In my hands I clutch a one-way ticket to København, Denmark.
All right, it’s an e-ticket in my email Inbox. And it’s for 3 months from now. But that doesn’t do anything to loosen the knot in my stomach – the one that formed in the 2 torturous weeks before I made my decision, as I battled guilt and fear: can I really travel full-time? What if I fail?
As the eldest child in a typical middle-class Singaporean family, I’ve been bound by my sense of duty for the past few years of working life. I remember thinking in my final year of university: I’m going to get a great job and climb the corporate ladder. In a few years’ time I’ll be able to buy Mum whatever she wants and help her with my brother’s course fees. Yet now, three years later, I’m doing the “irresponsible” thing – I’m quitting my job to travel. I’m going to chase my dream.
I can no longer bear the thought of squeezing my soul into an office cubicle. It’s why I went for the challenge and excitement of joining a startup instead of a huge corporation, the compromise I made in exchange for not choosing writing as a livelihood (because, of course, Asian parents know there’s no money or future to be had from that). But I’m no longer content. I want to travel, write, and write about travel if I can. I need to feel alive, not die an emotionless zombie (this only surfaced after I’d bought my ticket, ok?)
When I tell people of my plan the reedy envy in their voices remind me that I’m simply attempting to do what I love, the way some people live for hedge fund management or making specialty coffee. And that leads to the fear: that I won’t have the grit and discipline to work hard, let alone succeed, at full-time travel when ornate old buildings and kitschy cafés and dark streets lined with half-shuttered shops beckon. That I’ll end up treating this as just another holiday and then return to this comfortable, banal existence.
But fear is good. Fear of failure is what drives me. There are a ton of things I need to prepare before departure, and I’m nowhere near being financially or mentally prepared. I’m giving myself these three months and every single step I take toward this journey has me jumping in pure excitement. Right now, every morning when I step into the office and almost every night as I crash into bed, six words ring in my head. I can’t wait to be gone.
I’m typing this from a borrowed computer, in a room I’m staying in for just one night, because a kind stranger saw that I didn’t have accommodation for my first night in this town.
My laptop died on me – completely refused to turn on – on the flight to Copenhagen. My sightseeing around the city included visits to stately churches and more computer repair stores than I’d ever been to in Singapore. After dismantling my trusty companion of the past five years, I’m left with just the hard disk. In Stockholm, in between scenic tram rides and hunting for good coffee, my friend had to help me call a stranger selling a second-hand laptop, but it was already sold.
On my third day I started to come down with a cold, and it’s only gotten worse. Acclimatization to below-freezing temperatures is a bitch for someone from a tropical island.
Then, the research I did into prepaid SIM cards failed me in Norway when one convenience store after another gave me contradicting instructions. When you’re in a foreign land in desperate need of a data connection and the student working part-time at the convenience store has no idea what mobile surfing plan you’re rambling on about, you just have to figure out some other way.
But thanks to all these little setbacks, I’m learning not to get emotionally affected by situations I can’t control. Instead of letting frustration or worry take over, I’m trying to indulge in all the new sights and sounds and experiences before me so I can share them with everyone. I’ve never been more appreciative of my smartphone for showing me the way when I got lost late at night on the outskirts of Oslo, for letting me share a few photos with my friends on Facebook, for allowing me to plan for the next leg of my trip.
It helps to chat with real friends and family who understand that traveling isn’t 100 per cent fun and inspiring and pretty. It also helps to have faith that things will work out – and so far, things have been working out okay.
I’ve confirmed neither flight nor accommodation for my next city, though I have researched doctors and second-hand laptops. At least I’ll be slowing down after this sprint around Scandinavia. It’s time for a walk around the beautiful snow-clad town of Tromsø.