87 days.

That’s how long I’ve spent my time at home this year.

The shortest time I’ve been home in Singapore in between travels was for a night, and the longest, 24 days.

For those who’ve been on the road long-term, this might be nothing to you. For someone who only recently transitioned from full-time Singapore robot life to being a full-time digital nomad, I would consider that a feat.

I’ve not celebrated my birthday at home for 3 years, ever since I graduated from university in fact. This will be the third year I ring in Christmas and New Year’s overseas.

lake view, Turbine-Boutique-Hotel-Spa-Knysna-South-Africa

Knysna, South Africa

These are the trips I’ve been on in 2019:

That brings me to a total of:

4 new countries (Bhutan, Laos, South Africa, Sri Lanka) and 1 new continent (Africa!) conquered!

Check out the list of countries I've been.

Plane rides always have a way of making me immerse in my thoughts, and reflect back on everything I’ve experienced. I wrote some of these on my 36-hour plane rides from Colombo to London to Los Angeles to Kauai (which drove me almost insane) while jamming to sentimental music.

The time has come as the year draws to a close. I can’t help but reflect on what a fruitful, tumultuous and life-changing year it has been.

local girls, homestay, paro, bhutan

Girls I played and stayed with in Bhutan

I’m truly humbled and very privileged to be able to live my life the way I do. I’ve visited developing countries that come from humbling economies and humbling families yet be at peace with what they have and live with what the Earth provides.

It fills me with gratitude every time I get the chance to be exposed to environments like that. It makes one feel truly lucky in the greater scheme of things, and remind us of the greed that humankind brought upon themselves and the misery that they cause themselves because of their ever-increasing need for more.

Lunch-Beach-House-Kauai-Hawaii-what-to-eat-in-kauai

Kauai, Hawaii, my home base since November 2019 🙂

I’ve also had the privilege of being in places that truly make me feel like a home away from home, and places where I couldn’t wait to be out of.

All these experiences culminate to form and build myself as a person, through character-building, value-teaching moments.

Coming from small city Singapore where we’ve been sheltered, putting myself out there, I’ve experienced 2 near-death experiences, and outdone myself so many times this year, breaking so many personal records.

This year had been an intense one – I’ve never felt such profound kindness, sadness, love and fear, so much so that I almost feel that my heart cannot take it sometimes. So much is happening so fast, faster than I can internalize and absorb and accept.

This is what happens when I’ve been on the road non-stop for 2.5 months, over 3 completely different continents, cultures and environments.

Read my 2019 individual trip reflections here.

The monumental times that I’ve had which are edged in my memory, the adventures that have coloured my life, the chances I’ve taken that made me feel alive – this all brings me closer to discovering myself. It makes me a part of who I am and builds me to who I will become. It is also a HUGE motivation for me to travel.

My heart is full – so full – of gratitude for the life I’m privileged to create on my own as a digital nomad and full-time traveller.

Read: A Reminder To Celebrate Yourself Today

Truly, I am so personally proud of myself to have created the life I have now.

outdoor jacuzzi, Brahman-Hills-South-Africa

Outdoor jacuzzi at Brahman Hills, South Africa

Every time people ask me how I built my way to where I am now, this is always my answer:

Since I’ve started having to work, I’ve always dreamed of being able to travel more, to travel for work, and yet not have to be tied down to the corporate race through most of my prime. I don’t want the prime of my life to be frittering away. I couldn’t stand being a means to someone else’s end and have my life – something I am in control over – slip right through my hands as I trudge through each day to work feeling miserable.

I want to make each day count.


And so, here are my lessons and takeaways from being on the road this 2019.

Friends are your support system

You see, the thing with being on the road long-term, is that most things are ephemeral (except your suitcase). Most people will walk in and right out of your life in a blink. You may only have one night, one drink, one day, and the memory that you shared with them is all there is to it.

There are people I’ll never see again, but whom I’ll remember the lessons I’ve gleaned from.
There are those I’ve never met but bare it all to.
Then there are those I spend a day with and feel instantly connected to.
There are those who’re from an entirely different continent who’s seen me at my worst and my most vulnerable, who share my burden that nobody else does.

jump skydive taupo new zealand

Me skydiving in Taupo, New Zealand

Read: My Most Epic New Zealand Experiences (That Money Can't Buy) From 6 Months Here!

Like how a random chance meeting in small town Fox Glacier, New Zealand in 2018 over a common topic on skydiving would have us reconnecting over a phone conversation again while I’m in South Africa and him in India.

As long as you open your heart to them, there will be some who will inspire you, some who will show you a different perspective and outlook on life through their life’s trajectories. Some will have a profound impact in your wellbeing and life, even if you were virtual friends.

