I have always loved to travel. I remember my first flight — business class on Northwest Airlines flying to L.A. I had a wonderful boss at the US Embassy who sent me on a familiarization trip to the FAA. Of course the company would only pay for economy fare but he used his miles to get me upgraded to business class because it was my first trip out of Singapore (not counting trips to Malaysia). After the week of meeting, I signed up on a tour that took me to Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Park and San Francisco. It was a lot of driving but I enjoyed myself.
In my corporate career, after my MBA, I had been fortunate enough to have opportunities to travel on the job. I would usually try to tag on a couple of days of leave to check out places. As I got older, I got more adventurous and went traveling on my own. I love the freedom and alone time. I don’t think I ever felt lonely or scared. Maybe during meal times, you sometimes wish you could have a conversation with someone. But mostly, I am fine being on my own.
I discovered that I could travel very well on my own, and actually enjoy it, when I went to Osaka in March 2013. I did some research on the places I wanted to see and decided on the number of days I wanted to spend in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, factoring in travel time between places. Then I booked my air tickets. Next, was arranging the hotels. I used Agoda to find hotels that were near train stations and cities. As a single lady traveller, safety is most important. I read reviews written by other travellers and made sure I didn’t have to walk very far with my luggage. I was a little worried about language but surprisingly, it was quite easy to get around. There were always announcements and signboards in English. Restaurants had English menus too.
When I arrive at a new place, I would always visit its Tourist Information Centre first to get a map and ask about any special deals for tourists. You can save quite a bit of money using their stored value cards for buses and trains, and coupons to get into tourist attractions for free or at a discount. Unless you have very specific interests and places you must see, I find that following the free coupons to places can turn out to be an interesting itinerary all the same. I was always able to find someone who can speak English to help me.
I remembered coming back to Osaka after touring Kyota and Nara, and not being able to locate a lift at the underground train station. Just as I was about to summon all my strength to carry my luggage up 2 floors, a young Korean man stopped to offer his help to carry my suitcase to the street level. What a lovely young man. He turned out to be a student studying in Osaka, and his English was actually very good. I later found out that there was a lift after all but it was on the other side of the road. So I made a mental note that for my return journey, back to the train station to go to the airport, I would need to roll my luggage across the street, take the lift down to the train station, and roll it back to the train platform. A bit of a detour but it beats carrying your suitcase down flights of stairs!
When I was in Kyoto, I had an American friend living in Tokyo who came to join me. We rented bicycles to cycle around Kyoto. I thought the exercise would help keep me warm but the cold air actually made me feel cold. I was glad I had gloves to keep my hands warm but my face bore the brunt of the cold. I thought my poor ears would fall off! I am glad I cycled — I could get to places faster and see more things. The slopes were however hard to conquer. But I had such a fantastic time that on subsequent travels to other places, I would always try to find a day to rent a bicycle to tour a city. I am glad I know how to cycle. I love the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Very beautiful indeed. And all the lovely temples. I could never get tired of them.
Nara was beautiful and a return to nature. I am never a nature lover but I enjoyed Nara, seeing the deer up close. I walked a lot but the weather made it enjoyable.
It is a big world out there with lots to see. You should always find time to venture out and see what’s out there. It isn’t that difficult to plan and arrange a trip. When there is a will, there is always a way.