Although Thailand wasn’t my first destination, it was my first solo trip and the start of my love for Asia.
Having never backpacked before I spent the months beforehand researching equipment, watching out for discounts and sales and trying on endless backpacks to find the perfect fit. The general assumption would have been that I couldn’t wait to get on that plane but in reality I was so overwhelmed. Packing everything ‘strategically’ into my pack took me hours the first time (more on my tips about that in a later blog) and even with my lack of space I was still questioning if I had everything I needed.
Geared up and feeling awfully unprepared for the adventure that lay ahead I checked in at the airport only to get stopped at security for leaving my brand new pocket knife in my carry on. I just about turned around right there, convinced I couldn’t possibly survive Thailand if I couldn’t remember airport security basics. Triple checking I had the right gate number my journey had truly begun.
Arriving in Bangkok I must have stood out like a sore thumb. Fighting to get my backpack on at the baggage claim, wearing brand new walking boots and looking lost and sleep deprived I did what any first time traveller does; I followed the people who looked exactly like me.
Walking out into the open I was hit by hot air, pungent smells, the sound of traffic and hundreds of people all rushing to get somewhere. I started sweating immediately, feeling the full weight of my pack and becoming more disorientated by the minute. The directions I had printed off in England had seemed more than adequate at the time but now, faced with reality, I was blatantly going to be getting lost a few times.
No amount of research can prepare you for the smells and noise that Bangkok brings. Burning chestnuts, piles of limes on the side of the streets, fish being prepared for the lunch time rush and the fumes from tsk tuks. The distinctive herbal smell that seeps from the Chinese medicine shops and the constant shouting, selling and traffic rushing by. Now this is one of my favourite things about Thailand, and Asia in general, but at the time it was quite simply overwhelming.
Having tackled the airport and the train I knew I was roughly in the right location I just had to find the building I was staying in for the night. Remembering that I was a young, single, female traveller I was suspicious of everyone. I tried to emanate a sense of calm and control which paired with my white skin and huge backpack clearly wasn’t as successful as I had believed. Every person I passed asked me if I needed help, ‘did I want them to show me where to go?’ ‘Would I like a ride?’ As I politely declined all offers of help for fear of an ulterior motive I was losing hope I would ever find my hotel. After spending time here I now know these were genuine offers rather than fraudulent concerns.
Alas after several walks around the area I stumbled across my hotel hidden away amongst other buildings. Thailand is a tremendously cheap destination, you can stay in hostels for a couple of dollars a night and nice hotels for $25. Although my overall plan was to hostel, my first night I had pre-booked a relatively nice hotel just to help me adjust to my new environment. For me this was perfect, it was exactly what I needed to help me settle and re-gain my confidence to tackle this new culture.
Over the next three months I would come to learn so much about Thailand, it’s language, food, culture and people- including how kind and helpful they are by nature, which would have been beneficial when I was getting lost trying to find my hotel! I also gained confidence and knowledge as a solo backpacker that enabled me to embark upon more adventures and learn from many lessons.
Backpacking alone can be a scary prospect that takes a lot of motivation and strength to act upon. However, having said this, I think it is one of the best things I ever did. Traveling by yourself isn’t as lonely as you may think and there are always great people to meet along the way. My recommendation would be, just do it!! Keep checking back here for tips on solo travel, backpacking and Asia. If you have any questions or topics you want to know more about, send us an email.