Through the month of October we are running a blog series called 'Why Every Woman Should Travel Solo'. This is the first of eight interviews with amazing women who have all been on their own solo adventure. We hope to inspire and offer practical advice on how you can embark of your own solo trip. Founder of Runaway Juno and the Asian Women's Empowerment (AWE) Conference, Juno Kim takes the lead for our blog series.
When working as a Mechanical Engineer did not satisfy her deep yearning for happiness, Juno Kim left what she calls her 'Cubic Farm' and sets off to begin her new life – a full time traveller and blogger. A firm believer of living by passion and love, Juno also believes in personal happiness being a big part of one's responsibilities in life, just as much as work, family and all those other things.
Leaving behind all the traditional expectations of what an Asian woman should do – study, get married, have kids, etc. (all in that order) – Juno is reaching out to other women through her AWE Conference to encourage them to follow their dreams and travel adventures.
Today, Juno is on a quest to find the perfect place to call home.
Interesting facts about yourself (bad habits are welcome): I’m addicted to show tunes. Half of my playlists are soundtracks from musicals
3 things you won't leave home without: iPhone, headphone, kindle app (used to be books)
'Travel' smells like: Pine trees
Guilty travel pleasure: I normally never take carbonated drinks, but for some reason, I find Coke delightful overseas
How it all started
My very first backpacking trip was back in 2004. I went to New Zealand alone for a month, with my camera and backpack. That was when my life changed, literally. After tasting the sweet and unique fruit named 'the world', I couldn’t stop. Every break I would take either short or long trips. In 2006 I went back to New Zealand, right before starting my graduate school. Many years later, in July 2011, I had another significant departure. With my resignation, I embarked on my new career and world travel. I’ve been travelling to more than thirty countries for the last two years while working as a storyteller, writer, and photographer.
Right after I left my job, I travelled to the US for the first time, for three months. It was an important transition period for my new career; travel writer and photographer. The 90 days went quickly; a road trip to New England, hopping breweries, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, and so many new experiences and challenges made me forget time. I learned how to work as a freelancer, while meeting so many new people. To this day, the US is one of my favourite destinations.
Quirks of solo travel
Because I started as a solo traveller, I never really had any difficulties. However, I wouldn’t have gone to India if I was alone. Among all the horrible news about women getting attacked, and all the things I heard form other travellers; I didn’t want to push myself that far. Even if I wasn’t alone in India, it would wear me out big time!
Frankly, all the gang rape reports from India scared me a lot. I tried hard not to be by myself at any time, and never went out at night without any specific reason. The circumstances of those women were different than mine, but I could feel the stares in a lot of places. Not necessarily bad, but just different than where I’ve been so far (I’m Having a Hard Time in India). However, even though it is a fact that it is harder for women to travel alone than men, it all depends on circumstances and how you can prepare yourself. I know a lot of female travellers dropped India from their itinerary because of all those news. But, the world is actually a better place than we thought. You can only learn from it after meeting a lot of great people on the road, in the most random places. We always hear bad news from the media, but remember, those are the news-worthy bad news, and there are a lot of great stories that doesn't even get out. Just be yourself, trust your gut, and be aware of what's around you.
Danger can come to anyone, anywhere. However sad, it is true that there are more dangesr for women than there are for men. That is nothing to do with the individuals’ ability, but how the world works. The most important thing to remember is that you have to take care of yourself, and be aware of the surroundings no matter where you are. You are not going to walk around the block, holding a bunch of cash, even in your neighbourhood, right? The same rule applies to anywhere. Just keep doing what you are doing, and be more aware of what’s near you.
"Don't do things you wouldn't do at home, then you'll be fine."
When I was in New Zealand for the first time, I didn't know that most of the shops in New Zealand close early (not like Seoul, where every shop operates 24/7). I visited the Stardom Observatory in Auckland one night, and I totally panicked thinking all the shops were closed, and maybe the buses stopped running too (I didn’t speak much English back then). I panicked so bad, no one could understand what I was trying to say. However, my shiny travel guardian, who later became a good friend, Diana, came to the rescue. She picked up the pieces for me, and drove me home. It was such a rookie mistake, thinking of it now, but it felt like the world was crumbling down.
If I had to relive that moment, I would take a deep breath, and ask for help, calmly. Pulled out my dictionary, and gathered information about how to get to my hostel, sanely.
It’s not the most comfortable gear, but I use a moneybelt. It is safer than a wallet, most of the time. However, it is the universal rule, not to bring a lot of cash in your pocket, especially in your wallet. Also, if you are in a culture-sensitive destination, like India, it’s important to blend in. Obviously you will stand out as a foreigner in a country like India, but try to wear like the locals, and try not to provoke sensitive issues that you can avoid easily (i.e., wearing a tanktop).
"Not to panic, that's number one rule of travelling."
Things will never be the same
From the first solo backpacking trip, I learned a lot of new and valuable lessons I wouldn’t have known at home. That was the very first time I was genuinely alone, every single person in my life were a 12-hour flight away. No one could save me. I felt incredibly lonely and scared at the same time. Suddenly, I realised that I had to be aware of where I was, and what I was doing. I was always independent even at home, and that was a different level of realisation.
At least once in your lifetime, you have to do it. From years of self-doubt, and seeking happiness, I’ve realized that most of the big problems were caused because of me. We lose faith, doubt our abilities, get lost in the intersection, and feel confused because we don’t know ourselves very well. Even if we do, we need a constant reminder, and we need to catch up. From every decision-making step, you will realise something new about yourself. There are lots of ways to learn about who we are, but my best method was travelling. If I didn’t leave for New Zealand nine years ago, with a giant backpack full of unnecessary stuff, I wouldn’t have been the same. I’m grateful for all the opportunities, stupid decisions, troubles, and problems I had along the way, and of course, all the lessons and joy.
The world is a better place than you think. There are more nice people than crooked ones. People want to help more, than harm. Learn how to trust each other and learn about yourself by travelling alone.
The ultimate voyage to come
Visiting Greenland, the North and South Pole would be my most significant moment. Other than the obvious reasons, it is super hard to get to, but I'd get to experience the Northern Star at 90 degrees, the Southern Cross above my head, and observe one of the nature’s greatest wonder – glaciers. I think glaciers and deserts are two of the most wonderful places in any part of the world.
The best part about solo travelling is the time I have to get to know myself. If I’m not the kind of person who enjoys alone time, no matter where, I wouldn’t be the same. I recommend travelling alone to foreign countries to people who asked me what they should do in their lives. If you feel lost, and want to make your life better but don’t know how to, that's probably caused by a lack of confidence and knowledge about yourself. Standing alone in a new place is an extraordinary experience that doesn’t come often. Make the change, leap into it; you’ll love it!
Has Juno inspired you to travel yet? Let us know what you think of her journey in the comments.