Monday 18 August 2014

10 tips on how to stay safe while travelling

After this post on The good, bad and ugly of travelling solo, people came to me and asked me how to stay safe overseas so here's a list I came up with.

1) Always put your bag in front of you.
This should be an obvious one but just a reminder to those who have taken safety for granted growing up in Singapore. I've heard stories where someone's wallet was stolen from an inner pocket.. o.o I carry my sling bag postman style so that my bag is in front of me at all times. I see many people carrying sling/shoulder bags which can be easily snatched away. Oh and please just leave your Pradas at home.

2) Dress like a local.
I know, I know, we all want to take new Profile Pictures but safety first yes? By dressing up too much, you are giving it away that you are a tourist and that makes you an easy target. I always try to blend into the crowd by acting somewhat like a local. Causal dressing, camera inside my bag until necessary, an I-live-here expression and a pair of comfortable shoes so that I can flee in case of danger.

3) Adopt a false identity & don't reveal that you're alone.
Ok I don't usually do this but I did tell a Turk who was trying to chat me up and another dude who offered me a lift that my name is Sally (couldn't think of a new name fast enough) and I was from Malaysia. Choose a country that you know at least something about, just in case the other party starts asking you questions or happens to have travelled/lived there before. But basically tell them nothing real about yourself. And also, if random strangers ask if you are alone, always say NO. Tell them that you are with your friends/partner/spouse. But again, I normally admit that I travel alone to other travellers especially those I'm keen to make friends with because you'll be exposed soon anyway.

4) Be very aware of your surroundings.
Keep your eyes wide open, observe your surroundings carefully and (sorry to say this but) don't trust people too easily.

5) Keep your cash separately. 
I always divide my cash and put them in different envelopes, like maybe 200 in one. This helps me to track my expenses and also to check if any money is missing easily. It's also advisable to keep money on you in different places; wallet, bag, safety pouch (I used one during my recent trip to Europe, just so happens that Qatar gave them out containing flight essentials), backpack, socks..

6) Always keep a list of numbers with you. 
I have a list of emergency numbers (local police numbers, embassy numbers and addresses) given to me by a friend on my first solo trip and I always keep it in my phone. Also, have your hostel number and address with you at all times. In case you need a taxi, you can show them the address and in case you need some help but not serious enough to involve the police, call the hostel.

7) Keep someone updated.
Let someone know where you are everyday and tell them to panic alert the embassy where you were last contactable if they don't hear from you for more than X number of days. I am extremely thankful for friends who constantly messaged me to ensure that I was safe, you guys know who you are <3

8) Learn some self defense moves.
I have been wanting to learn a martial arts for quite some time now but still haven't gotten to it. You can learn judo, taekwondo or kickboxing, anything that teaches you how to fight defend yourself.

9) Learn some local words/phrases.
Learn how to say "Help me!" or maybe "Call the police!" I usually learn local tongue to have small chats with the locals or at least say hi, bye and thank you to them. They appreciate the effort even if you're terrible. Just like how I'm impressed when non-Chinese people say a few sentences of Chinese, it is the same way around. I met a lot of Koreans on my recent trip and they were already praising my Korean when I've only said hello hahaha.

10) Don't stay out too late.
I sound like your grandmother but it is really a piece of advice I adhere closely to. It posed a problem for me when I was in Europe during the summer because the sun sets at 10pm. So if I wanted to enjoy the city lights, I had to be out till at least 11pm for the sky to be totally dark. One solution is to find a friend (preferably someone who stays near or in your hostel) to go with you. Or choose a hostel in the heart of the city so you can return there easily and quickly after dark.


Just take care and you will be fine. Happy travels!

Saturday 16 August 2014

Singapore Blog Awards 2014: Best Travel Blog

I can't believe it happened but I won the Best Travel Blog award at today's Singapore Blog Awards 2014! I thought I didn't have much chance so I went to the awards alone and stood awkwardly in a corner by myself. Then when I was announced the winner, I dropped my bags on the floor and went up the stage in a daze. I really want to thank all my friends and everyone who voted for me, couldn't have made it today without you guys!! I hope that all of you will continue to support this blog and I will definitely work harder to bring you better travel stories and tips! :D

Photos at the event by, I brought my camera but forgot the battery -_- yay me. I was really really honoured to be presented the prize by Ms. Sim Ann, the trophy is super heavy! Had the chance to meet some nice people at the event too :) Congratulations to all the winners and finalists, thank you for organizing the event and thank you judges!!

By the way, the door gift contained something super awesome: a SELFIE STICK HAHAHA! Ms Sim Ann took a group selfie with it on stage LOL.

