Ever since my sister and I set out on a nine-week backpacking trip to Europe as college students more than 30 years ago, I’ve considered myself an adventurer.
A lifetime of fun road trips in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada -- along with regular forays to Europe -- had led to a feeling of being up for most anything in the travel department.
With one caveat: Until about five years ago, I had always leaned heavily on others for travel support. I’ve taken countless trips over the years with my sisters, my son, and my friends.
So when my soon-to-be daughter-in-law invited my son and me to her native Taiwan, I couldn’t have been more excited.
But then my son threw me a bit of a curve ball: Since I would be taking a 14-hour flight around the world to Taiwan, he told me I should really add on another Asian destination.
I readily agreed that the long voyage warranted another stop, and after a bit of research, I came up with Hong Kong. After all, it is one of the world’s great cities, it is largely English language friendly, and it would be within a two-hour plane ride from Taiwan.
The region’s history as a one-time colony of Britain and its late-1990s transfer to China had long fascinated me. Add in the city’s beautiful harbor and its vaunted food scene, and Hong Kong seemed the perfect side trip from Taiwan.
The only problem was that my son and daughter-in-law would not be able to accompany me on the second leg of my journey. That meant that, for the first time in my life, I would be traveling solo in a foreign country.
Under The Radar
As I went about making my travel plans for Taiwan and Hong Kong, I remember being uncharacteristically quiet about the second leg of my trip.
Secretly, I knew I was downplaying the Hong Kong portion in case I completely failed at my first solo-travel attempt. If I holed up in my hotel room for the duration, I wouldn’t have to explain it to anyone back home.
Now I recognize that as the mindset of someone who has never traveled alone. Because once I arrived, nothing seemed more natural than wandering Hong Kong’s chaotic but fascinating streets by myself.
That’s not to say it was all easy. I’ll admit to a couple of gut-check moments -- like when I made my way from the modern Hong Kong International Airport to my hotel, or when I ventured into the throngs using the Hong Kong Metro (MRT) for the first time.
I realize that Hong Kong is undergoing some serious unrest at the moment, but when I visited in 2014, the city seemed to run like clockwork. The Airport Express was really as efficient as the guidebooks implied, and the subway was quick and on time.
After I arrived at my high-rise Causeway Bay hotel, I decided to take a quick trip to the rooftop deck to get my bearings. From my vantage 33 floors above street level, I had a great view of the city and bay.
But what really caught my attention was the bevy of activity just across the street from my hotel at Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Park. Thousands of people seemed to be gathered in the pretty wooded area. When I asked the pool attendant what was going on, he told me it was a flower market.
Even though it wasn’t what I had traveled to Hong Kong to see, I decided that a flower market might be a good way to start my stay. As I made my way to the park, I quickly realized that this wasn’t just any flower market; it was the world-class Hong Kong Flower Show that takes place at the park annually during Chinese New Year.
I ended up spending a lovely evening meandering through jaw-droppingly gorgeous flower displays depicting elephants, giraffes, and underwater scenes. Despite the crowds, the fragrances and beauty of the flower show seemed to have a calming effect, and I realized for the first time, “I can do this.”
Tips For A Successful First Solo Trip
Along with taking advantage of the unexpected and serendipitous moments that a destination might have to offer -- for example, my flower-show excursion -- my Hong Kong trip taught me a few other things about making a solo international trip fun and enjoyable.
After my first day, which involved struggling a bit with the various subways and ferries, I decided to make it easy for myself on my second day by taking the Big Bus, Hong Kong’s hop-on-hop-off option. For $55, I was whisked conveniently through the city’s trendy shopping areas to the coastal town of Stanley and onto a sampan boat for a tour of Aberdeen Harbour.
Of course, I also enjoyed my time on the public buses of Kowloon City, where a friendly local woman directed me to the best ladies’ market. But I’m all for mixing it up and giving yourself a break now and then.
Another invaluable solo-travel tip I learned in Hong Kong: the beauty of cooking classes. I love checking out local cuisine, and a cooking class really does offer the best of multiple worlds -- hyper-local foods, the skills of a native cook, and interaction with other travelers.
For my class with Home’s Cooking, I was teamed up with two young Australians, and we had a wonderful time browsing a neighborhood “wet market”-- one of Hong Kong’s busy street markets that feature seafood and produce (and are regularly washed down with water) -- and then preparing a lunch of golden shrimp, spring rolls, and rice dumplings in ginger soup in our teacher’s nearby high-rise apartment.
I left my four-day stay in Hong Kong not just with a feeling of accomplishment, but also with a bit of bewilderment about what all of the fuss was about. Traveling solo, I found, is really not that different from traveling with others.
Sure, you have only yourself to depend on for directions and problem solving. But you also have only yourself to please.
My Hong Kong trip ended up opening my eyes to all sorts of possibilities. Since that trip, I’ve been on multiple solo adventures, both internationally and in the U.S. My destinations have included the Czech Republic; Canada’s Quebec City, Montreal, and Waterton National Park; Montana’s Glacier National Park; New Mexico’s Green Chili Trail; and several visits to San Francisco.
All it took was getting past that initial fear of failing.
For more specific information about traveling solo in Hong Kong, check out “Traveling To Hong Kong Solo: 8 Things To Know.” Want to ease in? Consider one of these 10 relaxing wellness retreats for women.