I have been receiving a ton of queries through direct and private messages on my social media, regarding my trips from planning and preparation, suggested travel destinations, to how-to-go-about, and whatnot. So I opted to have this article as reference for my readers particularly those who will embark on their first solo travel and would dare see and appreciate the world! Yalla! So here goes the random FAQs about my travels, my tips, and my misadventures in between.
- WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU DECIDE TO TRAVEL?
- I list down my preferred destination(s).
- I narrow down my itineraries depending on my travel duration and set budget.
- I compute and compute and compute! (This is the problem of a budget-traveler).
- I do lots of research months before a trip. I look for places to go, eat and sleep. I hunt them from travel websites, and even from hashtags on Instagram!
- Once everything is laid out, I book airline tickets, reserve my accommodation, and prepare and secure all the requirements specifically when visa application is needed.
- I do personal countdown. I don’t care about opinion of others, as most of the times, I manifest my excitement by announcing my travel plans and countdown on my social media. It’s part of how I feed my wanderlust! And I am happy about it as I do not really care if everyone thinks it’s just me bragging of my next trip. They’re not paying for my trip anyway.
- I keep my mind open for possibilities (things that are not planned and those that happen spontaneously), like traveling to another place that was not listed in my initial set of itineraries.
- IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL ALONE?
Yes and No.
Yes, it’s safe if and when you prepared and planned for it well (Sometimes, sh*t happens even to the most prepared tourists and travelers! I also agree that at times, spontaneity works well with others but perhaps, not me!).
In general, you may meet your travel expectations when you research the following before your trip :
- your preferred itineraries (saves you a lot of time and money when you know where and when to go).
- a bit of current events.
- about the season and weather (as it will dictate appropriate outfits to bring).
- present political (is there any uprising?) and social situations (is it family-friendly?) in your destination(s).
Solitary traveling can teach you to become more independent and responsible, as you don’t have other people to rely on but yourself. It’s like living abroad alone (Both of which, I am surviving now). It provides you greater chances to discover more about yourself and your surrounding.
On the contrary, traveling solo may be unsafe because of inevitable and unexpected misfortunes. Some things happened beyond our control. It all boils down to fact that in any thing that we do, there’s always a risk, and traveling is not an exception. You’ll never know how safe it is to travel alone until you do it.
- WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS?
Apart from my home country, the Philippines (of which I have to explore more when I come home, and the two countries where I have been an expat – Malaysia for 3 years, and UAE at present), and among the other 31 countries (total of 34 to date) that I’ve been, I love Malta, Czech Republic and Italy. These 3 countries impressed me with their otherworldly charm, remarkable heritage sites, fantastic natural wonders, tasteful local cuisines and wines, accessibility to public transport, affordable expenses, warm and friendly people. Runners up are countries in South America that I have been to (Brasil, Peru, Bolivia), France, Nepal, Hungary, Russia, Georgia, Thailand, Estonia, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, and many more!
- WHAT TRAVEL WEBSITES AND APPS DO YOU FIND MOST HELPFUL?
I always try my best to read reviews of places, restaurants, and tourist spots in TripAdvisor. Nowadays, I find watching travel vlogs on YouTube equally informative as reading travel blogs and browsing travel guide books and magazines.
When booking accommodation, I go for Booking.com, sometimes Agoda.com or Hostelworld.com.
Regarding mode of transportation, I usually rely on Rome2Rio.com for approximation of distance of my destinations from point A to point B, to approximation of transportation fares and exact location map. Speaking of map, of course I find Google Maps highly useful, however for places where wifi access or internet signal are weak to hopeless, the app Maps.me saves the day!
In Europe, I rely on GoEuro app and their website. I check and book train and bus tickets in via GoEuro.
For air tickets, I check flight schedules and rates via websites of Momondo, FlyFar (where I purchase my recent return tickets for unbelievably cheapest rates!) and SkyScanner, however, I had very bad experience in Bolivia after I purchased tickets through a third party travel agency on SkyScanner. I found out late at the check in counter in La Paz, Bolivia (en route to Chile supposedly, then Dubai via Rio de Janeiro), that I could neither rebook nor refund my ticket and it’s non-transferrable because I did not buy it directly from the airline website. It became a big lesson for me (that forced me to stay an extra night in La Paz) hence, since then, I only rely on SkyScanner to check flight schedules and ticket rates, but I always book through the website of airlines directly.
