Finding Your Way, Alone

There’s lots of talk these days about the solo traveller. Many seem to be using travel as a means to discover something new about themselves – climb a mountain, make new friends, or explore a new place, leaving life, work, troubles and strings behind. There’s something exhilarating, even poetic, about being the exotic traveller in a place where no one knows you yet; where you could be anyone, and find anything…

But all the romanticism aside, this isn’t always the easiest thing. Especially for a woman (yes, let’s just face reality) it is important to have a certain amount of control over one’s circumstances. I’ve done a few solo trips – very few COMPLETELY alone, but alone enough – and I thought I’d share thoughts on some technology that can help empower and protect us on that soul searching trip to some vague part of the world. This is fairly obvious and basic advice, but I have found that fully exploiting these few things has made a big difference to my travel experiences.

SIM CARDS
Having a phone that works while travelling is an absolute must. My experience is that Indian services like Matrix are a terrible idea. The plans are vague, they are deceptively expensive, very often you won’t even realise what you’ve been charged for, and how much, until you are home and the post-purchase customer care is abysmal. There’s no guarantee that the card will work at all, or for the entirety of your time away.

I prefer buying local SIM cards on arrival into a new country. Most countries have kiosks at airports where you can buy a local tourist SIM card with an active data connection for a convenient period of time.

My advice is as follows:
– Buy one.
– Go for a plan that is data heavy, but that allows calls as well, local and international.
– Set up your phone with the new SIM but retain WhatsApp on your original phone number.
– Take the time to understand the plan correctly. Some require you to add codes and numbers before making calls, without which you will end up being charged money. There’s always fine print, make sure you find it!
– Don’t forget to note down your new number!

GOOGLE MAPS
This is your best friend during those explorative walks around a new city! It’s a great tool to figure out how far apart the spots you’d like to visit are from each other. It will also empower you to know if a cab driver is driving you around in circles or if you’re headed in the wrong direction in a tuk-tuk.

Just remember that Google Maps tends to drain phone battery, so carry a battery pack with you!

TRANSPORTATION APPS
I was surprised to find Uber fully active and functional even in cities like Nagpur, Agra and Bhubaneshwar in India and even Hua Hin, Thailand. However, it is possible that a city has a local service that’s cheaper, or more popular. Do a search on the App Store to find out what those are and keep them accessible in case one doesn’t work. There are also apps and websites that will help you understand local bus and train routes and schedules, both within a city or between cities in the same country. Understanding how to get around will make a huge difference to your trip!

LANGUAGE APPS
Language doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore. Download a translator app that you can type into and hold up to someone you’re trying to communicate with. This is especially useful with cab drivers, banks, super markets or ticket counters. If this doesn’t work, there’s always Safari and Google Translate!

ONLINE DISCUSSION FORUMS
I’ve found Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet to be very useful for some pre-trip advice. Not only can you efficiently plan your days, these sites and their attached discussions will help highlight the things to be aware and careful of in different parts of the world. Concerns are different in different cities and countries, tourist attractions have timings and require different things from tourists in terms of tickets, attire or ID and culture can vary greatly from what you’re used to. Preparing through the experiences of fellow travellers can be very useful.


I’ve often been told – by travellers perhaps more spontaneous and gutsy than me – that over-planning defeats the purpose of a trip of discovery. Maybe this is true, but personally, I like knowing what there is to see and do, and feeling safe and in control as I explore, so that I don’t have any regrets. If you’re anything like me, I hope this was useful. And I hope your next trip is enriching, exciting and empowering!

The Right Guide

It was one of those fateful trips; made as a result of a determination not to sit around on my last full day in a city. A series of coincidences and mistakes brought me to the security gate of the premises where I hastily showed the guards a scan of my passport and was shuffled in along with hundreds of other tourists. Just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the space and the lack of signs telling me where to go, a soft spoken gentleman asked, “Tour guide?”

Meet Taweesak Sattayanukarn. My guide through the breathtaking Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok, Thailand.

One piece of advice I always go by is this – follow the local. And if you have time on your hands, spending money on a local guide is always a great move.

A guide through the historical sites of Bangkok for 26 years, Taweesak was able to point out so many things I would have otherwise missed:

The incredible amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism in this site.

The porcelain decorations around 8 Cambodian style pillars, made from broken teapots, teacups and plates, fashioned in mosaic style into flowers, representing the Buddhist 8-fold path.

The stunning mirror work along the body of the temple, slanting inwards as the walls rise, allowing rainwater to fall downwards more easily, to delay damage as long as possible.

The fact that the Emerald Budda is dressed in different golden outfits – one for each season, in varying thicknesses and lengths, depending on how cold it is.

The fact that there’s water, orange juice, and lunch (all for free) for tourists visiting the Grand Palace and the temple.

…and so much more.

Not only did Taweesak add an immeasurable amount to my experience at the Grand Palace, but hearing about his life, his family and his opinions on the royal family, his country’s history and religion gave me an insight into life in Bangkok that only a local could have provided.

If you’re in Bangkok and want to explore the palace, any of the surrounding temples or the ancient city of Ayuthaya, give Taweesak a call on +66818449372.
I promise you, it will make a huge difference. And if you do find him, tell him that dancer girl from India that he showed around, had lunch with, and found a tuk-tuk for, says hello and sends him her love!

Bangkok, Thailand, January 2017.