My summer semester studying in the UK and subsequent whirlwind Europe trip taught me a few things:
1. No matter how good it smells when you put it in the microwave, a £1 frozen pizza will taste like cardboard with a hint of sauce.
2. Always bring more money than you think you’ll need on a trip. If you don’t, you might end up refunding your London’s Oyster travel card for a measly £3 in order to pay for your next meal.
3. The world is big and beautiful. I want to keep exploring until I’ve been to every last corner.
My summer semester in the UK was the first time I had ever set foot out of Malaysia. Growing up, my parents were always pinching pennies to be able to afford to send my sister and I to college, so vacations consisted mostly of short trips to nearby local destinations (like, really nearby. I’d never even left West Malaysia; had never even been to Singapore!). What I didn’t know before, was that my first trip to a faraway land would be the first of many firsts to come – it would become the reason behind my chronic case of the travel bug.
Landing in Liverpool, I was both overwhelmed and ecstatic. Though the city was totally foreign to me, it somehow still felt just like home. I felt like a walking exclamation mark ricocheting around town, revelling in the things the locals would’ve found extraordinarily unexciting. “This place has parks!! With carpets of daisies!! Seagulls! H&M! Fish and chips! Huge boxes of strawberries for only £2! Houses that look like Harry Potter’s home before Hogwarts!”
Of course, it wasn’t just the mundane that caught my eye that summer. I remember getting my first taste of the English countryside while hiking in the Lake District, and realising that it was possible for reality to surpass the beauty of all the pictures you’ve seen. I remember gleefully wandering around Edinburgh Castle, realising all my childhood dreams of visiting an actual castle inhabited by royalty. I remember walking along the banks of the Thames at dusk, watching all of Westminster light up as the blue skies blended with hues of orange. I remember the time my friends and I were blown away, literally, by our first time seeing snow and 99 kmph winds at the top of Switzerland’s Jungfraujoch, and figuratively, by the magnificence of cathedrals and ruins that had long outlived generations of the people who built them in Rome.
“I’d always thought it was my love for chasing landscapes – the stranger the better – that compelled me to travel, but a while ago, I finally realised what it is about traveling that truly sets my heart aflutter. It’s that buzz and pure joy I feel when I see or do something for the first time…”
Ever since that first trip, I’ve been chalking up many more travel firsts, traveling to places closer to home like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as far-flung places like New Zealand, Turkey and Greece. I’d always thought it was my love for chasing landscapes – the stranger the better – that compelled me to travel, but a while ago, I finally realised what it is about traveling that truly sets my heart aflutter. It’s that buzz and pure joy I feel when I see or do something for the first time, whether it’s something nuts like bungee jumping in Queenstown, or something with less of a death wish, like seeing springtime tulips in Istanbul. Sure, there’s something comforting about the nostalgia of returning to a place you know and love, but for me, the best part of traveling recreates the feeling of exhilaration I’d grown addicted to all those years ago – that moment when I say hello to a strange new place for the first time.
It’s because of this addiction that I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t dread long haul flights (at least not yet), because to me, long flights herald the beginning of yet another epic adventure. It’s not a terribly healthy addiction to have; every few months or so, I get really antsy and restless if I haven’t had a trip planned somewhere. Too often, that usually results in spontaneous, last-minute trips that really displease my bank account though, so I’ve resorted to living vicariously through travel blogs and globetrotters on Instagram for now. At the end of the day though, there’s really nothing I would love more than to be able to count the days tuntil my next “first” and to answer the question: “Where are you off to this time?”