There is nothing wrong with keeping a list of dream destinations. I do too, and one of the reasons I created this blog is to inspire you with trip ideas and help you realize it with hopefully useful tips.
But more importantly, I want it to be a reminder, to both you and myself, that traveling shouldn’t be an “I came, I saw, I conquered” affair.
Though I don’t always have the luxury of spending weeks or months in one city (sometimes I can’t avoid whirlwind tours either), I do my best to make the most of my limited time by doing research in advance while keeping my plans flexible for new discoveries.
At the end of each journey, I hope you and I can look back and proudly think “I explored, I savored, I remember” instead of just crossing a destination of our lists. As many people say, traveling is about the whole experience and like I said before, I also want to remind myself of this. What better way than keeping my travel memories in public space where both you and I can read and think about this sentiment?
…that was lengthy, flowery, and cringy, but I just want to share my thoughts about traveling and my motivation in general.
Anyway, how did I get started as a mostly solo traveler? (Sorry I will continue being long-winded.)
This is going to be weird, but my journey began with the video game Pokemon.
Back in 2001, when Pokemon first became a hit in my country Thailand, my younger brother bought a Gameboy Color for the games too. Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver were our first games. I haven’t fallen in love with the games just because of the Pokemon themselves; the adventure in the magical virtual space has also earned a place in my heart.
In Pokemon, the player character leaves home on a solo journey to become the strongest Pokemon trainer and befriends these fictional creatures along the way (so in a sense, the journey isn’t really solo with up to six Pokemon in your party, but the player character does travel without human companions). To find more Pokemon and stronger opponents, the character travel across very diverse landscapes, from traditional towns and futuristic cities to wide wide sea and mystical forests. Those unreal pixels inspired my 9-year-old self to go on her own adventure like the player character, but of course, in the real world.
Then I started to pick up geography books and travel guides. I was obsessed with all the famous landmarks out there and intended to see them with my eyes. But as I replayed my old Pokemon games and played the newer ones, I began to pay more attention to little details in each place and talk to every single non-player character, with a traditionally thick dictionary to help me understand the in-game English texts. I have come to realize that just seeing doesn’t equal knowing and space isn’t just about the places themselves. Space is about everything within, whatever you experience. The places which include small nooks and crannies that are as interesting as the highlights. The people who are more than what our eyes are seeing. They come together as stories and aren’t they wonderfully surprising since we can’t use existing information to completely predict what we will experience?
I finally got to live what I dub the “Player Character Experience” when I traveled to Japan alone after my high school graduation in 2011. I just had to pick Japan. I am a huge fan of anime, manga, and Japanese video games, as you probably already could tell, and most locations in the earlier Pokemon games were also inspired by cities, towns, and landmarks in Japan. No better place in the real world to pretend I am the player character in Pokemon.
Having been fortunate to participate in the ten-day AFS JENESYS cultural exchange program in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, in 2008 and the three-week PASCH cultural exchange-cum-German course in Berlin, Germany, in 2010, this Japan journey wasn’t my first overseas trip, but was still the first time I planned a trip and traveled in a foreign country by myself. I was both nervous and thrilled at the same time.
Naturally, frustrating mistakes are bound to be made when traveling, especially by a first-time solo traveler like myself back then. And every trip is never without misfortune. Still, nothing could have prepared me when the Great Tohoku Earthquake hit during my two weeks in Tokyo and the vicinity. I could feel its magnitude all the way to where I was, but fortunately, I was safe. I don’t want to romanticize a disaster and I feel very sorry for all losses, but I also really admire everyone who worked hard and are still working towards recovery in Tohoku. I wish the disaster didn’t happen, but since we can’t change the past, I have learned on that trip about more than the natural beauty, the traditional heritage, and the pop culture of Japan. I received kindness and help from strangers and also saw how Japanese people tried to cheer the others up and support one another. One of my most vivid memories is when staff at the hostel I was staying in Tokyo did a project to send well wishes to people in Tohoku. Guests could join too and we wrote encouraging messages, which were later sent to the disaster-stricken areas. I have come to respect Japan and its people even more.
