On the day I left Kuala Lumpur in October 2015, I didn’t know when I would come home. I had just turned 30 and had quit my job to see the world.
I had a working holiday visa for New Zealand, and lived there for six months, although most days I just did the “holiday” part rather than work. The money I saved from working for two months at a beautiful yet unnervingly dull lakeside resort was all spent on activities like jumping off a plane and driving around in a campervan.
One of the most defining moments during my solo travels, however, came in the very last hours of my stay in New Zealand: I was robbed the morning before my flight out of the country.
I lost my camera, my laptop, some cash and most heartbreakingly, six months’ worth of pictures. Dejected, there was nothing I could do but board the plane with nothing more than my passport, wallet, some clothes and a trusty phone.
When the aircraft landed on an island in the South Pacific, the chilly Kiwi autumn weather had given way to some sunshine, which lifted my spirits.
It was here that I realised I didn’t need a lot to travel and experience new things. I dove with bull sharks in Fiji, swam with humpback whales in Tahiti, joined a local pig hunt in the Cook Islands and watched the sun rise behind a row of majestic ancient moais on Easter Island.
After that, I went to South America in September 2016. I stayed at hostels and met like-minded travellers, many of whom I still keep in touch with today on social media.
Some of my most memorable experiences in South America included trekking in Machu Picchu, Peru, watching the sunset at the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, seeing the Iguazu Falls in Argentina and swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. These, however, couldn’t compare to cycling 900km among million-year-old glaciers in Patagonia, trekking and hitchhiking all the way to the end of the world in Ushuaia in Argentina.
To avoid travelling in winter, I left the south for Central America, where I spent most of my time on the Caribbean shores, diving.
I got an advanced scuba diving certification there and swam with whale sharks off the coast of Honduras. In between the islands, I took some time to venture inland to the quiet Mayan Ruins and watched as a live volcano spewed lava at night.
Eventually, I found myself in Latin America learning about socialism and smoking cheap hand-rolled cigars in Cuba.
When I left for Toronto in Canada, I realised that I was finally in a country where everyone spoke a familiar language – English.
After visiting Niagara Falls, I took the train and the bus, and then hitchhiked to the east coast of Canada. I had registered on the Couchsurfing website (online travel community that offers accommodation, advice, tips) earlier and used it most of the time. I also took the opportunity to reunite with old friends in Montreal before finally making my way to the Maritime Provinces, where I ate cheap (but fresh!) lobsters.
As I headed to Europe, I managed to get a two-week stopover in Iceland. I was no longer alone on this trip, though, as I travelled with a guy I met on a travel forum. We went on our road trip sleeping in tents, cooking in the wild and dipping in heavenly hot pools. It was the height of summer but the absence of the Northern Lights was well compensated by the midnight sun and amazing waterfalls, glaciers, geysers and fjords.
I spent my birthday on a quaint little island in Denmark with a fellow traveller I met in Peru and his parents. When you have already been on the road alone for a while, little gestures like hoisting the Danish flag in the garden to mark your birthday as per local tradition makes your heart dance.
The next few months, I travelled by rail across Europe to Istanbul, Turkey, through cities and towns where I met more backpacker friends. Through the enigmatic Caucasus states of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan plus the disputed nation of Nagorno-Karabakh, I came to my final destination.
With a 15-day visa-free entry and the cheapest flight back home in the region, I walked into Iran to find myself in a surprisingly hospitable country. Wherever I went, the people were very curious of foreigners and initiated conversations.
Solo has always been the way to travel for me as it gives me time to enjoy and learn about another place, culture and meet new people. As it was time for me to leave, I realised I had faced real-life challenges, unlocked my potential and reflected on my values. I was ready to come home, hopefully a little wiser.