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Hostel Life and the idea of Travelling Light

So. The hostel life. I’m not really into it per se but I’m not really against it either.

I mean, crowded bunks were what I used to sleep in when I was in the army (National Service) so it’s not new to me.

Sure there was the camaraderie and brotherhood and general good spirits that we were forced to foster after having been cooped up together for so long, but there was also the politics, the backstabbing, and even the actual physical stink of the whole place.

Not to mention that this will be my first trip overseas by myself. Do I really want to force myself into a situation where even my home base in a foreign land isn’t safe?

One of my first memories of a shitty room was probably when I was in primary school. I know I was very young because I was not shy at waving through the back window of the tour bus whenever we spotted a Singaporean car behind us. My church group had an overseas holiday thing either in Malacca or where Malacca was one of the stops. Basically, we were hotel/motel/hostel hopping. Anyway, one of these stops involved a room where the door could not even open fully because it hit against the Queen sized bed frame. There was barely any room to open our bags.

So as I mentioned in my previous post, one of the reasons why I started this blog is that I like to document stuff. In this modern age of ignorance and shallow sense of rationality, I feel it ever important to have a record of things available. Can you bring that nail clipper on board? How about that scissors? Am I going to have a good stay or a bad stay at this mixed review hostel? The answer is, it depends. For the foreseable future, the answer will always be “it depends”.

Going on a solo overseas trip means I can’t be lugging too much gear around. While I like to document things, I’m not actually making a documentary. The choice of lens or the bokeh isn’t going to make or break my trip. I’m here to explore. Recording things down for posterity is secondary.

Despite this clear awareness of this fact, I often overpack, at least when with family or friends. Should I get the headband or the shoulder strap for my action cam? 1/4″ mount or GoPro mount? If I need to bring both I might as well bring a second action cam. Then again, I should bring my small Canon Point and Shoot camera too since there’s a 1/4″ mount. Now I have three cameras. Maybe I should also bring a chest strap. You can see where this is going.

This time round, I’m probably slightly wiser. I won’t be bringing an action cam unless I plan to do anything where I can’t be holding on to my phone (it’s water resistant; water has got in to my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge before though).

My phone’s camera performs better than my DSLR (Nikon D90) in almost all areas except for lenses and long exposure shots and focus speed. It even shoots in raw. However it would be ridiculous of me to bring my huge tripod just to put my phone on it. So the huge tripod and the DSLR are out.

Long exposure shots are relegated to my Point and Shoot camera running a custom firmware called CHDK. I have a USB remote release for that as well. If you haven’t discovered CHDK yet, give it a go. I’ve been using it for a very long time and it is simply awesome. I’ll pair it with a very small tripod or a gorilla pod.

Then I have the drone. It’s a Phantom 3 Pro and it is huge and cumbersome. It requires it’s own bag and you can’t even fit anything else in it. So that’s 1 de facto checked-in luggage bag. Since I’m checking it in I might as well check in another bag for the stuff that I can’t carry on. So that’s a total of 3 bags now, 1 carry on and 2 checked in. You can see I’m at it again.

So unless there are going to be some incredible sights that I won’t ever be able to see again, the drone isn’t coming with me. Unless of course I can get my hands on a DJI mavic then all bets are off.

When I was in Primary 1, my parents brought my brother and I to Perth, Australia for a holiday. We stayed at the YMCA. The room was pretty decent and even had a tiny little kitchen. I remember the kitchen because it was the first time I tried condensed milk out of a tube. The toilets were co-ed and were across the hall. I remember the toilets because it was the first time I saw a misted up bathroom mirror. I also remember not being able to get used to that arrangement.

I mention this because memorable memories are usually created when strong emotions are mixed in with the experience. If emotions are not present it becomes routine, and routine isn’t adventure. Adventure is fun.

So what’s the plan?

Well, for a start, I’ll be heading up to Malaysia. I’ve decided on Malaysia because it’s familiar and I know the language, the exchange rate is great  and I already have the currency on hand, and I can spot a cheat there about as well as I can spot a cheat here in Singapore.

I almost definitely won’t be driving up as I don’t have a car and I want to keep the budget low (so no renting). Taking a bus would mean a 12 hour journey and  a lot of luggage space. If I only brought one carry on bag, flying there would be slightly cheaper than taking the bus and would also be significantly faster with a flight time of just 1 and a half hours.

Since this is my first solo overseas trip, I may end up needing the extra luggage space. This way, I can have the luxury of learning, by experience and practice, what not to bring to on my next trip. If I take the flight and the extra luggage space (i.e. check-in luggage), I won’t have to deal with all the silly little restrictions on what can and can’t be brought into the cabin either.