To thank everyone, I've decided to do a small giveaway! I'll be giving away:
  • 1 x $50 CHANG Korean BBQ restaurant voucher. (No minimum spending)
  • ALIVE museum 15% discount card (like them on FB for additional 5% off)
  • Part of my prize - 4 x Hoyu hair dyes (4 colours: lightest brown, darkest pure brown, light mahogany copper brown, and one erm honey light brown I think, no colour indicated).
Comment below with your name, email and which item you wish to win! One item for each winner, so there will be 6 winners. :) Or maybe if I'm lazy, I'll just give everything to one person hahahaha! Let's see how it goes. :p

Like my Facebook page to increase your chances of winning! Wheee. Thanks again everybody!!!!

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Barcelona, Spain II: Casa Batlló & Sagrada Familia

One can hardly go to Barcelona without visiting Casa Batlló and judging by the longggg queue outside, I'm sure everyone agrees. I did not go in though because I was turned off by the queue. Kind of regretting it now after seeing some photos of the interior.

Casa Batlló is designed by Gaudi who is the first person you will get to know when you land in Barcelona. He was a Modernisme architect who integrated crafts as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry into his architecture. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as trencadís which involves the use broken ceramic tiles to form colourful mosaics as can be seen on the benches and the dragon sculpture in Park Güell and also on the façade of Casa Batlló.

The walking guide told us that Modernisme architecture incooperates many natural elements into the designs. You can see that the pillars infront of the windows look like bones and the windows themselves resemble open mouths. So this house has two nicknames, "The house of bones" and "The house of yawns". The "Venetian eye mask" balconies are supposed to evoke imageries of the surface of a lake with water lilies, gentle ripples and reflections caused by the glass and ceramic mosaic. (I still see Venetian eye masks..) The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon. Hmm seems like Gaudi really liked dragons. On top of the building is a cross of four arms oriented to the cardinal directions. It is a bulbous, root-like structure that evokes plant life.

The house next to Casa Batlló is also really intriguing but often overlooked. It's called Casa Amatller designed by Cadafalch, another famous Modernisme architect who designed many significant buildings in Barcelona.

Another famous Gaudi architecture. I was pretty disappointed by the exterior of Sagrada Familia. I guess it was mainly due to the unsightly cranes and scaffolding surrounding it. I don't know why but it just looks so run down.. and they are not even repairing it, they are building it. It broke the Guinness World Record as the building under construction for the longest time. No kidding, seeing that it's still under construction since work began in 1882. Our walking guide said that they are definitely not in a hurry to finish it so that they can stay in the Records longer haha. The carvings are stories from the Bible, such as the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

I went inside Sagrada Familia after about an hour of standing in the queue. It wasn't that bad because I made a friend in the hostel riiiight before I left for Sagrada Familia. She came up to me and said hi so suddenly I was quite surprised haha. We talked for a bit and she decided to join me so off we went!

We got the student tickets without any add-ons. There is a timing for you to enter, just like the ticket for Park Güell. It was still quite crowded inside despite the attempt to crowd control but I guess it could be worse. The interior was way more impressive than the exterior. I love the tall tinted windows that stretch up to the ceilings! The ceiling was another thing that blew my socks off. How unique is that! I've never seen anything quite like it.. We spent an hour or so inside full of wonder. Gaudi really lives up to his name but he died so unfortunately. He was knocked down by a vehicle one day but because he was dressed so shabbily, people thought he was a homeless beggar and didn't do anything to help him. When someone finally recognized him and sent him to the hospital, it was too late. :( What a tragic tale, the world lost a great architect due to prejudice sigh. Anywayyy, I hope I will get to visit Barcelona again when Sagrada Familia is completed!

I also went to Casa Milà which is apparently the most famous one. It is one of the last buildings of Gaudi's and at this house he broke all arquitectonical taboo and spent a bomb. The owner who was a lawyer didn't want to pay him that much and the two went to court andddd Gaudi won haha. Most unfortunately, the house was under restoration so the facade was covered up. :( On top of the building, you can see these sculptures which look like Darth Raider. Or rather, Darth Raider was perhaps inspired by these sculptures. You can also see them on Sagrada Familia by the way! Try to spot them if you're there. ;) It's on the side where you buy tickets.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Travelling solo: the good, the bad and the ugly

Many friends have asked me about my experience as a female Asian traveller so I decided to write a post about it. If you've been thinking about that solo trip but need some reassurance/advice, hopefully this post will help you out.

1) You'll have A LOT of freedom. 
Being alone, you can decide on every single detail of your trip. Can't wake up for the hostel breakfast? Just sleep in! Tired after walking around for two hours? Find a cafe and rest! Want to go skydiving? Just do it! Don't feel like going to a certain attraction? Skip it! It's all up to you! What you want to do and eat, when you want to sleep and wake up, where you want to go or not go, who you want to talk to in the hostel, etc. You don't have to discuss the options with anyone.. When else would you get to make all these decisions by yourself? For yourself? Especially when we usually live with our parents till marriage, there's always someone in your life you have to consider when making decisions. So traveling alone gives you the opportunity to be the decision maker of everything and you don't have to be responsible for anyone but you. Plus, no fighting over which attractions to go, no one to nag at you if you can't wake up for the sunrise, no one to shout at you if you missed the bus.. freeeeedom!

