February 2018 – I flew to San Francisco via Cathay Pacific from Manila for 17-hour flight, the longest and tiring trip in my adult existence. Well, practically, I was traveling for nearly 21 hours including a stop over in Hongkong. It was my first time to visit U.S.A so imagine my anticipation and excitement. I have relatives living in different states but I opted to visit Cali first to reunite with friends in L.A.
I arrived San Francisco at 8:00- ish PM, exhausted, starving and cold. The line leading up to immigration took me an hour and a half, it was chaotic. When I had my turn, it goes something like this:
Immigration Officer: What is your purpose entering USA?
Me: Leisure, I actually quit my job to travel, after this I am heading to Mexico and I’ll be meeting friends in L.A.
I booked my hostel in downtown San Francisco – Music Hostel for 129$ for 3 nights, which is close proximity to Union Square shopping center.
How to get there?
Take Golden Gate Transit bus numbers 10,70,92, 93 & 101, the closet for me was 93 bus for 2.50$ per way. They will stop at toll plaza and walk your way up to the Bridge.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
It was surreal to see the famous landmark of San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge which was inaugurated in 1973. This bridge is now hailed as part of Seven Wonders of the modern world.
The park is massive with about 83,000 acres surrounding San Francisco Bay. There were few exemptions when you visit, rollerblades and skateboards are not permitted to enter.
The bridge is picture perfect, 1,000 times prettier in person. And really romantic backdrop. If there’s one city, I hoped to live in the near future – San Francisco is part of the list – lively, colorful and has so much character.
To keep me company, I grabbed brewed coffee even if I’m not a coffee drinker, well, it was cold! I sat on available bench near the bay side while lusting the view and enjoy observing people minding their own business. It was incredible feeling!!!
The park was filled with families, couples, seniors, and enthusiasts of diverse culture.
I was approached by a family, who started to converse with me when they noticed I was alone. I offered to have their photos taken, we started talking random stuff! I think that’s the magic when you travel alone —- people get curious and hear your broken record stories. LOL.
I spent half a day there, just being my lone wolf self (once in a while), read a book and headed off to my hostel.
Crossing the land borders in Central America as a female, solo backpacker was unique, daunting yet unforgettable. I mean, I did try to cross land borders in several countries in South East Asia (Asian genes, you guys!), but I never thought I would actually do it in Latin America with my broken Spanish and retarded navigating skills. LOL.
I SURVIVED! Hey, hey. EPIC journey.
My initial impression it would be difficult considering so many relenting factors – language, me being a browned skin Asian woman (who can never be wronged as Latina (just kiddin’), and drug cartel reps that gave me anxiety attack.
But with proper precaution and assertiveness crossing land borders is the most rewarding experience I ever had. It’s one of my favorite travel journey. I felt safe. No tedious paperwork or interrogation , they stamp your passport way easier that what we do in the airports.
NOTE: My travel itinerary everywhere I go has always been very spontaneous, I don’t book hotels and bus tickets in advance. Depends on how I felt and experienced in each destination, I can extend or shorten my trip for flexibility, in this way, I savor the wanderlust moments.
IMPORTANT TRAEVEL ADVISORY:
Just like any countries, you need a valid passport at least 6 months and valid visa before traveling. In Central America, visa on arrival is pretty normal. Please check your embassy before booking any itinerary.
I recommend you to travel “first class” busses with legit operators such as Nica Bus, Tica or Ado Bus for your own safety and convenience including attached toilet. The trill of chicken busses maybe appealing but your safety is in big question mark.
Always prepare local currency when crossing land borders, some immigration don’t accept dollars, ATMs are not available mostly in remote areas of El Salvador or Nicaragua.
All bags are being screened and must pass safety check before you can go back to your designated bus (they’re strict, I must say).
Remember your bus #. I take a photo of every bus I am in. You’ll never know. All busses looks so similar to each other.
Locals may pretend to be immigration officers, be wary. Always follow your instinct.
When traveling alone as a woman, ask the ticketing counter to give you a seat in front where you see the driver or conductor.
Depends on the travel time, all busses normally have 1 stop for 15-20 minutes for snack time and loo moments.
