Solo Trippin’ 🚙
Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Vignettes from my first ever solo road trip experience to Melaka. May 13–14, 2022.
i didn’t think my first solo trip would happen like this — a shotgun decision at midnight, but then again, that has always been my style: spontaneous, a burst of passion driving me into action before my overthinking brain has the opportunity to catch up.
i was sitting at my computer nearing midnight on a Thursday, contemplating my life and how stale it’d become, when i noticed i’d navigated to hostels on Booking.com.
in Melaka, a seaside tourist town; 200km away from Kuala Lumpur, where I lived.
Shawn came home from his dinner, and stood at the doorway. together, we stared at the computer, cursor blinking.
“i think you can do it,” he said, his hand warm on my shoulder. a benediction.
i nodded woodenly, my body moving on its own, filling in my details and checking out as my mind whirled through the possibilities: what if the car breaks down? what if i get too tired? what if i can’t find any food that’s compliant? what if, what if, what if…
… the confirmation page stared up at me. 1 night, 1 room, the text read. Friday 13 May — Saturday 14 May 2022. i stifled a scream.
it was happening. i was doing it, doing it, doing it. now i just needed to figure out how to live up to it.
when i rose the next morning, there was a moment, a split second of blissful ignorance before the reality of what i’d done the night before came crashing down.
today, i would be driving 194km across state lines, all by myself, for the first time in my life… to what end?
there was no grand purpose behind this trip, i realized.
no reason that could be easily dissected and stomached by the masses. ‘leisure’, ‘adventure’, ’nostalgia’ — it was all of these things, and none of them as well. it was, i realized with a start, a challenge. an odyssey. something i was doing, just to prove to myself that i can.
these are often the hardest to rise up to.
it was 11:30am by the time i finally stumbled out the front door, laden with luggage and a gnawing sense of dread. the car keys felt foreign in my hand. i adjusted the pillow behind my back, hoping that the support will tide me through the next two hours (it did).
Shawn stood by, waving; it felt like we would be separating for years, not just days. “i believe in you,” he smiled, and i took it to heart.
despite all my fear, all my bluster, all my worries and rage… i believed i could do it, too.
the drive there was aching, hot and slow. i stopped at rest stops, twice. the change of scenery was both a slap in the face, and a breath of fresh air: i soaked in all in, but it hurt to exhale.
i couldn’t let my guard down: after months and years of being ensconced in the same 1,000 sqft space, it felt foreign to be in my own company, out in the wide open world. i didn’t notice how much of a protective barrier it was to have Shawn by my side at all times; now, i could feel the weight of men’s stares, their leering presence.
after a while, i realized that i could — and should — turn off my brain: there was no other way to survive the long-distance drive. it was in that deadened state that i found myself cruising to a stop, 2.5 hours later, at a vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Malacca City: Botanist Cafe. it felt so good to have solid ground beneath my feet; the hum of the air-conditioning, the quiet clink of other patrons’ cutlery.
i ordered a plate of noodles. i contemplated tacking other things onto my order, partially because i was hungry, partially because i didn’t want them to perceive that i was stingy, and wondered where the latter thought came from.
i ended up just scarfing down my food and hustling out the door. i appreciated the breather, but i was anxious to get to the hostel — to see if i’ve made a devastating mistake.
thankfully, it turned out to look exactly like in the photos. YOTE 28 was warm, welcoming, and modern chic. stumbling through the doors with my bags, the receptionist smiled up at me, and i was grateful for that small human kindness.
“hi, welcome,” she said, and i felt it then — the delicious cloak of anonymity. the reason people cross borders and board flights and get away: it feels so good to be unknown. to start afresh. to be whoever you want to be.
“this is your room key. you get the top bunk,” she smiled. “enjoy!”
the dorm was cozy, and quiet. for the first time in so many hours, i was alone. i blinked back tears, grinning from ear to ear. I’D MADE IT.
i’d gotten in my car, packed my bags, and done the unthinkable. i’d accomplished my first solo trip outstation.
and no one can ever take that away from me.
after that first glorious hot shower and a quick lie-down, i was ready to take on the town. i went to Saigon Ivy Café, a random Vietnamese restaurant on my Want To Go list.
i was in the mood for comfort food, and a bowl of pho sounded right up my alley. it ended up tasting rubbery and bland, but on instinct, i ordered a fried egg banh mi to go… and my mind was blown.
the bread was crunchy, the vegetables were juicy, the fried egg was soft and cooked to perfection… i ended up finishing the whole thing, crumbs dusting the table and my shirt, not a care in the world.
