What it's like to quit your job to travel
Reaching for my dreams
I have always believed that if you want something badly enough, you would do whatever it takes to make it happen.
My ultimate dream in life—perhaps like many of you reading this—was always to travel the world. Growing up in a family of modest earnings, I was lucky enough to explore Malaysia's favourite holiday destinations, and later on bits and pieces of our beautiful neighbouring countries.
When I became a writer for a local magazine, I finally had a couple of opportunities to travel outside of the region, to New York and to Beijing. I was always itching for more; especially when, at one point, there was a burst of "I Quit My Job to Backpack Around the World" stories surfacing on the web. But when you have any sort of commitment at home—bills, rent, family and such—that dream becomes next to impossible. Unless, of course, you find a way to make it happen.
That's why I left my job as a writer to become an air stewardess.
It was only when I saw an ad for an international airline crew recruitment that it struck me: The easiest way to travel—while being able to pay the bills and care for your family—is to join an airline!
It wasn't an easy decision, though. I would be leaving a job I was really familiar with—I had been a writer for almost five years—to delve into an industry I had absolutely no knowledge of. I was going to turn 27 and I would have had to start at the bottom of the food chain after working so hard to establish my career in the media industry, learn to readapt and study aircraft and airline jargon, and goodness knows, be a punching bag for angry customers and the all-feared "zappy" crew. Not to mention... I was kind of afraid of flying. I decided to see how my luck panned out by attending the interview: if I got in, I would just have a new job to consider, and if I didn't, well, I already had a job so I had nothing to lose. The process was pretty daunting for someone who has never been to an airline interview before.
I was going to turn 27 and I would have had to start at the bottom of the food chain after working so hard to establish my career in the media industry, learn to readapt and study aircraft and airline jargon, and goodness knows, be a punching bag for angry customers and the all-feared "zappy" crew.
Imagine hundreds of young women and men, dressed in formal attire and made up to the nines, waiting to be called into the interview rooms. Most of them seemed to be from other airlines, with their hair perfectly coiffed, nails perfectly manicured with flawless makeup. Somehow I made it through the interview rounds, signed some papers and got the golden call a month or so later. I guess if I had to give advice to those wanting to join an airline, I would say, just go in with a positive and humble attitude, and be confident. Or in the case of those who fear even trying (like I was), just GO!
The journey afterwards, however, wasn't an easy one. The fear of failing constantly egged at me, but I had uprooted my life to start a new career so I had to push on. Throughout my preparations and pretty rigorous training course, it was the idea of visiting new cities, paired with a pretty darn good salary bump to come, that kept me motivated. It took many, many months of studying, learning and adapting to "crew culture," but all that uncertainty and fear eventually vanished once I realised that I was in the midst of living my dream. Within my first two months of flying, I had travelled to London, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Istanbul, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and more that I can't even recall now. Only a year-and-a-half into the job and I have visited over 35 cities in some 15 countries. Oh, and that fear of flying I had? Turbulence has now become my sleeping aid.
It's not just the travelling that is fulfilling. I've had the opportunity to meet people from every corner of the world, be it my fellow crew or passengers. Meeting these people, talking with them and observing them has been such an eye-opener. You get to learn and adapt to so many different cultures. That's when you realise how huge the world really is.
The job itself? I won't deny that it looks pretty glamorous from the outside. After all, uniformed crew in numbers certainly command attention from the general public. But the job can be quite far from glamorous. Some of my friends and peers from the media industry would joke with me, saying, "so you're a highly-paid waitress." Should anyone say that to me now, I'd probably laugh and agree with them (because my "waitress" job allowed me to have scones for breakfast in London yesterday, and tomorrow I'll be having fresh sushi in Tokyo for dinner). But I'll add that cabin crew are there first and foremost for your safety—we are, after all, trained to make sure that every single person on board reaches their destination safely. We also take on the roles of cleaners, cooks, nurses, butlers, mediators—you name it. I know it's cringeworthy to say this, but the gritty work becomes all worth it when a passenger comes up to you at the end of a flight and says, "thank you for your service."
My "waitress" job allowed me to have scones for breakfast in London yesterday, and tomorrow I'll be having fresh sushi in Tokyo for dinner.
Today I look back at this decision that changed my entire life and count my blessings for the fact that it has worked out well for me so far. Someone once told me that if you don't ask for something, the answer will always be "no". Don't ever let fear hold you back because you never know if it's stopping you from making the best decisions you will ever make in your life.
Here are among three of my favourite destinations to visit (among many others!):
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY VIA MILAN
Straight out of a postcard, Cinque Terre comprises five small villages that rim the coast of the Liguria region in Italy. It takes about a three-hour train journey from Milan to get there; quite an effort, but none that will be wasted. Each town boasts spectacularly beautiful views that can be appreciated both from twisty cliffside trails and quaint cafes serving local fare.
The charm of Seoul is difficult for me to explain. It seems easy to say this but I just love being in this city: the delicious food, the mix of old world charm and modern bustle, and not to mention really, really good shopping. Those advertisements really weren't lying.
Hands down, one of the most underrated cities that many avoid travelling due to its recent political unrest. I was lucky to have visited during calmer times, and I was blown away by the magnificent architecture, its charming detail and pure beauty.