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Before I left for my birthday trip in Thailand, everyone was offering their opinions—warnings, reminders and precautions, really—that because I’m a young woman, I shouldn’t travel there by myself. It was funny, because I am a backpack kind of traveler who goes with the flow wherever I am, I have no qualms on exploring new spaces, new places. I can adapt with and fit in pretty much anywhere. It wasn’t like I was planning to walk around in short shorts and/or miniskirt, wearing red lipstick and stilettos, popping my gum, and screaming swear words at people in my fluent English.

It was an incredible experience. Because I was there alone, I got to slip away to wherever I wanted to go. I traipsed through the local markets, rode a yacht and hop from one island to the next, snorkeled and swam with the fishes, visited caves that were home to monkeys and sacred buddha statues, wandered around the busy streets where women sold delicacies and faux leather goods, and checked on stalls where people sell durian chips and banana pancakes. I visited a lot of Buddhist and Chinese temples, prayed with strangers, fell in love with the vibrant colors of the Old Phuket Town.

I met someone from another foreign country and we exchanged stories about our travels, about his diving and underwater caves, about how our birthday trips are going, about my mountain climbing, about Europe, about the islands back home. We canoed in Phang Nga Bay, entered a secluded cave where you can’t hear anything but the sound of nature. He asked me to lie down with him, I asked him reluctantly why and he answered, “You’ll love it,” and when we looked up the blue sky peeking through the canopies, it felt amazing. It was beautiful. It felt like paradise.

I haggled with a guy over the cost of something and, though we couldn’t agree to a price, we sat down and had coffee together. That’s what’s important in traveling and in life: acknowledging where you are and enjoying it and being grateful for what it is. 💛💙💚❤️