- WHAT MODE OF ACCOMODATION DO YOU PREFER?
Most of my solo trips particularly in Europe, I preferred to stay in hostels. Why? Because it’s affordable and cheap, and it’s practical in so many ways. I always think that I will be out the whole day traveling and would only need a clean and safe bed for sleeping. I usually book a lower bunk bed at a 4 or 6 pax per mixed dorm room. It has to be mixed dorm as I find it safer than all-male-dorm. I also take in consideration location of hostels (or hotel or AirBnB), it has to have accessibility to public transportation – either the location is near metro or bus stations. Availability of laundry is important to me too, particularly if the duration of my trip extends more than a week. I usually ask it through email from the hostel months before I arrive.
I tried AirBnB accommodation in Rio de Janeiro and it was a pleasant experience! I owe it to my Brazilian-Lebanese hostess who introduced me to her family and welcomed me to her mansion that extends an entire floor of a residential building in between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches (I told you location is important!). I find AirBnB cheaper than staying in hotels, and it provides close-encounter with locals, of course.
Staying in a hotel that renders ultimate comfort and impeccable service would be most ideal however, for non-sponsored trips and for financial reasons, I always think more than twice.
Apparently, if you don’t have a relative or friend in your travel destination, the next cheapest mode of accommodation is Couchsurfing. Although I have an account on the website of Couchsurfing however, I have yet to try it once I gathered enough courage to stay for free in a stranger’s home. Again, consider all risks.
- DO YOU PREFER TRAVELING THROUGH A PRE-BOOKED TRIP THROUGH A TRAVEL AGENCY OR VIA DO-IT-YOURSELF SCHEME?
I have yet to try traveling and relying entirely through a travel agency. I only booked my Day Tours via Viator when I went to Brasil (Cristo Redentor and Sugarloaf Mountain) and Peru (Machu Picchu). I considered Viator, which is owned by people from TripAdvisor too (Did you know that?), because of their good reviews and to cut the lines of buying tickets going to those spots mentioned.
My Day and Night Tours in Rovaniemi Finland were sponsored by Lapland Safaris and Heli Tours.
In general, I always prefer a DIY-travel scheme so I only blame myself and learn from my mistakes or errors when something bad happens. You learn more if it’s a hands-on experience!
- IS IT DIFFICULT TO APPLY FOR SCHENGEN VISA (and other tourist visas)?
Schengen visa is needed whenever applicable as per your passport or your country of origin; before you travel to any of the (26) countries within the Schengen territories in Europe.
Generally like all visa applications, you may expect a positive result after you meet the criteria below :
- If you have submitted complete requirements (print out the check list provided on their website).
- If you have answered all necessary queries on the application form truthfully.
- If you have no reasons to be banned for entry to the Schengen territory.
You may need to book an appointment and apply and submit requirements for Schengen visa as early as 3 months before your trip.
Luckily, I have been granted with 3 Schengen visas and have been to Europe 4x in 2016.
I wish to go back to Europe soon and I hope to be granted with another Schengen visa with a longer validity and multiple entry.
- DO YOU PURCHASE LOCAL SIM CARD FOR WIFI AND PHONE ACCESS AT YOUR DESTINATION?
No, I always rely on free wifi access in hostels/hotels/coffee shops/restaurants wherever I go. Most of the time, I pre-purchase international roaming data as per my travel duration.
- WHAT TRAVEL SOUVENIRS DO YOU COLLECT?
I have started collecting Christmas decors from my travel destinations. Imagine setting up a tree with all various ornaments that will remind you of your trip, your experiences, your journey!
I also love fridge magnets (not so of key chains).
I like postcards (and some art pieces too).
Obviously, I take tons of photographs from my trips. They are my tangible memories.
- WHAT ARE YOUR MOST UNFORGETTABLE TRAVEL EXPERIENCES?
- Being mugged by 4 men in New Delhi Gate in India, right after I arrived at the airport, around past 7 in the evening. They robbed me of my entire pocket money amounting to 28,000 Rupees (around 1,800 dirhams). Travel tip : BE VERY CAREFUL not only to locals, but more so to fellow tourists and travelers as well.
