My career has just come to a screeching halt. I’ve recently quit my job of four years at an advertising firm where I worked as a strategy planner and social media strategist, overseeing a team of five people. The reason? So I can travel around the world (first stop, Portugal!) before coming back to Singapore to kick off my 30th birthday.
It might seem very much like I’m following the protagonist’s footsteps in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love, except it wasn’t as dramatic as that. There was no breaking point, and I don’t plan to go to three countries starting with the letter ‘I’.
This itch to leave had built up over time. Like a simmering pot, I’d been thinking, wondering and imagining what it’d be like to just leave. I suppose one of the reasons was I never did get around to doing the gap year, or a grad trip, after finishing university. Instead, I dived right into work and joined a couple of boutique agencies (without much of a break in between) before being hired by this big advertising agency in 2011. My workaholic tendencies meant I carried over more than 50 per cent of my leave days year-on-year because I always chose work over vacations (not that I never got to travel – I love it and have been to 19 countries and 46 cities so far). The problem with workaholics is that burning out is a very real possibility, and it happened to me.
I was also curious how far I could push myself in my work, how else I could do better to sell Brand X to Gen Y. A series of unending questions requires answers, and I wanted to be part of the team finding and presenting those answers. It gave meaning to my work, and compelled me to stay. But after four years, work started to take on a ‘déjà vu’ hue and that was when I realised I wasn’t as curious anymore.
Instead, what I was getting increasingly curious about was the big, big world out there. Living in cosmopolitan Singapore, you inevitably come across people from different parts of the world. I love talking to them to find out about their culture and life, and how they ended up here. I often wonder what they have for breakfast and what they do during the weekends. What do they see when they look out the windows? What happens if they feel like having a snack?
Four months ago, someone told me he was quitting his job to sail to 75 countries before he celebrated his 39th birthday. I remember feeling a tide of envy wash over me. In retrospect, he inspired me to take action and follow his plan. He doesn’t know it, but he inadvertently turned up the heat on the stove of that simmering pot.
Cheong ziplining in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2015.
So, I did it. Even though it felt really ‘millennial’ and #YOLO, I just couldn’t deny myself the chance any more to see the world while I was still physically fit, single, with no financial commitments and enough savings to last a year. I was also in between projects and the wheels at work were turning just fine without me. So yeah, there was no boiling point, but the pot had simmered long enough.
I plan to travel to everywhere on the left side of the map (from Singapore) on a budget (hostels or Airbnb), and to document my travels on my blog via photos and videos. I hope to give my readers insight into where I’ve been and what I’ve eaten. In my mind, I’ll be the Anthony Bourdain of Asia, just without the TV producers and the branding. But beyond my first destination, and with only a vague plan in place, I have nothing else set in stone - no future job lined up, no idea what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be going - and that seems okay… I guess?
A market in Xi'an, China.
The reactions I’ve gotten have been generally positive. In many, I hear a similar tone of envy, for there are those who wish or dream to do the same. The lucky ones who have already done what I am planning to do have nothing but encouragement for me, saying it is one of the best things a person can do. They say this with a wistful look on their faces as they reminisce those wonderful times. Of course, there are also some friends who are concerned. “You’re going to South America alone? Better take care of your belongings, and don’t fall asleep on the train!” “Watch out for spiked drinks, bring a fake wallet and keep your cash in your bra!” - are some of the helpful pieces of advice I’ve gotten.
Now that reality has set in and as D-day approaches, I’m starting to think I may be slightly mad to be doing this alone, traipsing across continents for months on end for as long as I can afford. But I hope to fall in love once more and return a richer (not worse for wear) person. Wish me luck!
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again - to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” - Pico Iyer
Inspired by Alexis? Follow the rest of her journey around the world on her blog.
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