Today's interview for our blog series 'Why Every Woman Should Travel Solo' is with Makiko S. She has recently completed her solo travel around Asia, and will be attending the Asian Women's Empowerment (AWE) Conference this November.
A professional globe trekker, writer and video creator, Makiko S believes that every journey should be taken with open arms and no matter how bad things are, one should never loose hope.
Bordering on obsessed with anything related to Japan, Makiko has a Youtube vlog, where she rants in English, Malay or Japanese and about anything that has to do with travel. Other than her personal blog, she also contributes some travel insight and tips to a few other public travel blogs.
When Makiko is not travelling and making new connections, she participates in language related hangouts, specifically Japanese and Malay.
Occupation: Traveller, Writer and Youtuber
Interesting facts about yourself (bad habits are welcome): Coffee addict, usually speak with more than 2 languages involved, survived depression, and people always mistook me as a local anywhere I go in East Asia – never Malaysian.
3 things you won't leave home without: ID (passport/mykad), coffee, my notebook
'Travel' smells like: Black coffee that never tastes the same, because of the type of beans, pressing style, flavour and liquid mix. It could be instant and it could take a while for the flavour to impact the drinker.
Guilty travel pleasure: Finding “the spot/place that I have watched in a drama/movie” and take a moment to re-live the scene(s), e.g., my fascination over Tokyo Tower because of a scene I watched in an old drama, made me find my way to the iconic spot every time I go to Tokyo.
...ever since I was a kid, mainly because I never stayed in one place for a long time (my parents moved around a lot). When I began to learn that my ancestry was from all around Asia, it became a mission to find a way to go and see the actual places where my great, great grandparents hailed from.
Deal with it already!
As an Asian woman, the biggest challenge is to deal with the people around me in general. It seems like everyone has certain expectations from me, which I choose not to care much about. But the fact that many usually fail to JUST understand and accept my choice can be extremely frustrating. I have came to a point where I stop answering and explaining, no matter how many times the same questions are directed at me. Questions like, “Why are you still single?”, “Don’t you feel that you’ve wasted your time and qualifications by not working in a company?”, “Why are you so stubborn by not adhering the norm?”, “How come you're not acting like how you should?” – are a few that I deal with everyday here in my home country.
It's all about the money
What kept me from travelling solo before I must say was due to (a) commitments and (b) money. Weird enough, although I was single then (and still am), it seemed like everything was a mega priority; my job, my loans, my studies, my goals, my family, blah blah blah… Then, it was money that often discouraged me from going somewhere.
When I chose to let go of pretty much everything that was happening around me and drop the ‘money’ issue down my priority list, I went straight across the Indochina route via land on my own for 2 months. If it were not due to the accident I had shortly after I returned from that solo backpacking trip, I would probably have continued making my way to India after that.
The highs and lows
There are a few highlights, especially for that first solo trip, but if I were to choose one – it would definitely be, “arriving in Nankan Island”. After three weeks of the hustle and bustle of China, arriving at a remote island (one that is still being fought over by China and Taiwan, and is actually known to be a secret military base for Taiwan) gave me an immediate sense of comfort and tranquillity. There was only one search result for that island when I was making my travels plan and continuous searching didn’t give me any more information aside from the only way of getting to that island, which was via Fuzhou.
If I were with someone, most definitely I would have been forced to cancel the route or even if I made it, I would have had to deal with someone who had fears and doubts about the safety of travelling to an unknown island. Instead, I found out that I was the ONLY foreigner on that island for the next few days and because of that, people around the island were kind enough to show me their beautiful island – that alone made me feel very safe and happy.
There were a couple of scary moments but I’d love to share a weird one that I had to unpleasantly endure while taking a long night train from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. It was late (about 11.30pm) when I boarded the train. As I entered the sleeper cabin (I paid more than 1 million Vietnamese Dong for that so-called soft sleeper coach), I noticed that there were already passengers sleeping (I suppose they boarded the train way before the stop). Then, an extremely familiar scent hit my nose – it was DURIAN. As I was puzzled with the pungent smell, another lady who was also in the same cabin started to make a fuss about the train allowing people to bring in this smelly food.
