Travel

Travelling solo

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The past couple of years I’ve done a lot of travelling on my own. I moved to Hong Kong for a year for work, and while I was there did most of my travels around Hong Kong on my own, also exploring neighbouring cities unaccompanied. Last year I made the move to Brisbane, where again I travelled and explored the place solo. Whenever people ask about travelling on my own, I am always met with the same questions and comments – “aren’t you scared to travel somewhere on your own?”, “don’t you get lonely?”, “what if you get lost, or get stuck with something, don’t you get worried about dealing with that on your own?”, “I’ve sometimes thought about travelling on my own, but I’m too scared to do it!”. Honestly, none of the above comments or questions ever run through my mind when I travel alone. I’m quite an introverted person, who values freedom and am very content in my own company, so travelling solo is actually my absolute favourite thing to do in life.

Below are my top 5 reasons for travelling solo:

1. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. No compromise or negotiation is needed. You have complete and utter freedom. You can choose where you want to travel, where to stay, for how long, what sights you want to see and what activities you want to do. When I went to Singapore last year, I would wake up whenever I chose, got a nice breakfast every morning, went sightseeing, and on my way back, if I saw a shop I liked, I would just waltz right in without out having to ask anyone if they would mind. When you’re travelling alone you have more freedom to act on your urges and impulses as you don’t need to negotiate with anyone, or follow a schedule. And that really is the best feeling, going to a new place and knowing that it is your oyster.

2. Travelling alone gives you a sense of achievement and accomplishment. On all of my trips, I have encountered “travel challenges”. For instance, a few months ago I had planned to go down to the Gold Coast from Brisbane, only to find that all of the train services had stopped working that day. I then ended up catching two busses, a train and a taxi just to get there. Yes, it can be a little frustrating, but these travel challenges end up giving you a huge sense of achievement when you manage to get from point A to point B all on your own. Also, I tend to see these travel challenges as positives rather than negatives. I run my own schedule, so a little mishap isn’t actually a setback. It gives me a way to see more of a place that I hadn’t planned on seeing. It’s quite exciting, not really knowing where you are, what to expect or what you will see around every corner. I take in these unplanned experiences just as much as I would a planned experience.

3. Being alone with your thoughts. This is one of the things I love the most about travelling on my own. The constant solitude and freedom can present you with prolonged opportunities to reflect on life and the world around you. I think these moments of freedom and solitude are so important. Personally, they are the times where I can really engage in a lot of reflection, organize my thoughts, gain clarity and come up with new ideas. For instance, a few months ago I was in the Gold Coast and decided to sit on the balcony, overlooking the ocean, watching the documentary “Before the flood” on my iPhone. The sun was setting, and it was such a memorable moment, looking out into the distance and reflecting on the information I was gaining from the documentary. The setting and solitude really acted as a trigger for thought provocation. I then spent half an hour recording my thoughts and ideas (which I actually posted on this blog, several blog posts down). Such moments of peace, solitude and quiet when travelling can really help you to learn, to grow as a person and make sense of yourself and the world around you.

4. Travelling alone allows for better absorption of your travel experiences. When you travel on your own, you don’t have anyone around to distract you. Not having a distraction allows you to pay more attention. And because you are able to pay more attention, this also means that you’re senses will be heightened. You will be able to better take in your surroundings, what you smell, hear and see. I have been on several walks and nature trails where I have had a companion with me and always found that I would become distracted from everything around me. I would be engaging in conversation, and constantly having to be aware of the other person with me. Whereas when I go on walks on my own, I feel like I gain a lot more from them, especially in terms of taking in my surroundings. I believe travelling solo allows for better absorption of places and experiences, cultures and life around you.

5. Travelling alone changes you for the better. This links to all of the above points. The responsibility of organising your travels on your own, encountering travel challenges, being alone with your thoughts, and being able to absorb your experiences without distraction, all lead to personal growth. You may become more self-aware and more confident in the process, which in turn, should benefit you in the long run. Travel really does change you for the better and that sense of freedom when exploring is a feeling I really can’t put into words.

