Five invaluable life lessons I learnt from solo travelling

This once self-centered 20-year-old has slowly come out of her shell and learnt that there is more to life than climbing corporate ladders.

Noreen Shazreen

Probably the coolest cat lady you’ll ever meet.

Published: 11 September 2023, 3:38 PM

The first time I told my parents about my desire to travel solo across Southeast Asia, they questioned my senses. 

Worried and anxious about their 20-year-old daughter, they asked me everything from why I wanted to do it to how I was going to afford it and what will happen if something bad occurs. 

It took nothing short of an elaborate presentation (slideshow included) to convince them to let me go.

While solo travelling is unfortunately still a phenomenon that raises many eyebrows, it was something I desired to do during my gap year in 2022, after graduating from polytechnic and before embarking on undergraduate studies.

Over the past year, I got a taste of the world as I travelled to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Here are five invaluable life lessons I learnt through my experiences as a solo traveller.

1. How to make my own decisions

A valuable life lesson solo travelling has taught me is how to make judgements and decisions confidently. 

Most people refrain from embarking on a solo adventure as they fear making decisions that will impact the outcome of their travel experience and having to be accountable for the choices made. 

Prior to my solo travel journey, this was also a fear I had. Being so accustomed to travelling with friends and family meant that I was used to having a companion I could rely on to bounce ideas off from time to time in order to make an ideal decision.


Solo travelling forced me to hone my decision-making skills that helped me channel my courage and face the unknown. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


While solo travelling gave me complete freedom and flexibility to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, it also put a huge weight on my shoulders when I was planning my travel route and making bookings for accommodation, flights and transportation as I had to navigate them all by myself.

I remember several friends and relatives back home who had noted how “brave” they thought I was to take on a trip like this – all alone at the age of 20.

Not having someone to give me the reassurance that I was doing the right thing during my travels was terrifying. However, it also felt liberating to be able to trust myself to book that hotel, purchase that flight ticket and make other major decisions at a young age. 

For the first time, I was able to make big decisions and learn from them, which made me feel more confident.

2. Always have a backup plan in mind

Travelling alone undoubtedly forced me out of my shell as I had to deal with unfavourable situations on my own.

While travelling in Indonesia, my flight from Lombok to Bali was cancelled. Having not checked my email beforehand, I arrived at the domestic airport not knowing my flight had been rescheduled. This caused me to stay an extra night in Lombok, thereby affecting my travel plans in Bali. 

Despite feeling overwhelmed, I tried to remain calm and think objectively in order to overcome these circumstances. 

Such situations toughened me up by making me realise that not everything will go as planned and that I have to be prepared for unexpected events or emergencies that may arise in future.

3. There are many paths to success

When I was younger, I thought that getting a university degree was the only path to success.

Similar to thousands of other young Singaporeans, I also yearned for the Singaporean Dream and always envisioned myself securing a high-paying corporate job after obtaining my degree. 

I defined success as having a job that could provide me financial stability to allow me to purchase luxury goods, as that would be a testament that I have truly worked hard and made it in life.

As I stepped out of my bubble in Singapore and met people from different backgrounds and nationalities, I realised that success can take many forms. 

The first time I travelled to Bali, Indonesia was when I discovered the existence of digital nomads – people who choose to embrace a location-independent life that allows them to travel and work remotely at the same time.


Meeting people of other backgrounds gave me a different outlook on life. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Similarly, I have also encountered entrepreneurs who started their businesses and grew successful cafes from the ground up without having any university degree or impressive qualifications. 

Knowing that there isn’t one specific pathway to success gave me a peace of mind that I am still young and have the freedom to explore my passions before committing to a career.

4. I was never truly alone

Although I spent eight full weeks by myself travelling in Indonesia, I never once felt alone. 

As a solo traveller navigating my way around a foreign country, I faced several difficulties along the way, such as not being able to find the location of a place I wanted to visit or not having Internet access on my phone as my number had been blocked by the Internet service provider. 

Travelling alone, I slowly began to pick up on the kindness and altruism of the locals and other travellers around me. 

I vividly remember the time when a stranger helped me to book a ride back to my hotel as I had no mobile data to access the Gojek application on my phone. That incident made me realise that there are kind people out there who are willing to go above and beyond for others.


I evolved from a hardwired introvert who distrusted people to an extrovert who enjoys
interacting with the locals. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Travelling solo also meant that it was easy for me to make friends and strike conversations with other solo travellers. This typically occured at co-working spaces, cafes, or even while passing by someone on the street. I found it a privilege to make friends with people from all around the world.

5. I needed to widen my perspective and knowledge of the world

The moment I stepped out of my bubble and explored other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand, I was captivated by the rich culture and history I experienced. 

As the majority of Balinese practise the Hindu faith, I was able to witness traditional Balinese ceremonies such as the celebration of Galungan (a Balinese holiday that celebrates the victory of good over evil), as well as Kuningan, which marks the end of the 10-day festival.

Being exposed to other cultures’ holidays and traditions was eye-opening to someone who only experienced more common celebrations like Chinese New Year, Eid Mubarak, Deepavali, and Christmas.


Solo travelling has taught me that making memories through meaningful experiences is more rewarding than buying materialistic possessions in the long-term. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


I also immersed myself in the local culture and cuisine by staying with a local family at a homestay for a week during my travels in Bali, Indonesia. 

Interacting with the locals who lived in my neighbourhood in Bali, eating local pad thai from the street food vendor in Chiang Mai, and practising Bahasa Indonesia with my Gojek drivers all helped me learn more about different cultures.


Travelling has allowed me to embrace different cultures and customs. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Taking the leap of faith to take a gap year and embark on a Southeast Asia trip was one of the best decisions of my life. The friendships I made and the experiences I gained were valuable and things I will never take for granted. 

I bought my one-way ticket out of Singapore as a means to enjoy freedom for the first time and to gain independence while living away from my family. Little did I know then that doing so would contribute to personal growth and character development that I’m sure would benefit me in the long run.

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