10 things I Learned Traveling Solo in Thailand

I spent 45 days traveling solo in Thailand. From getting lost in Bangkok to rafting through a bat-filled cave to meditating with monks in Chiang Dao, I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to!

Here are the top 10 things I learned:

1. No matter how hot it gets, do not mail your coat home. Seriously, don’t do it.

It is hot on the Thai islands. Like: I-will-never-use-a-coat-again hot. Like: I-am-mailing-this-damn-coat-home-right-now hot. The thing is, no matter how hot you get, you will need a coat again one day.

For me, that day came when I traveled to the mountainous northern region of Thailand where — with my coat safely on its way back to the states — I wore nearly every piece of clothing I had to bed.

I am forever grateful to the kind Russian man in the guesthouse next door to me in Pai, who gifted me a pair of wool socks hand-knitted by his grandmother.

2. Your relationship with toilet paper will change in Thailand.

Toilet paper is a multi-use material in Thailand. You may, for instance, find a roll sitting in ornate baskets on the dinner table meant to be used as your napkin. More often than not, you will wish you had taken a bit of extra tissue from the table when you find yourself squatting over a toilet with no TP.

Though, at least, in this case, you won’t forget that you cannot throw tissue into the toilet in Thailand. I think people quit the habit of smoking faster than I quit the habit of flushing my used toilet paper.

To recap: Keep tissue with you at all times, embrace toilet paper as a napkin, and do not throw TP into the toilet.

3. I am a traveler and not a backpacker.

One of the things you learn when you travel alone for an extended period of time is, well, you. While I don’t need to bring a massive suitcase, I much prefer rolling my bag alongside me than I do strapping my bag to my back in the sticky, hot sun.

That being said, I often felt sorry for the people trying to roll their suitcases along dirt paths on the island, or strapping their bags to the top of mini-vans in northern Thailand.

So, while I am embracing my anti-backpack sentiment, I will bring the backpack again the next time I return to Thailand. BUT, the bag will be small. I mean, really tiny. It’s just not worth it to carry around a big old bag of clothes.

Besides, it costs about $4 USD to have clothes washed, pressed and returned to you in a five-hour turnaround.

4. I do not like to breathe underwater.

I was so excited to learn to scuba dive on the island of Koh Tao. But I dropped out of scuba school shortly after my first breath underwater. I hated it.

Again, you learn yourself when traveling solo. I loved some things that I thought I would hate (like the Full Moon Party), and hated things that I thought I would love.

I learned to accept the experience — and my reaction to it — without preconceived expectations.

5. Shoes off, people!

Everywhere you go, temples, hotels, shops, you name it, you will take your shoes off before entering. Once you get used to this habit it seems so obvious. Why in the world do we ever wear our dirty shoes indoors anyway? Stop the mayhem!

6. But don’t leave your shoes outside at night.

If you want to keep your kicks, it’s best not to leave them outside where stray dogs will carry them away to a hidden stash of shoes in the woods somewhere.

When my right shoe went missing from outside of my scuba resort in Koh Tao, my scuba instructor (before I dropped out) knew exactly where to look. This particular dog, she explained likes sneakers — and only the right sneaker at that. She found my right sneaker beneath a picnic table and all was restored.

But if you lose your shoe because you left it outside overnight, you’re probably not getting it back.

7. All cash all the time.

I brought a global credit card and hid a backup in my bag, remembering the awful experience of being pickpocketed in Barcelona and being without access to cash.

The thing is, I never touched my credit card. Thailand is an entirely cash economy, with the exception of major hotels in Bangkok. You will show up at hotels elsewhere in the country and be asked to pay in cash. So, a backup cash stash is essential. No credit card needed.

8. Being a pedestrian = Playing Frogger

Much like many major cities (I’m looking at you Rome), it is hard to cross the streets of Thailand. You just have to step into the street and hone your long-forgotten frogger skills. If you were born after 1985 and don’t know what Frogger is, then you’re on your own.

9. Everything is one intensity level higher

Mild means spicy; spicy means hot; hot means burn your face off.

Yoga for beginners means yoga for intermediates; intermediate means contortionist; advanced means bloody ninja.

Still, try everything. But pace yourself. And pack Imodium.

10. One more?

You will often get asked by servers if you would like just one more beverage. “One more for you?” They are not cutting you off. They are too nice for that.

The nickname “Land of Smiles” is totally legit. The people of Thailand are as nice as they come. So, if you find yourself annoyed by something said, it is probably a language barrier. Brush off the irritation and try rephrasing.

Above all, keep smiling.

Considering a trip to Thailand? Save this for later!

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