Following a quick update earlier on Striking Out On My Own at 24, I’m here to give a full recap of 2018 and what’s to come on 2019.

Contrary to what you may have seen on Instagram Stories about me having fun around the world, I have to repeatedly tell my friends that I did not travel as much as I did in 2017. In fact, it doesn’t even come close.

This year was focused more on slow travel, working full-time on the blog and revisiting old countries.

That said, this is the year where I’ve spent the least amount of time in Singapore – I can’t believe I’ve spent less than 3 weeks in Singapore each time in my entire year. I have to admit, I quite enjoy this independence.

Here’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to this 2018.

2018 in a nutshell

January – April: New Zealand

Tasman Bay Berries pick your own berries, Great Taste Trail Nelson, New Zealand

Continuing from my working holiday in New Zealand from December 2017 where I’ve visited most parts of New Zealand (see full list here) and experienced some of the most epic experiences that money can’t buy (like sleeping on a glacier, gliding, skinny dipping and ice climbing), I concluded my life in New Zealand when I returned to Singapore for a day.

May: Dresden, Germany

elbe river reflection sunset, Things to Do in Dresden, Germany

I had to prematurely end my stint in New Zealand because of the opportunity to work with the Germany Tourism Board in Dresden.

Stepping back into Europe since my 2015 student exchange trip felt surreal – I enjoyed retracing my steps in Amsterdam seeking all of Amsterdam-only food during my stopover, and admiring the dreamy German architecture bathed in gold from across the Elbe river.

amsterdam must eat food herring fish

Eating herring with an iconic Amsterdam view

I then returned to Singapore for 2 weeks to catch up with all my old and new connections whom I haven’t met since I disappeared for half a year in radio silence, and attended one of my best buddy’s wedding. It was the first wedding I’d ever attended from my circle of friends!

June – August: Japan

Most of the time based in Kanazawa, I launched into full-time blogging mode.

During this time, I coincided with my family’s vacation to Japan. This allowed me to hop around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Mount Fuji.

I fed Nara deer, got my fill of sashimi and sushi, hiked Mount Fuji, caught a sunflower field and visited a real (by real I mean a truly scary) theme park, Fuji-Q.

sunflower field japan girl

Chasing sunflowers in Japan

Because I could only stay for 90 days at a time on a tourist visa, I left for Singapore with Phil.

September: Singapore

It was his first time out of New Zealand and Japan, and his first foray into what a real city is like. We spent one week soaking in the local sights of Singapore, while I overfed him with all sorts of overpowering Singaporean food.

You can check out his opinion on staying in a Singapore-themed hotel with Village Hotel.

September: Scotland

streets, edinburgh ghost tours old town, scotland

Scotland was Phil’s prized country, since his origins came from there. After a week in Singapore, in partnership with Norwegian Air and VisitScotland, we were on our way to the land of rain, Scotland.

We stayed in luxurious cottages, did SUP, outdoor rock climbing, hiked the highest hill in Scotland and road tripped our way around castle ruins from Inverness to Edinburgh. I wrote all about our itinerary here.

Surprisingly, the weather didn’t disappoint, and I had an unexpectedly good time in Edinburgh uncovering the deep, dark, haunting secrets of its past.

yoga girl allas sea pool helsinki, finland

Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki, Finland

Back in Singapore for the end of September, I signed up for a yoga package and renewed my gym membership.

You have no idea how travelling takes a toll on your body. Think overnight buses and uncomfortable seating in trains and flights. Not to mention staying in Airbnbs where you have no control over the quality of bed and pillows. UGH.

October: Finland & Estonia

Visiting Nuuksio National Park, Helsinki and Tallinn is the highlight trip of the year. Scandinavia is one country I’d always wanted to visit since my 6 months exploring Europe in 2015 but never got to.

I was working wholly with a tourism board and accommodation provider, so it felt like a bonus trip.

red cabin house, Nuuksio National Park

Furthermore, my photographer friend came along with me. I felt like I’m finally paying it forward by offering travelling opportunities to someone who have never visited Europe before. It’s nice to have a different set of eyes that can see and appreciate Europe for the first time.

