SEP and Traveling

by melanieliangjm


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.

In September, I flew from Singapore to London, then to Morocco (Marrakech, Fez, Tinehir), up to Spain (Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona), then to Italy (Venice, Dolomites, Florence). After which I went to Glasgow to start my term, visited various parts of Scotland and the highlands (breathtakingly beautiful). And I also went to Dublin, then to Iceland, then I did my exams… and after my exams I went to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Budapest and Rome. Did some pretty cool stuff along the way… The more vivid ones I can remember are going to the Sahara, hiking down a waterfall, seeing the Northern lights, jumping off a plane by myself, walking on a glacier, searching for a cave which I never found, ate fermented shark which was the worst tasting thing i’ve ever had, stuff like that.


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Sevilla, Spain, 2014. Photo credits: Dawn Ho.

When people ask me “How was your trip?” I try to condense everything I’ve experienced – excitement, amazement, anxiety, disappointment, anger, joy, tiredness – and all my memories into a short paragraph, but more often than not I just end up with this answer, “It was ok.” Because I’m never good with describing these personal experiences and feelings. Maybe because I would like to keep them to myself, or maybe because they were just too momentary to describe. So… I figured I should probably summarise my thoughts about SEP and my traveling adventures while I can, before I store these memories into a box forever. I’m not good at blogging about my personal life but I’ll try.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Venice, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Since I came back a few days ago, seemingly everyone has been telling me that I’m so lucky to be able to go on a “5 month long holiday”. Well, yes I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to travel around and experience so many amazing things, but I wouldn’t exactly say it was a 5 month long holiday. Before I left I used to look at pictures of friends who went for SEP on social media I’ve always had a perception that my SEP experience would be exactly like what they were going through, or exactly like what people told me it would be. That’s a false perception of course. After going through it myself I realised that the experience is very personal, very subjective, and dependent on what kind of traveler you are to begin with. The reason why I don’t think I was on a long holiday is because I was simply on a really tight budget. I was backpacking all over, wearing the same clothes every day, sleeping in some shit places, and at the end of it I was so tired. So so tired. Contrary to what many of my friends believed, I was actually looking forward to coming back home, back to my comfortable life. Of course I had fun. I had the most exciting experiences in my life! I’m just saying that it wasn’t all glorious and relaxing as my pictures put it out to be. People say that pictures speak a thousand words. But I think when it comes to traveling, pictures speak a thousand words less than the actual experience… (and also a few circumstances when pictures speak a thousand words more than it actually is).


Oban, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Edinburgh, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Like I said it depends on what kind of traveler you are. I’m not really a shopping kind of person, nor am I a foodie. So cities don’t really excite me that much. In fact, it was when I went to those touristy spots in cities where I realised that sometimes, pictures can overstate the actual experience. Maybe also because I had false expectations from those pictures which got me a lil’ disappointed in real life.

The most memorable moments that I experienced happened in places which took pains for me to reach, which is why those places seemed so raw, so natural, so untouched by humans. Absolutely breathtaking…


The Atlantic Ocean, Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Taken with Canon EOS 1200D.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.

When I used to see such pictures in the past, such a sua ku (uninformed person) like me would kind of imagine myself just appearing at that place out of nowhere, effortlessly admiring the view. I never knew that I had to get dirty, to conquer my stupid fear of slippery slopes and climbing rocks countless of times just to see the panoramic scenes that I saw. (I also stupidly slipped and stepped into mud and rivers many times and realised that this was probably the first time I’ve encountered so much nature in my life). Of course it was all worthwhile. You forget the discomfort, the cold, the hunger, and marvel at how amazing that part of the Earth looks. And in those circumstances, my pictures are an understatement to whatever I was seeing, thinking and feeling at that time and place!

That’s my kind of traveling.