As with almost everything in this world, there are always cons that come along with the pros. Nothing is perfect. There is one major downside to travelling solo, and that is a lack of companionship in certain situations. Even though I enjoy my own company, there have always been moments during my travels where I wish I could have had someone accompanying me. Moments that would have been enriched, if they had been shared with another person. However, there are ways to make up for this to some extent. You can join meetup groups or even use social dating apps like Tinder. For instance, when I was in Singapore last year, there was one night I wanted to go out for a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant, but didn’t feel comfortable doing this on my own. I jumped on Tinder and made arrangements from there. We went to Lantern bar, an amazing rooftop bar in a really fancy hotel. The bar was beautifully decorated, with a large pool in the middle surrounded by jacuzzi’s, it overlooked the river and you could see the Marina Bay Sands in the distance. My date was great, good chat and good company. And on top of it Maria Sharapova ended up playing in a tennis court beneath us while we sipped our wine and discussed our lives. It was a moment that really added to my overall experience of the trip. A moment that definitely required company in order to be enriched.

If you are someone that doesn’t want to travel alone, and would rather travel with another person, just be careful who you choose to travel with. I would advise going with someone that you know well, someone you click with, someone whose personality you like and understand. If you go with someone that has a very different personality to you, or someone you don’t completely click with, it will most likely impact on your travels and experiences in a negative sense. I once travelled with someone briefly around Australia several years ago. We stayed in crappy accommodation and I was constantly being pushed into social situations I wasn’t comfortable with. I didn’t click with the person I was travelling with, we had different goals, and it really put a ‘downer’ on my overall experience there.  So if you are going to travel with someone, just make sure it is someone you know will enhance your experience rather than hinder it.

I can’t advise enough what an amazing experience it is to travel solo and how much you can gain from it. Yes I was alone in my travels, but I was never lonely. I don’t regret these solo explorations for a millisecond, and definitely don’t plan on stopping anytime soon! It is such a valuable experience and I could not recommend it enough.

Life in Brisbane: the pros and cons

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Brisbane is a really beautiful city, a place where you can live a nice, simple life. I have lived in Brisbane five months now, and struggled to think of any legitimate cons to the lifestyle here. Anyway, below are what I believe to be the many pros and several cons to living in Brisbane:

Pros:

  • The weather (excluding the dreaded heat in summer). The weather in Brisbane is amazing. You get non-stop sunny weather which will probably prompt you into wanting to go outside rather than staying in all day. Personally, I’ve found that the weather here really affects my mood in a positive way. It’s lovely to wake up every morning to clear blue skies. Another bonus, is that you get seasons, meaning you won’t get habituated to the same season and weather each month. In winter it can get a bit chilly and in summer you get thunderstorms. Most days are clear and sunny. But you also get a bit of variety which is nice.
  • The architecture. Tax here is high, but you can see where the money goes. There is so much beautiful and interesting architecture in Brisbane. I live in South Bank where there is a man made beach, a ferris wheel, flower tunnels, statues etc. The architecture in Brisbane really adds to the overall look and feel of the place.
  • There is enough to do. What I mean by this, is that Brisbane isn’t an overwhelming place like Hong Kong, but it also isn’t as dull as life in say, Auckland. You get a really good balance here. There is always something to do and see – there are various parks, a man made beach, the markets, boat rides, cafes and restaurants, shopping malls etc. You can also explore places a bit further out, e.g. the Gold Coast or Stradbroke island (which is breathtaking).
  • The wildlife and nature. There is a lot of greenery in Brisbane – the flowers, the tree’s the parks and grasslands. The wildlife is also really interesting; at night bats and possums come out. And during the day you get to see a whole range of different bird species, as well as lizards. If you travel out of Brisbane, for instance to Stradbroke Island, there you will be able to see kangaroo’s, stingray, dolphin and turtles.
  • The people are very friendly. In South Bank, I often feel as though I’m experiencing a scene from the Truman show. There are people riding bikes, everyone is walking around happy and smiling, children are running around playing. There is definitely a happy, friendly and positive vibe to Brisbane.

Cons:

  • The dogs. For me this is the biggest con to living in Brisbane because I am terrified of big dogs. However, this point comes down to personal preference, if you are a dog-lover then this is probably more of a pro. There are a lot of dog owners in Brisbane, particularly owners of dogs that resemble pit bulls. So it can sometimes be a bit of a daunting place if you are afraid of dogs and have to encounter them on a daily basis.
  • The public transport. I would say the train system here is reliable, however, it is very slow. You can’t really compare it to the MTR in Hong Kong. And I would not even bother with the bus system. 75% of the time the busses are significantly late, and 25% of the time they merely just don’t show up. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been on the phone trying to find out if my bus is actually coming or not. On the plus side though, there is the City Hopper, a little red boat that is not only a good way to see Brisbane, but its free too.
  • The swooping birds. There is a “swooping birds” season here in Brisbane, where birds become quite aggressive in order to protect their offspring. Be prepared to duck and run during this season. The first time it happened to me, a bird ran straight up to me (which at first I found quite funny), but then it started swooping at my head. A rather traumatic experience.
  • Sometimes Brisbane can be a little bogan. Probably don’t need to expand on this point as it’s rather self-explanatory.