Then came my university days. Although I didn’t expect to travel abroad again until after university graduation, I had the opportunity to work as a merchandiser at Epcot Mouse Gear at Walt Disney World in Florida, USA, for three months under the 2013 Disney International College Program (plus a solo trip to South Korea, to finally experience K-pop at its origin since getting into the group SHINee about two years before). That was my first time staying away from home for more than a month. It was a big self-imposed challenge for an introvert like me to work at such a cheerful and energetic place, but it was an invaluable experience to constantly practice English in daily life, work in a multicultural environment, and learn job skills from one of the most internationally-renowned companies. And later in 2014, the DAAD-HSK German essay contest gave me another opportunity to study German for three weeks in Düsseldorf, Germany. I got to travel solo in Germany and Austria for a few weeks before and after my German course too.
I am an embarrassingly lazy procrastinator and I look tired most of the times, but when it comes to what I love, I am very passionate and determined and traveling is one of those few things. I am always trying to find the opportunities and make my dream trips come true. After finishing my Bachelor’s in 2015, work kept me busy, but I didn’t let it keep me from traveling. Sometimes I went on a journey with my family, sometimes with my close friends, but mostly on my own. It was also after my university graduation that I started to explore Thailand by myself, as much as my inability to drive and the unreliable, poorly-connected public transportation outside Bangkok allow. I went on an annual solo trip to either Japan or South Korea too (I need more time to save up for other countries and I also want to complete one of my life goals of doing fangirl’s pilgrimages for the anime/manga Haikyuu!!, Pokemon, and the K-pop group NCT). Having accumulated experience through the years, solo trips are the easiest to start for me and despite the difficulties faced along the way, I enjoy this kind of adventures so much that I can only go on.
After working for about three years and a half, I returned to the student life in 2019, but instead of living comfortably with my family at home and studying in Bangkok like before, I moved to Nagoya, Japan. Thanks to the Japanese Government (MEXT) scholarship, I had this opportunity of my lifetime to study in and experience Japan as a research student in 2019-2020 and as a Master’s student from 2020 to 2022 (though I was stranded in Bangkok for a while due to the pandemic). From a solo traveler to a long-term resident-slash-student in Japan, I have been through some challenges and struggles, both academic and non-academic. I have witnessed and experienced some of the unpleasant sides about Japan that I have only heard or read about before. No country is perfect, after all.
Still, Japan treated me nicely overall. I learned to navigate living alone for the first time, with my limited life skills (living far from home before the times of Google and helpful YouTube videos would have been even more difficult and what would I do without my family and friends sending me easy recipes and other interesting hacks). Not to mention my limited Japanese skills, which have stuck at beginner level. I can only blame myself for not studying it seriously… yet.
And most importantly, I got to have the experience I wouldn’t have gained as a short-term visitor in Japan. I can’t speak much Japanese, so I think I was still an outsider in the end, but I did my best to learn more about the country and I can probably write a thesis on how much kindness I have received from friends and strangers in Japan. I got to make and collect until my last day many precious memories, which are in my opinion one of the best treasure a human can have.
I don’t know if I will ever get to live and travel abroad in the long term again, but I will definitely keep traveling, writing, taking photos, and sharing them here.
As a usually low-energy and quiet person (unless when I am with people I am comfortable with or when I fangirl over my favorite anime and manga or K-pop bands—I also bring along the toy versions of my favorite animanga characters and K-pop artists on some of my trips), I have always thought that writing and taking photos, whether digital or film, help me express my thoughts better. Being a non-native English speaker who often thinks her writings are uninteresting, it isn’t easy to bring myself to make public my writings (and photos) though. This is still true even now. But here I am, still maintaining this blog since 2016 to share “stories” and photos from my “space” exploration since my first solo trip in 2011. By the way, my name is Gift, hence the name “Space Stories by Gift“.
My journey began with Pokemon and it continues thanks to so much more. However we began or will begin our journey, I believe that if we plan while staying open-minded, we will probably discover more than expected. I am sure you will also discover what I haven’t: experience and stories you can call your own.
My blog might be just another travel blog and my updates are slow, but I put a lot of effort in them all. I tend to share a lot of photos and write long posts, but if you like details (both practical information and honest personal opinions), I hope my blog can somehow help and entertain you.
I wonder how many people actually reach this last sentence, but thank you for reading and have fun exploring.