Now that I recall my first solo travel trip in retrospect, it was actually kinda comical.
This happened several years ago, and it was in a very safe country—Japan.
Japanese are usually very polite, nobody would steal from me, everyone talks quietly, roads are clean, foods are delicious, there’s just not that much to complain about, well, maybe except price and densha(電車) rush hour.
During that time when I stayed in Japan, I went to 11 different cities, roamed around solo most of the time and hang out with local friends.
There’s this one time I went to Hakodate, Hokkaido, by myself for 2 whole days alone and it was during the low season of January. Yeah, it was like kindergarten level for solo travelers, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?
I admit I don’t have much common sense back then and still is a big goofball till this day, but oh well, that’s just who I am *grin*.
At that time, it was dead winter and I decided to go to Hakodate because a friend recommended it.
Hakodate is all the way at the north part of Japan and I really have no clue what’s gonna happen or what to expect.
Sure I have some doubts, fear of getting lost, fear about language barriers, and feel a bit lonely…but what the heck, it’s only 2 days, so I still went.
I put on my winter coat, scarf, hat, gloves, carried a duffel bag with some belongings and hopped on a 5 am Shinkansen before the crack of dawn.
Along the way, I ate my bento on the Shinkansen and watched the snow falls heavier and heavier. I’ve never experienced so much snow in my life but I didn’t think much about it, I mean, how bad could it be? (naïve little Floridian…)
When I arrived, I didn’t expect this much snow and was double shocked when I saw Japanese girls in mini skirts, so that was some cultural shock.
My hotel is called Aqua Garden, it’s a minimalist business hotel that’s very clean and comfy.
After I use my broken Japanese to check-in my room, I put my stuff down and dashed out to explore.
Now I’m here, standing in a winter wonderland.
I don’t have much of a plan, I know minimal Japanese, and I’m not even sure if the weather is safe to walk out.
Yes…all the best ingredients that make a solo travel fun:)
I walked and walked, the snow got all over me, burying me, and of all that time I kept thinking: IS IT OKAY TO BE OUT??
I almost slipped on ice so I had to walk like a newborn deer, at the same time, thinking: Ah~ so this is what Northern folks has to deal with.
I spotted interesting statues.
I checked out some nice shrine.
I tried some famous Hokkaido ice cream (yes, in freezing snowy winter).
I saw an interesting sign that warns people about the dogs, in a very Japanese way.
As I was trying to walk from station to the Mt.Hakodate Ropeway, a very nice Japanese woman in a car offer me a ride. She doesn’t seem like the Hannibal Lector type, so I accepted her offer and used my broken Japanese to communicate.
The woman was probably thinking: There’s this odd little girl who comes in the most deserted time of the year, alone, up in the mountains…I hope she is not running away from home or something.
Well, that’s my inner voice, but it was very nice of her to offer me a ride to the Ropeway, I’ll never forget her kindness.
Then I waited for the sunset on Mt. Hakodate took lots of pictures and built a non-traditional snowman with my frozen fingers just because.
The view was just incredible.
I felt a mixture of bliss, grateful, awed, free but not completely free.
All that time I just kept thinking: “I wish I can do this forever.”
As the night comes in and paints the sky with gradual dark colors steadily, I took zillion pictures of the million dollar night view trying to soak everything in, embrace the cold, feel the wind pass through my frozen cheeks, and look long and far from above.
I have all sorts of thoughts in my head. I thought about my family, my friends, my boyfriend at the time, my job, my dream, my past, my present, my emotions, then I just stop and let my senses soak in the present moment.
It’s dinner time and I am pretty hungry, so I went back to town and searched for something to eat.
I manage to find a nice restaurant randomly and ordered something so beautiful I shamelessly performed some intense food porn shots (I asked for permission first, of course) before I touch it with my chopsticks.
The meal set I ordered was for women only (aw) and it’s called, “Jewels of the Sea”. It’s a ‘Kaisendonburi‘ with sushi rice covered in cubed shrimp, roe, caviar, eggs, tuna, salmon, and scallop. The meal set also comes with miso soup and side dishes, all very delicious and beautiful. I savor every bite, trying to embrace every moment of enjoying it and remembering the moment.
Since I was one of the two customers in the restaurant, the staff and I had a bit of a chat.
I used my dramatic American gestures and broken Japanese to compliment the itamae (chef) and the staff, they all were very happy I praised their delicious meal.
After dinner, I walk back slowly to my hotel, admiring night view along the way.
Last Day of Solo Travel
The last day of the trip was also snowing heavily.
Despite the fact that it looked like a snow storm out, I still visited Goryōkaku before returning to Tokyo.
I’m just a Floridian tourists, I don’t know what’s the standard for ‘dangerous snowfall level’ so I just went with my animal instinct and just wing it.
Though it was freezing, I enjoyed the historical fort, the background, the architecture, the snow scene, and had lots of fun running and covering myself in the snow. Now I know exactly the feeling of puppies running into the snow for the first time.
“Uh, is it okay to be out???”
I’ve learned a few things throughout the trip, like learning about myself and my emotions.
It’s just me and my inner voice. My reactions that reflects what I know and how I perceive this world.
Since the duration was so short, the time frame was not as powerful as my solo travel trip in Bangkok, but this trip has inspired me to want something more for myself.
This is what solo travel is all about, it’s about my time being alone with no one else, and that feeling is so liberating and incredibly addicting.
There are times I may feel lonely or wish there is someone here to share the view with me, but I know that’ll take time and I can’t rush it because I am learning what I want so I embrace solitude and learn about myself first.
I needed this.
I brought back some souvenirs for my Tokyo friend and shared my travel and pictures with them. Although I know they won’t experience the same thing I had because that feeling and emotion belong to me, and that’s okay. We all have our own paths to experience.
I strongly encourage everyone to do solo travel several times to learn about themselves.
It’s about self-awareness, learning about your true emotions without anyone’s interference and opinions. It’s also opening up your mind and embrace the uncertainty.
For the first timers who wish to do solo travel but not sure where to start, I’d say Japan is a great place to start.
Japan’s transportation system is one of the most convenient and the best in the world, they have low crime rates, and it’s generally safe for women to walk alone.
I’ve listed where I stayed, where I visited, and what I ate below.
Hope you enjoy Hakodate, as I did from my first solo travel trip.
●Hakodate Rusama-ya Sweets
*Hokkdaido ice cream – peach and cantalope flavor
Address: 12-12 Toyokawacho, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
●IkaIka Tei 海鮮食堂 いかいか亭
*海の宝石丼定食 – Umi no hōseki donburi teishoku
Inside Hakodate Factory
Address: 〒040-0065 Hokkaido Prefecture, Hakodate, Japan
●Aqua Garden Hotel
Address: 19-13 Otemachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0064, Japan
*Gondola to Mount Hakodate
Address: Hakodateyama, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0000, Japan
*Star fort built in Edo period for defense
Address: 44 Goryokakucho, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0001, Japan