How travel evolved for me across the years

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I am bored.

I was looking forward to enjoying my freedom after my stay at home 14 day self-isolation but 2 days after my release, the government announced a 1 month circuit-breaker (which is somewhat a kind of lockdown) which means I’m gonna be stuck for another month at home. This is an unprecedented time in history (yes, I just had to use that viral word in my blog post too) where I will probably be unemployed the longest time ever and stay at home for the longest duration.

So I’ve decided to start writing, because it is my hobby, and I’ve gotten bored of netflix, sims4, theme hospital, online learning and listening to audiobooks. In the past few days, I’ve been trying to clear photos from the 44,000+ photos I have in my iPhone. I’ve been using iPhone since 2009 which means I have 11 years of memories in a single device. As I scrolled through the photos, I realised that my travel patterns and habits have grown across the years and this inspired a topic for this post. I’m gonna write about how I’ve grown as a traveler over the years, not just in age and maturity, but also the technology and accessibility to information.

Here we go.

Stage 1a: Before I could even remember (Baby to Toddler)

I couldn’t recall a single memory during this period but my childhood photos showed that I’ve traveled to Malaysia for a couple of family holidays. The popular destination was Tioman as some family members had a membership there (or something along that line). Back then, club memberships were pretty trendy and you had to be a member to stay in the resort so there was some kind of exclusivity as well. Because of the membership, we were motivated to make multiple visits over the years; each time with our extended families so the kids and parents would not be bored.

Stage 1b: Blurred memories (Toddler to 7 years old?)

I had a memory of myself sitting in Batman’s car back in my younger days (I think I was 4 or 5). It was at Gold Coast, Australia. Back then, airplane travel was still pricey and the trip was made possible because my dad won the first prize for a Campbell soup competition. Do you remember that to take part in lucky draw competitions back in the days, you had to remove the paper wrapping from the canned products and send it together with the lucky draw form (which you tear from the thing hanging at the supermarket shelves) to their main office. Sadly, that was all that I remember of the Australia trip. Not the Koalas or Kangaroos, but the batman car. I’ve been wanting to re-visit Gold Coast again to see if the existing Batman car would still feel familiar to me.

Another random memory I had overseas was in Hong Kong. I think I was 6 years old that year and we were visiting some relatives who were staying in Hong Kong. The memory I had from this overseas trip was that we spent our afternoons buyng and opening potato chips for the freebie they had inside. It was some collector plastic coin thing which had some design on it. No idea why I wanted it but I guess it was kind of limited edition? Nope, I didn’t remember the food in Hong Kong, nor the city lights or the tram up to the peak. All I remembered was the fun and toys collected which I have no idea where thehy are right now.

Stage 2: Family Travel; but now with more memories

When I was 9, my family did a free & easy trip to Perth. It was a road trip and my dad drove all the way down south to Albany. I remember that place dearly as the wind was so strong and I was so afraid that I might fall off the rock bulders. Now that I look back, it was pretty amazing for road trips to happen back in the 1990s., before the existance of GPS or Google Maps. If I didn’t recall wrongly, my mum bought this fold out map and she had to be the navigator for my dad, instructing and estimating the distance to the next highway exit. For me, my only job was to remain quiet in the car and decide what sweets I wanted to buy at the next petrol stop. If I didn’t recall wrongly, I was a fan of gobstoppers sweet (the one that changes colour as you suck) and Nerds. At Perth, we stayed at a friend’s holiday house which had a jetty behind. We could set nets and catch crabs for dinner. I remember we caught so many crabs that we stored them in the freezer and ate it as cold crab the next day.

I was really lucky to have parents that love to travel. I think I’ve been on an overseas vacation at least once a year, even if it meant simply going across the bridge to neighbouring Malaysia; well it was still a holiday. Through the years, I think I’ve been to Bangkok, China, Europe (Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, UK), Hong Kong, Japan, Penang, Phuket, Taiwan and Vietnam. The best part of traveling with family when I haven’t started earning my own keep was that I did not have to pay for anything. However, I realised that I would be a lot happier if I was traveling with my friends or cousins or perhaps just people around my age. And that was when I started to dream bigger: to earn my own keep so I can start traveling on my own.

