Before my first time traveling alone the only advice I remember getting was, "be careful." Then, I thought that was the only advice I really needed, but as I am two weeks away from my trip back to Thailand I cannot help but not remember everything I wish someone had told me. Here are 5 things I wish I was told before my first time traveling alone that I hope can help someone in the future:
1. Keep up with personal hygiene.
So, you would think this was a no-brainer but this definitely slipped my mind after spending 26 hours flying and running through airports. My two biggest concerns were missing my flights and the language barriers, so much so I had completely forgot about my personal hygiene. Not until I made it to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand did I realize how bad I smelled.
I was not only embarrassed that I had forgotten to change my clothes or brush my teeth, but I completely forgot about the people who had to, unfortunately, sit next to me. Now that I am a lot wiser from that unfortunate lesson, I think back, how could someone forget to change their clothes? Even underwear? Yes. Somehow when I tell that story I get nothing but gross looks, but really, who remembers changing underwear when you're flying to Asia alone? But I am here to be your reminder, change your clothes and brush your teeth.
2. You need to talk to strangers.
Being 20 years old and flying alone, I still heard "don't talk to strangers." But somehow, without the few strangers I did talk to, I wouldn't have made it. I talked to people in every airport I was in but it wasn't until I made it to Bangkok that I had enough time to hear stories. When I arrived I changed into my college shirt and met a couple that attended a college a few hours from where I went. They spotted me out because of the shirt I was wearing. They are flight attendants and they use their free time to travel together. I met another couple while asking for directions to a specific spot who told me that they had met while the man was traveling alone. He told me that my courage to travel alone was going to be one of the best things that will ever happen to me. And I also met a guy, who was 21 at the time, who had quit school to travel across Asia for 3 months. We had so much in common and his excitement to travel alone and meet new people was so inspiring.
Although going through 5 different airports and crying because I missed a flight isn't what I would say is "fun", meeting strangers and stepping outside of my comfort zone to talk to them had to be one of the best parts of my trip. I am not excited about the flight time, but I am excited for all the people I am going to meet while in airports.
3. Prepare yourself for any and all language barriers.
My first time traveling alone was to Thailand. As exciting and independent as I thought this was, you bet your ass I was crying wishing I had my parents there to help me. Thailand? That was, in essence, a mistake. On my flight to Shanghai, China the lady I sat next to was Asian. That gave me a piece of all I was about to endure for the next three airports. And trust me, it was as miserable as it sounds. I had missed my flight to Koh Samui, Thailand because of language and the flight back was just as bad even had using the lessons I learned going.
So, when I say "prepare yourself" I mean understand that there will be language barriers. Even if someone can speak English that does not necessarily mean that they understand what they or you are saying. I have realized that some airport employees know enough to get by or try to be of help, but do not get frustrated as it isn't their responsibility to know all that you are saying. Just be prepared and get familiar with the airport.
4. Adjusting to time.
I knew what I was getting myself in when it came to time but I didn't really "know". Not until I arrived and had dinner with my grandpa, his wife, and their friends and was jet-lagged, did I realize how hard it was to adjust to time. Actually, my grandpa called me a couple of days before my trip back and said, "Remember, you cannot sleep once you get here. You have to stay up." I have been dreading it ever since.
But I had prepared myself more than I thought when I came back from Thailand, I came home around 10 p.m Saturday night and was asleep until 6 p.m Sunday night. But even after two days in Thailand, adjusting to time wasn't all that difficult but something that I should have been more mindful of. As much as I am dreading it now, I know what to keep in mind and what I have to look forward to.
5. Be as open-minded as possible.
One thing I did my best to remember is that this trip is not just about me but those I can learn from. This is especially important when traveling to a country that handles everything in a different manner than your own. Thailand is different in religion, in politics, in morals and values, and natives are not as privileged as those who tour. They don't have as much freedom as I do or a percentage of others who tour there as well. I had to keep in mind that I couldn't openly talk about the government or give personal opinions on how they handle things within their own government. Which is understandable, but others don't get that.
Be open-minded when it comes to your own country versus the country in which you hope to travel to. Respect cultural values, morals, and mannerisms. It's important to know when and how you can disrespect natives so that it doesn't happen or could potentially happen.