{going solo in NZ} the quirks & perks of being a solo traveller

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going solo in NZ: Itinerary | Auckland | Wellington | Picton & Kaikoura | Christchurch | Queenstown | quirks & perks of solo travelling |

I’m typing this on my 8-hour flight home after my trip to New Zealand & Australia (but I’m guessing it’ll take a while to actually be posted, since I have a small mountain of backlogged posts).

During nearly a month of travelling solo in New Zealand, I had a lot of time to think, learn and explore. I know a lot of people tout solo travel as being ‘transformative’ and ‘life-changing’, and as clichéd as it sounds, it’s true.

Previously, I’d only ever gone on family vacations packed to the brim with activities & shopping, or vacations with friends, which usually involved late mornings and chilling. This time, I planned (or rather, didn’t plan) this trip all by myself, and it’s taught me a lot about my preferred travel style.

Here’s an attempted listicle on the quirks and perks of solo travelling for a month. And before you ask, I’m not going to turn it into one of those ‘live love laugh’-style posts that tries to be inspirational; these are 10 takeaways and quirks I’ve acquired from solo travel:

1. Seeking discomfort + learning to trust yourself

Anyone who’s heard of Yes Theory is probably familiar with their life-changing ethos of seeking discomfort and saying yes to things that scare you. Just because something’s not within your comfort zone now, doesn’t mean you can’t try it, embrace the anxiety/fear/discomfort, and expand your comfort zone.

When I first told my family, friends and former colleagues that I was embarking on my first-ever solo trip, and that it would be a solid month long (to celebrate my newfound freedom after quitting my job), they were understandably apprehensive and concerned. Like a lot of unmarried Singaporeans who live with their parents, I’m a relatively sheltered adult who hadn’t ever really tried adulting independently (travelling/cooking/cleaning) for a prolonged period; and travelling for a month sounds pretty tiring, so their worry was valid.

Personally, I barely felt any fear – it was just excitement, and the sensation that I was at a precipice at which I had to choose to fly or fall, and I knew I was choosing to fly. This trip was to celebrate the start of a new chapter of my life, where I learn to trust myself and make decisions that are best for myself. And secondarily, part of me knew I had to undertake this trip to shake the feeling that I was not truly capable of being an ‘adult’, since I’ve never lived away from my parents for a prolonged period of time.

The trip might not have gone so smoothly if I’d gone on the same trip last year. A lot has happened in my life this past year, most of which was a year-long doctoring job in bootcamp-equivalent conditions – it was a tortuous period of personal growth & picking up life skills while constantly fatigued – which ironically equipped me with greater self-confidence and less fear when taking on new challenges like solo travelling.

2. 101% freedom + the fun of making choices just for yourself

Clearly, the biggest perk of solo travel is freedom. For a self-described human cat like myself, I feel the most liberated when I’m alone and free to go about the day however I please.

Of course, when travelling to other countries, I might not have felt as free to roam out of safety concerns, but in NZ (a country safer than Singapore), I was able to fully embrace this freedom. Going wherever I felt like whenever I felt like, not feeling stressed or guilty when plans had to change, going slow on some days or really hard on others. All of that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been travelling solo.

Additionally, I was on sabbatical and had the luxury of time to spend a month abroad, which is far more time than most people would ordinarily have on a vacation (except those lucky people who work remotely or are long-term backpackers), so I had the privilege of living each day spontaneously, without a sense of urgency or stress that often plagues my daily life.

3. Sending postcards from abroad

Writing letters and sending postcards may seem to be a thing of the past, but I’ve always been charmed by them, often sending letters to my friends by snail mail just for the sheer joy of it. There’s a certain excitement involved in both sending (the process of writing, stamping & mailing) and receiving mail (opening your letterbox to find an envelope with your name on it).

I didn’t like the idea of buying gimmicky souvenirs that my friends/family would likely throw away. I wanted to give them something personalised and memorable, so I settled on postcards, as an archaic way to write home and let everyone know I’m well…even if they could well see the same thing on my overactive Instagram feed. Many handwritten messages and a week later, all 13 postcards had reached my close friends & family back home.

