Friday, March 6, 2009

Before I Hit The Twig: Travel Alone!

by: Mhe-anne Ojeda
Signage I've Seen in San Jose, California
Traveling alone is not my preferred way to travel.For one, when you are traveling alone, there's nobody to watch your back. And I have to carry all my luggage by myself (with my petite size!) or to watch for it while I go to the restrooms or buy train tickets.It is also more expensive to travel alone because there is no one to share costs with esp. since the rooms are usually about the same price for one than for two. But I have done this task in the '2001 Things To Do Before You Die' a number of times because of my job.

I have to travel around the Philippines to meet with lawyers and I had to stay for a night or two alone. But that's okay. Since it is only for a day or two, I normally carry a few stuff (no need for checked in luggage!) and the hotel, cars and restaurant had already been arranged previously by my secretary so no problem doing that. Besides, I don't need to worry about the costs of hotel since it is paid for by the company.

So the real experience on traveling solo for me happened only on April 30, 2006. My destination? SHANGHAI, CHINA! I agree to meet someone there who out of some bad luck (maybe), didn't make it to Shanghai, leaving me alone for a week. Initially, it seemed scary but as I looked back about that experience, I consider it as unique and a very rewarding one because I made new friends and had a great opportunity for reflection and moving at my own pace. Since I only have myself to please, I was able to do things and go to places that I really like and enjoy. I also learned a number of lessons when traveling alone:

Arrived At Daytime
I took the Philippine Airlines flight at 11:20 in the morning so that I could arrive in Shanghai in the daytime. That gave me time to scope out accommodations while inside the Pudong International Airport.

Pay attention to your instincts. If you have a bad feeling about a neighborhood, a hotel, a person, a cab, stay away.

I went through the rows of hotels (for short duration stay), and one guy specially attracted me as he seemed to know English and looked very kind. He suggested a number of hotel - all nice but also very expensive. Since I only have $300 or RMB 2,229 (Renminbi Yuan, the local currency), I wanted just a place for the night and save as much money until my friend arrives.I chose Piao Ying which looks very nice and the cheapest among all the others. A standard room is RMB 608 but the guide gave it to me for RMB 330 because he thought I was asking for a discount when I moved my hand. The hotel is also well situated and really nice as it is just a stones'throw away from the Bund (Shanghai's famous European skylines which means "embankment")

Make friends with locals

Since I am alone and wanted to be in the picture, I decided to stop some tourists to take my pictures. It was a struggle at first because most of the people I approached do not understand English so I had to do the sign language instead. I had a lucky strike when I was at the Bund. The two girls I approached to take my picture are from Beijing and viola can speak English! We had a great conversation and they even invited me to go sightseeing with them. Joyce and Penny Peng are cousins. We went to the other side of Huang Pu River to view the old streets of Shanghai. To go to the other side of Huang Po for foreigners is RMB 328 but for locals it is only RMB 2! Joyce paid for me because she has a card that allows a ferry ride. Only locals know this place so I was lucky. They even brought me back to my hotel at no cost again. I am really a Yuan Fen (or "lucky girl").

Don't look at maps in busy streets

If you do this, you'll be an easy target for pickpockets. Do the map reading in a cafe, or the bookstore. Or if you are lucky like me, you can find a map at a Postal Museum!
Because I was expecting some money from my friend, I wanted to know where the nearest Western Union branch in the area. I went to the Postal Museum which is quite near my hotel. When I was inside, I saw a guy who is holding a Shanghai Map in English. It gave me the impression that maybe, Shanghai Postal Museum sells map. I asked him where I could get one but he suddenly handed me the map he was holding. I was delighted - he gave it as a gift!

Stay safe - Do not Explore at Night

The night of May 2, I decided to walk down Nanjing Road - the major shopping street for Shanghai locals, with the greatest retail display in China, 3 kms of shops running west from the "T" intersection where Nanjing abuts the Bund. I got so engrossed with the sights and the neon signs that I got lost. That was the scariest thing I have done in Shanghai. After a long, dark, scary walk, I finally was able to find a taxi.

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