Last year, Lily Leung quit her job and came to one of our Flight Centre stores in Toronto to plan and book a one year trip around the world. During her amazing whirlwind year, she started her own website called Explore for a Year documenting her experiences and sharing her travel tips. After recently returning from the last leg of her trip, we sat down with Lily to catch up on her experience and what lessons she learned along the way:
1. What made you decide to pack up your life and take a one year round-the-world trip?
Travelling for an extended period of time was a dream I’ve always had. In the past, all my vacations were 2-3 weeks at a time, and at the end of each holiday I always found myself wishing I could stay longer. After I conceived the idea of taking a career break, it took about six months for the idea to solidify and for me to find the courage to follow through. Choosing to leave the security of great job and a nice apartment was tough, but it felt like the right time to go explore my interests and see more of the world.
2. The world is a big place, how did you choose which countries to travel to?
My plan was initially only a 5-month round-the-world trip to India, Southeast Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. I knew I wanted to see Southeast Asia so India and the South Pacific seemed like logical places to stop on the way there and back from Southeast Asia.
Once my time in Southeast Asia was over, going home just didn’t feel right and in an unexpected turn of events, I ended up going the opposite direction to Turkey and then spending the summer and early fall in Europe.
After Europe I found myself in the Middle East before flying back to Thailand for the second time on this trip. Even though my travel itinerary changed, a big part of my travel route was directed by my love for warm weather (and aversion to cold weather). Plus, staying in mild also had the advantage of letting me pack lighter.
3. Was this your first time travelling alone? What were the positives and negatives of travelling solo?
This was my first time travelling alone. The idea of going solo to unfamiliar places initially scared me a lot, which is why I knew I had to do it. Once I was on the road I loved the flexibility I had from travelling by myself.
Travelling solo lets you decided where and when you want to go without having to accommodate someone else. It saves you time you’d otherwise use just to make choices. It also forces you to overcome shyness and fears about talking to strangers.
The downside of travelling alone is that sometimes you miss having company. A few times when I come across a great café, I found myself wishing I had a friend to enjoy the atmosphere with. Travelling solo is an empowering experience that everyone should try at least once. It makes you realize you are whole just by yourself and lets your practice enjoying your own company. If you can’t live with yourself for a few months, how would you manage through the rest of your life?
4. You shared your adventures in real time on Facebook and Twitter. How did you keep up with it all and keep your camera/laptop safe?
My iPhone has been a tremendously useful gadget. I use it to check email, make Skype calls and of course to take quick photos and videos that can be instantly uploaded to Facebook and Twitter, unlike the photos from my camera.
On the iPhone, I used an app called Instagram (free) for photo updates, and of course I have the Facebook and Twitter apps as well. My updates on Twitter are geo-tagged as a way to let my family and friends know where I last was in the highly unlikely event happened to me.
To keep my laptop and DSLR safe, I have a black plastic cover and case for my MacBook to protect it from scratches and to disguise it as a (cheaper) PC, and I have a neoprene sleeve for my DSLR. When I’m travelling, I keep my MacBook and DSLR camera in my daypack, which is secured with a small combination lock.
I also had travel insurance on my electronics and luggage. Luckily, I hadn’t experienced any thefts or attempted thefts on my electronics or any other belongings.
5. One of your goals on the road was to learn web design while you travelled. Mission accomplished?
I learned a lot more than just about web design this past year. In addition to the opportunity to do some freelance design work, I’ve gained experience in social media and online marketing in the process of growing my travel blog.
Over this year I’ve had the chance to meet other travel bloggers, who I learned a lot from about using the internet as a tool to communicate.
6. You experienced some incredible things on your journey. Which place was the most memorable?
I was walking alone over a large stone bridge to one of the temples when a large group of butterflies started flying around me. I looked up at the blue sky, felt the sun on my face, heard birds singing in the distance, and then leaves started falling from some of the tall trees near by. It was like I was in another world and time stood still.
7. Which place surprised you the most?
My visits to Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East surprised me the most. Out of all the countries I’ve visited on this trip, I was most nervous about going to these two. Probably because of the negative press this region of the world gets in the North American media.
I expected the environment to be hostile, especially for the solo female traveler, and chaotic in general. Instead, these countries turned to be friendly, orderly, and relatively easy to travel in. I didn’t experience any negative incidents during my month in these countries. In addition, the landscape was beautiful, people spoke English relatively well and the food was delicious. It just goes to show that what you’re led to believe by the media isn’t necessarily true to reality.
8. What two things can’t you live without on the road?
Without a doubt, the items would be my iPhone and MacBook. Between these gadgets, I can do or get just about anything I need from essentials such as using the internet to book flights to entertainment like watching movies. My iPhone and MacBook also help mitigate worse case travel scenarios like losing my identification – I have photos and copies of all my ID and bank information on my iPhone and MacBook.
9. What’s next for Lily Leung?
I just celebrated my 1-year travel anniversary in Thailand before flying back home to Toronto for Christmas. After over a year of travelling, it’ll be great to stay in one spot for a period of time.
10. What is the #1 tip you would offer an aspiring solo traveler?
Use your fears as a compass for growth. If the idea of travelling solo scares you, it means there’s something about it that you’re connecting with.
The best way to alleviate your fears and doubts is to think of the worse case scenarios that scare you the most and figure out in advance how you’d mitigate or handle the situation. For example, if your biggest worry is losing your documents, then keep back-up copies and a list of all your country’s consulates on your computer/iPhone/email and hardcopies in each of your bags. If you’re scared about feeling lonely or homesick, bring a smartphone with Skype, Facebook and Twitter installed so you can keep in touch with friends.
Most of your worse case scenarios won’t materialize, but having a plan will give you peace of mind from already knowing what steps you’d take if these things happened.
Thinking of taking a round the world trip yourself? Talk to one of our Round the World Experts to help build your ideal itinerary.