THIS is what we travel for, i realized — these moments of serendipity, of wonder, of discovering something totally new and unexpected.
i just had the banh mi of my life, and it was at a nondescript, totally off-the-beaten-track restaurant in Malacca City. what were the freaking odds?
after dinner, i decided to leave my car behind and stretch my legs. i meandered around, listlessly looking at the shops, the ache for Shawn — for any form of human company — a dull weight in my chest.
i could smell the ocean; my instincts told me it wasn’t too far away. sure enough, Google Maps showed me there was a big body of water nearby, and revealed its name: Coastal Beach.
by the time i pulled my car into park, the sun was already setting, a blood red orb painting the sky glorious hues of orange and pink.
it didn’t take long for it to disappear behind the horizon; by that point, i was already crouched by the rocks and wild grass, watching the surf wash into the little cove below.
the sound, the smell, the way each wave unrolled itself lazily, like it was stumbling out of bed… it was hypnotic. i was suddenly, violently reminded of how much i used to love the beach; it had been more than 3 years since i’ve given my body over to the water.
i vowed to come back, to travel more, to make this a practice in my life — leaning in to fear, the delights it can hold, instead of hiding behind the what-if’s.
when i headed back to my car, bladder bursting, night had fallen. the rest of the night was relatively uneventful: i (miraculously) found parking downtown; walked around in search of a cafe and/or bathroom; spent 10 unendurable minutes in the hustle and chaos of Jonker Street before (begrudgingly) retiring to the dingy old cafe i’d spotted in my first go-around — Ola Lavenderia — for a nightcap.
the ham sandwich was dry and stuck to my throat, but it gave me an excuse to stay. i used that time to read, people watch, and call Shawn goodnight before retiring to my hostel at 9:40pm.
little did i know it would be one of the worst nights’ sleep of my life. the air-conditioner in my room broke down not once, but twice; after the second time, i was convinced they’d engineered it to do that on its own in order to save on electricity costs.
the sounds from the other girls were like an insomniac symphony: snores, shuffles, the endless ping of phone notifications. when i booked myself into a shared dorm i forgot, or maybe i remained purposefully ignorant, to my sensitivity to sound when i sleep; i ended up tossing and turning all night, way past 2:30am, until i gave in and plugged my AirPods in, cueing up a 3-hour long meditation playlist that normally helps me get into flow.
it worked, and i fell into a fitful sleep… until my AirPods ran out of battery 2.5 hours later, waking me up with a jolt. i charged it, went to pee for the hundredth time that night, plugged them in again, and went back to sleep.
the next time they ran out of battery, it was 7.59am. i was eager to get the day started and leave this nightmare of a night behind. i leapt out of bed, showered, and was out the door by 9am.
after a whole night in a stuffy air-conditioned room, the morning air felt so good on my skin. i was making my way to my favorite chicken rice balls place — Chung Wah, a local tourist trap and a fixture from my childhood visits to my paternal grandmother Ma Ma who grew up here. the line was already snaking out the door at 9:15am.
the moment i bit into that first rice ball, tears sprung into my eyes.
it’s funny how much memory is imbued in food; the salty, umami taste on my tongue brought me back to hot, lazy lunches here with my father; sips of 100 Plus, fizzing cold on my tongue; a conversation about sesame oil and how my Ma Ma doesn’t like it. i miss this. i miss her. but for the briefest of moments, through a simple sticky chicken rice ball, i was with them all — reunited with my family.
the Sun was blazing hot when i finally left the cool confines of the shop. i headed West, towards Sin See Tai; unfortunately, the upstairs area was full of couples and friends hiding out from the heat, so i resigned to my Fate of walking the streets.
the sidewalks were choke full of tourists, long lines snaking out of cafes, the sounds and smells and ever-present heat that was so quintessentially Melaka.
