Oh, How My Travel Plans Have Changed
Remember that glorious map I made of all my travel plans? And that blog post I shared in January that magnificently spelled out all my plans for the year? And even that Instagram story of my Excel travel calendar so I knew where I would be each day?
Yeah, scratch all of that.
While I rarely book flights or accommodation ahead of time, I typically have a solid idea of where I plan to be. All of that went out the window pretty quickly once I left Singapore. Here's how.
"Oh yeah, I wanted to dive Sipadan but I was kind of worried about the pirates and kidnappings."
Said another female, solo backpacker I randomly met in the Philippines. Sipadan is easily considered one of the best diving sites in the world, but this was news to me.
Uhhhh pirates? Kidnappings? I pretended I knew what she was talking about, then hastily Googled kidnappings, pirates, and Malaysia in the same sentence later that night.
Turns out, the UK, Australia, and the US each have travel advisories in regards to traveling to Eastern Borneo and Sabah (the regions where Sipadan is located) because of its proximity to southern Philippines, which is a stronghold for extremist militants. Kidnappings for ransom have long been an issue in Mindanao, Philippines, and it turns out Sipadan is basically Mindanao's next door neighbor across the big, blue ocean.
I had already chosen a dive company and put down a $200 deposit to dive Sipadan (it's so exclusive that only 120 divers can dive Sipadan a day). But my dad, who has never said a word against my travels, had serious reservations. He was worried about me going to that region of Malaysia, and even though he never said I couldn't go, I respected him too much to disregard his advice.
So I didn't go.* While I didn't think I would actually get kidnapped, I didn’t want the burden of worrying and watching my back in an unfamiliar area as a solo traveler.
All of a sudden, my plans for Malaysia were up in the air. Originally, I had just planned to fly straight into Sipadan, dive, and get out. Now I had no idea what to do this in country.
"So, I think I'll just spend a few days in Malaysia."
I told a fellow backpacker when I arrived at my hostel in Kuala Lumpur. I didn't know what to make of Malaysia yet, what to do there, or if I would even like it.
Turns out, I loved Malaysia. In retrospect, I am so glad I didn't go to Sipadan because I would have been missing out a really neat part of Malaysia: Peninsular Malaysia. After a quick Google search of things to do and see, it became clear that I needed more time in Malaysia.
Malaysia was unexpectedly super easy to travel through, the locals were very kind, and between the islands, historic towns, hiking, and scuba diving, there was plenty to keep me busy.
What I thought was just going to be a few days in Malaysia turned into 10 days, and even that was way too short because I ended up leaving earlier than I expected to because…
"We're gonna go to Phuket to celebrate Songkran. You should come!"
Said my newly-found Canadian friend, Darcy.
I had made my way to northern Malaysia to the island of Langkawi. I had planned to spend a few nights there before heading back to Kuala Lumpur so I could make my way to Tioman Island for some epic scuba diving.
I had met Darcy at a hostel in Cameron Highlands, where we quickly bonded over our love for scuba diving. We met up again in Langkawi, where he introduced me to Gabby, an Australian, and Jeff, another Canadian. Within 24 hours, a plan had developed to cross the border by ferry from Malaysia to Thailand to celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year.
I debated going -- I wasn't supposed to be in Thailand until June! Plus, I wanted to spend more time in Malaysia. But Songkran is a big deal in Thailand, I had friends to travel with, and crossing into Thailand by ferry was easier than doubling back to Kuala Lumpur.
So, that's how I found myself on a ferry to Thailand, then an 8-hour bus with Darcy, Gabby, and Jeff. That weekend kicked off an amazing return to my favorite country.
And, in what was probably the biggest change in my plans, that was when I decided…
"I'm not going to go back to Australia and I'm going to skip New Zealand."
Ouch, that still hurts to write. It was actually a pretty unexpected decision.
Even when I left Aus to fly to the Philippines, it didn't feel like goodbye because I planned on returning so that I could visit Melbourne and eventually head to New Zealand.
But I waited too long to buy the plane ticket. By the time I had an idea of when I wanted to return to Aus, the flight ticket was $310 one-way from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne. I wasn't willing to pay that price and I wasn't looking forward to an 8-hour flight.
Financially and logistically, it didn't make sense for me to go backwards to where I had already been.
New Zealand was the soul crusher for me. It has always been #1 on my bucket list. But financially, even two weeks in NZ was going to cost me at least $2,500 for accommodation, food, and a hop-on / hop-off bus ticket. The more I kept trying to afford NZ on my budget, the more I kept paring the trip down. One month became two weeks, maybe even one week. Backpacking both the North and South Islands became only the South Island, meaning I wouldn't be able to see Hobbiton (which my Lord of the Rings-loving self couldn't come to terms with). Bungee jumping, one of my favorite adrenaline rushes, came with a big price tag. All the adventure activities in NZ would quickly add up. And so, my dream trip to NZ was slowly being whittled down, and that's not how I wanted it to be.
I decided to save NZ for another trip -- maybe as my dream honeymoon, maybe as another solo three-week backpacking trip. I want to do NZ 100%, with no time or money limits. So it had to go for this trip.
My travel plans are still constantly changing, but that's the fun of it! For now, I'm enjoying my time in Thailand before heading to Myanmar (and that's actually happening - the flights are booked!). As for these next four months, we'll see!
*I didn't go to Sipadan out respect for my dad and my own comfort limits as a solo female traveler. However, I do think Sipadan is very safe, as evidenced by the fact that it is very difficult to get a diving permit due to the site's popularity. The Malaysian army also has a larger presence in the surrounding waters and islands. I don't want to discourage anyone from going - it was a personal choice for me, as is anything travel-related.