This unwittingly started a personal travel tradition as well, writing postcards addressed to my future self, filled with banalities like the weather, what I had done each day, and my thoughts on each place. It felt strange at first to write my own name on the postcard, but as a long-time user of futureme.org, I got the hang of things and treated each postcard as a time capsule of each place I stopped over in. Plus, navigating the postal system of each city was a fun experience in itself!

4. The importance of Google Maps and weather forecasts

I started each day with a rough plan of places I needed to visit, which were mostly museums, mountains, or already-scheduled events (such as llama trekking, the WETA workshop tour, or zoos). I left the rest of the day up to providence, the weather, and spontaneity.

Since I visited during winter, NZ’s rainiest season, I was determined to make full use of each and every day of sunshine and favourable weather. Letting the weather dictate my plans led to far more experiences than I could have planned: in Auckland, I hiked two mountains in a day (instead of just the one I had planned) because the weather remained sunny; on one of many rainy days in Wellington, I spontaneously hopped on a public bus to the peak of Mt Victoria when the weather suddenly cleared up.

Even when making simple decisions like where to eat lunch, I relied on Google Maps. I simply typed in ‘food’, filtered by rating and price, then picked whichever sounded the best to me that day. While I did refer to many articles on ‘Where to eat in X’ for recommendations, I more often than not, walked past those places and realised the menu didn’t suit my palate. And then I’d go back to my trusty GMaps app for a far more satisfying (and usually Asian) lunch.

5. Pacing yourself on a long holiday + being flexible

Let’s face it, in a country as big as New Zealand, even a month felt far too short. I had to cut the number of cities I planned to visit within a month, because I didn’t want to have to compromise or rush through any of the existing cities, just to visit an extra place for a few short days. (I’m sorry Napier, Dunedin and Invercargill, I’ll visit you next time round…)

Even with my fairly spaced-out itinerary, I was easily walking upwards of 12km in my trusty boots everyday. This trip really taught me how to listen to my body – when to stop for a snack break, when to sit down for a quick rest, and most importantly, when enough is enough.

The temptation to rush and try to do everything new & exciting is very real, especially when you’ve flown nearly 10 hours to a fascinating new place, but I had to hold myself back on some days – not trekking as far as intended (turning around earlier), or pushing back hikes by a day (risking not being able to hike at all if the weather turned bad the next day) – to ensure I didn’t hurt myself or fall sick.

Eventually, with a bit of rescheduling and adaptability, I still managed to do 99% of the activities I had planned to do, without compromising on my own health & rest.

6. Self-care

Just because you’re on a vacation doesn’t mean you don’t need self-care. Planning 101 activities for a vacation, packing, and then flying – these can be pretty damn stressful at times. Coupled with the long days you might be doing on vacation (trying to cram everything all at once), vacation fatigue may hit you during the trip itself.

Self-care can be as simple as doing a face mask after a long day out in the sun, getting a consistent & healthy amount of sleep, or catching up with family & friends back home over a short video call.

After a year of an erratic sleep cycle from unhealthy working hours in my ex-job, I was finally able to get a good rest during this trip. I slept ~9-10 hours daily during this trip, and I can safely say it was the most rejuvenated I’ve ever felt. It certainly helped that the sun set by 5:30 every winter evening, and most stores (except supermarkets) were closed by 6.

In contrast, Singapore is pretty much the city that never sleeps. With stores open till 9pm, and plenty of nightlife options, it’s easy to get lost in the bustle of the city, and not have enough time to enjoy being a homebody. In NZ, I finally found myself having time for self-care, writing & a healthy dose of Youtube/Netflix even after a full day of exploring, and the feeling of having a well-rounded day was utterly refreshing.

7. Noticing & embracing the tiny details of life in a new place

In Wellington, I woke up on multiple mornings to the sounds of seagulls, and I wasn’t even mad. At any rate, I preferred their squawking to the ‘uwu’ call of the koel, affectionately – or maybe not so affectionately when they’re camping outside your window at 5am – known as Singapore’s UwU bird.

At the street crossings in New Zealand, I realised the red man flashed instead of the green to indicate ‘stop crossing soon’. Just like how I run across Singapore roads when the green man starts flashing, I crossed anyway.