“Confirm overbudget.” Not entirely true. Surprisingly, I didn’t spend as much as I expected to. But like I said I was on a tight budget. It was tough (for me, because i’m weak like that)… I can’t even forget those horrible nights I spent sleeping on benches at the airport. Not fun at all. People say it’s an experience. Well, I honestly think anyone should avoid such experiences if they can. On the bright side, I cooked for myself every day and discovered the joy of cooking. It’s fun to cook for yourself because if it tastes like shit you know you’re the only one eating it anyway so it’s not that bad.

I guess what’s important is to identify what you’re willing to splurge on, and what you are willing to forgo in order to save money to splurge on the things you want to splurge on. For me it was the solo skydiving course and Iceland. No regrets at all. I mean, Northern lights and skydiving… 2 things off my bucket list. Come on!


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


I was never a big fan of food. I don’t know where the local foods are in Singapore and I honestly never thought that I would miss having local food at all. But to my surprise, my eyes glowed when I found an Asian supermarket near my place in Glasgow. And there was one night I dreamt of carrot cake. Yeah, the best dream ever. Well, home is home.


There are many bad people in this world but there are countless of good people too. I’ve met some helpful and big-hearted individuals while traveling which got me through quite a few stupid situations that I got myself into. You often hear that there’s hardly a place that can be as safe as Singapore is. Kinda true. Lol. But ultimately, I think we should remember that there are good people and not so good people in every country. Some are just more visible than others. We just have to protect ourselves. 


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone. 

If you did not know by now, I was a really stupid traveler one day and so my iPhone got stolen, along with some cash. I wasn’t shocked or anything though. It was more of a “sigh…. Guess who’s having a bad day.”

Anyway, the point is that I spent the next 2 months without a smartphone. It sounds cool to say that I traveled without a smartphone for 2 months and everything, and honestly I was not very affected by it. I actually like my retro Nokia-without-a-camera-or-internet-function phone. But, in all honesty the experience was not cool. I almost got stuck at the UK customs because I didn’t have my iPhone which contained my return ticket…. Anyways, it is NOT COOL to travel without a smartphone. Because wifi is free and old school phone credits are not free. Tried and tested.


Felt like I spent most of my time educating my foreign friends about Singapore, and helping them to get over their shock over “No chewing gum” and realise that it’s really not a big deal. One funny thing I realised is that when I spoke english, my European friends were shocked. When I spoke mandarin, my Chinese friends were shocked. Also, the number 1 question I got was, “What’s your national language?” It was really fun though. Sharing about Singapore makes me miss my home even more every time.

Oh, and the thing about not needing to study is so not true. Ok, the workload was indeed way lesser. But I think that’s just because sometimes Singaporeans give ourselves way too much unnecessary stress, just because… well, yeah. Anyway I think the difficulty lies in the fact that the teaching styles are different overseas, hence in the end we still have to put in effort to adapt and study anyway. It’s not as easy as it seems, at least for me.


Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


 University of Glasgow, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


I was probably dressed inappropriately 90% of the time, being fooled by the unpredictable weather in Scotland countless of times.

Also, I have to reiterate that I saw snow for the very first time this year (My life is complete). Winter’s fun and all, but only for the first 5 minutes when you’re playing outside. I finally realised how annoyingly cold and slippery it can get and how much it obstructs day-to-day activities. I finally understand………..


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Of all the places I’ve been to, my favourite has got to be Iceland. Maybe because I went there not knowing what to expect. And it was incredible! Those moments where the pictures taken with my iPhone (before I lost that sad little thing) were inadequate to capture the experience of standing at that place, at that time, by yourself. Sometimes you don’t even want to take pictures because you just want to store those memories in your mind for yourself.

Pictures from Iceland:


Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Photo credits: Leon Yip.


 Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Photo credits: Leon Yip.

People say that when you go for SEP you don’t want to come home. But I feel like being away made me appreciate what we have over here. It’s all a matter of relativity and perspectives. I guess there’s something good and bad about every country. We just got to choose what our priorities are and what kind of “bad” we are willing to live with, depending on our needs in different phases of our lives. For me, for now, there’s no place like home.