Best of 2017

Best of 2017: Getting Out of Comfort Zone

Just before writing this post, I read my 2016 Review post again and I’m amazed how things evolved within this year.

2017 hasn’t been entirely hunky-dory though; there were ups and downs, and that’s LIFE.

2017 has been a year in which I moved out of my comfort zone to take risks and to accept challenges.

2016 was a year of learning the ropes of blogging. 2017 was continuing the same and learning the ropes of “making it on my own”.

In November 2016, I made a crucial decision to quit my job in May 2017 to pursue full-time freelance writing and travel blogging. For those who have known me for some time, they never thought I would make this decision to leave because of the perception they have that I would always have a 9-to-5 job. I have had always been the proactive one, the one who was dependable to get things done in the office. Bosses praised me, staff loved me for I trained, developed and empowered them, thus they put me on a pedestal as if I was the perfect boss.

Truth be told, I was uninspired by it all for the past five years. Work was not mentally stimulating. I was also tired of office politics and could never partake in it well to climb the corporate ladder. Yes-men bored me to death; training courses and their facilitators suck; leaders do not believe and practise employee diversity. Let’s just say I was hopelessly disengaged in the office.

It was sometime late last year that I thought hard about what I really wanted to do. I have been dabbling in freelance writing since 2015 and I figured, life is too short, therefore decided to quit my job and make the best of LIFE by pursuing writing, travelling and other personal projects full-time.

Was it easy? No, definitely it wasn’t. It meant giving up the reassurance of having a monthly salary. No matter how hard I worked or slacked for the company, I would still receive my 5-figure salary on a monthly basis. But I gave it all up for a life which on some days, feeling petrified that I have not secured a project or have not received any income that month.

At the same time, I had two health scares: I discovered a lump in my breast in December 2016 and a lump in my thyroid glands in May 2017. Both occasions involved a series of ultrasound tests which turned out to be benign; the thyroid lump had to be removed for a biopsy. But a media trip to Nepal came up and the surgeon felt that the biopsy could wait for another two weeks, therefore the procedure was scheduled upon my return to Malaysia. Perhaps lady luck was smiling on me, for when I returned, additional tests showed that I didn’t need the biopsy after all which prompted my surgeon to joke, ‘What did you do in Nepal? Were you hiking, at what altitude?’ I replied, ‘Nothing, I was travelling at low altitude throughout the trip’, to which my surgeon responded, ‘You know what, go ahead and travel. Go out there and enjoy life’. I couldn’t agree more.

Since then, I never looked back.

As of now, my health is fine – touch wood – provided that I go for check-ups every six months. There have been times when I questioned myself whether I made the right decision to quit my job, having to give up a stable monthly income and fully paid healthcare coverage. Quitting one’s job for a passion – or because of a boring job or a less-than-inspiring office environment – is not recommended for everyone because every person’s circumstances are different. But for me, I have never felt so right about my decision to quit. I’m much happier now, enjoying the flexibility and freedom to work on projects that I like and most importantly, to travel.

Now that I have the freedom to travel, am I going to be a travel nomad? No, I have no intentions to be a travel nomad. I don’t mind getting out of my comfort zone in relation to fluctuating monthly income but I won’t be giving up my home comforts! That is one reassurance that I must have. Malaysia will always be my home base – a place that I can always return after a period of travelling, a place to be among family and friends.

And speaking of travel, where did I go in 2017? Here are the places that I explored – locally and abroad.

January

Kuala Lumpur – Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Walk: A free walking tour organised by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The guided walk is about the history of KL – how KL began and how life was in KL during the colonial British rule.

best of 2017 kuala lumpur dataran merdeka heritage guided tour
Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur

February

Kuala Lumpur – Jalan-Jalan @ Kampung Baru Cultural Guided Walk: Another free walking tour organised by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The guided walk is to discover and explore the cradle of Malay culture in a village situated right in the heart of modern KL.

best of 2017 kuala lumpur kampung baru guided tour
A traditional Malay house in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur

Surabaya and Mount Bromo, Indonesia: Just after Chinese New Year, my sister joined me on a weekend trip to Surabaya, Indonesia where we saw Mount Bromo, the most popular and accessible active volcano in Java. We stayed at a beautiful 4-star hotel, Jiwa Jawa Resort which happened to be one of the best properties in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.

best of 2017 mount bromo indonesia
Mount Bromo

*For other reviews on Jiwa Jawa Resort, click here.

March

Cameron Highlands: After twenty years, I returned to Cameron Highlands, the largest hill station in Malaysia situated at 1,500m above sea level. Cameron Highlands is a popular destination for its sprawling tea plantations, strawberry and vegetable farms, flower orchards and lush greenery. I had the opportunity to stay at a traditional English-style inn called Planter’s Country Hotel which is known for their afternoon tea of scrumptious scones with homemade strawberry jam and cream.

best of 2017 cameron highlands

The Settlement Hotel, Melaka: A few weeks later, I was invited by Gaya Travel Magazine to experience a staycation at The Settlement Hotel in my hometown Melaka. The hotel is a 4-star boutique hotel situated close to the main historical sites but still, away from the throngs of tourists for guests to relax and enjoy the hotel’s facilities.

best of 2017 the settlement hotel melaka
The Settlement Hotel

*For other reviews on The Settlement Hotel, click here.

