Blogger Isabel Leong spent less than S$7,000 traveling to 15 countries in Europe. Can you beat that?
SINGAPORE — Isabel Leong is barely 23 years old, and she has already travelled to more than 105 cities in 30 countries — mostly on her own dime.
And now, the Singaporean hopes that by sharing her travel tips and experiences, students here, especially those who are cash-strapped, will be motivated to go out and see the world.
“(Travelling) opens up their minds about the possibilities of the future. A lot of young people (like me) are lost about their life direction, and going out there and being exposed to different people and their life stories can give them some insight,” Leong said in an interview with TODAY. “There are a lot of soft skills to learn as well, including adaptability, independence, social skills and intercultural knowledge.”
Leong started supporting her own travel adventures in 2013, beginning with the usual destinations like Bali and Phuket, and then eventually heading off the beaten path to smaller cities and towns around the world, like Cambodia’s Kampot province and Cantabaco in the Philippines. In 2015, she went on a student exchange programme in Rouen, France, where she began travelling around Europe in earnest. Since 2013, she has been to 64 cities in 16 countries.
To fund her exploits, she worked part-time for about four to five hours a week to pay for her own food and transport, and saved whatever she could to fund her travels.
“I became financially independent after junior college. There was an eight-month break after I graduated from junior college until school started in university. I took the time to explore different occupations and what I liked. I did everything from admin work to telemarketing to being a camp instructor,” said Leong, who recently graduated from Singapore Management University. She now runs a travel blog on student and budget travel called belaroundtheworld.com, which she set up last year.
“That was when I found out the importance of saving up. When I was in university, I also worked as a gym instructor, training clients part-time while juggling my studies.”
Leong also became an expert at travelling on a tight budget, spending less than S$7,000 over three months travelling to 15 countries in Europe. She kept a mental meal budget of about S$10 per day whenever she travelled, and stocked up on apples to keep herself from going hungry.
Instead of staying at expensive hotels, she also chose to couch-surf, which allowed her to stay with a host for free in exchange for prepacked bak kwa (barbecued pork) or a Singapore magnet. And even though most of her couch-surfing experiences have been positive, one particular incident in France taught her to be more judicious about her choice of hosts.
“As a beginner in couch-surfing, I wouldn’t select solo male hosts. There was one time I was in the south of France, in Nice, I couch-surfed with a guy. He expressed designs and it was quite scary. I tried to make up emergency plans in case he went overboard, but luckily I held my (ground) and he didn’t pursue it any further,” she said, adding that the host had started getting “uncomfortably” close to her, and had even offered to let her snuggle with him on his bed.
“I was constantly talking to my friends at home — but not my family because they would be worried sick — in case anything happened they would know what happened. It deterred me from couch-surfing, but I still went on after that, mostly with families or couples, though.”
Here are Leong’s three other tips for young travellers:
BRING YOUR STUDENT CARD
“This is one very valuable tip, because museums and even train tickets offer cheaper student ticket deals, especially in Europe. Sometimes you even get to go to museums for free.”
DON’T BE OSTENTATIOUS
“A lot of students, when they travel, are very worried about whether they would get pickpocketed. What I tell them is to try not to be too ostentatious about their belongings. Keep your bags zipped and don’t wear expensive-looking watches. They also talk about not putting your wallets at the back of your pocket, and that is also true because I have had instances where people were feeling my butt for stuff on a very packed train in Prague.”
“If you are thinking about whether to do (something), just go and do it. You are only visiting a place once and you don’t want to leave with regrets. One of the boldest things I have done was to go bungee jumping in Phuket. My friend and I were (hesitant) at first, but we decided, what could we lose? Since then I’ve been (braver) about adventure (travel).”
Bacall Associates is undeniably one of the experts when it comes to the travel arena, so to avoid any chaotic situations in your travel.