We could not close the cabin door for at least half of the night and had to open up the coach window – the durian smell made sleeping unbearable. Strangely, the guy who brought the durian was sleeping soundly on his bed. It was super uncomfortable, weird and annoying but I found myself sound asleep after an hour of tossing and turning – it was a long day for me already before I boarded the train. Thank God, by the time I woke up that morning, the durian guy was no longer in the cabin.
If I had to go through it all again, I wouldn't change a thing. I can now laugh when I think about that weird moment. Unless it was a life-threatening situation (which I have yet to experience), I have always made sure that I am highly alert and I make an effort to speak to someone who happens to be near me (at that particular moment). These people could be strangers to us, but they are usually kind-hearted locals who are always willing to help.
"Most times, I don't regret doing or having to go through awkward, scary or weird moments while travelling because each one of them is a good lesson."
“Being a woman” (who travels solo) – that alone is the most absurd excuse I have heard so far. Of course, a few of the most common and typical ‘discouraging comments’ include: you cannot trust strangers, if bad things happen overseas you are doomed for good, it is expensive to travel alone, and blah blah blah... Sometimes I do not understand the reason behind all those negativities; but being a woman certainly has no basis for making solo travelling impossible.
Unfortunate things can happen anywhere, even in your house. You cannot be certain that you are going to be alright behind your closed door. There are so many things to see out there than those bad things you watch on the news. If you want to go, just go and don’t make excuses for yourself. It is better to try rather than say “what if” in the future.
In my experience, when I went solo travelling, I always came back without even a scratch. I ended up, however, falling from a 10-metre cliff that broke my ankle while hiking somewhere behind my house. It was then that it became unacceptable for me to hear people say anywhere outside your home is not safe.
Rely on basic instincts
I am known to be a meticulous person; so planning is somehow natural in all my travel adventures. With the availability of the Internet, I make sure that I have all the information needed for those unfamiliar routes. On top of that, I always stick to the standard basic rules of travelling when it comes to safety AND I rely on my guts/instinct a lot (it’s a woman’s thing). With money, I don’t usually carry that much cash on me – either I use my credit card or I withdraw cash when I reach a certain destination.
Honestly, thanks to my natural traits of being extremely observant and meticulous, I am pretty much covered – to my standards. On top of that, my default assumption about people is that, all people are good people – this helps me reduce any kind of unnecessary anxiety or doubts when dealing with new places/people in general.
"An open heart and mind will bring you to good things."
Changed my mind
Prior to 2011, I always loved holidays; mainly because often I needed a break after being exhausted at work. However, since I chose travelling, I now see things differently. I now understand better how comforting and satisfying travelling alone can be. I hate the sense of rush as well as having to follow the needs and wants of others (group or partner) while I explore a new place. My sense of enjoyment always comes from the process of discovering the place, taking time to savour the scents as well as going through all the actions happening around me while I am at a location. In other words, every moment is special to me, so I always take my own sweet time to make sure that I enjoy the most of it.
Along with this new discovery process, I realise that I have become a more sensitive person now than I was before. On top of that, I know that there is so much optimism and positiveness in me. I always see people as kind and good people, regardless if he or she was just staring at me (they might be fascinated to see me wondering around talking to a camera alone!). Most importantly, I realise that it is easier for me to smile and say hi to strangers. Smiling was rare to the old me!
Nonetheless, I still do travel with others, sometimes.
My ultimate voyage would be travelling by land and sea across Asia and Europe – ALONE. For each city that I were to stop at, I would want to be part of an effort to help the local community by volunteering my time, energy, skills and knowledge.
Don’t look at solo travelling as a lonely journey, because you are never actually alone when you do travel. Discovering new places and the whole experience of reaching any destination allows you to meet with so many people. Allow yourself to invite them to be part of your journey and you’ll find more friends. What's more important, is not how to travel the world but the fact that the world is actually meant for YOU (yes, that one person) to explore.
"So don't give silly excuses, just pack and leave."
Has Makiko inspired you to travel yet? Let us know what you think about travelling solo in the comment box below.