STYLEGUIDE finds out more from Singaporean traveller, Wan Li Jeannie Poon, as she shares her story and experience as a female solo traveller having travelled 17 countries on her own.
STYLEGUIDE: Tell us more about yourself
Jeannie: I am Jeannie (23 y/o), a journalist and a value investor that loves roaming around the world! Coming from a less well-to-do family, I did not have the opportunities to go overseas when I was younger. As I became financially independent during my university days, I decided to just grab my backpack and roam Taiwan, kick starting my solo backpacking journey.
I have travelled to 17 countries in Asia and Europe alone, and am looking forward to explore more places. I am also hoping to be a freelance travel writer in the near future, and publish my own travel book! The world is big and travelling is my way of life!
STYLEGUIDE: What made you decide to embark on your solo travel?
Jeannie: The best part of solo travelling is the ultimate freedom you experience. You get to interact with the city at the way and pace you desire. You can cover the entire city in a day by foot, or simply snuggle in a retro-style cafe and watch people the whole day. You can hit up on a stranger, hitchhike or randomly knock on a stranger’s door for accommodation, such things tend to be easier when we are travelling alone, as we seem less intimidating.
Solo travelling means chasing your dreams without being held back. Arranging an overseas trip with friends could be challenging, as schedules may clash, and this often results in endless waiting for one another. I refuse to wait, so I embarked on my solo travel.
People asked, “wouldn’t you feel lonely?”, but the truth is, you will know amazing people along the way, and understand things that you may not have understood before. I used to live under people’s expectations, thinking that there is just one way of life, but the world taught me otherwise.
Being alone in a foreign country provides space for self-reflection, which is essential for growth.
Travel alone once, and you will find yourself looking at the world differently.
STYLEGUIDE: What were some of the challenges you faced when travelling alone?
Jeannie: Solo travelling takes a lot of courage.
I still remember how I used to freak out over the thought of solo backpacking in Europe.
What if I got lost on the streets? What if I can’t read the road signs? What if I got robbed? What if…. There are just too many uncertainties. But you just need to take the first step to realise, it’s not that scary after all.
Nonetheless, you need to be extra alert with your surroundings when being alone overseas as you can be vulnerable at times.
I was once being chased by a drunk man at 5am on the empty streets of Munich, who repeatedly shouted “do you want sex”. I sprinted from my hostel to the bus interchange across, not just to catch the long distance bus, but also to run for my life! I felt as though I was being chased by a zombie, but I'm thankful that I managed to escape.
Taking photos can be a problem at times too. I used to envy people that have travel mates to take fabulous photos for them, but as time goes by, I gained the courage to ask passerbys to help me with the photos, and majority of them are most willing to help! Solo travel masters my selfie- skills as well!
Accommodation may also be costlier for single travellers, due to single supplement fees which may apply for hotels and tour packages, it may also be difficult to find someone to share your taxi cost. However, this is not so much an issue if you are willing to stay in backpackers’ hostel and take public transport.
STYLEGUIDE: What was your most memorable travel experience?
Jeannie: There are simply too many memorable ones, such as riding a horse across the vast grassland in Mongolia, hiking across a 10km mountain trail in Santorini, cycling across Eastern Taiwan and interacting with the indigenous tribes...but there was one that really touched my heart.
Back in year 2015, I attempted to cycle up Chike mountain in Taiwan’s Hualien district and was stucked half way when my energy depleted. I was dehydrated under the scorching sun, thinking that I will never reach the mountain top. However, this turned into a heartening experience when a kind villager offered me a ride up the mountain on her motorcycle. She and her husband even provided me with a night’s accommodation as it was turning dark and cooked dinner for me with their home-grown vegetables. They then shared their village’s culture and lives as farmers. I was touched by their generosity and kindness, even till now.
You move to some places, and some places moved you, this is just one of the examples.
STYLEGUIDE: Are there any travellers whom you look up to for travel inspiration?
Jeannie: Yes. I got to know this cool Singaporean backpacker by the name of Hong Wei Xi some time last year. She used to be a sports reporter and a translator before quitting her job to roam around the world. She has been travelling for more than 3 years around the globe alone. Her travel style is extremely YOLO, I read about how she backpacked across Africa, waited for hours on the roadside to hitchhike, and travelled to exotic places that most people have never even heard of. She recorded these wonderful experiences in her two travelogues. I hope to be like her in the near future!
STYLEGUIDE: Do you have a travel quirk?
Jeannie: I still tremble when the plane takes off, due to a fear of heights! For the first minute, I will just shut my eyes close and pretend to sleep. But the fact is, I am just too frightened to even look around!
When I reach a new city, I tend to get overly excited and simply refuse to even sit down for a meal, this can last for a few days, depending on my level of excitement. I can just keep walking, up to 15km a day sometimes, just to explore the city!
STYLEGUIDE: How do you plan between work and travel, especially if you are taking a long travel trip?
Jeannie: Planning in advance is essential, this includes deciding on the desired destination and duration of the trips. I would usually accumulate my leave and clear them all at once if the situation allowed, just so I could go for a longer trip.
STYLEGUIDE: If you could turn back time, how would you have travelled differently?
Jeannie: No doubt I will still travel alone, but in a much more adventurous manner!
I will hitchhike in more countries, try couch-surfing, and not book accommodation in advance, or simply just camp outdoors. I would also have persevered in obtaining my motorcycle license, and travel around the globe on it!
STYLEGUIDE: What savings and financing hacks do you have for young travelers who aspire to travel around the world?
Jeannie: The great investor Warren Buffett once said "The most important investment you can make is in yourself".
The backpacker's way of travelling doesn’t require much money, but being financially stable is still important to sustain travel cost in the long run.
Investing can be a good way of building passive income, but it is important to do a thorough research first before putting in money. Enrolling in investment courses could help, as it teaches you how to invest safely, but such courses could cost a bomb. For beginners, it would be good to start reading investment books and the newspapers' finance section to understand the fundamentals of different investments.
Don't be eager to spend your money when you are young, save up and use your savings to multiply your wealth.
STYLEGUIDE: What advice do you have for female travelers who are afraid of travelling solo?
Jeannie: The world does have its hazards, but it's not there to harm us. We can travel at peace when safety precautions are done.
Here are some ways to ensure safety in a foreign land:
1. Dress up conservatively to avoid unwanted attention.
2. Bring along a whistle, blow it to attract the public's attention when help is needed.
3. Always have 2 spare phones, just in case one of them is faulty and emergency contact is needed.
4. Avoid holding a map everywhere you go so that you will not appear lost (and be less of a target to those who may prey on tourists); Try to navigate your way using mobile phone.
5. Invest in a invisible pouch, and place your valuables in it, cash can be hidden underneath the shoes as well!
6. Learn a few self defence moves to escape from aggressors when needed!
STYLEGUIDE: What is your next travel plan?
Jeannie: Heading off to Tasmania this year May, intending to drive around the entire island and camp outdoors! Eastern Africa would be the next!