I once read a quote that said, 'I always wondered why birds can stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on earth. Then I ask myself the same question.' That quote alone made me want to travel and see the world, and not only share my experiences as a traveler, but also share those of others who have explored different cities and cultures.
Michelle A. Smith @Theshiftstarter, a frequent traveler who took a 16 day, 6 country trip by herself. This is her story.
Hello, My name is Michelle from Brooklyn, NY. In my 33 years of life, I have already visited 6 continents, 32 countries and 104 cities. My most memorable travel story was last year when I decided to not wait for a travel companion or friends, picked up and decided to take a 16 day, 6 country trip by myself. I started in Moscow, Russia to Singapore to Bali, Indonesia, to Thailand to Hong Kong and ended in Dubai.
The thought of traveling by myself was terrifying, much less actually doing it. As a black female from the city, I stuck out like a sore thumb, especially in Russia where they stared at me as if I was an alien from outer space. However, I decided before I started this journey, that I was going to be open, courageous, embrace change and be still enough to absorb the experience. My trip went from me being "the cheese that stood alone" to "the life of the party." I had dinner with Balinese children for Christmas, dressed in Royal Thai garb for New Years, scuba dived in Kho Phi Phi Islands and rode on camels in the desert of Dubai.
There are a few things that made this thee most memorable trip:
1. You learn so much about yourself being alone. What you think are your weaknesses actually evolve into your strengths.
2. Your navigation and memory skills are sharpened because you have no one to depend on to help you find your way (I watched the movie "Taken" several times.)
3. You wake up on your own time, make your own plans and never have to worry about someone's opinion on what you should/not do.
4. Your 'cultural awareness' bucket starts to overflow, making you eager to learn different languages, try new foods and different ways of life.
5. People gravitate to you because they are just in "AWE" that you are brave enough to roll solo in a foreign country. You meet people from all walks of life and make new friendships and connections.
Once I returned home, I was proud of myself for conquering another fear. I encourage others, if you are going to get to the next level in life, to move out of your own way, get out of your comfort zone and DO.IT.AFRAID.
Here are some tips I have for people who are interested in traveling to the countries I visited:
1) As an avid traveler the key to getting the most bang for your buck is to find airlines and flights with multiple and long layovers. That allows you to leave the airport and tour a country you may not necessarily want to stay at.
2) Moscow, Russia - You need a visa to leave the airport. Unfortunately, due to the weather, my flight was delayed coming in so I didn't have enough time to leave, tour, and get back in time for my connecting flight. I learned the hard way that this culture is not very warm and friendly. If you look different they will stare. Don't expect small talk or/and English translation while you wait either. I spent 3 hours there and couldn't wait to board my flight to Singapore and put such an unfriendly experience behind me. This is not a "tourist friendly" country.
3) Singapore - The Singapore airport gives a free 3 or 5 hour tour from the airport to the river with a cruise around the city. My phone died before I got on the boat...no pics captured. Singapore is what I describe as the Mr. Clean version of New York. The entire city is spotless. While it was a pleasure to visit, I didn't absorb the culture.
4) Bali, Indonesia - I arrived here on Christmas Eve. This country is like one big, outdoor spa. Depending on your interests and tastes, there are certain parts of the country, like Ubud, dedicated to yoga and meditation (where they shot the movie Eat, Pray, Love). Then there are parts like Nusa Dua for rest, relaxation and beaches, where you get $10 full body massages for 2 hours! Bali is also big on the fish manicure and pedicure! I didn't last more than 1 min! After 4 days here you definitely leave with clear mind and your body feels rejuvenate.
5. Thailand - I brought in New Years in Bangkok and while I am a New York City gal, this city was a little too gritty for me. The one thing to know about Bangkok is that food is prepared outside on the street. The inner OCD in me was very skeptical at first because my thoughts were, "Where is the food being cleaned and prepared?" However, ironically, there are very few cases where people actually get sick from eating the street food.
If you grab a hotel along the Sukhumvit, you will be right in the middle of everything,
including Bangkok's very immaculate train stations. Take the river ferry and visit 'The Grand Palace' in Wat Pho, where you will see the largest reclining Buddha. Remember, this is a temple and very sacred to the Buddhist religion, so arms and legs have to be covered to even enter the gates. On your way back, be sure to get off the river boat and visit the Lubua Hotel. Their rooftop is AMAZING and it's also where the scene was shot for the "Hangover 2" (on those infamous steps overlooking Bangkok).
I also flew to a small island called 'Krabi' and rented a room in a small guesthouse. Krabi is similar to Phuket, a small beach town. There I took a catamaran to go scuba diving in the Kho Phi Phi islands. For anyone who is a certified scuba diver, the reef here is AMAZING! I saw my first large octopus ever, no sharks siting though. Also, in Thailand, elephants are considered sacred animals. Here you will get a chance to ride one, which was so cool!
6. Hong Kong - I had a 15 hour layover in Hong Kong, so I stored my luggage in an airport locker, grabbed a train map, bought a train ticket, converted some money and headed into the city. The cool thing about Hong Kong, much like Singapore, is that mostly everyone speaks English. It is a metropolis with lots of ex-pats who are there to work. I didn't notice much fog but the city was buzzing. 'Lan Kwai Fong' is similar to midtown Manhattan, lots of bars, restaurants and music blasting into the streets. A great place to meet people and have China's largest jello shot! I partied at a club here, until the wee hours of the morning, then hopped in a cab and went back to the airport to catch my flight to Dubai.
7. Dubai - I LOVE Emirates Airline. I flew them to Dubai and South Africa before, so I knew what to expect on my 2nd visit here. Emirates put me up in a hotel since my flight back home wasn't for another 23 hours. I went to the travel desk and booked a desert trek for 8 hours. There was ATV riding, camel riding, then a dinner and show right in the middle of the desert. What caught me off guard was how cold the desert gets at night, so always look at temperatures and don't assume warm places don't get cold.
My stats are:
68 hours of flying time
4 country visas
6 currency conversions
3 language translations
1 helluva jet lag to recover from
...this trip was so worth it and I would do it over in a heartbeat!
If you have any questions or comments regarding the different cities or Michelle's travel experience, feel free to drop them in the comments!