- Experiencing my first snowfall in Istanbul, Turkey. I had touched and seen snow in Yosemite National Park in California however, it was in Istanbul where I almost danced under snowfall as I was overjoyed! Travel tip : NEVER BE SHY TO UNLEASH THE KID IN YOU! YOU TRAVEL TO ENJOY AND CELEBRATE LIFE. ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT!
- Riding a helicopter in Brasil for the first time ever, particularly over Cristo Redentor atop Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. It was followed by another 16-minute-helicopter-tour over the majestic, Iguazu Falls in south of Brasil. Travel tip : DO YOUR RESEARCH. Luxury tours may seem so expensive until you research and find out that they’re surprisingly affordable.
- Finding myself crying while staring blankly at a portion of Iguazu Falls (Argentina side, while I was seated on a bench in Brasil side). I was literally reminded by that moment that God is the Almighty Creator of everything and everyone! And my personal problems are actually minute compared to the beauty of God’s creations around us! Travel tip : ACCEPT THE FACT THAT IT’S BETTER TO APPRECIATE THE WORLD THAN TO FIND FAULTS AND DWELL ON OUR PROBLEMS ALL THE TIME. CELEBRATE LIFE THROUGH TRAVELS!
- Driving a snowmobile for about 50 kilometers over 7-inch of snow over frozen lake in Rovaniemi, Finland, just to meet the real Santa Claus, have lunch of Swedish meat balls and oh-so-fluffy-mashed potatoes with gravy, and ride Santa’s wooden sledge pulled by his mighty and loyal reindeers! Coolest Yuletide ever! Literally and figuratively! Travel tip : CONSIDER FINLAND in your bucket list!
- Being subjected to random airport police drug inspection twice at Cusco International Airport. After I checked in my luggage, I was approached by 2 women clad in civilian clothes who introduced themselves politely as airport police; presented their IDs and asked me to come to their office at the second floor. So I towed my 20-kg Rimowa and carried my 10-kg 50-litre backpack up to their office. According to them, there were reports of drug smuggling from Peru to Bolivia (my routes that time), and so they were conducting random drug checks in passengers’ luggages and bags. Even my travel buddy (my stuffed teddy bear, @gelothebear on IG) was subjected to sniffing and inspection. They found nothing on me. I was cleared. I was asked to sign an official waiver regarding what was conducted. Everything was fine with me, except I had difficulty in putting back all my things to my luggage and backpack. Travel tip : DON’T BRING ANY COCA-LEAVES FROM CUSCO or any part of Peru. PACK YOUR OWN LUGGAGE AND BAGS.
- Leaving home without weighing my bag and luggage was a wrong decision! I had to call a friend who generously volunteered to meet me in Dubai Airport before midnight just to take out my more than 5-kilo-excess baggage before my trip to Helsinki-Rovaniemi-Tallinn-Latvia in December 2016. Travel tip : NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT WEIGHING YOUR LUGGAGE. IT’S ALWAYS COST-SAVING TO PREPARE THAN OTHERWISE.
- Setting foot in Machu Picchu early in the morning! There’s always a massive sense of fulfilment when you accomplished going to destinations inscribed in your own bucket list. Fulfilment. That was exactly I felt after leaving Cusco via Viator pre-paid package Day Tour, at 4AM and reached Estacion de Ollantaytanbo at 6AM. Followed by almost 2 hour train ride to MachuPicchu Pueblo formerly known as Aguas Callientes. Then transfer to a bus that ascended to the gates of the Machu Picchu for 25 minutes, and finally the climb or the ascent by foot and laboured breathing. I can attest that doing the Inca trail is more physically challenging and more expensive! Travel tip : GIVE YOUR DREAMS A GREEN LIGHT!
- Seeing the Northern Lights after 3 long hours of waiting in the cold, and despite the faintest apparition. This natural phenomenon is magical! I will chase it again in Iceland hopefully. Travel tip : CONSIDER THE NORTHERN LIGHTS in your bucket list!
- WHERE IS YOUR NEXT DESTINATION?
Secret! Only few friends and those who religiously follow me on social media knew about it.
GOT QUESTIONS? Please write down your travel queries on the comment section below and I will update this article from time to time. THANK YOU!
*DISCLOSURE : Although travel websites are mentioned on this post, this is not a sponsored article and all photos and opinions are my own.