My Year in 2015 and the year ahead

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Can’t believe that we’re into the last month of the year again. I tried to find my reflection post on 2014 but I realised there isn’t any. Looking back, I was indeed exceptionally busy one year ago with work and all that but I’m glad that I am able to set aside more personal time for myself this year.

Just read my 31 Dec 2013 reflections and I don’t know to be happy or sad that some of the emotions and thoughts I was feeling back then still remains relevant today. Either I’m still being immature in my actions and thoughts or those are the feelings that remain true to my heart. Instead of trying to change myself, I need to learn how to manage these thoughts and hopefully leverage on them some way or another.

Since “Looking Back” is pretty much a hobby of mine, let’s look back on the year 2014 since I didn’t have time last December.

I started off the year with a Lasik operation to correct my myopia. It was the best decision made that year and the most well spent $3,600 of my life. I bid farewell to my hard lens and glasses of many years and said hello to 6/6 vision and sunglasses 🙂 It has been almost 2 years and I do not have any issues with my eyesight! I hope it stays this way 🙂

My first trip in 2014 was to Bali with my now ex-colleague. It was my first time in Bali and our Balinese friend accompanied us and planned our itinerary. She even arranged for us to visit my dream chapel at Conrad Bali.

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It was a beautiful chapel and my friend had to pretend she was a bride-to-be! Sadly, we couldn’t take any close-up photos with the chapel as there was an on-going wedding. We also went for white water rafting (my first), played with fireworks and had a lot of good food!

My second trip in 2014 was to Hong Kong. It was a sudden trip as I could bunk in with a friend who was there for work. Had about 1.5 Days of Solo adventure and trained myself to eat and sit alone in a restaurant. Many years back, eating alone outside was something that I dread really badly but as I grow older, I started appreciating me time. I guess it is part of growing up. Ate a lot of great food in Hong Kong including my favourite tangyuen (glutinous rice ball), went to Disneyland, Stanley Market and met up with a few friends too. It was nice to have an afternoon hike at Cheng Chau (Chang Zhou) which ended with my favourite mango dessert. Now I’m just short of New Territories exploration, Lamma Island, Kowloon Walled City site, a night’s stay at Chunking Mansion (I might back out..) before completing the Hong Kong experience. It’s kind of funny that I have explored places in Hong Kong where the locals don’t even go and they are like so amazed to find out that I have been there. To me, Hong Kong is such a familiar place that I can venture with ease alone. Wanted to continue with a 3rd trip in 2015 but I guess it was low in priority against my exciting 2015 plans. Heh.

Next up, trip #3 was the long-awaited trip to Krabi. We were trying to replicate an itinerary from a variety show. For the first time ever (in all my free and easy trips with friends), we stayed in a 5-star hotel, for a night. The entire amount I spent for the trip – $475 – was surprisingly low, despite having 2 days of private longtail boat island hopping and a 5 star hotel stay. We were really lucky to secure cheap tickets and traveling off peak and the “best” part was that there’s hardly any shopping to be done in Krabi. My highest expenditure was at 7-11 on the last day because I had too much spare cash =p I bought 2 floats for the trip, The huge Pretzel and Donut floats that instantly made us the star in the largest swimming pool of Thailand. Gotta thank my friends for being so sporting. Spending 30 minutes to pump up each float is not an easy feat. This trivial purchase resulted in my float rental business(hobby) which most people think that its absolutely absurd. Sadly, I wasn’t able to put in full commitment to this and eventually my business was outshine by the more popular and well organized shops that does aggressive marketing on instagram. I can gladly declare that I was the first (at least in Singapore) to start float rental. Urgh, all this is history now.

Trip #4 (Totally unplanned) was my first sponsored holiday to Kota Kinabalu. I did go for a free trip to Korea back in 2013 but it was a little different as I had to submit an entry to “win” the trip but for this Kinabalu trip, it was a media invitation! The email caught me by surprise because I am pretty certain that I am not a popular travel blogger with a huge following. Neither am I a good writer with a relevant degree. Why me? Apart from me being the rare few that was free enough to accept the invitation (the timing was perfectly for me), I couldn’t think of any reason. As usual, (since I don’t think I am that popular) there were the suspicions of it being a scam but in the end it turned out to be real and legit. Initially, I was a little hesitant with the invitation as most people would associate Kota Kinabalu with the mountain and I was not confident with my fitness level. Thankfully, the itinerary came out to be a relaxing and semi-luxurious media trip. In Korean terms, it was kind of like a “healing trip” as it gave me gaps of time for reflection during the 10-day unemployment between jobs. It was kind of hilarious as there were times that I am scared/afraid/shy but I had to act一个 since I was highly regarded as an important VIP in this trip. Adventurous sports like zipline, scuba diving and para-sailing were things that I need to think twice about but during the trip I was extra enthusiastic about everything and anything. I guess this is my professional image. That aside, all the experiences were thrilling and the extra thrill factor is to hold the GoPro that I borrowed. I did the world’s longest island to island zipline, para-sailing and scuba diving holding a borrowed GoPro in my hands. If anything were to happen to the GoPro, I was gonna be so screwed but it was a risk I had to take in order to give a more complete account of my sponsored experience. To the best of my ability, I usually maximize the value of the sponsorship. My video editing skills ain’t too awesome but you can check it out below.