2) You'll learn how to take care of yourself.
Since you're alone, you have to know how to take care and protect yourself. Don't go out late at night, walk along brightly lit roads, dress conservatively, carry your bag in front of you, keep an eye out for strangers, etc. These are just some of the basic things that you'll learn when you travel alone. Your senses will be sharpened and you'll be more alert of your surroundings. You'll also learn to bring your own medication, how to dress your wounds, what to eat and what not to eat if you're feeling unwell, all these important life lessons will come to you when you travel alone.

3) You'll know yourself better.
We are in a world of constant connectivity online or offline and thus we are never really truly alone. But when you're overseas with no WiFi for the day, who can you talk to besides yourself? Through conversations, we find out about people, so by having inner monologues, you're basically having a conversation with yourself and that's when you find out about yourself! Listen to your own voice, sometimes our voices are drowned out by others' so let your voice be heard (by yourself for a start). Furthermore, you also discover more about yourself through interaction with other people, people of different cultures, races, languages, backgrounds. This self-discovery is fascinating.

4) You'll have friends from all over the world.
When you travel with friends or family, the probability of you striking up a conversation with a random traveller is close to zilch. But when you are alone, chances are you'll be looking for people to talk to. Yes I know I just talked about having inner conversations with yourself but man, I can't do that for a prolonged period of time and I miss hearing my voice. Slowly as you travel, you pick up friends from different parts of the world and though you only know each other for that few hours or few days, when you think back to that place, you'll always remember those friends who had been a part of your journey.

1) You'll get lonely and homesick.
If you don't find suitable people to talk to or you're just too shy to take the first step, you will get extremely lonely and depressed and you will want to go home. You will miss having deep meaningful conversations with your close friends and family (sometimes Skype or online chatting just isn't quite the same). You will miss your home, your bed, your mother's cooking, your pets, all things that remind you of home.

2) Nobody to take photos for you.
Well, you can always invest in a selfie stick. I didn't want to be caught with one so most of my selfies contain a huge face (mine) and a tiny bit of the scenery. I know I can approach passers-by but I get tired of asking because I secretly want to take photos everywhere HAHA. So I'm always glad to make friends along the way because then I'll have someone to take photos for me! Hehe.

3) Nobody to share meals with you.
This is one big con of travelling alone BUT can be easily solved when you make friends! When I was in Barcelona, I didn't get to meet any cool happening people yet so I had to devour a huge plate of Paella, an enormous glass of Sangria and two Tapas. Obviously not meant for one but what to do, I was craving for some Paella and the waiter asked "Drinks? Sangria?" I said yes but didn't expect the glass to be THAT huge. I could obly finish 2/5 of it.

4) Nobody to take care of you.
This was mentioned under learning how to take care of yourself. But if you look at it in the less optimistic way, you learn how to take care of yourself because YOU HAVE TO. I had to learn how to do things with one good arm and though I've met really nice people who gave me a hand (geddit? hehe), most of the time I was still on my own and had to manage things by myself.

1) Tourist scams.
I'm sure you're well aware of the many tourist scams around, see this. I've been warned about some of these but thankfully I didn't encounter any.. except the man in Cambodia who forced us to tip him when he helped us to take photos.

2) Men.
Some men seem to think that when females travel alone, they are out to look for pleasure. I've had people trying to pick me up by saying "You're alone in a beautiful romantic city... You should have some fun... Nobody will know..." And I've met a French guy through Couchsurfing who tried to kiss me barely an hour after we met. He was like "I like girls... Korean girls go all the way, Chinese girls just kiss... Taiwanese and Singaporean girls (blahblah, I can't remember what he said because I was busy being grossed out)" MY GOSH. He was totally abusing Couchsurfing to hook up girls. So everyone, watch out.


And there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly of solo travelling. It actually all boils down to meeting the right kind of people to hang out with. So I shall end the post with...

I always make friends during Walking Tours because most of the time those who join these tours are solo travellers as well so they will be looking out for people to hang out with for the day too. So with an easy 'Hi! Where are you from?' at the meeting point, you'll be able to get the conversation rolling and viola, a new friend found. Hostels are another place to meet people though I find it a bit harder because I don't like to insert myself into conversations. Usually a group of people will be talking and I just find it reeeaaaallly strange if I suddenly sit down and join in. I can't do it. So if I were to meet people in hostels, it would be travellers in the same room. And the benefit of making friends with your roomies is that you can stay out a little later because you'll have company on the way back!

Photo credit: David