Cancun Mexico to Belize City
You can buy a ticket at ADO Bus Terminal. You need to book it in advance since during peak seasons, you’ll have a hard time getting one. There are only two trips going to Belize from Cancun 7:15 am and 10:15 pm, which takes 9 hours overnight bus ride. It was one of the easiest land borders I enjoy.
Mexico exit fee is 30$ ticket after 45 mins you will pass through the usual immigration process to cross the other side.
For Filipinos holding USA Tourist visa or equivalent, you can enter Belize for 60 days.
A lot of tourists opted to go to Caye Caulker or San Pedro to escape toxic and unsafe Belize city. To get to the island, you need to take water taxi for 45 mins of bliss for 30 USD for 2-way trip. You will find some hecklers trying to convince you to join them, of course, rely only to legit ticketing counter.
Belize has a bad reputation for high criminal rate and attacking tourists, so please be extra careful. Never go out alone, better to be safe than sorry.
Belize to Guatemala
My first experience of riding a “chicken bus” happened in Belize city en route to Flores, Guatemala. Belize bus terminals are small and crowded. Pickpockers are everywhere so be mindful of your stuff.
There is no direct bus going to Guatemala so I had to transfer four (4) public transportation to the border: Ticket to Belpan at 5 BD, Ticket to Benque Express. Stop at benque terminal and take taxi to Guatemala border at 8 BD.
By the time you reached the border, you will see lots of money exchange guys who then and again promise to offer you, quote: better exchange rate. Don’t be trapped.
Guatemala to El Salvador
I only spent 3.5 days in El Salvador practically to relax. I had no stamina of going around at that time since I experienced severe travel fatigue, so I had no memory of fun in there. Anyways, here’s few things to remember;
Take Primea Linea for 120 Quetzal for 9 hours land travel
No exit fee from Guatemala
In El Salvador border, immigration officer will stamp it before you can hop again on the bus
TRUE STORY: The most stressful land border – While exiting Guatemala and entering Salavdor border, I almost got scammed! I was too exasperated (travel fatigue) when local guys approached me in my vulnerability to give my passport and forced me to hand them over 20 USD for exit stamp. I was confused so I assert the situation and demand to bring my passport back as I realized there’s no exit fee required, all I had to do it in immigration. I yelled at them with my broken Spanish with “Give me back my passport or I will call policia”! What I did is not safe, Ladies! I put myself in danger, to be honest. The inner Maleficient took over but it went well, they returned my passport!
The journey didn’t stop there, haha. Hold on. Then our bus had flat tires in the middle of the night, unknowingly, the bus head off to Salvador border with 3 of the passengers being left behind. So we had to take a trike to get into the location. Then as soon as we arrived, the officer confiscated my passport to stamp it, then the bus almost left me! Geeez, it was chaotic. Well, travel can be inconvenient but charge to experience.
El Salvador to Nicaragua
Honduras exit fee at 3 USD
Nicaragua taxi is 15 USD (the most expensive)
You only need one (1) visa to enter Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras & Nicaragua which is valid for 3 months. It’s like Schengen visa Latin America style.
Nicaragua to Costa Rica
At this point, I’ll be meeting some friends in Costa Rica, I met a lovely couple while touring Turkey, we clicked right away so decided to meet-up when they found out I’m heading Central. It was an awesome reunion but too short to explore the beaches.
To cross the border, you need to pay municipal fee of 1$ USD. In Nicaragua, immigration officers ask about your onward travel, so you have to show them a proof or You can provide them a bus ticket of your next destination.
Costa Rica to Panama
The longest bus ride in my entire life was in Costa Rica to Panama City. I braved 17-hour travel time. I am crazy, I know. Initially, my plan was to just fly but told myself, I needed to complete the feat!
Bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola / La Frontera for 90 minutes
Exit Costa Rica for 30 minutes, will cost you $7-8
Cross the border for 10 minutes
Enter Panama for 30 minutes, $3
Bus from Panama border (Guabito) to Changuinola for 1 USD
And then after all the over month-long land borders, I chased my dream to South America and flew to Colombia via Avianca! Many unforgettable memories to keep me company, for the rest of my sweet life! Adios!