Trip #5 was an insignificant $38 groupon deal to Batam. It was my second time there and the hotel we stayed in was built to look like a cruise ship. It was a short getaway amidst my piling work. Things were moving so fast that your body knows that you don’t have time to fall sick and you don’t even have a chance to feel sleepy at work because there’s so much to be done. It was a funny feeling because you feel accomplished and tired at the same time.

That was it. 2014 with 5 vacations, a brand new job and a .com domain.

Back on 6th of August in 2014, I successfully bought a .com and painstakingly learned how to search and customize themes, templates. It was a steep learning curve as all I had was Google and very limited after work time. With the help of fiverr and useful online tutorials, I managed to figure things out in the cheapest way possible. I bought another domain www.itravelnblog.com a month later and I’ve got to admit the purchase was done on impulse without much thought on the direction and proper planning. There, I learned how to setup wordpress.org in CPanel myself (previously was done via fiverr), sourced and modified a template. After about a year, the website is still a far cry from my initial plans but.. let’s put this in my 2016 agenda.

Few months ago, I realised that my once-favourite website travel planning website Qiito was pretty much gone for good. I messaged them over facebook and this was their unfortunate reply.

“Unfortunately our site was been corrupted by unknown reason which we are still investigating. And it does not seem like, we will be able to load it up live again.”

Back in 2013-2014, I was an active user of their website and I had very high hopes for its new development and waiting for the day they upgrade out of their “Beta” status. Sadly, the day did not come and this travel community (more than 200,000 likes on Facebook) ceased to exist.

I’ve been toying with the idea of transforming one of my random ideas into a start up or at least a revenue generator (at least to sustain the hosting of my site) but I have yet to break even on my hosting and domain fees. Took the leap of faith and paid for a .com back in July 2014 and even till today (1.5 years later) I have yet to reap the real monetary benefits of this change. Google Ads payout is pretty meager and I haven’t figured out how to properly optimize my advertisements without compromising user experience. I guess this would be one of my 2016 target.

*****

2015 – the year i blew my travel budget away.

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Japan x March 2015 – It was a pretty last minute trip which my boss didn’t want to agree to initially. I remember he changed his mind and said “I think you’ve worked hard and deserve a break”. With that, I booked my tickets within the next few days and joined my friend who had already booked her tickets months ago. There was a bit more motivation for this trip was I could also watch a concert at Tokyo Dome after my friend found a singaporean seller selling the ticket. Since it was my long awaited holiday, I didn’t want to restrict it with much budget since (back then) it could have been my only trip for the year. I ended up spending more that what I have imagined. It was nice to travel alone approximately 30 to 40% of my trip. We based at Osaka and I bought the JR Pass just to make a return trip to Tokyo. My one night stay in a public onsen alone was definitely a blog worthy article. It solved the problem of cost, being “alone” in a hotel room/hostel, allowed me to have a firsthand experience in a Japanese public onsen (previous onsen experiences were at hotels), soaked my dead skin away in the warm water in both their indoor and open air pools. It was definitely a getting out of my comfort zone experience and I’m glad I survived all the awkward stares and lost in translation situations. I remember blowing my budget for the meals at Endo Sushi (my favourite sushi place to date), Kobe Beef (felt kind of average) and Matsusaka Beef in Osaka. Sadly, we were too early for the cherry blossoms season and we barely spotted a few budding cherry blossoms trees in Kyoto. Although it was pretty much a touch and go (not exactly my favourite traveling style) Japan itinerary, it was a good break from work (minus the constant checking of whatsapp and work email).

