China Tips & Guides

Alone in Hangzhou: Perks of traveling solo

I had never done any solo-traveling in China, so I was a bit nervous about flying out to Hangzhou alone. It turned out to be a rewarding experience. People were more inclined to strike up a conversation with me. They would be surprised to realize I’m actually not Chinese, but excited to discover that I was still able to hold a conversation. I learned all about various people’s perspectives on China’s changes and plenty of places to go in Hangzhou. On my own, I did quite a bit of journaling at teashops, explored the old part of town on foot, and felt my confidence grow with each step. And by the time I started feeling a bit lonely, my friend Sean joined me from Shanghai.

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“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” -Freya Stark

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If you’re traveling alone:

Expect unexpected opportunities. People may invite you to a meal with their family and friends, or take you to a village feast. It’s really nice to eat a home cooked meal when you’ve been away from home.

Accept the extra kindness. People go out of their way to help you. Even a grumpy taxi driver will tell you all about different neighborhoods, and make sure you won’t get lost.

Treat yourself. Bring along some reading/writing material and treat yourself to a nice meal. Massages are popular and affordable in Thailand and China, and a great way to wrap up a tiring day.

Talk to strangers. Don’t be afraid to talk to people during your journey. Just follow your intuitions, because people usually mean well. I met another solo traveler while walking around the Kinkakuji temple in Kyoto. We ended up getting some soba noodles together before going our separate ways.

Search out group activities. There are different ways of getting involved in a new city, and meeting other travelers or locals. You can check on CouchSurfing or other hospitality websites for group gatherings or activities. City magazines will have listings for activities, like evening bike rides or creative  workshops that you can join.

Enjoy solitude. I think we rarely set aside enough time alone to get to know ourselves, and pay careful attention to our own desires and needs. Traveling alone can give you the opportunity to find out what you enjoy doing on your own when there aren’t others to influence your decisions.

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for contructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”Rollo May

39 Comments

  • Reply
    ZEOLITE
    September 27, 2011 at 3:40 am

    bawww that puppy! I like the photo of the glowing building on top of the hill. This is pretty unrelated, but the other day I was thinking about that fat baby was saw in Xi’an slurping up dumplings. I think it may have put me in a bad mood.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 3:51 am

      HAHAHA, oh my gosh. That baby was too spoiled and messy. But the soupy dumplings in Xi’an were SO soupy.

  • Reply
    anniken
    September 27, 2011 at 3:41 am

    I’ve been traveling alone twice now, both times in the Philippines, the last time for more than a month, and i totally agree with you, one of the best things with traveling alone is all the opportunities that emerge, all the people that are curious about you and want to help you, or just talk to you. I’ve met so many wonderful people in the Philippines, and I know there are many of them I probably wouldn’t have talked to if i was traveling with someone. And the feeling that you can do whatever you want – look at that temple, read that book, walk around taking those photos – just because you are the only one there to decide, that feeling is great. (But then again, it’s nice to travel with someone too!)

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 3:56 am

      Your stories are really amazing, and I’ve been keeping up with your Thailand adventures. I agree there’s something special about traveling alone. I think part of it is knowing that you’re capable of independently traveling somewhere new, relying on your own wits and strangers’ kindness. 🙂 P.S. I’ve heard only good things about traveling around The Phillippines. I want to visit!

  • Reply
    Taylor
    September 27, 2011 at 3:47 am

    The puppy is so ridiculously cute. Love the last photo – it’s beautiful! I also love travelling alone – It definitely opens you up to meeting new people.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      That puppy came and licked my shoes! He was so confused and little. 🙂 It’s really nice to know you can make these meaningful connections at the most unexpected moments/places.

