I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people in my life that push me to explore the unknown, whether it be traveling in a city, in a remote place, or experiencing something completely ‘out of my comfort zone’. Of late, I’ve been asking myself questions…Am I happy? Do I like what I am doing in my life? Am I just trying to please others? I needed time, doing something I knew I truly enjoyed to answer these questions.

An opportunity to travel to Coron, Palawan, Philippines on my own for a week ended up being a very happy accident. You see, I did not intentionally plan to go solo. I wanted to share the experience, to do things with friends and family to bring back old memories and create new ones. It just so happened that no one really committed to coming, or I gave notice too late. In a strange, yet liberating way, I accepted that I was going to go there alone and just take it all in, and savour each moment. When I made that decision, things started happening; it was as if an invisible hand was tweaking and adjusting here and there…making it all work out.

During my five days there, discovered a few things about traveling alone, and these discoveries helped me answer the questions I held in my mind before the trip…

1.”Living it rough” is relative. When going solo, be adventurous – then back-track towards comfort if it doesn’t work out.

PHP500 per night would get you a very decent private fan room, shared bathroom. I stayed in two such accommodations, Apartelle Brendale and Coron Backpackers Guesthouse. Both decent, clean, but the CBG was better maintained and had more comforts (flushing toilet, shower with decent water pressure, and wifi). Most of my friends and family would not even set foot in places like these, I told myself, but if it’s good enough for foreigners, it’s good enough for me – however, the paper-thin walls of the toilet did it for me; I, unfortunately, was one of those people that needed audio-visual privacy. Hearing people shuffling around just made me uncomfortable.

However that said, I would happily ‘go’ in a secluded area, hidden behind rock outcroppings or under the shade of a low-branched tree… I’d happily pitch a tent on a quiet sandy shore, or sleep uncovered on a large rock, under a star-studded sky, as I did on my third night in Coron. Something about being away from the town and crowds often felt cleaner, less cumbersome, and yes, simpler.

Upon returning from my overnight kayak trip, I settled for some better accommodation in town. PHP1000 leased me a private toilet and shower, and air conditioned room with wifi – indeed a bit of comfort after a long, sweltering day out. Sea Coral Lodge was by far, the best value for a semi-budget lodging – clean, secure, free hot drinks, a kitchen area, drinking water, and friendly staff.

 

 

2.Believe that being honest with people attracts more honesty.

Those close to me feared for my safety, even those I met along the way expressed some concern towards this strange, lanky girl going on a solo adventure. Everyone I met asked me what I was doing, and what I was planning. However, I found that the more people I spoke to, the more I felt secure. Everyone genuinely gave me advice, pointed me the right direction, or simply smiled.

I was also fortunate to get introduced through my aunt to 5 lovely ladies and a gentleman, who knew the area well, and took me in as part of their group, inviting me for home-cooked dinners and boat trips to nearby islands.

So, when going solo, you actually open up more opportunities to meet people, many of whom may make a small impact on your life.

 

 

3. Of all the sunsets I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, hardly one comes close to those I’ve watched in the Philippines.

There is just something about a Philippine sunset. The colours are bold, high contrast. The oranges are the deepest yet most luminous my eyes could drink in, the tones of blue – deep, inky… and these two worlds of colour collide and mix into unashamed hues of hot pink and flamingo, violets and purples – soft yet strong. I don’t have too many words that could describe the sunsets, but I can appreciate why the Filipinos are such a “colourful” people, and it reflects in our culture – from our language, to our music, artistry, fabrics, and literature.

I made it a point to watch every sunset on my visit, each one a new story in itself, I learned to sit and watch, and make the most of each unfolding story.

 

 

4. People that don’t know you are generally more curious than a threat. Trust your instincts on character-judgement.

After setting up camp on a rock on a west-facing shore, thanks to the advice from Al Lingsangan of Corongaleri, I realised how strange it must have been for the local Tagbanwa family that lived on the beach to have a guest such as myself. It is still unusual in the Philippines for a female to travel alone, especially a young(ish) Filipina. But, having lived abroad pretty much on my own for 10 years, instilled this ‘try all, fail – and forget’ attitude. I would often find that throwing myself into new experiences would teach me much more than avoiding the uncertain.

I learned that more often than not, if people were curious, they would ask.

“Why are you alone?”
To which I answered, “No real reason, it’s nice to be alone sometimes. I’m not really alone, I have friends in the town.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”
And again “Yes, but I pray and I trust, I did my research, and I do not feel threatened.”

Through these brief exchanges, I gain respect, gain a friend, maybe a simple shrug from an elderly lady.

 

 

5. Spending time with only nature as your companion is soul-healing.

Stressed? Over-worked? Not sure what to do with yourself? Grumpy more often? Pack your rucksack with some clothes, food, little money, and get out for at least a day or two out in the wild. There’s no better remedy to listen to your soul than when you are connected with nature.

I’m concerned too many people are cooped up in ‘city’ life, chasing their own tails making money, yet never really feeling fulfilled, though I’m happy for those who are doing all that, and feeling like they are doing something meaningful.

A day, week, month – spent in the sun, on the water, or mountains…or forests, listening to the birds sing, letting new places surprise you – observing that each creature plays its part – will soon help you understand that they play their part without much struggle.

Happiness is just around the corner, so call on nature to help out find the answers.

 

 

So, I come away from my little holiday feeling happy, refreshed, and on a high. Confident that this feeling will lead me to the course I am meant to follow. Although occasionally I struggle against the norm, I always come out on the other side wiser. The answers do not come clearly written down on signs, they come in signals, in everyday experiences, and with the people we meet. Only when I went solo did I learn to read these signals, and though I still struggle to decipher them, at least I know they exist, and are there to help me out. I try to remind myself that life is as perfect as we make it to be. My ‘solo travel’ was not lonely – but the complete opposite…I was blessed with new experiences, new friends, and a clarity I carried back with me.

 

“Excessive caution destroys the soul and the heart, because living is an act of courage, and an act of courage is always an act of love.”

– Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra.