Guiding a First-time Independent Traveller

It was mid-2019 when I received a text from a friend, asking about my next solo trip. “It’s called solo for a reason,” was my half-sarcastic response, but I felt for her.

She is a few years younger than me, has a learning disorder, and didn’t have any friends to take a trip with—a situation I was thoroughly acquainted with. She expressed her desire to travel to escape her daily stresses, including her family, with whom she had always travelled. Unfortunately, her parents didn’t permit her to travel alone as she wished.

I had a weekend plan coming up in late November at the time—to attend a friend’s wedding in Taiwan. Since Taiwan felt like a second home to me with many friends and a familiar language, I decided that it was the most appropriate place to teach her the basics of independent travel

Before the trip

A major hurdle to the trip was her mum. As we started firming up plans, she personally called me to ensure that I understood my friend’s situation. I assured her of my experience with travelling and of the safety in Taiwan. It took at least a couple of calls along the way, but she eventually felt comfortable leaving her daughter in my hands.

What a great responsibility! “What did I get myself into?” was my stressed thought after hanging up.

We encountered other pre-trip hurdles, where I realized that I should have shared preparation tips beforehand. Despite this, I made a rough plan of where we would be at various places based on my own initial schedule, and she was agreeable.

Day 1 - Independent travel 101

We met at the airport for a red-eye flight, arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport in the early morning, and I led the way by pointing out the signs to the high-speed railway station. We were tight on time as our first activity was to visit Fenqihu for a hike. While rushing from taxi to bus, I told her about potential tourist scams and explained why I chose the public bus. I felt fortunate to have learned this in my previous travels, allowing me to share this important knowledge.

The Fenqihu day trip was straightforward, but the real adventure began in the evening when we returned to Chiayi city. I had booked us a quaint hostel near the train station, and rented bicycles. Since I wasn’t familiar with the local transport options and had always biked in the cities of Taiwan, I thought it was the best way to show her the city I love. I showed her the map and taught her the local rules, constantly reminding her of the opposing traffic flows from Singapore. I was proud to say she would eventually get the hang of it while keeping well alert at areas with heavy traffic.

In the evening, I made an appointment to have dinner with a family I knew well from my time in Taiwan. The mister spoke English well, which was perfect for my friend, who wasn’t strong in Chinese. That way, she didn’t feel like a stranger at the dinner table.

Day 2 - The mock exam

I was to leave my friend alone for the day while I attended a local friend’s wedding in a nearby countryside. The previous evening, I had jotted down a few places on the map for her to visit and reminded her to text me if she ever got lost.

Frankly, I was very worried. I left early in the morning and returned in the mid-afternoon, hearing no news from her. It was natural, as it was her first time alone in a foreign place, and I had her mum to answer to if anything was to happen to her.

The wedding passed without incident, and I returned to find her safe in the hostel. She told me how she had indeed gotten lost when she found herself circling the same area at least three times. But she made it to at least one of the recommended sights and enjoyed herself there. I was relieved. That was when I realized I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. She was a legal adult who could get around well in Singapore—why wouldn’t she be safe in Taiwan?

But then again, this was yet the real thing. I was still readily available for her—what about when I was to leave her alone in the country?

Day 3 - The real exam

It was finally the day. As I was only there for the weekend, I was preparing to return to Singapore in the evening. However, my friend planned to spend one more day exploring Taipei.

The first thing on the list after returning to the capital was for her to check in at her hostel, which I had picked out. It was not far from the main train station, but she would be staying with strangers. I had full confidence in Taiwanese hostels, especially evident after we saw how charming the place was. But it was what happened to me that gave me every reason to believe I was no better in my travel.

I had lost my handbag—the entire handbag with my wallet and passport. I couldn’t find it in the hostel room where we had left my friend’s luggage, nor in the common bathroom, nor on the streets. I had a flight in a few hours, and panic set in during those 15 minutes of searching. My friend calmly suggested that I call the lost and found at the train station. As we walked out, the receptionist asked if I had lost a bag. I had left it at the reception!

Once again, I was very impressed by my friend’s patience and grateful that she had been with me. Honestly, the entire trip was one of the best I’ve had, even if I did feel like a mother hen, guiding her in the ways of traveling in a foreign country. After I left, I still took pictures of the airport terminal so that she would know how to find the right check-in counter. I was a bit paranoid like that.

Enjoying a walk in Fenqihu

Safe and sound

Unsurprisingly, she returned home safely and enjoyed the trip tremendously. I didn’t have to worry as much as I thought because she picked up quickly and took care of what I had taught her. Her mum thanked me profusely for giving her the experience.

As for me, I will always remember this humbling experience. I learned that just because I had done some solo travelling, it doesn’t mean that I would get away scot-free all the time. Even today, I still make blunders on my travels, just as any seasoned traveller does. That’s why I’m glad to share my experiences, regardless the good and the bad.

If you would like to engage me to accompany you on a similar trip or more, I would be very happy to provide the service. Let’s create good memories together, like I had with my dear friend.

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.


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