there were some new additions, too; brightly colored murals adorned an entire wall on Jonker Street, which attracted a slew of tourists trying their hardest to take worthwhile selfies for the ‘gram.
at this point, i was questioning the purpose of my Quest; maybe it was time to head back to KL, yet i felt unsettled, like i haven’t yet fulfilled my duty.
then, all of a sudden, i remembered: the temple. before i drove out 200 kilometers to this seaside town, i’d thought of my beloved Ma Ma, and the coincidence that tomorrow would be Vesak Day (she is a devout Buddhist). i wanted to find the temple she used to frequent while she lived here, and dedicate a prayer for her.
i ended up calling my father, who told me about Kuan Yin Tang — a Buddhist temple along Jonker Street. i checked Maps: it was just 5 minutes from where i was. perfect!
i ambled along, popping into two more cafes before arriving at my destination — my grandmother’s old temple.
instantly, i could feel a wave of peace wash over me.
for the first time in so many hours, i felt calm and safe.
in halting Mandarin, i asked the temple caretaker: “this is my first time praying. what should i do?” he handed me a stack of holy papers and told me to light them up. “but light up some joss sticks first,” he nodded towards the alter. “pray.”
it took me a while to wrap my head around what he was asking me to do, but eventually, i found my way around: putting down my papers, lighting the joss sticks, sticking them in the ashes. i set the papers on fire and placed them in the yawning mouth, watching as the smoke rose, black and sweet.
i thought of my grandmother, and my sister, and my father, who sounded oddly pleased that i was in a temple without any external prodding or supervision.
i thought of myself, the things that brought me here, and the things that would make me stay.
by the time i got back to my hostel, sweating iced oat milk latte in hand, it was nearly 12pm — check out time. i showered, packed, and bade a final goodbye to the room. last night was hell, but i wasn’t about to hold that against it.
the drive home was the BIGGEST challenge of them all.
it felt Sisyphean: the ETA inched up, gradually, 10 minutes at a time until i realized i’d been driving for 1.5 hours, and i still had 1.5 hours to go. at the rest stop halfway through, i broke down crying at the wheel.
that was the worst part — i couldn’t run away from it. i couldn’t ask someone else to do it for me, i couldn’t book a hotel and wait it out, there simply was NO WAY to GET OUT OF IT. the only way out was through, as Ryan Holiday says.
the obstacle was the way. and i resisted that SO much.
i kept driving. the ETA kept building. i got into standstill after standstill. it was like i was in a video game, playing on Nightmare Mode, and i just kept getting into new levels where everything is unfamiliar and my leg is cramping and my vision is blurring but the thing i need to do is the same — stay in my lane, be smart, and wait it out.
“i’m going home, i’m going home,” i chanted to myself. it was the only thing that was keeping me going. i knew that, no matter how many more obstacles got in my way, i would get home eventually.
and it was my faith in that simple truth that brought me home.
i distinctly remember the moment my car merged onto familiar roads — i gasped, then cried out with relief. i was going to make it.
sure, i had to endure another 45+ minutes of traffic, but i stayed the course, my bladder making me question my decision to skip that last rest stop at every speed bump we passed.
and as i finally, FINALLY, turned onto the very road that would bring me home, i was filled with the sweetest satisfaction. i did it. i got off my ass, and DID something for myself. something HARD. something, dare i say, impossible.
but i did it anyway. and that is the greatest gift of all.
despite all the trials and tribulations, i feel like this trip accomplished the very thing i set out to do: it made me believe in myself.
i now see myself the way Shawn and other people have seen me all along — as a very capable, strong, independent woman. i can DO HARD THINGS. i can make my OWN dreams come true.
i can treat myself, spend my own money, and prioritize my own pleasure. i can make friends with strangers, and deal with difficult situations without letting it faze me.
i can try things for the first time, and do my family proud. i can make MYSELF proud. i can be proud of myself.
when i first set out to do this, i told myself: “this is just the first step.”
i needed to get this experience out of the way, just so i could prove to myself that it was possible — so i can plan bigger, better, longer trips. the kind of trips i ACTUALLY wanna go on. and i did! and i will. thank you, me, for making this happen. we took the chance. made the leap.
and we will never be the same again.