Isn’t it dangerous to be in an unfamiliar place alone? What if I get lost? Or die? Will I survive?
These were just some of the pessimistic questions I had in mind when I decided to do my first solo backpacking trip in 2015. I wasn’t thinking of creating a blog out of it. Not even my Instagram/Twitter/Facebook posts were part of my considerations. My main worries were 90 percent about my safety and the remaining 10 percent was whether I would enjoy it or not.
It was August in 2015 when I scheduled a Laoag-Pagudpod/ud-Vigan tour and concluded that I’m a ‘big boy’ (something a friend would always tag me) now and could already handle traveling Ilocos Norte and Sur alone. I asked some friends to come with me but all of them were either diligent students so focused on academics (nothing wrong btw) or CPA’s, therefore, their schedules did not match my free time. Hence, I explored the ‘North of Westeros’ alone.
I tried recalling the mistakes I did on my first trip alone and I guess the first I made even before arriving at Laoag International Airport was booking a hotel. As a solo traveler, if you are as introverted as me, I strongly suggest you stay at a hostel. But, I got too excited with the prices and amenities of hotels in Ilocos. Except for Pagudpod, I got my hotel rooms for just 1,000 pesos each night with free Wi-Fi, breakfast buffet and all other amenities which met my standards (let’s not forget to mention the yellow light which is my personal favorite; it looks good on photos). You see, this was my first solo travel and I indirectly restricted myself from meeting new people. Result: I did not meet new people and learn about their personal travel experiences.
Believe me when I say that I did not know: 1.) hostels exist, and 2.) traveling was also about meeting new people. I thought it was just for taking selfies in popular destinations for your friends and followers to like and adore. But, don’t get me wrong. I had fun exploring all the museums and historic places in Ilocos. Though, if there’s one thing I’d change, it would be staying at a hostel which is half the price of my hotel rooms but would give me more opportunities to connect with other people.
One thing I am still trying to improve with myself is being such an ‘over-planner’. That was the second mistake. I tend to bring my inner business person in traveling. One of the mantras we always hear is, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. When you over-plan your solo travel, you do not open yourself with pleasant surprises; the possibility of uncertainties. It’s good to have a list of places you want to go, but being so strict in following a schedule as if you are in a camp is not something I would advise.
I was supposed to leave Ilocos region on my fourth day but due to a typhoon, all flights were cancelled and I had to extend my stay for three more days. Yup. I already knew that there’s a typhoon coming my way but my determination was unshakable that even a natural calamity could not stop me. It’s the third mistake. I tried to defy nature; and I failed terribly. Typhoon Ineng came. All flights leaving Laoag needed to be rescheduled.
I just came from Vigan on that stormy morning, so, of course, I had a hard time finding a place to stay in Laoag. Everything was already fully booked. The tricycle driver brought me to a ‘motel’. According to him, it’s the only place in the province with availability. When I went upstairs to check it, I saw a dark room with two beds, walls painted with pink and green, curtains flying because of the wind. It felt like the setting for Kris Aquino’s next horror film. I immediately went downstairs and told the driver to bring me to another place with a room.
Thanks to a Java inspired resort-hotel, I got a room for a night. Actually, everything was also fully booked in this place but I was so insistent on getting one. I had no choice. I bugged the front desk person until somebody cancelled a reservation. (They could not fly from Manila since flights were also cancelled.) But, it cost me a fortune. It’s four times I would usually pay for a room. Nevertheless, I was thankful that I got a room for the night which was safe and comfortable during a time when Ineng was traversing in the northern part of the Philippines. Thanks to those ladies who helped me get a place to sleep. Lifesavers!
I made a lot of errors in my first solo backpacking adventure. But, these mistakes made it so memorable and pushed me to do more in the future. (I experienced another typhoon three months after.) But, what I am most proud of is overcoming my ‘trust issues’. I can now strike a conversation with newly met people. Although, you still need to be vigilant when traveling in an unfamiliar place alone, don’t forget to have fun.
I heard people who have traveled alone describe it as a religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes or preferences of a travel companion or environment itself. Traveling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully. Of course, single travel has its disadvantages, too, such as safety concerns, loneliness and the expenses of paying everything because you are a single traveler.
Solo backpacking allowed me to do things I can’t in a Manila-life full of responsibilities and standards. I jumped off of a cliff. I took a forbidden photo of Ferdinand Marcos. I swam in an ocean together with a school of fish. I partied so hard for someone who is allergic to alcohol. I walked endlessly to find the right place for a perfect moment. I still have a lot of things in my list of to-do’s and I intend to accomplish them solo until I find the person who’d survive backpacking with me.