past his place on my way to the bus station. It is about our small talk every day when he asked me where I would go that day and what I had seen yesterday before giving me that pleasant smile and shouted, “Have a nice day!”—while waving his hands cheerily.
It is about AP who came to my table when I dine at his place. About how he thanked me for coming and told me stories about how he went fishing in the morning and caught the now-grilled sea bass I was eating. About how he told me that the baklava I ordered for dessert was a treat from him.
It is about F who was watering his plants when I passed by his house. About how he asked, “Hello, everything’s alright?” because he thought I was lost. It is about how we chatted after I told him that I was not lost; I was just wandering around the alleyways to take pictures of people’s fences, doors, and windows.
It is about O, a friend of G, who gave me a crash course in Greek.
It is about the guy at the bookshop who pulled out a wooden puppet from somewhere and asked me, “Do you know Karagkiozis?”—and when I shook my head, he said that Karagkiozis is a kind of shadow play from Greece.
About how you can move the wooden puppet by pulling on the strings attached to it. “It is played behind a white screen, so people only see the shadows,” he explained, before slipping the wooden puppet into my shopping bag and said, “This is for you. A gift from Santorini!”
In the end, it is all about the people. It is always about the people.
They are the ones who make your journey memorable. They are ones who teach you something new, who enable you to see the world from a different perspective, who send subtle messages that somehow feel relevant to your life. They are the ones who shape the faces of your journeys. They stay with you throughout, because somehow—no matter how brief their kindness had brushed up on you, they have left a part of themselves in you. And whether you realize it or not, you have also left a part of yourself in them.
Also in this series:
- Santorini | 2. The Road Less Travelled
- Santorini | 1. The Art of Travelling Alone
- Santorini (Prologue) | 0. The City