This is the first time in years that I never been on a plane!!! It feels forever as if my brain suddenly short circuited by the thought of being stationed in one place doing routine and lax. The inner struggle with my alter ego is currently in limbo.
Covid-19 shook the tourism industry, and for someone like me whose always on the go, all I can do is to day dream for that moment to happen and hear the magic words “This is your Captain speaking…”.
I have no idea when can I travel, because honestly as much as I’m obsessed to wanderlust, I can’t compromise my health. Though, slowly several countries declared easing out travel restrictions (good news!), but still I’m 50/50 stage at this point.
Here are the Top 5 places I plan to visit as soon as Covid-19 vaccine is available in the market, I’m ready to go!
If pandemic didn’t happen, I was supposed to backpack South America last June 2020 for a month in time for my birthday. My backpacking journey won’t be complete without crossing my ultimate destination: Machu Picchu. Besides, I am completing my 7-Wonders of the World. I only need 2 to complete the entire journey. I’m sooo jealous that my closest friends were able to visit and I’m at the backseat waiting for my turn. Argh! So frustrating but I’m hopeful. I’m begging you 2021, be kinder to us! *wink
I am intrigue with Brazil in general. I mean aside from seeing gorgeous men (coughs*), I look forward to feast its local delicacy and food, oh salivating on smoked meat BBQ (hey! meat lovers), swim in the Copacabana beach and more. I was thinking to go by January in time for the colorful Carnival festival. Funny thing was, my ex-beau and were planning a trip there a few years ago, but now I had to do it solo (good riddance, LOL).
My 5-day trip to Wellington, NZ in 2017 was cut off after my e-visa arrived late. The agenda is after my 2-week trip to Australia I will do a side trip to Wellington to see friends and Hobbiton Movie set since I’m an ardent fan of Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is fascinating by the lustful of images in pinterest. My Aunt is married to a Kiwi so we were also thinking for a reunion. Can’t wait for that moment to happen.
This has been part of my bucket list for ages, but finally my mind is set on it ASAP. Mongolia is just 5 hours away from Manila. I don’t need a visa for 60 days. I enjoy visiting places that are still under the category of ‘exotic’ and non-touristy. I grew up watching “Mongolian BBQ” TV show as a kid, so imagine the thrill on my face setting foot in this place. Pulling the days to come by. See you soon, Mongolia!
One of my regret is not visiting Egypt when I was working in the Gulf region which is just 4-hour flight from Abu Dhabi. By the time we sent our visa application to the Embassy, political unrest happened in 2016, so I had to “delay” my travel itinerary. But this time, no ifs, no buts, I am flying there by 2021 with my broken Arabic. Whoah.
Dear Universe – I AM SOOOO READY.
What about you which country are you looking to visit soon?
I’ve been traveling for more than a decade and to tell you honestly, I have never mastered the art of traveling light! Haha. I know, it’s always a girls nightmare prior hitting the road. It seems like everything is “essential” on our list. I had the same sentiments when I hit The Americas continent in 2018, I need to travel for 6 months, and I had swing moments and the delusionment continues with what I need to wear versus (practical) what looks good in Instagram. Double LOL.
It took me weeks to finally decide what to bring to this adventure. The travel stuff I am sharing are based on my personal travel style. But pretty much 85% of what I brought were able to save me for comfort and relaxed travel for long period of time.
This blog is meant for ladies only (okay, guys can get some ideas, hopefully!)
First stop: INVEST IN A GREAT BACKPACK Mine, I purchased Osprey Fairmont
Clothes edition – it’s important to bring clothes that are appropriate for the weather of the country you are visiting but keeping it in mind to be stylish (read: clothing items you are willing to wear repeatedly) can mix and match too.
2 denim pants, 2-3 shorts (avoid too skimpy), 3-4 shirts, 1 dress for a night out, 1 jacket for cold weather nights and swimsuit
Footwear – it is non-negotiable for me especially for long walks, it needs to be comfy and reliable at the same time can be worn in different occasions.