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Before I could settle back into the mood of work, my friends were discussing about a trip to Japan (again). It was a self-drive trip and we were choosing between Okinawa and Hokkaido. Hokkaido won due to the more cooling weather and I was back there for a second time. Not wanting to repeat much destinations, we went to the further away destinations and explored the relatively less-visited places. The only pity of the trip was that we were unable to see the Unkai Terrace (those dream-like clouds) due to bad weather and wrong expressway directions. Nevertheless, there’s always a next time! The most significant thing about this trip was that the people I went with did not like taking photographs with faces which is pretty much similar to me. We have less than five photographs together – record breaking low for me 😀 Another “achievement-unlocked” was to visit and play in a Pachinko Parlour in Japan. It was an experience in my bucket list as I wanted to understand the fascination of gambling not for cash. I think I blew $20 in less than 10 mins just to write my blog worthy experience.  There were random memories like my alone day in Tokyo, waited at Ginza Gai for more than an hour, ate my-currently-number-one-ranking Ippudo Ramen, the nightly gambling with sake and how Marimos at Lake Akan was one of my greatest disappointment this trip.

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In September, we did a YOLO trip to Bangkok to visit Hua Hin, visit the popular artbox night market, meet a friend and to watch err… a concert. It was my second time in a moshpit though back in 2011 I kind of decided never to repeat that experience. Surprisingly, the experience was not too bad as long as the mosh area was not full and there was sufficient space to run towards the action. I don’t know how many more years can I do such things for (and have friends to go with) so I will just treasure every opportunity 😀 It was a comfortable 5D4N trip and we managed to visit the “famous” San Torini replica park. It makes me feel like visiting the real thing even more!! Some day.. Anyway, the good thing about this trip was that we traveled together in 2014 to Krabi and now I’m hoping that we will have a 2016 trip together too! We need to have that room full of pearl aqua green balloon!

*****

Looking back on my local (Singapore) memories, I’m glad to have visited and participated in various SG50 events over the year. With LKY’s passing, we kind of got a little bit more nationalistic, especially during that one week of mourning. I visited the zoo after more than 10 years, went for night festivals, museum events, visited random quiet cafes (still looking for more), did a lot of prawning, went to cycle the marina barrage route at least 4 times this year, watched the national day parade live at the Padang and probably the greatest event of it all was probably the addition of my niece to the family. She is the proud owner of the nickname “tomato face”. It was so cringe-worthy when her younger cousins (aged between 3 to 6) exclaimed “Tomato-face is here!” when she entered the house one Sunday evening.

This year, I started having more meals alone, shopped alone and things are getting pretty comfortable as the time goes by. Have yet to watched a movie alone – something that I wanted to try out some day but haven’t exactly gotten the chance to. When we were younger, my friends and I always question about how we will feel when our favourite celebrities gets attached/married. Jay Chou got married and became a father in the same year and now that it has happened.. I don’t really care much about it but feel sincerely happy for the couple. I guess it’s part of growing up? Looking back at instagram, I don’t seem to have much 3-minute-fever hobbies in 2015. A year ago, I was crazy over crocheting toys, cooking and baking egg tarts and buying nanoblocks (still have boxes of unopened boxes). I guess in 2015, I spent more emphasis on my travel blog and the still-in-my-mind travel start up ideas which still remains nothing more than an idea in my head. Still lacking a lot of motivation and determination in this area but we shall see again in 2016? Will be starting off 2016 with another kind of sponsored trip and this would be my third. Hopefully this will be my stepping stone to something better and greater.

I guess it feels good to see some rewards reaped for my blog which makes everything feels worth it. I was nominated as a finalist for the Singapore Blog Awards (Travel Category) and hit 100k views few weeks ago. My previous wordpress blog of 4 years did not even hit 100k and my current dotcom managed to achieve 100k views in less than 500 days. Sometimes when certain posts gets a little more attention (or viral), I get tempted to re position the way I write articles with the aim of garnering more clicks and views. However, I usually take a step back and re-think about the first objective I ever had for my blog and how I should stick through with it – giving people information that they need for their travel because I myself receive a lot from the contribution of the online community. To date, I haven’t been paid a single cent (not even via google ads – have yet to hit $100) yet I have to spend $100+ every year to keep the domain and web hosting account. It’s true that I sacrificed a portion of my time for the blog but it is one of my few hobbies that remained (I even stopped watching K-dramas). Can’t get rid of my bad whiny habit and my fleeting thoughts about everything. Thank you for having the patience to read through my ranting post. I know this it is not likely to gather much views or clicks but it will be a good closure to 2015 and clear up some thoughts in my mind before we welcome 2016.

Happy 2016 to all and wishing all my readers, friends and family good health and happiness!

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  • Read through everything, thanks a lot for your blog!
    I’m not sure how I manage to stumble upon your blog but probably it was during my struggle to plan for a trip to Tokyo in August.
    Got lots of info from here but I ended up doing my own things.

    Anyway, it’s nice to know that you’ve got some startup ideas going, guess it’s a good thing. Hopefully in 2016 you’ll be able to break even on your operating costs 🙂

    • Thank You for your encouraging comments! It’s always a pleasure to know that people are reading my blog and finding it useful for their travel plans. Happy 2016 to you!