It was some time in mid-2019 when I received a text from a friend, asking when my next solo trip was. “It’s called solo for a reason,” was my half-sarcastic response. But I felt bad for her.
She was a number of years younger than me, had a learning disorder, and didn’t have any friends to take a trip with. She expressed how she wanted to travel to get away from her daily stresses, but wasn’t allowed by her parents to do it alone. I had one weekend plan coming up in late November at the time to attend a friend’s wedding in Taiwan. As Taiwan was like a second home to me with many friends and familiar language, I thought it was the most appropriate place to teach her the basics of independent traveling.
The only hurdle at the time was her mum. As we began to firm up plans, she personally called me to ensure that I understood my friend’s situation. I have known them for years, and likewise for the opposite. I assured her of my experience in traveling and of the safety in Taiwan. It took at least a couple of calls along the way, but she was eventually glad to leave her daughter in my hands.
What a great responsibility! “What did I get myself into?” was my stressed thought after hanging up.
There wasn’t much preparation to advise her on. I simply made a rough plan of where we would be at various places based on my own initial schedule, and she was agreeable. We met up at the airport early in the morning, arrived at the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport, and I guided her on how to follow the signs to the high-speed railway station. We were tight on time as our first activity was to visit Fenqihu for a hike. From taxis to the bus transfer, I told her about potential tourist scams and choosing the public bus along the way. I thought I was fortunate to have learned this already in my previous travels to share this important piece of knowledge.
The Fenqihu day trip was straightforward, but the real adventure began in the evening when we returned to Chiayi city. I had booked us a quaint hostel near the train station, and rented two bicycles. I wasn’t familiar with the local transport options and had always known to bike the cities of Taiwan. My friend was familiar with biking Singapore, so it was the best way to show her the city I love. I taught her the map and the local rules, and constantly reminded her of the opposing traffic flows. I was proud to say she would eventually get the hang of it.
In the evening, I made an appointment to have dinner with a family whom I knew well from my time in Taiwan. The mister spoke English well, which was perfect for my friend who wasn’t strong in Chinese. That way, she never felt like a stranger at the dinner table.
I was to leave my friend alone for the day while I attended my friend’s wedding in a nearby countryside. In the previous evening, I had jotted down a few places on the map for her to visit by bicycle, and reminded her to text me if she ever got lost. I was very worried. I was gone early in the morning till mid afternoon, and heard no news from her. It was natural, as it was her first time alone in a foreign place and I had her mum to answer to if anything were to happen to her.
Nevertheless, the wedding passed without incident, and I returned to find her safe in the hostel. She told me how she had indeed gotten lost when she found herself circling the same area at least three times. But she made it to at least one of the recommended sights and enjoyed herself there. I was relieved. That was when I realized that I should give her more credit. She was a legal adult who could get around well in Singapore – why wouldn’t she be safe in Taiwan?
But then again, this was yet the real thing. I was still readily available for her – what about when I left the country?
It was finally the day. As I was only there for the weekend, I was preparing to return to Singapore in the evening. However, my friend was to spend one more day exploring Taipei. The first thing on the list after traveling back to the capital was for her to check in to her hostel. Once again, I had picked out the hostel for her. It was not far from the main station, but she was to stay with strangers. I had full confidence in Taiwanese hostels, evident after we saw how cute the place was. But it was what happened to me that gave me all the reason to believe I was no better in my travel.
I lost my handbag. The entire handbag with my wallet and passport. I couldn’t find it in the hostel room where we had left my friend’s luggage, nor in the common bathroom, nor on the streets around. I had a flight in hours and I was panicking in those 15 minutes that we were searching. My friend calmly suggested that I gave a call to the lost and found at the train station. As we walked out, the receptionist asked if I had lost a bag. I had left it at the reception!
Once again, I was very impressed by my friend, and very grateful that she had been with me. Honestly, the entire trip was one of the best I’ve had, even if I did feel like a mother hen microteaching the ways of traveling in a foreign country. After I left her, I still took pictures of the airport terminal so that she would know how to look for the right check-in counter. I was paranoid like that.
But she came home safely, and she enjoyed the trip tremendously. I didn’t have to worry much for her as she picked up quickly and took care of what I had taught her. Her mum thanked me profusely for giving her the experience. As for me, I will always remember this humbling experience.
If you would like to engage me to accompany you on a similar trip or more, I would be very happy to provide the service. Let’s make good memories together, like I had with my dear friend.