– 1 slipper, 1 sandals, 2 rubber shoes (one can be for hike)
Personal essentials(hygiene kits, beauty kit), even when you travel it’s imperative to still look presentable. Don’t overload your bag with lots of hygiene products as most countries have them and ensure whatever you bring pass the allowable ml content especially in the airports.
Hygiene kit – toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, underarm roll ons, shampoo and conditioner (sachets is better), lotion, facial wash, femine pads/wash of your choice (some brands are not available in other countries), wipes or tissue (public toilets in 3rd world countries can be disgusting), perfume or cologne (you need to smell good, all the time).
Medicine kit – Vicks, meds for different sickness (diarrhea, cough, headache, fever, etc), off lotion (you’ll thank me for this), alcohol, band aid – just enough to survive you for the rest of your trip.
Make-up Kit – powder or light foundation, blush on, lipstick or gloss, mascara, 2 shade eye-shadow pallet, eye brow pencil, beauty blender, pocket mirror (the goal is to keep you presentable but don’t go hardcore)
a hat or cap
shades, eye glasses or contact lens (I have astigmatism)
Belt bag or sling bag (when going around the city)
Passport holder (to keep everything organized)
Gadgets – technology is a must nowadays, traveling for long-term can be lonely at times (some travelers refused to admit this) so connecting with loved ones back home is a way to balance the act.
Laptop, international chargers, adaptors (weird but very useful), durable power bank, ipod, earplugs (dual purpose for music and to sleep in long travel),
Apps to download – there are places that doesn’t have stable wifi connection, if you want to kill the time and entertain, these apps are recommended by yours truly
– XE currency (works even offline – estimated amount), Lass Pass to save personal passwords, Google Maps or Maps.me that works offline, Spotify or Cloud music, Paypal in case ATM doesn’t work in remote places, translation app (that would work offline)
Other Must-Haves – over the years these are additional items that are useful, again that others travelers may forget
bring your own water tumbler and sets of cutlery (recommended for safety purposes),
Ziplocs will save space,
pillow cases – this is weird but I love bringing pillow cases with me (trust me on this, its for personal hygiene)
socks about 3-4 to wash in between
your favorite book
small notebook and pen – just to write down important emergency contacts and for airports use (hello, immigration forms)
small umbrella or raincoat
external hard drive to save photos, etc
Locks – utterly valuable especially if you stay in hostels/dorms
Travel essentials are purely “subjective”, meaning what works for me, may not work for others. Travelers have different lifestyle, so choose the items that you feel best for your needs and style.
What are your favorite items to bring? Hope this article helps you to decide what items to pack on your next travel adventure.
Traveling as a female can pose a danger, (ugly truth!) but armed with the right mindset and useful, practical tips can make your first solo travel journey a diary of self-discovery and incredible memories.
My first memory of solo backpacking trip happened in Kenya in 2012 for a week. At that time, I already traveled a good number of countries with friends and family before making a vital decision to level up my wanderlust adventure. Also, it was a strategic move before my month-long European trip in the same year. It was like “If I survived Africa, I can survive anywhere in the world”. LOL.
Solo traveling, especially for women can be daunting. None in my circle of female friends ever traveled alone so I was clueless where to start.
And after many years of solo traveling, here are proven and tested survival kit for any woman who wishes to travel alone – for the first time! Read on.
1. PREPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY
The moment you booked your first ever solo travel can be ecstatic. That Eat, Pray, Love journey sounds amazing, but the truth is, setting foot in a foreign land can be intimidating and overwhelming. The first 2 days you feel over the moon, then weeks passed you find yourself in the homesick arena and start questioning yourself why did you even do it!
To avoid this awkward scenario, I recommend you to do an experiment: Try eating alone in a restaurant or watch a movie so you can psyche yourself wether solo travel is for you or not. It takes mental preparation to be able to do it.
When I backpacked Europe for a month, in Stockholm, I decided to treat myself for a buffet! The moment I entered with my 12kg backpack, everyone’s eyes were on me (as if it was a crime to be alone, lol) A waiter came up to me and said “You alone?!” with face of amusement.
See, not everyone will welcome that idea, but it’s okay, it is “empowering” to be able to enjoy yourself, just because not everyone is capable to embrace their solo flight.