Each one of them will inevitably make a difference in your life, however minute it might be.

If there’s one pivotal thing I’ve learned to put more value on in my life this year, it’s human connections. It’s hard to explain how crazy it is for me to have met people in the most unlikeliest situations – at the hotel gym, Couchsurfing, at events, in a bar, through mutual friends, a mutual lover, on social platforms, common interests…

Read: Best Ways to Make Friends On the Road Without Endangering Your Life

The skydiver, pilot, surgeon, conservationist, fashion designer, photographer, teacher, military man, surfer, yogi, bartender…

People who’ve touched me, loved me, broke me, warned me, healed me, changed me.

I know I wouldn’t have felt so much, learned so much, grown so much, if I didn’t put myself out there, be vulnerable, or had I not opened my heart to these people in my life. I don’t know if I would have done it any different, but I sure as hell have a lot to learn from them, and myself.

Listening to their stories made me feel so fortunate to come from a loving, intact family, for parents who do everything they can to make sure I’m brought up as well as possible, who do their utmost to keep the family together as humanely possible as they can, who are as loving as they possibly know how and who teach us the values to be a moral, upright person.

It makes me marvel at fate and the power of human connections.

It’s also nice to get some recognition from the friends from home whom I’ve not spoken to since school. I love receiving random messages from people telling me how proud they are of me for what I’m doing, and how happy they are for me. I’m happy that my path has allowed me to rekindle old friendships over beers and deep conversations. Wei Quan, Zhi Kai, Scott, Yeni – thank you for your love!

The meaning of travel

Sure, I love my glamorous lifestyle (when I do live them). But there’s more to it than travelling glamorously.

It’s as if the more you see, the more you leave a part of you in those places, And the more those places leave us with something.

While it used to be crossing countries, destinations, experiences or continents, lately I’ve learned to travel slowly, to find meaning in the places I’ve been, to make a difference in the lives I encounter along the way.

Read: Why A South Africa Honeymoon Is A Must For Every Couple

It’s taught me to follow my heart to where it leads me, even if it means going back there again.

Am I a person driven by emotions? Admittedly very much so, my oftentimes irrational, naive emotions. Emotions that lead to wrong decisions and detours. Yet it is these emotions that brings life to living, that brings sparkles to my eyes, that warms my heart and that feeds my soul.

And that’s the only way I know how.

Travelling gives me so much love, hope, magic and joy that I could never find anywhere else.

The infinite possibilities of meeting the wonderful people I’ve yet to meet, the beautiful places that would leave me speechless and make me dream of living in forever, experiences that would take me ten thousand feet high and in the depths of the ocean, the opportunity to walk in the shoes of lives I might possibly be in in another life – these can’t be substituted with anything else.

I’ve learned so much from living with people, from following my heart, from my mistakes, from picking up the pieces of the mess I walked right into. I console myself with the fact that sometimes in life, it’s the hardest hits that mould us into stronger individuals.

It teaches me the most important things in life, most evidently that money provides comfort but it cannot buy happiness. It teaches me about contentment, in human connections, in survival.

It makes us humble, grounds us, reminds us of our primal needs. Most of all, it continuously reminds me to never let anyone or anything make us forget that we have the power to make choices instead of letting circumstances define us.

That’s the beauty of travel.


Read: Beyond Yosemite National Park & Other Exciting Things to Do in Tuolumne County

I catch myself staring out the plane window (omg those 30-hour flights), the car windows on road trips, over the balcony, into the ocean, and up when the moon is shining its brightest. And that’s because I’ve learned to live and let live instead of continuously chasing after something.

The heart vs the mind

If there’s one other thing I discovered about myself and meeting people who’ve touched my hearts, it’s the insanely difficult battle between my heart and my mind. As much as I try to do right and be a logical person, I constantly struggle between following my heart and making rational (but heart-wrenching) decisions.

Most of the time the heart wins, and in opening myself up, I become vulnerable. This was why I’d been subjected to a lot of heartbreaking moments this year – being lied to, betrayed, used, feeling remorse…

Yet somehow, I still find it in me to forgive, to believe in second chances, to believe in the good naturedness of people.

Read: 2019 in Review; Lessons From Each Country

And so, the greatest lesson of all this 2019:

When we look up at night, the stars are a reminder of the brief time we have on this planet. Everyone we meet, everyone we love, how we got here, what path we choose and who we choose to remember are all part of our story.

We cannot allow our stories to be written for us, because we don’t have forever. Sometimes, all we have is a single opportunity, and it’s up to us to seize it.

The more I immerse myself in wholly living, the more I know I’m no longer the same person. I feel like a completely, totally different being. This scares me as much as I embrace this me.

Peace and love to you,
Bel

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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.