Culture, People

Solo Travelers Talking: Roger Chern on Hockey, Microfinancing, and Meeting Locals

Solo Travel Roger Chern

We’re fascinated by the fearlessness of solo travelers, so we’re talking to people about what it’s really like behind the social feeds. If you’re a solo traveler with a story to share, send us a message on social to be considered.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: I’m a first-generation Taiwanese-American. My parents came to the US in 1976 to study in the US and ended up staying. They got their citizenship when I was 1 year old. I took the usual required five years of languages in school (Spanish from 8th grade to senior year of high school), but I wasn’t studious until after I finished college, when I took two years of French. When I was working with the driver’s license office in Denver, I interacted regularly with the Hispanic community, which allowed me to use my Spanish speaking skills and improved it, since it was a few years since I took the class.

I love traveling, which has taken me all over the world. For personal holidays, I’ve recently went to Tokyo, where I met an old friend from high school, and Stockholm, where I had a chance to watch my favorite hockey team (Colorado Avalanche) play internationally. I always get a chance to visit my family in Taiwan, or just to visit there on my own to see the history of my “home” country.

A street vendor in Taiwan.

I recently finished my MBA, which I took a microfinance course, to see how small loans are distributed to improve impoverished communities. This lead me to Cambodia, where we met with a microfinancing company, who allowed us to see how their operations work and met some of their clients and their respective businesses. I enjoyed interacting with the locals to see how their daily lives progress and how small loans can change/improve their lives.

Q: What do you think drives your desire to head into the unknown?

A: I always enjoyed the thrill of understanding the culture by studying about how to act within a new community. However, one can only learn so much by reading a book and most travel books (either for tourists, students, international workers) generally seem to only cover the basic needs to “get by.” Part of the unknown only gets discovered by interacting with the locals, which is why I am always thrilled to learn a few words to speak with them. Most locals do know some basic English, so it is easy to speak accordingly, which can be both a blessing and a curse. However, by interacting with the locals, I think there is a thrill of them getting excited to show me their lives within the culture and they are happy to share their lives with me. I have also been lucky to make a few friends during my travels and we still communicate through social media.

Part of the unknown only gets discovered by interacting with the locals, which is why I am always thrilled to learn a few words to speak with them.

Q: Tell us about your first solo adventure.

A: My first solo adventure was a few years after getting my first job. I had a chance to go to Tokyo. I didn’t know any Japanese, but thankfully many people around the Tokyo area seem eager to learn and practice their English with me. Of course, I had to do all the “touristy” things, like visit Tokyo Tower and Tsukiji Market. I also spent a lot of time visiting their parks and Buddhist temples. I also met up with an old high school friend of mine for an afternoon, where I got to meet his wife and child. Being a foodie, I had to fill my stomach way past its limit with all the foods that Japan is known for (i.e., sushi, ramen, curry). When I get another chance to go, I will definitely take it and check out the underbelly of the city, going to places that aren’t in any travel guide.

When I get another chance to go, I will definitely take it and check out the underbelly of the city, going to places that aren’t in any travel guide.

Q: Can you tell us about your latest solo-travel experience?

A: The last time I had a chance to travel, I visited Stockholm. I had the chance to watch my favorite professional hockey team play at Ericsson Globe Stadium. Having a number of Swedish players on our team (and in the National Hockey League), the fans there were excited to see their native players in one of the top hockey leagues in the world. Only spending a few days there, I still had a chance to experience the local culture, as well. I am an avid “stroller,” and I enjoyed walking around the city and found that Stockholm not only had a great subway system, but also was very walker-friendly. I got a chance to see the ABBA museum and eat around town (yes, including the meatballs!).

I am an avid “stroller,” and I enjoyed walking around the city and found that Stockholm not only had a great subway system, but also was very walker-friendly.

A hockey game in Sweden at Ericsson Globe Stadium.

Q: What are a few of your solo-traveling must-haves?

A: I always need to buy cheap traveler toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.) when I arrive at my destination. I am always afraid about going through security with that stuff (haha). Plus, I figure if the airport security would potentially throw anything away, I would have to buy them again, anyways.

I also always need to bring my computer and cell phone, so I can stay “connected.” My phone service gives an allowance on 4G networks and most places have free Wi-Fi, so it allows me to keep in touch with my friends and family. Also, I still get to maintain my “local” calls, so any call back home is like I am still in the US; combine that with a phone in the hotel room, I don’t have to spend a dime on calls.

Q: Do you think learning languages is an important aspect of being a global-focused traveler?

A: With new technology being developed and companies creating devices that capture the nuances of grammar, there will come a time where language learning will not be a “necessity.” However, I think to preserve the cultures that exist around the world, it is absolutely necessary. One can argue that using apps and other communication devices can become a “crutch” when visiting places. At the same time, it would take a lifetime to learn every single language in the world, so apps and devices may play the “necessary evil” role in the world. I think it’s important for one to learn as much as they can.

One can argue that using apps and other communication devices can become a “crutch” when visiting places.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your experience learning languages?

A: I am currently conversational in Spanish and Mandarin, and I am learning Vietnamese with Rosetta Stone and by watching YouTube videos. I am also passively learning Japanese and Korean by watching movies and YouTube videos.

A butcher in Taipei, Taiwan at work.

As an adult, especially the last 5-7 years, I’ve become entranced at learning as much as I can. However, even since grade school (when my parents signed me up for Chinese school), I realized that I have relatively horrible memory, especially when it comes to grammar. So, now, it’s important for me to take the time and learn slowly (even if it’s only a handful of words or a new sentence every week) and use that extensively, even overzealously for a period of time. In my mind, when I walk around the office, or a park, etc., I think “This is a computer,” or “That is a tree” in the language that I’m currently studying.

Q: How do you plan for the photos, the friendships, the culture, and all the delicious food to make for the perfect solo trip?

A: I’m a big believer in “Living in the Moment.” I don’t take photos too often, especially when there is so much to experience around me. However, when I get a break, I like to observe my surroundings and see what I can capture to show my friends and family at home.

Getting to know the culture doesn’t exist without talking to the locals. I think, for the most part, people are excited to share their life story with you, especially shopkeepers and restaurant owners, when the hours are slow and they don’t have anyone to talk to. This, I think, is where friendships are made. Every once in a while, they would be more than happy to show you around, or tell you where to visit and eat. This is the cycle of traveling.

Getting to know the culture doesn’t exist without talking to the locals.

Q: So, where’s next for you?

A: My next big adventures include Ho Chi Minh, Urumqi and Tehran. However, life is full of wonder and may lead me on a different path.

Q: Any parting advice for aspiring solo travelers?

A: Life is full of responsibility. Always save for tomorrow, but make sure you enjoy today. If an opportunity comes, take it.

Q: Where can we follow you?

A: Instagram: @rchern27

Speaking the locals’ language is essential for solo travel.

2