Meet the Travel Bloggers interviews Philappines-based solo travel blogger Aleah Taboclaon.
When, why and how did you start Solitary Wanderer?
I started it in September 2009. I was in El Nido traveling with a special friend and I just wanted to document that moment. It’s ironic that I was with someone when my blog on solo travel was born, but when I was considering some domain names, my primary consideration was what kind of travel I liked. Solo travel won, hands down.
How did you get that name?
I wanted something that would capture my love for solo travel. I also loved the fact that in astronomy (a subject I was and am deeply passionate about), the term “solitary wanderers” or “wanderers” referred to planets. I found it very appropriate to combine my love for travel and astronomy. After all, number one in my bucket list is the ultimate adventure of all: to explore outer space.
You were born in and live in the Philippines. Have you ever lived in another country?
I have never lived outside the Philippines. In fact, until 2008 when we had our first local low cost carrier, I had never traveled outside the country. It was just too expensive for me to do so. My parents were government workers and travel was seen as a luxury.
What is the thing that keeps you the most jazzed about blogging?
The fact that my posts are read by people all over the world. Every time I read a comment or receive an email from a reader, it inspires me to do more. Through my blog, I have gained friends from all over the world. A woman from India offered their family home to me when I went there. There are others, from Brazil and Chile, to Australia and Croatia, who have told me the same thing. And it’s all because they’ve read my posts and could resonate with what I’ve shared!
Your post Date a Girl Who Travels went viral twice. It got you an interview with CBS’ travel guru, Peter Greenberg. How did they find you?
I was in Italy last year (2012) when one of Peter Greenberg’s assistants read my post. She liked it enough to forward it to him. When he read it, he decided he must have me as a guest on the show and they sent me an email invitation. It was my first time to be interviewed. Despite my anxiety, I said yes.
How did the viral post and subsequent interview impact you?
That post earned a lot, not only in terms of cash, but in opportunities as well, e.g., in press trips and magazine assignments, among others. It made my blog well known, and I’m glad that it continues to be shared. It became viral for the second time early this year, so I was interviewed again on radio, this time by a US-based radio program called The Stateless Man. I’m glad to say that piece has also been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and French. Maybe there are other translations I’m not aware about.
How often do you travel?
At the very least, I travel within the Philippines around twice a month. With regards to overseas trips, it depends on the availability of cheap flights.
If you travel overseas, how long do you typically go for?
Usually around a week to make it worthwhile. If the flight is cheap (I had a return ticket to Malaysia once for only $20), a 3-day trip would be enough for me.
Clearly, from your blog name, you do a lot of solo travel do you often travel with others?
Not so often, maybe around once per quarter. I usually go with Couchsurfing people or outdoor groups where it makes sense, cost-wise, to travel with others.
You took your first solo trip at 11. Where did you go?
My family lived in a very rural area in southeastern Philippines. When I got a scholarship to high school in one of the best schools in the country, my parents decided to let me take advantage of the opportunity, even though it was in a city 14 hours and three bus transfers away. However, there wasn’t enough money for them to go with me when school started, so I traveled on my own.
What do you like best and least about traveling solo? With others?
I love the freedom best—freedom to do what I want, when I want. The flip side of it is that sometimes I feel so unmotivated that I don’t want to go out so I just stay inside the hostel. That’s why I also like traveling with others, because they can force me to go out and see the sights even if I didn’t want to. What I like least about travel with friends is the inconvenience of having to wait for them to decide what to do or where to go.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for solo women travelers?
Use your intuition when it comes to safety issues. Don’t forget your common sense as well. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Talk to locals and interact with the people around you. That’s the best part of solo travel; you will be pushed to go out of your comfort zone and it’s good for self-growth.
Is being in your comfort zone important to you?
What’s important to me is to be safe. I do things out of my comfort zone — e.g., bungee jumping, even if I’m scared to death of heights — as long as my safety is not compromised.
On the road, do you seek out some experiences more than others?
Yes, and that is to walk or run in the place I’m visiting. Nothing lets you know a place better than to really get lost in it!
What excites you most about travel?
I do get excited about seeing (or coming back to) new places, meeting new friends, and experiencing new things, but the one I’m most excited about is the trip itself — the act of taking the bus, plane, or train and the anticipation of arriving at my destination. It sounds weird, I know, but I’m happiest when I’m on the move, when I’m on my way to somewhere, wherever that may be. Whenever I’m depressed, I just hop on a bus out of town and it doesn’t matter where it’s going, I’ll be okay by the end of that trip.
What type of accommodations do you usually stay in?
I use Couchsurfing, and if there are no potential hosts (or if it would be unsafe to stay in one), I go to hostels. As a budget traveler, I never splurge on accommodations.
What’s your most memorable travel experience or favorite trip ever?
When I went to Saigon in December last year, I stayed in a hostel in the backpacker district. I stayed in a dorm and met a Korean girl who had brought with her bottles of soju, and we started drinking in our room one night. Pretty soon, our roommates joined us, and we had a really good time. What made it more memorable was that one of them was an American guy who became a special friend. He visited me in the Philippines for three weeks early this year, and will be back soon this year to be with me again.
What’s your favorite place on earth?
Home. It always calls me back from my travels, not because of the sights, but because the people (and pets) who love me are here.
Where are you off to next?
I have no scheduled plans in the next few months. I’m saving up as much as I can for a major trip I’m planning to South America early next year.
What’s the biggest fantasy on your bucket list and why?
The first one on my bucket list: to be able to go to outer space! I’ve been interested in astronomy since I was a kid. Actually, I got into Clinical Psychology (I’m now a counselor for abused children) because of my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. Years ago, I browsed the NASA website and learned that only those in the military, in the sciences, and in clinical/experimental psychology are accepted for astronaut training. I have one in a million chance of getting in, but we never know.
Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor who has backpacked solo in the Philippines, India, all over Southeast Asia, and Europe. She writes about her experiences as a solo female traveler at Solitary Wanderer. Like her on Facebook and follow her in Twitter.