St Patrick’s Day was spent cooped up in a French cafe in Galway working hard. Despite the rain and watching passers-by battle the wet wind, I wanted to join in on the parade, the fun and the costumes. I couldn’t have been happier when I striked off the last thing on my to-do list, dumped my laptop back at the hostel and ventured out into the streets at 7pm.
The streets were sprinkled with soaking wet trash, rain was drizzling at an angle that made sure everyone’s face was constantly sprayed; buntings with the Irish flag flapping furiously in the wind decorated the streets and drunk Irish were everywhere. Watching them chit chat in the drizzle, hold hands, make out or just run from one pub to another with their friends made me very very jealous.
For this first time in a while, I felt very very very lonely.
My first one-month anniversary on my first ever long-term solo trip was spent in Stockholm. I decided to treat myself to dinner at a fancy place opposite my terrible hostel and it was delicious. I remember sitting at the bar with two women next to me, looking fabulous and stylish while I was in my sneaker-leather-jacket-hoodie combo. I remember taking my Kindle out at the bar, reading while having dinner with a glass of white wine.
What I remember the most about that night was feeling so proud of myself having survived a month on my own, but also feeling tired and spent and almost bored. Despite being in a new place almost twice a week, sometimes more, I was getting bored because I had fallen into a routine. I felt like an ungrateful brat but I was getting tired of walking tours, churches, walking tours, parks, walking tours, stunning lookout points, markets, rewind. Continue reading →
Friend: “YO I NEED TRAVEL TIPS. Have you written a blog post on it? I wanna go to Lisbon and some other places.. but I have NO idea where to start.”
Me: “Here’s where to start.”
Let me preface this by saying that planning to travel is making a series of small decisions and then putting money down on those decisions. It helps if you know what your travel style is like, what you generally enjoy doing and what you want out of a trip.
1. Decide to go and tell the world about it so you can’t back out.
I’m writing this on a train from Interlaken to Bern, marvelling at the beauty of the sunset. The shades of blues and pinks and deeper pinks never fail to distract me from more productive endeavours like, you know, writing a blog post. Sometimes, I find myself asking: Is it really worth it? Is the trouble of researching and planning and spending hard-earned money just to leave familiarity and comfort actually worth it? Looking at this glorious sunset, my answer is absofuckinglutely.
I went to bed at 4.30am last night but found my exhausted body shaken to consciousness by my anxious mind. Go to bed, my tired body says, but I can’t. My mind is like a war zone, with thoughts flying left, right and centre, like bullets coming at me, making me scared for what the future might hold.
At one point, I almost cry because I’m terrified.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, this growing fear as the date for my departure slowly arrives. There’s a little excitement, but there’s also more fear than before. And sadness. Being back home for a year has definitely got me used to quite a few things, like the comfort of my bed, my mum’s incredible soups, the certainty of a jam going into KL or Bangsar, the immaculate taste of a cold brew at Thursdvys, the silliness of new found friends and warmth of someone’s hug. In other words, familiarity and security.
My time home has been amazing. I’ve been catching with old friends and making new ones. The one thing I get told a lot is how “daring” or “brave” I am for deciding to travel alone. But here’s the thing, it’s really not that scary a thing to do.
If you follow my blog, the one thing you’ll realise is that I began incredibly scared but then stopped talking about how scared I was as soon as I hit the road. And it’s because I’ve realised that there were a tonne of other things worth spending my energy fretting over, like where I would sleep the next week.
The more I reflected on my life (I mean, it is that time of the year to be all sappy) the more I realised that I had been practising independence for a long time and this was a natural extension of that.
I’m feeling a little lost right now. For the past three months, I was focused on exploring this extraordinary part of the world. For the past three months, my mission was simple – to live as much as humanly possible. But it’s all coming to an end now, as I sit here with a coffee in Genève airport waiting to board my flight to London. I’ll be flying home the following week.