Stage 3: My first overseas travel without my parents

Excluding day trips to Johor Bahru (Malaysia), the first overseas trip that I had without my parents was on a school OCIP (Overseas Community Involvement Project) trip to Chiangmai. It was a 7 or 8 days trip if I didn’t recall wrongly and it was pretty cool because we were staying in a remote village between Chiangmai and Chiangrai. I had very pleaseant memories of the trip and we had so much fun going back to basics. There was no technology to distract us (oh wait, someone had a gameboy) and we got to interact with the villagers and the neighbours. Even the dogs and cats were friendly in the village. I remember there was one night we requested to sleep under the sky full of stars. It was just us, in our sleeping bags, lying on the hard carpark ground. Despite the cold and uncomfortable ground, I remember sleeping very well till the daylight and the dogs woke us up. I was really lucky to have experienced village life when I was so young. Although I did have thoughts of going back to this village, but I haven’t found the means to do so and it had been so long. I even had a chance to sit on a motorbike for about 20 seconds to? The trip felt rather liberating as it was the first time I was overseas without my parents and while we were having our final 2 nights in the night market at chiangmai, I had the freedom of buying anything I wanted, without asking anyone for permission. This trip made me realised that I love to travel, love to be away from my comfort zone and love to seek for new adventures.

Stage 4: My first overseas trip with friends

This trip to Taiwan, which happened before I entered university was kind of like a turning point in all my travel. I had started to work part time and I was able to save up and fund my own travel. We had 8 months before university started and I spent the first 6 months working. Air travel back in 2009 was still rather pricey. My air ticket to Taiwan cost about $600 (if I didn’t recall wrongly) and AirBnB did not exist, so we had to book a hotel. As I was rather young, I wasn’t too confident with staying in a hostel, so that wasn’t an option at that point in my life. All in all, I think I spent about $1.5-2k for my 1 week taiwan trip. Back when I was planning the taiwan itinerary, I had to visit the library to borrow travel guide books. I also went online and found some Taiwanese friends that were able to give me recommendations of places to visit and food to eat. Those were the days where it was a little more reliable to get to know someone online.

Photo taken at Fisherman Wharf. I remember that I loved this photo a lot back then because there’s a lot of feel to the sunset.

For the trip, there was no such thing as data cards or perhaps it was not that affordable yet. I think we had to make use our hotel wifi to download offline maps. We also had to record the bus timings down, in order to not miss the bus. I remember that I had a printed itinerary which detailed out which were the station exits and the directions to follow. Life with limited technology was tough but we could still survive.

The next overseas trip I went without my parents was a YEP (Youth Expedition Project) where we had to fundraise for our expenses. We visited a rather shabby area in Manila where we helped to paint the classrooms and participated in cement mixing, which was one tiny potion of the house building project. It was a real eyeopening trip as you get to witness how wide the income divide was within a capital city. The rich are very rich and the poor are really very poor. There was a very upsetting event that happened this trip as well; my digital camera got stolen from me in broad daylight. I am a fan of carabiner and I like to hook things by the waist pouch that I had. That morning, my camera was hooked to the carabiner and was dangling at the side of my waist. While I was looking at stickers from this roadside booth outside a primary school, I felt a tug at my waist and the next moment, my camera was gone and I saw someone running away. At that moment, I was in shocked and I didn’t even bother to run. The later told me that it was a good decision not to run as that person had used a knife or scissors to snap off the cable attaching my camera to the carabiner. If I followed him, I would possibly be in danger and ending up lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. It was my first time in the police station at another country. We had to lodge a police report and the whole process took almost 2 hours as their printer was not working and I had to go elsewhere to print the document, before going back to the police station to get it endorsed. It was very annoying as I had to waste a lot of time (not just my own), but I did eventually get an insurance claim against the camera. However, the memories (of the photos I have taken) was gone forever.

Stage 5: The longest trip away from home

After my first year in university, I went on this ‘Work & Travel’ programme which brought me to the USA for 3 months. It was a super random decision made with a random group of friends. While most of my friends opt chose to do internships or build their resume by joining uni camp and club committees, I chose to.. travel. This trip was also kind of a turning point because I started to.. blog about travel! Prior to this trip, my blogs were all about random musings in life, which no one would have any interest in it. Back then, I decided to document my memories as I know that the Work & Travel experience will be something that I would reminisce for life. Prior to the trip, I had to teach tuition to earn money and save up for my expenditure overseas. It was in USA where I truly learned how to travel on a budget. I started staying in hostels, cause the hotels were simply too expensive. We also had to buy groceries and start cooking our meals as it would be too expensive to eat out on a daily basis. There were arguments, there were petty quarrels but there was also a lot of stupid fun. We were young and I guess that’s an excuse for everything embarrassing and dumb. I worked in a candy shop (South Beach Sweets @ Jenkinson’s South, New Jersey) for 9 weeks. It wasn’t a tough job and we were allowed get a share of the tips bucket.