Will I need simple things like superglue, scissors, or even a sewing kit? I’m surely going to need sunblock and antiseptics right? These things aren’t allowed in your carry-ons. Guess I’ll find out.

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Shawn goes: And so it begins..

So here’s the thing.

I like the great outdoors and I like exploring. In tiny little regulated Singapore, there isn’t much to do.

Colin Pangolin’s answer to a question on Quora pretty much sums it up:

Hordes of Singaporeans travel out of the country every school holiday season in December and they do so pretty much every year. That says a lot about how much Singapore has to offer viz-a-viz the world at large.

Nevertheless, there are many beautiful, albeit mostly artificial, parks for nice walks and hikings. However, because of the hot climate, it is not a favourite past time amongst most Singaporeans. Most Singaporeans just visit malls to shop and eat. Pretty boring for some but that’s generally how life is here.

Bored or otherwise, nowhere is ever as comfortable as home.

Singapore may be home and it may even be comfortable and safe but there isn’t much of an adventure to be had here.

I’ve always dreamed of doing my own road trip up North (Malaysia) but I can’t afford to buy a car in Singapore, especially since that really expensive car will be spending most of its new life overseas. I could get a red plate car but honestly it probably isn’t worth the hassle either. I’ll have to do more research on that. Bikes are also probably not worth the hassle either since you can’t really carry much and it could be quite dangerous if you’re alone.

I could rent or buy a car from Malaysia and drive it on up but honestly that just leaves too many loose ends for me to handle right now. Did I get a lemon? Did I get swindled? Am I even allowed to drive a foreign vehicle through yet another foreign border?

It probably started back when I was younger, when my family would take road trips across the causeway to Malaysia. Long drives, especially along the Eastern coastal route were a special favourite. When my physically distant first cousin and her family would tag along or plan a trip and invite us along, it would be even more special.

That feeling languished as the trips rapidly dwindled to zero and my cousin and her family grew more and more distant.

Many years later, when that Top Gear Vietnam Special episode appeared, my spirits were revived and having got myself a bike license only a few months prior, the wanderlust was rekindled.

Something about the nakedness of riding a bike makes you feel connected to your surroundings somehow. It could be an epic adventure on the road to freedom, on the cheap.

There was just one problem. I couldn’t sell anyone on my idea of adventure. Either they wanted a proper plan or they simply didn’t have the time or the interest.

8 years later, I’ve finally had enough waiting for someone to get it on the plan.

2016 was an interesting year for me with a lot of time spent overseas. Still, it wasn’t the adventure that I craved. My Maldives trip in April was an exploratory fishing expedition (that sounds much better than “I tried fishing with inexperienced guides”). It wasn’t really an adventure as our host shuttled us around from place to place and activity to activity. The island beach bbqs that we had planned never came to fruition.

Then there was the Bali work trip where thanks to some thoughtful planning by the guy who hired me, we had about half a day to muck around on rented motorbikes. This was the most free I’ve ever been so far and only further spurred me on to this solo travel thing.

Finally, there was the family trip to Melbourne where my parents decided to bring us all to Melbourne. I’m 29. This is Singapore. Don’t ask too many questions.

My year-younger brother was not able to make it so my multi-year-younger sister was the only sibling to tag along. We stayed in an AirBNB house and rented our own car and on one of the days, we made the long drive to see the Twelve Apostles. Because women’s watches and various other time keeping apparatus tend to break down in shopping centres, even if we were only at the shopping centre to have lunch, we reached those limestone pillars quite late and had to drive back in the dark.

Although we had taken the Great Ocean Road in, unbeknownst to us, our plan to take the Beech Forest Trail back home wasn’t a particularly good idea in the dark. It wasn’t exactly dangerous if you knew what you were doing but we were trying to make up for lost time because we had to wake up early the next day and we still had not eaten dinner! Despite not being able to admire the view, it was still an exciting drive and my little sister even threw up due to the twisting and winding jungle trail.

Two months or so later, back in the “office”, I met this young guy called Jerald Thio. This young “kid” was already an up and comer in our little industry but when I found out that he had already done so much travelling, I was awed. A mutual friend and colleague related to me the story of how Jerald had purchased a motorbike, travelled the country, then sold it off to another traveller for a slight profit. This guy, who had not even enlisted himself for NS yet was already more travelled than I. Perhaps crucially, was this realisation that he had already lived part of my dream.

So why this blog?

I love to document things. I like to keep information at hand. It’s not like a touchy feely sort of journal entry in a diary but I do like to have a record of my thoughts.

So finally, here I am. I’m ready to go, even if it means going it alone.