I sometimes take for granted Europe’s beauty which I fell in love with when I first stepped foot here, such as the cobbled streets, the buildings that age gracefully, and the medieval-looking street lamps and bridges.

salt farm baanya local lunch seafood, Day-trips-from-Bangkok,-Thailand

“No one gets to come near the table!”

Travelling with a photographer felt like half the workload is off my chest. I can breezily step down from taking pictures each time we enter a new accommodation, I can appreciate real-time rather than hide behind my lens accessing my pictures, and I don’t have to be the one stopping everyone on the dining table from eating because I’m taking food shots.

I have more shots of myself during this trip than my whole year combined thanks to him.

October: Bangkok, Thailand

salt farm baanya local lunch seafood spread, Day-trips-from-Bangkok,-Thailand

A last-minute collaboration with TakeMeTour took my ex-colleague, Mizuho, and I to Bangkok for a gourmet local tour outside Bangkok city.

Read about the day trips out of Bangkok that you can take:

Day trips from Bangkok; Amphawa Floating Market, Maeklong Railway Market, Ban Bang Phlap

We also went with AirAsia to a local community outside Krabi, Koh Klang, to do some community service work. We taught the community English, made our own tie dyes and cooked up prata for everyone, livening up the local community in the process.

November: Bintan, Indonesia

bintan lagoon resort pool beach

Just when I thought my trips for 2018 have come to an end, I was back at Bintan Lagoon Resort again for the President’s Cup event, the second of such event I attended.

November – January 2019: Japan

Back in Japan again, except with zero expectations to travel around Japan.

To be honest, despite staying in Japan for 3 months and visiting the popular parts of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido in the past, Japan doesn’t hold as much appeal as most others.

I’m quite fed up of the language barrier, as I am with the lack of information whenever I want to visit a new destination within Japan. Travelling in the outskirts of Japan is simply not foreigner-friendly.

Japan snow, Best Ski Tracks in the World

For now, I’m content with learning new winter sports – skiing and snowboarding – and celebrating a white Christmas!

P.S. Up til now, I always thought snowflakes have the exact symmetry as ❄️ !

What has 2018 taught me?

oban town, scotland itinerary

Oban, Scotland

1. The meaning of slow travel.

Ever since I’m able to work from anywhere, I don’t have to rush while I’m travelling. It has changed my entire view on the meaning of travel.

I find discovering local hangouts and exploring hidden streets much more enjoyable than following an itinerary and checking off things to see.

Having deeper conversations with strangers in foreign land and engaging in cultural exchange and learning are much more fulfilling than checking off sights to see. That might mean more homestays and more Couchsurfing in the future.

2. I’ve developed a fondness for road trips and visiting nature parks.

travel road trip friends

The thought of doing another around USA or Canada won’t escape my mind.

3. What it means to wholly embrace your work and love what you do.

I’ve been raring to wake up each day and get cracking instead of drag yourself to an office, face the wrath of your boss, the four walls, and pretend to be nice so that if your boss plays favouritism, you know you won’t be the first to be at a disadvantage.

Not one day did I not feel like doing work. On the contrary, I get complained at for not spending more time doing other things, such as doing the household chores. I would sometimes even sit in front of my desk for hours and hold my pee.

I’m an oddball, I know. But that’s what working towards your dream is like. #justsaying

Because of this occupational hazard, I find myself becoming more private as well.

4. Yes, I get tired of travelling too.

JW Marriott South Beach wine girl

I was very much looking forward to returning to Japan in November to retreat from everything and live minimally in my own shell.

What I like about living in exile in Japan for 3 months is how focused I can be on working the blog and freelance writing.

No friends hence no dramas nor meet ups, no event invites, all press trips come to a halt, no pitching, a conducive working space and predictable work hours. I only have fixed hours each day because the rest of the time is spent with keeping company/ doing chores/ making sure I don’t starve.

I’m kidding about not having friends. However, the number of friends I can make is limited since most people here can’t speak English and Japanese culture is one that is hard to break into.