  • Reply
    Isobelle
    September 27, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I love this post. I am planning on doing some traveling to Italy and France on my own within the next year or so, and this is really helpful!
    I have a friend that came over here from Shanghai on her own nearly two years ago (she decided to stay) and she also said that people are more inclined to speak with you when you are alone, which is interesting. I guess it is true though, as I was the first one to speak to her! 🙂 Lovely photographs by the way.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      Ohh a solo travel through Italy and France! Sounds wonderful. As much as I’m glad and thankful I arrived in Shanghai (coincidentally) with so many close university friends, it’s makes a difference to be on my own. In a way, I think people were scared to approach my huge group of friends! 😛

  • Reply
    Kailey
    September 27, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Gorgeous pictures! That dog is TOO. CUTE. I’m glad you had a nice time – that was so brave of you!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      Thank you! Now I think I was silly to feel nervous about it. It all went so smoothly! 🙂

  • Reply
    Rina
    September 27, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Good for you Ms. Sewon!! I think that last part you wrote about is very true; sometimes having some one on one time with yourself is really great.
    Of course, solitude isn’t what you’re talking about. I think people mix up the two. It’s good to just stop and listen to what your soul is telling you.
    And you’re putting your language skills to the test! Nice! It really builds self confidence.
    Thank you for sharing those wonderful travel tips. I will write these down, so next time I find myself traveling alone, I can remember them.
    I love the photo of the temple at night. It gave me chills. So beautiful
    xo

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 27, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      True, solitude is different from solitary reflection. Haha, I’m so excited about my Mandarin progress! When I first arrived, I had no idea how to even say “yes” or “no.” 😛 The list is a reminder to myself that there ARE plenty of perks for traveling solo! So many people stress the dangers and the safety concerns of solo traveling, especially for women. It’s definitely something to consider, but I think we’re fully capable of navigating our way through various parts of the world. xx

  • Reply
    Kelly
    September 27, 2011 at 8:14 am

    I have never been brave enough to travel alone but you are right about having timeto yourself to really get to know what you are made of. I also believe in being still and enjoying the moment and not busying yourself with alot of stuff to fully enjoy what’s around you.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      I highly recommend trying it out sometime, even if it’s to a nearby city. It’s an interesting experience. 🙂

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    September 27, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Beautiful pictures!
    That puppy is so cute ><
    Thanks for the points and can't wait to go travelling alone

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Such a cute little puppy. He was so tiny!

  • Reply
    3lin
    September 27, 2011 at 9:43 am

    You are really brave. It was such an amazing journey that you have.
    Beautiful pictures… A picture is worth a thousand words!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you. 🙂

  • Reply
    Emmie Rae
    September 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Inspiring and beautiful post! I will be traveling alone next year, reading this made me so excited. xx

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      Ohh where are you headed? I’m looking forward to keeping up with your adventures.

  • Reply
    rhya
    September 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    sounds like a very thoughtful journey. i love those best. when you have time to let your mind wander out and into different corners of the world. beautiful photos!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Thank you, Rhya. BTW, I’m so excited about our exchange!

  • Reply
    Jenny
    September 27, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous shots! I haven’t travelled solo in a few years now but it’s a bit less stressful too, don’t you think? 🙂 I’m glad nervousness gave way to such great opportunities!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      I think you deal with different types of stress when traveling alone vs. traveling with others. But it’s good to see how you deal with potentially stressful situations alone when there isn’t anyone to take charge or influence how you perceive the situation.

  • Reply
    Eileen
    September 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    “Enjoy solitude.”
    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always wanted my own “Lost in Translation” experience in Japan, for instance. I want to be in a hotel in a high rise building and just look out the window…and ponder. I don’t mean to sound like one of those douchbags. :O haha. I am married so those days wont come. :p I would feel weird if my husband isn’t right beside me to make sure I don’t fuck things up.

