Because I was brought up to appreciate the rich diversity of peoples and cultures around the world, I would bring that spirit with me during my travels, constantly going off the beaten track to learn more about how other people live.
Instead of attractions that occupy the usual tourist itineraries and sit on Top 10 lists, I found myself gravitating towards places that represent the diverse heartbeat of the city or town that I was in.
I loved the suburban Vietnamese restaurants in the US, the park playgrounds near family friends’ houses, the (super-sized) bags of snacks in grocery stores, and the various watering holes where serendipitous encounters and varied conversations happen.
I also sought out unique experiences as a solo traveller, recently visiting Spain, Japan and Vietnam on my own.
SOLO TRAVELLING IN MONGOLIA
As a young adult, solo travel was never about getting away, but about understanding myself better, to push boundaries and face fears head-on. Each trip is an introspection and an opportunity to grow.
To help travellers discover and understand the cultural significance of attractions, I worked together with a team of fellow travel and tech enthusiasts to develop Wunderguide, an artificial intelligence tour guide that helps save hours of sifting through reviews, websites, and maps across multiple apps.
It was this yearning to immerse oneself into the pulse of every destination that we decided to create Wunderguide not just as another travel tool, but as a bridge to help travellers easily find answers to their questions and understand their destinations.
Nevertheless, the best experiences are often spontaneous, as I’ve found. Last July, I found myself travelling to the vast steppes of Mongolia.
There, I would discover a wordless form of human connection while staying in a traditional ger, the yurt-like dwelling that has housed nomads for centuries.
Every communication with my nomadic hosts involved a tentative dance of gestures and smiles. In spite of this language hurdle, we were able to understand each other.
What made the difference was the mutual desire on both sides to share aspects of our own culture, which was a kind of universal language of its own.
For my fellow female solo travellers, there will of course be some trepidation being so far away from home on our own.
Apart from the oft-cited and correct advice of doing proper research beforehand about cultural norms and keeping trusted ones informed about your movements, there are also ways for female travellers to not let fear hinder genuine experiences.
For one, opting for homestays can be wise, as staying with local family hosts provides an intimate glimpse into the region’s lifestyle and traditions.
Connecting with other travellers also helps – platforms like Hostelworld can help you meet other travellers. For many cities, there are Facebook groups that cater specifically to female travellers.
It goes without saying that safety is paramount, which is why having a friendly face in the vicinity is key.
Whether it is the vibrant canals of Amsterdam, the bucolic Mongolian countryside, hectic Hong Kong or the tranquil streets of San Sebastian, I firmly believe that solo travel doesn’t mean travelling alone.
Rather, it means interacting more with locals who can come from vastly different backgrounds. Doing so can enrich our own life and help us figure out our own place in the world.
After all, identity isn’t a static entity sealed within predefined societal boxes decided from birth.
I may be Japanese and Chinese, but my identity is also the sum of all the places I’ve lived in and travelled to, like a patchwork of experiences and memories that define me as a person.
And each step I take into a new place or a new experience enlarges this rich tapestry by weaving in new threads, including those made from Mongolian wool.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amelia Yamato Leow, 23, is a Business Analytics major with a love for travel, nature, and culinary adventures. Her weekends are often a blend of family gatherings, hangouts with friends, playing with her dog, working on Wunderguide, and reading a new book. Her book recommendation is Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, which offers the poignant reflection: “All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life.”