We spent the last two weeks traveling. It was then I realised that I can be a pretty good planner. I managed to plan travel itineraries that squeezed in all the attractions in the shortest amount of time possible. It was tiring but there was also a sense of achievement. I think in two weeks, we visited New York, Niagara Falls, Boston, Washington DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The highlight of the trip was cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge to this place called Sausalito. Now that I look back, being able to do so much nonsense at 20 was pretty amazing. What have I been doing the next 10 years..?

Stage 6: ‘Student‘ Exchange

Alright, I’m not going to lie. Student exchange was just an excuse for me to have an extended holiday in Korea. I couldn’t make it for the full semester exchange because I screwed up in univeristy planning and the only alternative for me back then was to go for the 5-week summer exchange. Most people would take on useful modules where they could map to their major, but for me, I took on the cheapest modules (cause I had to fund myself) which was Korean Language and Korean Arts & Craft. These two modules had the least amount of classes per week, which meant I could have more free time to explore the country, shop and to chase Kpop. There were many dumb things I did back then, like waking up at 5am to take the first train so I could be on time for the roll call (to get into music shows). I also splurged money to buy x20 copies of the same album to increase my chances of entering a fan sign (and I succeeded). It was still such a great memory of my youthful days and I don’t regret any of those nonsense that I have done back then. All these will be grandmother stories that I will be sharing some day. Also, It was 2011 and travel books were still trendy. I bought a Korea Lonely Planet (Generation Z, do you even know what this is?) for $10 during a sale and throughout my 48 days in Korea, it was a very useful source of information and I ended up venturing to towns that I never knew existed.

The photo above was taken at a town called Pohang. Have you even heard of it before?

It was fun to do all these random travel and there was a 7D6N trip which was absolutely random, where we went with the flow and bus timings at the terminal. My friend and I even recieved a free meal from a stranger at the bus stop after we started talking because the bus we were waiting for didn’t arrive. I was also glad to have visited Korea before K-pop exploded. It was simply too crowded in Korea after Kpop exploded with Gangnam Style..

Stage 7: My last (Student) travel on a Budget

It was my graduating trip and I decided to venture to Europe for a 30-day kind of backpacker experience. Well, I did not carry a backpack because I wouldn’t have been able to walk but we did travel rather frugally throughout the entire 30 days. It was a truly touch-and-go trip where we rushed to 10 cities across 6 countries. We mainly stayed in hostels and cheap hotels. AirBnB was not popular yet and cheap accommodation was limited. We survived a lot on $5 euro kebabs as it wasn’t very convenient for us to cook, given that we were switching accommodations almost every other night. Also, it was during this trip where I realised that constant traveling (without resting) was really draining. I still remember that there was one museum we visited in Madrid, we literally walked in and sat down for a while, before deciding that we had enough of museums. It also took me about 4 months to plan the trip. I remember visiting the public library and borrowed a mountain of travel guide books. Information online was still rather limited (2012) and I couldn’t find any itineraries I could follow as we had to plan our journey based on the cheap airfares and train tickets that we have managed to secure. It was a rather tiring trip as well and I remember spending 2 nights at the airport, so that we can save one night on hotel. It wasn’t the most comfortable travel but it was still a good challenge to keep my expenditure under $5,000 for a 30-day trip. Yep, $5,000 all in, including airfare, domestic travel, attraction tickets, food and even shopping. I have this random memory of how we were so afraid of the pickpockets in Europe that my friend chose to leave her iPhone in the hostel locker while we were out. For me, I triple secured my iPhone by securing it to a lanyard and hooking it into the inside pocket of my bag. I secured the zips of my backpack with 3 caribenas, which is rather confusing to unlock. #Bettersafethansorry

FYI: Bull-fighting is a very cruel spot and the bulls are really killed at the end. We didn’t expect the brutal murder taking place after all that raging and we left feeling utterly disgusted :/

Stage 8: Traveling with a no Budget

Ascott Marunouchi @ Tokyo, possibly the most expensive hotel I ever stayed in while overseas..