Calling it a whirlwind of a journey doesn’t even begin to sum it up, this journey that started pretty much after graduation. All the excitement and thrill that came with planning for a three-month long trip, the first flight out, cutting my toe and bleeding all over Split, having squid ink risotto with Sue Huey on my birthday, having such a laugh when we couldn’t afford anything to drink in Budapest, eating way too much in Prague, exploring Russia like the independent woman I supposedly am, missing my ship from Helsinki to Stockholm, dancing the night away in Oslo and Berlin, and having great conversations over too many beers with too many incredible people with even more incredible stories to share.
There are also many more places I’ve yet to experience, like the South of France, Milan, Venice, Vienna, the Baltics, Dublin again, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, and the list goes on for quite a bit. Travelling alone is no longer scary to me, but an opportunity to connect with the world in my own special way.
And then I got a job and everything changed. My plans were cut short but I now have a whole new treasure chest of memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. I love my new found family at TrekkSoft (insert mandatory hyperlink), the crazy bunch who have accepted me with open arms. They completely dispelled any fears I had and created a great environment to work in. I’ll miss waking up to beautiful skies and mountains, even when it’s all snowy and wet and gross. I’ll also miss a secret agent I met, but that’s a story for another day.
I’m so torn between wanting to stay on and wanting to go back it’s crazy. It’s like I’m constantly going back and forth between jumping for joy and almost tearing up in sadness, especially when I see a Christmas tree because I absolutely love Christmas. Europe is a beautiful place, even more so over Christmas and it kills me a little bit every time I think about how I won’t be here for it.
On the other hand, I’m so excited to go home and put up our Christmas tree and all our Christmas decorations (I’m thinking of raiding IKEA for a tonne of extra Christmas goodies). I miss my bed, my dog, my deis and bros, my pillows that need a good wash, the sun and Malaysian food. I don’t miss my family because I talk to them regularly and although they’re not here, it feels like they’re all around me, you know?
I’m also terrified that if I reach home, I might never want to leave. It’s an amazing place and there is no where like it. Where else can you go out for nasi lemak or dim sum or bak kut teh at 2am?
My pre-disposition to give more than I can get will most likely stop me from leaving, should I fall into the hands of another for-purpose organisation. It’s not because I’m a self-righteous prick who practices false humility, but because I have a deep love for Malaysia. I don’t know how or when I fell so hard for Malaysia, but boy oh boy I did.
That love makes me want to explore every inch of it, to discover new things to share with the world.I want to grow old with Malaysia and grow together with it. It has so many scratches, cuts and bruises; I want to hold it in my arms and care for it. Yet, I know that just like a mother has to leave her children to go to work, I need to leave Malaysia to grow myself to become useful one day. Do you think I sound crazy? I’m definitely walking on a fine line of crazy aren’t I?
I can’t help it. That’s where my heart is. Bite me.
Apart from common mistakes like booking a bus for a wrong date or not bringing enough warm clothes, I’ve also carried out a series of ridiculously stupid things. Some of them I’ve already mentioned on the blog, others not yet. I decided to only list down 5 to limit the embarrassment I might face. Again, all I ask is that you do not judge me, just laugh at me, I can handle that.
5. Getting confused with foreign coins one too many times
There have been moments where I’ve completely given up trying to figure out what I had. I’d just look at all the coins, stare blankly at them and have the cashier pick out the right ones. In Moscow, I attempted to pay a 50 ruble bill with a 50 cent coin. The lady looked at me like I was mad, said something sternly in Russian and proceeded to serve the next customer in line. It took me more than 5 seconds to figure out what I had done wrong. Here’s the thing, why do they even have 50 cent coins? That’s like, 5 cents I suppose and nothing ever added up to XX rubles and FIVE CENTS. NOTHING. I apologised in Russian (always learn how to say Thank You and Sorry in the local language, it gets you out of everything) and got a smile from the lady who probably said something like “Don’t worry about it” or “You’re an idiot” with smile. Regardless, it made my day.