Overall, Brisbane is great. It’s a place I would be glad to call home, and I am quite sad to be leaving. The pros to life here, far outweigh the cons. If you’re thinking of moving to Brisbane, I would say, go for it!

An expats guide to Hong Kong: the pros and cons of life there

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I grew up in Hong Kong from the age of 4-14. I had the most amazing childhood there and it really is an amazing city. I went back last year to work, which was a thoroughly exciting experience, however, life there didn’t completely pan out as I had expected. Hong Kong has changed a lot since the handover and I began to see the place differently than I had before. For any expats thinking of moving to Hong Kong – here are what I believed to be the pros and cons of life there.

Pros:

  •  Feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging. Hong Kong is a place where differences are the norm. There isn’t really a “mainstream” way of life there, as there is in say New Zealand or Australia. It’s an international city and therefore one major melting pot. Everyone you meet is completely different; different backgrounds, different upbringings, different life experiences, different cultures, different accents, different beliefs, you name it! For that reason, Hong Kong is a place where anyone is accepted. You can completely be yourself there without feeling judged. Personally, my experience last year in Hong Kong was the first time I had ever really accepted myself as a person, flaws and all and realised that I was happy with the person I had become. So its a great place to really find yourself.
  • Hong Kong is a very happening place. You will never get bored. There is always something to do or something to see. There’s a surprise around every corner. You can explore the city, the outer islands, go down to Stanely which is a bit more westernised, go to Ocean Park, Disneyland, hikes and trails, the street markets, the food. I could go on and on with a list of things to do in Hong Kong. It is a really exciting place. Many people say they find that life in Hong Kong is like being on a permanent vacation.
  • Travel. One major advantage of living in Hong Kong is that exploring other parts of Asia is very easy and accessible. Many people use their holidays to explore places like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore or the Philippines as they are so close. One thing I wish I had done whilst I was there, was explore more parts of Asia. I fell in love with Singapore and ended up spending two of my holidays over there. But in hindsight I now wish I had tried out a few other places.

Cons:

  • Housing. As a child I was quite lucky, we lived in a house with a garden and two pools within a gated community. However, going back as an adult was different. I had a job at an International school where I earned a decent income, but it was still not enough to afford decent accommodation. Housing there is incredibly expensive. I began flatting near Central in a place called Fortress Hill. The flat was in a very old and run down building. My room looked like a prison cell and there was just no space. Two weeks there and I’d had enough. I decided to move an hour away from Central to a place called Lohas Park. The commute to and from Central was a pain but the housing was much better. New buildings, with clean flats and a bit more space. However, one problem living in the New Territories is that there aren’t many expats there. So expect to be stared at a lot. It also means it can be quite a difficult place to make friends as there aren’t many other English speakers around. I enjoyed living there, but found it quite isolating. Basically, I think you can live somewhere central where everything is happening, however, you will probably be living somewhere not particularly nice and quite claustrophobic, or you can live further out and somewhere a bit nicer. It all depends on what sort of lifestyle you want and what your priorities are.
  • The dating life. As a single western man, you will have the time of your life. You will be spoilt for choice in terms of dating. I would definitely describe Hong Kong as being a bachelor city. However, as a single western female, our options are, well….. limited. I will be honest in saying that the majority of expat men there seem to prefer the local women. So it doesn’t really leave much option for expat women. Also, Hong Kong is definitely a place for partying. So if you’re looking to settle down, I’m not sure it’s a place I would recommend.
  • The pollution. Someday’s the pollution can get so bad, its best just to stay home. I wouldn’t recommend taking a dip in the ocean either. Hong Kong definitely isn’t the healthiest place to live and you can really start to feel that after a few months of living there.

Overall, I would 100% recommend doing a short stint in Hong Kong just for the experience. It is an amazingly exciting city and can really open up your eyes in so many different ways. Hong Kong will always be home and I will always love the place, however, returning as an adult, I found the place to be a little too crazy and intense, so decided to leave after a year of being there. Despite that, it is a city, definitely worth visiting.