This is the stage of life where I finally had the opportunity to enjoy a slightly more luxurious travel than everything that I had done before. With the extra money that I could earn with my degree, I can now plan for a holiday anytime of the year, subject to approval of my bosses. Well, it was better than just traveling during the summer break and december holidays. I could now travel during spring and autumn, which is like the prettiest of it all! This phase in life has brought me to many places but I mainly sticked around with the familiar Asia region. I somehow fell in love with Japan and I have been making multiple trips to Japan, over and over again, to different cities. Now that I’m checking my travelogue, seems like I had frequent Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Bali and Thailand. I guess it’s just too hard for me to give up on Asia. Also, the best part which happened in the last 5 years was how technology improved so much, which makes it so much simpler to travel. Now, I do not go to the libray to borrow travel guidebooks anymore. I kind of rely on google search results for recommendation from blogs or forums. I also rely a lot on Google Map reviews to decide on the credibility of places. In recent years, we even use instagram locations for recommendations of IG-worthy destinations and.. in fact that was how we chose places to go while we were in Bali. We stayed in our hotel scrolling instagram to find the best waterfall to visit. As much as I truly enjoy the capability to spend more and not always choosing the cheapest options, my overseas vacations were never really a holiday ever since I started working. Sadly, most of the jobs that I do require me to be on standby (even if I’m on annual leavel or medical leave) and I find myself bringing my laptop overseas to get work done before the day started or after I return from a tiring day of traveling. I don’t know if the problem lies with me not being able to let go of my work or perhaps it was just the nature of my work but.. I guess that’s the sad reality of working life. You gain the income but you lose the feeling of a real holiday.

Stage 9: Travel for Free (Media Invitation)

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I never considered myself as a popular blogger plus I’ve never gotten close to an influencer (well it was never a KPI for me) because I have a major flaw of choosing not to show my face. It was a decision I made many years back and this decision has remained consistent throughout the years. That being said, I was still surprised when I got selected to go on my first media trip back in 2012. Well, it was kind of like a contest and I was chosen to represent Singapore (together with another girl) to be part of an ‘Asian on Air’ program where 10 different nationalities visited Korea as part of their tourism’s publicity campaign. That trip in 2012 (my first year of full-time working) sparked off future opportunities and I found myself visiting places like Kota Kinabalu, Thailand and Japan. Though I haven’t gotten any invitationsin recent years (not sure if it is no longer trendy or perhaps my blog profile was no longer suitable), I’m still glad that I had this experience because it was the closest I ever got to ‘flying for work’, something which I always wanted but never gotten the chance to do. Media travels are very different from your usual travel as you usually get very packed itinerary which starts early and ends late. In return, they will usually host you in very decent hotels (yes, including 5 star hotels) and you will get to eat better food (at least compared to my own travels). However, you might not feel like you’re on a holiday, even though you’re traveling. There’s just so many photos to take, so much information to remember, in order to deliver your ‘sponsored work’ after receiving all their benefits, somewhat like a barter trade. While it is nice to ‘live like a dream’ once in a while, I did not consider it as a full-time option as I still prefer to have a stress-free travel when I’m on holiday. That being said, I don’t buy that saying on how you can truly enjoy travel if it is your work. Haven’t figured that out yet.

Stage 10: Career Break

This is probably not a stage in everyone’e lifecycle as it is a very tough decision to make. I’m not sure if it was a right decision to go on a career break on hindsight (the economy is crippling right now and it will probably take a long while before I secure full time employment) but at that moment last year, I felt it was the right timing for me to do it. Travel while you’re on a career break, it’s absolutely the best thing ever. Why so? It was the first time I could enjoy a stress-free vacation, without any work obligations (though my ex-colleagues still bothered me a bit, but I was wiling) or commitments that I had to settle. Also, the working holiday option gave me the opportunity to stay longer term in a country (New Zealand), and I got to experience living like a local, not just a tourist. Being able to work and mixing around with the local Kiwi people, I had the chance to learn more about their habits, culture and also interact with them on a day to day basis. If you’re a tourist, you’ll probably interact with these strangers on a day or two basis, but now, I am happy to say that I found a lot of friends during my stay in New Zealand and I’m confident that some of us will still be in contact for a long time; at least on instagram. With regards to the evolution of technology for tourism, I realised how social media group chats has found its way to the travel community. For the initial part of the journey, I found my friends who were strangers from a group chat that I was in. Through my journey, I connected with many individuals on group chats, with regards to job opportunities, accommodation recommendations and even the search for a travel buddy to share fuel cost. It’s really amazing how all of us could just be connected in a group chat which kinds of function as a melting pot across all nationalities? Without the existence of such group chats, I wouldn’t have found the friends that supported me through my New Zealand journey.

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Sorry for the random post and I hope it didn’t bore you out. I hope you’re staying sane during this COV-19 measure and I really hope everyone will be cooperative so we can move on from this tragic pandemic. How are you coping with COV-19? Do give me some ideas of what to do as I’ve certainly ran out of things to do..

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