4. Getting on the wrong tram, heading in the wrong direction
In Gothenburg, the trams and buses were incredibly well connected and efficient, but the thing about incredibly well connected transportation lines is that they tend to be a little complicated and require practice.
It happened on the afternoon I was to leave the city and I thought I had timed everything right. I would have made in time had I gotten onto the right tram going towards the central train station instead of the suburbs. It wasn’t till things started to look really really unfamiliar that I decided to check my map (it’s hard to remember all the names of the different stops when they’re more or unless incredibly unpronounceable). I got off at the next stop, crossed the tram tracks and waited for the next tram to come from the right direction. At this point, I had gotten over looking like a lost tourist and ignored the funny stares from local Gothenburgians (that is not what they call themselves, I made it up). I arrived just in time to watch my train leave.
3. Missing my ship from Helsinki to Stockholm
I knew that my ship was due to leave at 4.30pm, but I had failed to read the fine print because I thought it’d be like getting on a bus. Insert your favourite “OMG ARE YOU KIDDING ME” facial expression here. As it turns out, you’re supposed to board the ship half an hour before the time of departure, not 5 minutes before it leaves as you do with trains and buses. I was on the tram as I watched the ship leave the docks. It was like watching a building burn down and not being able to do anything about it. I figured the next best thing to do was to run to the check-in counters and attempt to re-book a ticket for the next day. As I attempted to enter the building, I got yelled at by the cleaner who told me that the building was shut for the day (at 5PM! It’s like the Finnish are on a perpetual half day off). I was left in the rain and cold winds with my backpack trying to figure out my next step. Fortunately, my couch surfing hosts were kind enough to let me stay with them for another night and even cooked me dinner. I love them, I really do.
The next day, I made sure to get on the right tram, get off at the right stop, get onto the ship an hour before departure. I chucked my bags in my cabin, ran up to the top deck and watched Helsinki fade from view.
I finally got a ticket!
This is just pretty
We’re being real right?
One last glimpse of Helsinki
One of the few islands around Helsinki
2. Eating a day old tuna sandwich, don’t do it, ever.
I caught a cold and a fever on my last day in Bergen, which prompted me to get more warm clothes as soon as I reached a cheaper country (thank you Germany). On my last day in beautiful Bergen, it decided to rain all day so I decided to stay in the hostel all day, I was too ill to move about anyway. I tried to nurse myself back to health with free tea someone else had left behind and fruit teas I had stolen from the hostel before. But when it came to food, instead of making myself something healthy and fresh, I whipped out the other half of a tuna sandwich I had made the day before, that had been in my bag all this time. It tasted great, there was cream cheese and cucumbers in it too. Who cared if it wasn’t kept in the fridge and was more than 24 hours old? My tummy erupted and it was the best day of my life.
1. I visited Moscow and completely missed the Kremlin
I don’t even know how this happened, how I completely missed an incredibly monumental building. I visited the Red Square multiple times during my time there and had assumed that they were the same thing. It wasn’t till I filled out a TripAdvisor review about St Basil’s and was prompted afterwards to fill one out about the Kremlin had I realised that, well, I hadn’t paid it a visit.
This is a good example of how little I know about the world, like seriously. First class idiot. I might have a degree but I have no idea what the Kremlin looks like. I learnt my lesson big time – do your homework, learn about the place. My only consolation is that I now have an excuse to visit Moscow again, something I’m already planning to do.
I got bored writing about the various places I’ve visited. Not because those places weren’t nice or interesting, quite the contrary actually; but because it got rather mechanical and my quality of writing got really bad.
Did you guys notice the lack of funny puns and ridiculous GIFs? I did and I’m embarrassed.
