On 12th January, I arrived in Changi Aiport with 13.5kg of my belongings on my back, without a return flight or a plan, other than a few nice days in Singapore with my friend Isabelle, and taking it from there.
About 4 months before this, I sat with my boss in the sunshine outside a coffee shop in London and told her I was leaving my job. I said that I was going to go travelling, that I was going on my own, and that I didn’t know where or for how long. Instead of telling me I was mad, she told me how excited she was for me and it was absolutely the right thing to do. This was a similar reaction to the one I’d gotten from each of my family members and close friends as I told them about my intention to leave my job and flat and go vaguely into the world. As a 30 year old about to jack in your job and pension and spend the money you’ve been saving up for the sensible half of your 20s on a long holiday instead of a flat, this kind of support is much needed!
I spent the following few months tying up loose ends in London and saying goodbye to the people and places I’d built my life around for the last 8 years. My intention was not just to go on a extended trip, but also to return to Ireland afterwards. I’ll go into this more another time, but it had become clear to me this past year that my chapter in London was coming to a close, and the draw towards home felt stronger than ever.
It took a fairly serious attempt to find a flat to buy in London in January 2016 to make me realise that it was the opposite of what I wanted and wasn’t going to fix any of the things that weren’t working for me in London. Soon after, I decided to put my savings and efforts towards what would make me happy – paving a new path for myself in the world, one that would lead me to places I’d never seen and eventually, home.
I knew that Singapore would be a good jumping off point for me. I’d been there before a couple of times, and it’s a place I associate with good friends and happy memories. My friends Isabelle and Tim have been living there since 2012, and since my last visit two and half years ago had been joined by indoor golfer extraordinaire and all round good guy, Alexander (aged almost 2 years at time of writing).
Although I was very excited about the idea of heading off on my solo adventures in Asia, I was also nervous and apprehensive: What if I got lonely? What if I didn’t meet anyone? What if I got lost, or robbed? What if I hated it? Of course all these thoughts were drowned out by the excitement, but the little voice of doubt occasionally crept in, which is why I decided to begin the journey with friends, in a place I knew and felt comfortable in.
Anyone who has ever spent time in Singapore will know that it’s as far removed from the backpacker experience in the rest of Southeast Asia as you can get. It’s a unique city and definitely one of contrasts. You’ve got the intense heat and humidity of an Asian city one degree north of the equator, with the slick buildings and transport system of a major financial centre. The skyline is a mix of towering skyscrapers and lush foliage. You can splash out at the stylish bars and restaurants of Marina Bay and Clarke Quay, or keep it local at the bustling hawker centres and markets of Chinatown and Little India.
On this particular visit, I didn’t have anything touristy on my to do list. I was here for a few days of catching up with my friend, and we happily passed the time with chats over coffee, walks by the river and swimming in the condo pool (sometimes in the torrential afternoon rain). I was enjoying comfort and luxury compared to what I knew I would be experiencing for the foreseeable future on my travels through Asia.
When it came time to leave Singapore to catch a 6 hour bus to Kuala Lumpur, I was feeling a bit emotional saying goodbye to Isabelle and, for the first time, what I was about to do felt real. I was not just leaving my friend, I was letting go of the last comfortable connection to home for some time. As I confessed my mixed emotions of excitement and mild anxiety, Isabelle reassured me that this was normal and that if I ever needed anything while I travelled in Asia, they would be there.
It was at that moment I was reminded just how fortunate I am. While I felt like I was striking out alone, I had the support of my friends and family and the knowledge that if I ever needed or wanted to get home or cut the journey short, I had options. In other words, I checked my privilege.
I continued checking it an hour later when I was sitting on the street on my backpack in the 32 degree midday sun, waiting for the 11am bus to Kuala Lumpur.