Because I’ve been told, do one thing every day that scares you.
The firsts have always been the scariest but for someone like me who jumps just to see it if hurts, my first solo backpacking trip abroad couldn’t have been more exciting.
When I booked my flight to Cambodia six months ago without anyone to go with, it was simply a spontaneous decision, the kind you wouldn’t really think about much until a later time. But when I share my journey now, I do so with enthusiasm because the fact is, this trip or more aptly put, this first venture out to the world has definitely proved itself worth-lingering on my mind.
Here are some of my trip’s highlights that will probably get you on the edge of your seat like they did me.
Truth be told, I was just on my second week at my new work when my scheduled trip approached. Still trying to catch up with the team, I decided to put off researching and planning until much, much later… say, two days before the trip. Needless to say, that was, is, and will never be a good idea even for someone who has probably mastered the art of cramming. Fortunately, I haven’t overlooked my flight details and I also got to book accommodations at discounted rates.
What I’ve Learned: You might think it’s basic and yes it is, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded once in a while to plan ahead. For trips that last for three days and more, it might be best to draft your itinerary as you do your research. This way, you don't just take note of your go-to spots; you also see how they can fit into your schedule.
The Temple Run… in the airport
After getting past the anxiety that inevitably comes with getting all my things to fit into one backpack in such limited packing time, I hurriedly reported for work to turn in a few things and then headed straight to the airport (also hurriedly).
Now, in what seemed to be a very lucky day, the rain poured and caused massive traffic which almost made me miss my flight. When one has to be in the airport 2-3 hours before boarding time for international flights, I arrived on the actual boarding time! Then, I had to pass all the scanners, pay travel tax, have my passport checked, etc. I bet I was quite a sight to behold for people who had time to kill—a girl with a huge backpack running back and forth, almost tongue out, seemingly running for her life.
My only saving grace? Flight was delayed by an hour.
What I’ve Learned: Just be at the airport hours before (period). With that ala-temple run experience, I think I have learned my lesson not even a prior missed domestic flight could teach me.
The Pinay Effect
Being an Asian country, Filipinos don’t really differ much in physical appearance from the Cambodians or Khmer people. That’s why I was so amused when the locals’ faces lit up every single time they found out I was from the Philippines. They hold this precious impression about Filipino women being sweet, friendly, and caring. And well, who wants to be the exception? I know I don’t, and so I refuse to be their disappointment by behaving badly.
What I’ve Learned: While it’s nice to know that Filipinos have earned that reputation, the bottom line is, you are still your own person. Act accordingly. Be nice. And yes, even when the street vendors tend to annoy the hell out of you.
Saw No Sunrise, No Sunset
When you go to Cambodia, one of the must-try activities is to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat. I, however, missed it by a few minutes because I happened to be a member of #teamnosleep two nights in a row. In short, I overslept and it was not even in the room I booked and paid for. I overslept at the hostel’s living area. Cool beans. So yes, no sunrise. Didn’t catch any sunset too because it kept raining in the afternoon almost the whole time I was there.
What I’ve Learned: This, I think, is a classic case of expectations vs. reality. And so when things don’t meet your expectations, know that they all boil down to perspectives. Case in point: I might have missed seeing the Angkor Wat sunrise or Koh Rong Samloem’s but I had me some tequila sunrise before catching my flight home. And some days, it is just as good.
When I arrived in the airport, the tuktuk driver the hostel sent to pick me up bailed and I wasn’t notified, not until I’ve already accepted an offer from a fellow Filipina to bring me to the hostel. She works at an NGO and was in the airport to fetch a friend. The best part? She and her friend delivered me right to my hostel’s doorstep and didn’t even ask for a single dime even when I offered to pay my share.
My other tuktuk story wasn’t as pleasant unfortunately. It was supposedly the last tuktuk I’ll take before I leave Cambodia had all things gone well. The driver took me to a really dark road and said it was a shortcut to the airport. Suspiciously, only trucks and no other tuktuks were driving by that road. It might just be me having watched too much CSI but it got too scary I had to tell him I left something at the hostel and needed to go back.
He was hesitant at first and made excuses to keep going but I insisted that we needed to go back. At the hostel, I told him he doesn’t need to wait up and when he left, I got another tuktuk and insisted on driving through the main road. Had I arrived a couple of minutes later, the boarding gate would have closed on me. (Seriously, what is it with me and chasing airplanes?)
Eventually, I was able to verify that there is indeed a shortcut and the tuktuk driver had most likely no ill intentions whatsoever. Was it paranoia? But I couldn’t feign the fright I felt then. It was a scary, dark road and I was alone. I think it’s only logical to act on your gut feelings.
What I’ve Learned: It might not be easy to trust people you’ve only met once but you’d have to give it, one way or another. That doesn’t entitle you though, to be gullible or to be all-out stupid and mask it for your “faith in humanity”.
Like what some had said, there's something about your "first" that changes you. And with this experience in mind, I think they’re right.