Exploring NZ’s supermarket chains was another cheap thrill. Comparing their large chillis which cost an eye-watering $120/kg (not a typo!) to our endless varieties of cheap chilli back home, to checking out prices of cereal & canned food while grocery shopping to stock my kitchenette for the week.

Every little detail reminded me how happy I was to be overseas and away from Singapore’s weather and pace of life, even if just for a few weeks.

8. Mindfulness

Ironically, you might assume I’d have been plugged in to my AirPods, listening to my favourite playlists for the whole trip, since it’s easy to do when you’re alone.

But in Singapore, when I go about daily life plugged in, I’ve often found myself getting lost in the music and not being present/able to fully enjoy experiences. So I set myself a goal of not bringing my AirPods along for this trip. I cut off my lifeline, and took the plunge…and bad news for my AirPods, but I’ve since realised I can actually live without them.

Actively practising mindfulness helped me enjoy my solo trip much more, allowing me to soak up the various sights and sounds with a greater level of attention than the autopilot I sink into when I’m mindlessly lost in my Spotify playlists.

Ever since returning home, I’ve stopped – or rather, forgotten to – bring my AirPods when going out, because I’d gotten used to moving around outside without them. I’m glad I took this new habit home.

9. Over-packing and learning what I can do without

To say I overpacked for this trip is an understatement. I packed at least 5-6 outfits and jackets, some of which took up too much luggage space, but I got lazy and ended up only wearing 2-3 on repeat, since I had laundry facilities in most of the places I stayed at.

I’m glad I learnt this early on in my life as a solo traveller – that I can pack even lighter (HeatTech was a space-saver and made for effortless winter layering), and doing laundry on vacation is the best hack. If I keep on downsizing my packing, maybe I’ll someday be able to fit everything into just one carry-on??

10. Falling in love with the country (and wanting to move there)

An unintended side effect of this trip was that I realised how much I liked being in NZ, and being surrounded by its endless nature (even in the city).

Since returning to Singapore, I’ve started to miss many small things about NZ:

  • Their culture of sustainability. Zero plastic bags, a culture of buying secondhand goods at flea markets or antique shops, and locally-made food/goods
  • Maybe the air is different there, but New Zealanders generally have a calmer and friendlier disposition than the city dwellers I’m used to. From striking up short conversations with fellow solo travellers at bus stops, to exchanging pleasantries with storekeepers or the bus driver, everything’s just a little nicer there
  • Perhaps the most major difference is the driving culture. NZ drivers are mostly gracious and patient. Driving along Singaporean highways and watching angry drivers honk at or aggressively overtake each other, or cut off pedestrians at crossings, I realised just how chill NZ drivers were in comparison
  • The public toilets there were remarkably clean as well. When I first entered their public toilets, I was expecting to be greeted by the usual stench, dirty toilet seats, or half-flushed loos like back home. But almost all of them were in excellent condition for the next user, which makes me think NZ’s doing something right with their high level of social responsibility

This post wouldn’t be complete without the special mention of Wellington’s flute-playing tree man (you can read his origin story here). Woody is a national treasure who I first spotted swaying in the breeze along the Wellie Harbour, playing his flute next to the bushes outside Te Papa Museum. It (or he) waved at me, and I waved back.

Wellie’s tree man at the beach :’)

I couldn’t help but smile. It felt surreal, and watching this street performer interact with little kids and adults alike really sparked a sense of joy and wonder in my soul, only serving to make me fall in love with NZ further…(and if it isn’t apparent, I’m already planning another trip back there)

All the posts in this series

Thanks for sticking around till the end of this long trip diary, and stay tuned for my next (shorter) post about my Sydney family vacation. Be sure to follow my Insta or like my Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest adventures, day-to-day doctoring and life updates! Until next time~

xoxo,
Faith

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2 responses to “{going solo in NZ} the quirks & perks of being a solo traveller”

  1. hi faith! have been a long-term reader of your blog and am excited to follow you on the unique path you have taken compared to many other local med grads. looking forward to future posts on your work (healthcare related or otherwise) outside the public healthcare system as well as tips on how to make such work sustainable and practical. thank you and keep up the good work!

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    1. Hey Adam, thank you so much for the continued support and for believing in me/my writing; hopefully I’ll be able to continue writing content that’ll be able to help in one way or another 🙂 and you take care too!

      Like

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