I do not want to be the girl who fizzled off into mediocre blog posts. HELL NO. I decided instead to just begin writing what’s been on my mind quite a lot lately – the rather unglamorous life of backpacking or travelling on a shoestring budget. Call it whatever you want, the realities are the same. I say this as I type furiously on my keyboard on a ferry from Copenhagen to Berlin, I’m getting more nauseas as the journey continues.
Krakow was also my first destination alone, thus beginning my solo adventure for the next three months. I also have to admit that I was looking forward to being alone after spending almost every waking moment (apart from the times I needed to shower or pee or brush my teeth, I don’t poop, I’m a lady) with someone else for almost two weeks.
I took the night train from Prague to Krakow, which was an interesting experience in itself. I booked myself into a 3 berth carriage and was accompanied by two other women (I thanked God for not being dumped with a couple, they’re the worst). I quickly befriended another girl who turned out to be a free walking tour guide in Krakow. I proceeded to tell her how much I just love free walking tours and we ended up chatting for a bit.
Three beds with no space to sit up. I was on the top bunk and even hit my head a few times in the night. It’s so hard to be tall.
The same storage space but from a different angle. I’m trying to give you the full picture here!
The sink. What else am I supposed to say?
Upon arriving in Krakow at around 7am, she guided me out of station and gave me directions to Rynek Glowny, the main old town square where my hostel was supposed to be. We also agreed to meet up for dinner. The plan was to go for sushi as I was seriously craving some asian food by this point. (Travelling has definitely brought out all my cravings for asian food that’s so accessible and cheap in Malaysia but no where else.)
The wind was crisp and I enjoyed the walk to the hostel. It was nice to stretch my legs and explore a new town, even with a ginormous backpack. I loved watching sleepy Krakow wake up.
After arriving at the hostel, I grabbed some free breakfast (score!) and caffeinated myself with fresh coffee from real coffee grounds, not that Nescafe 3-in-1 crap I’ve been having for the past few days (double score!). Guess what I did next? That’s right, I joined the free walking tour around the old town at 10am. I met more people in that one tour than I had in the past few weeks. One girl from Malaysia who was touring Europe for a month, another from Columbia who was in Poland for business and a very cute guy who was travelling before starting his Phd in Applied Maths (he said something about physics somewhere, who knows, I was distracted by his face).
For those hoping to visit Krakow, I highly recommend this walking tour not only because the guides are incredibly experienced and have a good sense of humour, but also because they give out kickass maps at the end of tour. It had a ton of recommendations for good places to eat, cheap places to eat, museums, ideas for gifts and Polish pickup lines.
That night, Joanna and I met up for dinner. We went for sushi in Genji which has a beautiful interior and very friendly staff. I have never wished to have been able to speak Polish anymore than my short stay in Poland. Everyone I met was friendly and nothing short of proud of their country. Even the guy who drove me to the airport at an exorbitant rate was friendly and loved showing off his hometown to me.
Too much sushi + great company = great diner with Joanna. We talked about our ambitions and what we wanted to do when we grow up. We chatted about family and friends. We chatted about the refugee crisis in Europe. We chatted about our countries. It was great and I added her on Facebook. That’s how close we are. BFFs. Best Facebook Friends.
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD *deep breath* *hyperventilate* *panic attack* Repeat.
It’s really happening. I have never felt so unprepared for a trip in my life. I don’t even know where in Helsinki I’ll be staying in three weeks time! What am I doing?
Writing these posts have brought up loads of memories from my childhood, for some odd reason. I was an ambitious young girl. I wanted to be Celine Dion at one point, then I discovered the Spice Girls and decided I really really really REALLY wanted to be them. And then I grew up and began watching loads of travel shows and I wanted to be a travel host on TV. The idea of travelling as a job, the concept of being paid to meet new people, learn new cultures, eat good food sounded too good to be true. And then I decided I wanted to go into marketing, not just any marketing but social media marketing because I’m forward thinking like that.
And then I graduated with a Marketing and Psychology degree and couldn’t find an internship that paid… Life am I right?