April

Kuala Lumpur – Self Guided Walk of Little India, Brickfields: Brickfields is an Indian enclave vibrant with retail shops, eateries, cultural schools and institutions serving the Indian-Malaysian community in KL. I listed a number of Hindu temples, churches and Indian restaurants on a route that it is easy for tourists to navigate on their own in Brickfields.

best of 2017 kuala lumpur brickfields
Little India, Brickfields

Kuala Lumpur – Batu Caves: After living in KL for eighteen years, I finally visited Batu Caves, a series of twenty caves situated on a limestone hill in the northern suburbs of KL. Dedicated to Lord Murugan, the caves attract over a million people each year during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated on a grand scale in Malaysia, mostly by the Tamil community.

best of 2017 kuala lumpur batu caves
Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

May

Cameron Highlands: I went to Cameron Highlands again and this time, I joined a half-day tour to explore Mossy Forest and to visit the Sungai Palas Tea Plantation and Boh Tea Centre. At the Boh Tea Centre, I learnt about the history of Malaysian tea, watched the production process, and enjoyed stunning vistas of carpets of tea fields.

best of 2017 cameron highlands sungai palas tea plantation
Sungai Palas tea plantation, Cameron Highlands

Nepal: Within a few days of quitting my job, I went for a media trip to Nepal, organised by the travel trade association, PATA Nepal Chapter. Nepal has always been in my bucket list, thus I was absolutely thrilled to visit this small country, a melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism and it has eight of the world’s top ten highest summits including Mount Everest.

best of 2017 nepal boudhanath stupa
Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

June

No travels, stayed home.

July

Hoi An, Vietnam: After visits to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, I swore never to return to Vietnam until I saw images of Hoi An: boats gliding on the river against the backdrop of bright yellow Chinese assembly houses, deep pink bougainvilleas and strings of colourful lanterns on Instagram. I was mesmerized by those images that I had to return to Vietnam but with trepidation. Fortunately, the third time’s a charm, so my experience in Hoi An (and Hue) turned out to be positive!

best of 2017 hoi an vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam

August

No travels, stayed home.

September

Portugal: It was good to be back in Europe after nine years, and Portugal was the destination chosen for this return. I spent 10 days travelling in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, exploring medieval castles and quarters, cobbled-stone lanes, admiring polished painted tiles (azulejos), savouring Portuguese food, wine and music.

best of 2017 portugal painted tiles azulejos
Portuguese painted tiles – azulejos

October

Killarney, Ireland: Since I was travelling in Portugal at the end of September, I took the opportunity to attend the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) Conference in early October in Killarney. It was my second time in Ireland after thirteen years, second time in Killarney and second time at a TBEX conference. I didn’t travel around Ireland this time for I had to return to Malaysia but it was good to see that Killarney was still the same after all these years!

best of 2017 killarney ireland
Green fields of Killarney

Timez Hotel, Melaka: I was invited for a staycation at Timez Hotel in Melaka. Timez is a boutique hotel in a pre-war heritage building, strategically located close to Jonker Walk night market. The hotel has a fascinating Swedish-made lift, something which guests will invariably talk about because it’s unusual 😊 Check out the video in my post here.

*For other reviews on Timez Hotel, click here.

Bhopal, India: My 25-day trip to India began in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh where I was invited for a media trip covering the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart, historical forts of Orchha, and intricate carvings and erotic sculptures of Khajuraho temples.

best of 2017 khajuraho
Khajuraho

November

Delhi: From Bhopal, I made my way to Delhi to catch up with friends from my corporate days working in American Express. Delhi was the city which I have had returned multiple times for business trips in 2010 and 2011, thus it was the city which I was very familiar with. It was great seeing friends that I had not seen for so many years! In between taking a break and catching up with friends, I visited Safdarjung Tomb and Qutub Minar historical sites.

best of 2017 delhi safdarjung tomb
Safdarjung Tomb

Kashmir: After Delhi, I continued to travel northwards to Kashmir – a destination which I had always wanted to visit for many years but stayed away due to conflicts in the past. Peace has momentarily returned to Kashmir, so I took the opportunity to do a short tour of Srinagar (including a houseboat stay on Nigeen Lake), Pahalgam, and the ski resort Gulmarg.

best of 2017 kashmir betaab valley pahalgam
Betaab Valley, Pahalgam in Kashmir

Mumbai: From cold autumn days of Kashmir, I landed in hot and humid Mumbai. The first time I was in Mumbai was 2014, so this visit was spent catching up with blogger friends and discovering more of the city such as eating local food and chasing dabbawallas for stories!

best of 2017 mumbai street art staircase bandra
Street art in Bandra, Mumbai

Chennai: This was my first time travelling in Chennai and in the South India region. It was indeed very different from Northern India in terms of culture, heritage, language and food!

best of 2017 chennai kapaleeshwarar hindu temple mylapore
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai

Pondicherry: Pondicherry, or Pondi, a former French colony was the idyllic place for me to rest after travelling from one end of the country to another. It was at this beach town that I spent most days exploring the French and Tamil quarters on foot and evenings at the Rock Beach reflecting on my incredible 25-day sojourn across India.

best of 2017 pondicherry
Pondicherry

So, that was my 2017 – a year of quitting my job, getting out of my comfort zone, making it on my own, and of course, travelling. Indeed, lots of experiences and lessons throughout the course of this year. What were your 2017 highlights? I would love to read about them, do share in the comments.

I wish you a Happy New Year and may 2018 brings you joy, laughter, prosperity, good health and everything that you wish for, and more travels!

*****

best of 2017 katpegimana

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8 comments

  1. What a great year you had, Kat! It was wonderful meeting you after a year’s gap (I think).
    Didn’t know about your health part. Please take care. And I’m just a phone-call / whats-app away! 😀

    I won’t hesitate in asking you about Portugal whenever I visit there.

    May you travel far & wide in the coming year too. And I wish we meet again soon.

    Have a wonderful year ahead and wish you a Happy New Year.

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