    Me? Plan? (cracks up)

    You take beautiful photos. I feel like I am right there with you!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      I went to Japan alone right after I finished high school, and I definitely imagined myself on the set of “Lost in Translation.” But of course, other young people were asking me for directions or chatting with me because I look local. I got really good at bowing and saying, “Wakarimasen…”

      Oh married life can only add to these adventures. You can tell your husband you want a few hours of solo explorations on your next trip. Taurin and I do this sometimes. Anyone can learn to make adventurous plans and execute them! 🙂

  • Reply
    Eileen
    September 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Nah, it wouldn’t be the same. Not even 5 mintues, we will be missing each other. Besides, I don’t want to worry about herpes infested hobags flirting with my husband. I feel like it makes more sense when you travel alone while single. At least, inmyhumbleopinion. No attachments. New beginnings. It would be something I would do if I ever get a divroce, though. 😀 (not that I want one, I’m just saying).
    I get solitude while doodling and listening to music. That’s good enough for me.

  • Reply
    Celsy
    September 29, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Beautiful photos sewon! I envy you for traveling all alone, i love doing that too sometimes. Just enjoying the view on my own, sometimes having my friends around could be over whelming and i get too excited, i start forgetting to relax. I adore that second photo, there’s just something about it that speaks “family”. and i absolutely love the dog photo haha so cute!

    Defintely agree with your tips, just even with traveling to different suburbs in melbourne. Encountering strangers and random talks is so lovely. it makes my day 🙂 and ive been taking photos of strangers, talking to them and its been fun! So many opportunities and one of them even gave me their card!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 30, 2011 at 9:36 am

      You seem more outgoing than I am! I should hangout around with you in Melbourne. 🙂 I can be quite shy, so I always feel a bit braver talking to strangers. The owner of the little puppy was so proud he was getting photographed.

  • Reply
    catarina
    September 29, 2011 at 8:06 am

    sometimes i’m a bit afraid of travelling alone, but this posts makes me want to!
    aha thank you! i think everyone should shave their head at least once, it’s an amazing feeling..
    have you received my mail yet? 🙂

  • Reply
    ai
    September 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

    These are awesome pictures. Especially the first 3 shots look like they are from some film.

  • Reply
    STARRs
    September 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Your photos are stirring up some intense wanderlust lol
    It looks like you had an amazing time!

  • Reply
    Sencillez
    September 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    so great to have discovered ur blog. it’s like going on holidays with u.
    love ur pictures!

  • Reply
    Winnie
    September 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I love your blog. I think you’re so brave for traveling alone, I had a friend who traveled on her own and she had the best experience. Love your photos, I’m definitely following you 🙂

  • Reply
    Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys
    October 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I don’t travel alone that often, but I do frequently do segments of trips alone and I have to agree. Journalling in tea shops is an integral part of any solo journey, and it’s good to chat to people and not be suspicious of everyone the way we’re conditioned to be in the West.

  • Reply
    Sean
    October 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, it’s so interesting to see and hear about people’s experiences in China. I was living there last year and I traveled alone all the time, actually – I never took a trip with a companion! Knew too few people :/ But especially as a woman you’re pretty strong to make a go of it alone! I blogged all about it here: http://bit.ly/nabk5W and you can find some of what I did in Hangzhou here: http://bit.ly/q9ZW73 (sorry for the links I know it looks like spam but I’m trying to make story-sharing as easy as possible!) Anyway, I’ll be following along with your adventures now, it looks like you’re having a lot of fun and I’m super jealous! Best, ~Sean

  • Reply
    katie
    October 19, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Thank you for this amazing (+ reassuring) post! I’m leaving for China in three weeks by myself … First time travelling solo and I can hardly speak a word of Mandarin. Probably the craziest idea I’ve ever had + I’m so scared, but at the same time can’t wait!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

      Ohh, solo trip to China! Which cities are you planning to visit? Good luck and let me know if you have any specific questions! 🙂

      • Reply
        katie
        November 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Thank you, I might have to take you up on that 😉 I”m flying into Shanghai + flying out of Beijing… Hope to visit xi’an, hangzhou + suzhou, but going to take it as it comes really!

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