Seize the Trip

Passport, money and dreams

I don’t remember when I started to dream of  seeing the world. Was it while reading the adventures of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days, or dreaming away in Geography class?

What I do recall is going to quite a few open interviews for air stewardesses. I didn’t fit the profile, so the fantasy of flying the friendly skies crashed. After that, I toyed with the idea of working on a cruise ship or an oil rig because of the long shore leave. That too did not materialise.

Instead, I ended up with a desk-bound job. However, this did not deter my dream.

While I had been to the US on a sponsored trip (more on this later), my first real travel experience was a solo trip to Bangkok. I was supposed to go there with a friend, who then backed out at the last minute.

After crying buckets of tears, I decided to go ahead with the plan anyway. Only there was no plan. I had no tickets nor itinerary. I called up every bus company in Butterworth but the buses only went as far as the border town Haadyai. So I did the next best thing. I bought a train ticket to Bangkok. This was in the days before cheap flights on Air Asia.

I left Butterworth in the afternoon and by the next morning, I was in Bangkok. Not knowing where to stay, I asked the taxi driver to take me somewhere cheap and safe. He took me to a place I suspected was a love motel. Parking garages led straight to rooms on the ground floor. Mine on the upper floor had a small stained glass window the size of a size of a single tabloid sheet, quartered.

The first thing I did was to go shopping at MBK. I bought a Lonely Planet and scoured the guide for alternative accommodation. I had gotten lost trying to get back to the motel that night. I couldn’t find a landmark and ended up on a street flanked by warehouses near the railway tracks.

Then the plastic bag with my shopping broke. My books spilled out (I went overboard at the DK bookstore). I gathered them up as fast as I could while eyeing the nighttime labourers suspiciously. I hightailed out of there, telling myself I’d better find a place in a less creepy area.

And that was how I ended up in a little inn at Soi Kasem San 2 near MBK the next day. With my trusty Lonely Planet, I managed to have quite a great experience in Bangkok, despite falling prey to the infamous gem scam (I sought assistance from the tourist police and got my money back from the shop, no questions asked). After visiting all the touristy places I could, and with newly acquired confidence, I went up north to Chiang Mai. So that was my first solo adventure, not in the same league as Roald Dahl’s Going Solo, but a thrilling experience nonetheless.

Four passports later…

Bangkok gave me my travel bug and the confidence to travel on my own. Some friends envy me because I’m often away on long holidays – not true – I make it a point to go on one long trip at once a year. I can do so not because I’m rich. I need to save up just like anyone else. But it helps that I don’t own a car, smoke or drink a lot. And it’s certainly not because I am single. I know married people who go on holidays without their families.

Many of my travels happened because I answered when opportunity knocked. No excuses. Even if I don’t have a travel partner, I’d go. If I waited for one all the time, I’d never go anywhere.

Los Angeles, USA

I wanted to skydive in Switzerland. Benson & Hedges Golden Dreams (a 1990s TV show) sent me to Bakersfield, California. I had just started working, earning RM578 as bank clerk, so I was too poor to extend my stay after the jump. I only saw the airfield, one shopping mall and the Hollywood sign from a very far distance. I couldn’t even afford the cab fare to Santa Monica.


First trip. I had a local pen-pal who shares my passion for travel. We decided to go to Bali.

Second trip. A friend who travels a lot on business had hotel points to burn. Just tell me when! We stayed at Bali Hyatt for free. This was a real treat because I usually stay in hostels. That’s how I can afford my travels!

India & Sri Lanka

I was between jobs both times. I believe that you should always take a long break before you start a new job.  Once you start, it’s hard to take time off (and you don’t have many leave days as a newbie).


A cousin’s friend won a pair of flight tickets to Argentina in a salsa competition. He didn’t want to go. We bought the tickets off him at a bargain. The prize included five days’ accommodation in Buenos Aires and tango classes. Olé! 

We stretched the trip to two weeks and went to El Calafaté to see a glacier, and Ushuaia for penguins at the end of the world (southern tip of the continent – and we only saw sea lions).

Xiamen & Hong Kong

My frequent flyer friend was working in these two places. Free accommodation. Yay!

From Xiamen, I went up to Shanghai.


An ex-colleague working there extended an open invitation. Thank you very much!


Ah, Brazil. I love bossa nova but I never planned for this. It’s not on my current to-go list (it changes over the years). Cuba is. But when an American friend recently asked if I would like to join her in Brazil, I didn’t refuse.

So what if I have to scrape the bottom of my bank account? Never mind  if the country is a 30-hour flight away. Life is short. An opportunity like this does not come often.

I’m excited and nervous at the same time. While I’d be there with a friend, I’d be on my own part of the trip when she returns to the US for her best friend’s wedding. I’ve never done a solo trip that far. And the last time I travelled alone was in nearby Laos and Bandung/Jogjakarta three years ago.

Oh, what the hell.. I should just take the plunge. If I can jump off an airplane in midair, I can do this. Besides I’ve bought my tickets, so there’s no turning back.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Swee on May 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Well done! Look forward to your update on Brazil 🙂


  2. Posted by Cintia Ferreira on June 15, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Go for it Joelynn, get in touch if you need help here!! 🙂


  3. inspiring..make me wanna plan my next trip!!!


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