2. RESEARCH ABOUT THE PLACES YOU WILL VISIT
Each country has their own sets of rules and laws. You need to educate yourself before jumping on a plane. You don’t want to see yourself getting fined out of ignorance of cultural norms and basic etiquette.
– In Singapore, chewing gums is considered illegal since 1992.
– Public Display of Affection (PDA) in Middle Eastern countries is not allowed and can land you in jail.
– The use of Air B&B is now illegal in cities like New York and Paris.
3. WALK LIKE YOU OWN THE WORLD!
Yes, woman that’s confidence right there. As Beyoncé says “Who run the World?!” Girls. Strut as if you are really familiar with the place (even if you really don’t), don’t act too obvious, I mean. The moment you show you were clueless, the more people will take advantage of your vulnerable zone.
4. SAFETY PRECAUTIONS.
A smart traveler is highly aware of his or her own territory. Here are general rules to live by;
– Keep your valuables in check. If you’re sharing a room (hello, hostels!) never ever leave your valuables even if you go to toilet. I know, it sounds very narcissistic but better be safe than sorry. Keep an eye on your belongings especially in public spaces. Always have a copy of your passport or emergency contact numbers for easy access.
– Always walk in crowded areas, skip dark alleys even if you want to arrive at your destination early. If you’re unsure of the destination, Better take a grab or taxi.
– On food. Local foods are great introductions to every country, but also you don’t want to get salmonella or any allergic reactions while traveling. I got food poisoned in Myanmar, and was on bed rest for 2 days, good thing I was not hospitalized. Such an eye-opening experience. Every places you go even in first-world countries, be careful what you put in your stomach. Getting sick in a foreign place as an expat is not only costly but also disengaging.
– Keep your mental and physical health a priority.If I travel for long term, I make it to a point that I have a mandatory “day off” even for a day. Traveling can be fun but also can be utterly exhausting. Take care of yourself because no one can do it for you.
– When you exit and enter international land borders.Be wary of hustlers. I was exhausted after traveling for 10 hours by bus and on my way to enter El Salvador land border when a group of locals tried to scam me but good thing, I was alert.
– Men can flirt with you, they target solo women. Be careful. They will offer drinks, insist you for city tour and so on. Never trust anyone at any circumstances. Follow your instincts all the time. A friend of mine was nearly assaulted in a bar in Delhi, just because she thought they were just being friendly.
TRAVEL TIP: Every time I travel I bring a fake wedding ring, and have my ready Oscars speech of “I am married”, just so strangers won’t bother me anymore. It worked all the time.
5. YOU CAN JOIN A GROUP TOUR
Just because, you wanted to be firm with your decision to go solo, you will embrace being solo. Wrong! I encourage you to book a tour once in a while just to break the routine.
6. KNOW THE BASICS.
Whenever I travel, I see to it I have basic local phrases I kept on my phone for emergency purposes such as directions, price, etc. I download useful apps like XE currency, maps me or google maps to navigate places with no WiFi.
7. INITIATE A CONVERSATION AND MAKE FRIENDS
No man is an island. No matter how expert you are in traveling. Don’t detach yourself from reality. Strike a pep talk with someone at the airport, hostel, coffee shops or while on group tour. Nix the idea that just because it says “solo travel” you literally mean being alone all the time.
For long-term travel, you need a good company who can laugh with, enjoy a good dinner or drink, and to hangout for a half day tour. Of course, not all people you meet in your journey can be your friends! Select the ones that you have special connection with.
I am lucky to meet amazing human beings while traveling solo who turned to be my lifetime friends until now.
8. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FAMILY BACK HOME
From time to time, you need affection oxygen to survive solo travel.And when homesick hit you, don’t forget to stay in touch with people you love back home. Talk to them regularly.
My years of being a “soloist” gave me a profound sense of security, knowing myself (my patience has been tested many times), and a sense of fulfillment. It’s an experience I will never regret and forget.
If you’re reading this, and thinking about traveling alone, do not overthink, just bring your enthusiasm and a checklist and everything will be all right. Happy Travels!