Except for occasional gatherings with friends, I really thrive in this predictable, no-distraction, minimalist routine where I can wear the same top 4 days a week and no one would judge me. Even if they do, I won’t be able to understand them. Ha!

5. Living independently.

girl sip tea, Nuuksio National Park

That said, living on my own pretty much most of this year gave me an insight on what adulting is like, when you live on your own.

It’s an opportunity that hardly Singaporeans get to experience because of the culture and governmental system – you live with your family from birth until you find a partner, get married and can afford a house.

In some traditional families, you’re frowned upon if you stay over at your boyfriend’s place. Even if you do, it would be his family’s house you’re staying at, and you’ll have to be on your best behaviour at all times. You’re probably better off staying at home.

6. I am not ready to settle down.

girl omarama autumn fall new zealand

In Omarama during autumn <3

While I have seen marriage proposals and weddings going on back at home almost every other time I open my social media feed, I am still not ready to settle down yet.

Marriage? It scares the hell out of me.

7. That maybe I don’t want to settle in Singapore.

Now, now, before you think this is the last you’ll see of me, this is not a cause to worry, folks.

As daughter to Asian parents, I will make sure they will live to a ripe old age.

This is just a mere preliminary thought. Who knows what will happen?

I’ve learned that life can be unpredictable and it doesn’t do me any good to plan too far ahead. 

8. To appreciate my body more

girl yoga, lake, sunrise, Nuuksio National Park

Reaching my quarter-life mark last October in Helsinki, I started wishing for a painless body. I’ve been living with back and neck pain since mid-year that no traditional Chinese medicine nor Thai massages could get rid of.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

One year ago today, would I have thought I’d be living the life I’ve always dreamed of?

Hell no!

My course of life has changed so much since writing my 2017 reflection post. For one, I’m dreaming much bigger dreams now.

2018 Achievements

1. Being my own boss & a digital nomad

girl camera tallinn, estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

The biggest achievement of the year would be able to transitioning from working for an employer to being self-employed. I’m what you’d call a digital nomad – working from the comfort of anywhere where there’s Wi-Fi.

I’d taken the step of uncertainty and started living the life I’d always dreamed of and plotted towards since coming to know how it is possible to work as a travel blogger full-time and earn a living earning online.

Screw uncertainty – I’ve never been more certain about what I want to do in my life!

2. Earning more than I ever had!

What surprises me is how I’m earning more than my full-time graduate pay back in Singapore, by doing what I love!

3. New countries conquered!

pastel colour cobbled streets tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

I also checked off a few new countries this year – Scotland, Finland and Estonia, making a grand total of the countries I’ve been to 34.

4. Blog milestones 

More on my blog and income growth explosion broken down in the next post because I don’t want to bore you with numbers and %. This post would have been twice as long if I fit it in here!

Fill in your details here so I can personally send you the post when it's published!

2019 Happenings

JW Marriott South Beach pool bikini girl

Lounging in the pool of JW Marriott South Beach Singapore

With my newly established job as a full-time travel blogger and freelance digital marketer, I had grand plans.

I originally wanted to work from different parts of the world while slow travelling, discovering the nooks and crannies of places I never knew existed.

Since working full-time on the blog in June 2018, I’ve surpassed all my worst fears – thinking I may feel burnt out from staring at my blog all day or being an unhappy unemployed individual with little income to survive.

I now believe that anything is possible if I believe in them.

Chestnut-Nature-Park-girl-run

My first month working on my own brand while living in Japan surprised me in encouraging ways.

So much so that 6 months later, after gallivanting around Japan, Scotland, Finland, Bangkok and Singapore, I’m missing my days of staring at my laptop all day with a plate fuller than my appetite and dreaming lofty dreams.

autumn, girl, crawlers, Nuuksio National Park

I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything on my own, and that if the blog is to reach greater heights, some work is better delegated to people in their forte.