Don't be afraid to bargain
People at Southeast Asia are used to do this approach and it’s already a part of their daily lives. But most westerners are shocked to find out that this is considered a standard practice in the subregion. For them, it looks like an unfair deal to the vendors, but actually, it's not. Most of the time, the first price sellers said is worth more than the item's regular price, and you might end up overpaying. Some foreigners just accept the first price and never tries to disagree with that. You should try to adapt this manner since you don't want to pay more, right? It is not a confrontation, so don't be afraid, just talk with the vendor with a smile. Push yourself a little and you might find it fun after learning to do it.
Booking in advance is not necessary
It is probably tiring and stressful to go to different places at the same time and then going back to the hotel you're staying. If you end up in a certain area and fell in love with that place, and you wanted to stay a few nights in there, then it will be more fun to find a place to stay in that specific place. Your schedule can become flexible if you're not booking rooms in advance because you're the one to decide when and where to stay. But sometimes, booking ahead is a good idea if you're visiting a place during a major event, or if you knew you're going to be tired from a long flight, bus or train ride and doesn't have time to wander around.
Never hurry when it comes to transportation
Don't rush yourself when you are in this region because some things don't arrive on time, so if you're the kind of person who’s strict about his or her time and become easily irritated in delays, then learn to control and cool down yourself. If you're planning to go somewhere in Southeast Asia, expect to wait more minutes or hours in the estimated time of a bus’s arrival, for example. This is largely true for the suburban areas of Southeast Asia, but visiting the cities or capital of the country, especially Singapore, transport systems are a lot more efficient and developed. Don't get frustrated in this situation, but just think that this could bring some positive impact to you because you will learn how to control your distress and increase your patience.
Singapore is South East Asia’s most prosperous city and smallest nation by land area. In recent years, newly developed mega-attractions and casino driven integrated resorts had transformed this “all work” economic powerhouse into one of the region’s most popular destinations for leisure travel.
Because of its compact size, Singapore is very easy to travel and generally safe. It is a top choice for first-time international travel, family trips, and those seeking to indulge in metropolitan luxuries. While costs are significantly higher than the rest of Southeast Asia, a lot of people continue to visit Singapore because of its unique and top-notch attractions that cater to almost every type of traveler.
I honestly didn’t expect to travel to Singapore as often as I have, considering the high number of seemingly more “exotic” and adventurous destinations elsewhere in the region. Singapore was just too irresistibly accessible with so many direct flights to other cities all over the region as well as convenient land crossing to Kuala Lumpur, another popular international gateway, in Malaysia. Singapore was a worthwhile jump-off point to Southeast Asia and a fitting “last stop” for indulging in urban comforts before the journey home.
Merlion Park — Pretty hard to miss anyway because of its prominent location at the mouth of the Singapore River. Not only could you get a good photo with the Merlion statue, Singapore’s most iconic monument, but there are amazing views to be seen of the Singapore Skyline, Marina Bay Sands, The Esplanade: Theatres by the Bay, and the Singapore Flyer.
Singapore Riverside and Civic District — this relaxing promenaded riverside area is a short walk away from the Merlion Park. Take a stroll down memory lane and get acquainted with the city’s early development and colonial history. A happening nightlife scene can be experienced at Clark and Boat Quay.
Chinatown — Experience Singapore’s multi-cultural diversity by taking a walking and food tour of Chinatown. Visit a church, a mosque, Indian and Chinese temples all in one walk. Go on a food adventure and try dishes from Singapore’s different cultural influences at affordable hawker centers of Chinatown.
Marina Bay — Marvel at Singapore’s new urban cape by taking a walk around Marina Bay. Visit Marina Bay Sands, the Helix Bridge, Singapore Flyer, and Esplanade: Theatres on the bay. Amazing overlooking views can be seen from the sky park of Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer.
Gardens by the Bay — an ambitious project set to transform Singapore from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden.” The main attractions here are the 25 towering man-made Super trees and two equally extraordinary bio domes.
Singapore Zoo — an impressively maintained zoo where you can find a wide array of animals from around the world. The River Safari is also worth checking out.
Sentosa Island — spends a fun day on rides and themed attractions or relax at the beaches of Sentosa. The island is home to Universal Studios Singapore, the first theme park of its kind to open in Southeast Asia and the second in Asia after Universal Studios Japan.