As reluctant as I am to part with my hard-earned moolah, I’ve begun recruiting manpower for the blog. Do any of other start-ups/ entrepreneurs relate to this, or am I just being a miser?

jetty, pier, autumn, fall, Nuuksio National Park

With a new contract that will bound me in Singapore for the rest of the year when I’m back from Japan, it feels like I’m back to working full-time in Singapore and scheming to get out on public holidays. UGH.

I seek consolation in that this contract is, at least, very much a freelance-based job, I get to work in the travel field, and that it’s a skill I’m really keen to develop to expand my portfolio!

I am still able to make weekly travels from Singapore, so I really can’t complain.

East End of Rundle (EEOR) Trail, Canada, canada road trip itinerary, Canada scenic drives

My dreamy plans of doing a working holiday in Australia (after having such an epic experience doing a working holiday in New Zealand), road tripping around the national parks in USA, or doing long road trips around South America or Canada will hence have to be put on hold…

Still, it feels oddly strange not to have any travel plans or collaborations planned for 2019.

Goals for 2019

Looking back at my goals for 2018, I am heartened and humbled at how much I’ve managed to achieve – a feat I never thought possible, in all honesty.

Novotel Bangkok Sukhumvit view, Day trips from Bangkok - Amphawa Floating Market, Maeklong Railway Market, Ban Bang Phlap

View from our hotel room

Here’s a recap of my 2018 goals which I’ve completed from my 2017 round up post:

  1. Better focus, greater productivity I’ve come to realize this happens naturally when you’re involved in work you love instead of work you have to do.
  2. Wear down my trail shoes New Zealand is THE PLACE to start falling in love with the outdoors!
  3. Collaborate with more brands (London, I’m hoping to come for you again!) That’s right, I reunited with London when I flew with Norwegian Air!
  4. Write for more publications
  5. Improve on SEO OH YEAH. Big focus in 2018 and seeing plenty of returns.
  6. Create more interesting content for you
  7. Build up my social media marketing business
  8. Get back on track with regular email newsletters. I definitely want to get more up close and personal with you guys! I’ve been spending hours in the past month working on this! Subscribe for destination-specific tips if you haven’t.
  9. Share more personal thoughts on this space I sure delved deep into my thoughts including some unfiltered, private thoughts when I was living simply in Fox Glacier, New Zealand. It drew up quite some gossip from my previous circle of friends because of that.
  10. Read more (and I mean books, not Instagram captions) Thanks to good influences in my life.
  11. Get a wider view of the world and open my mind up to the possibilities beyond my realm I’ve learned SO MUCH from talking to people from different countries, cultures, job positions, industries, both online and offline.
  12. Build a life where waking up every morning makes me feel alive (bye bye Monday blues!) BIG YES!

That’s 75% accomplished, and I’m proud of myself! (pats on the back)

helsinki to Nuuksio National Park

As such, I’m excited to sit down and come up with some goals for 2019 once again. A major shift would be to focus from more outbound, active-income work to more inbound, passive-income work

1. Make more international friends, and visit them as I conquer new destinations.

2. Go to at least one place that scares me.

Tibet, Nepal, Canada, USA, South America, Cuba, Moscow, Africa

3. Treat my family to an overseas trip entirely on my own dime.

I’ve always partially funded the trips since 2012, but now that I feel empowered earning my own salary, I would like them to truly enjoy a trip.

4. Go to a new beach destination!

maldives COMO-Cocoa-Island-villa-private-terrace

Photographing the Indian Ocean from Maldives

I can’t believe I’ve spent most of this year in the cold (don’t forget New Zealand’s winter is in the middle of the year and I’m in Japan now over Christmas and New Year) – not exactly my favourite season aha. Well at least the snow in the mountains where I’m staying at has more snow than I’ve ever seen in my life! I will also be trying out skiing and snowboarding for the first time in my life. Enduring this cold is worth it!

5. Do more yoga to fix my ageing 25-year-old back and neck.

infinity pool girl yoga, hanging gardens of bali ubud

Seriously, what is wrong with me?!


My specific blog and income goals will be up on the next post! Fill in your email if you don’t want to miss it.

Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on belaroundtheworld.com/about.

Talk to me!