How Our Big Adventure Changed My Mindset Forever: Memories, Regrets and Tips

This is the end of 2 weeks of daily travel throwbacks I promised to write about. Our big adventure happened between November 2019 and April 2020, but now I can finally say I have some closure. This experience ended like an unexpected breakup in a relationship, like I was forced to turn the page despite some unfinished business. We planned 6 months of travel but only managed to do 5 before the pandemic interrupted us. Some would say we didn’t have much luck. I would say we actually got very lucky because at least we completed the biggest part of it.

We travelled to Singapore (1 week), Kuala Lumpur (1 week), Bali (2 weeks), Perth (10 days), Melbourne (2 weeks), Sydney (10 days), then drove from Sydney to Cairns (4 weeks) and finally visited New Zealand (6 weeks). But we got stranded in Fiji, where we planned a 5-day holiday and ended up staying 3 weeks as we couldn’t fly anywhere because of the pandemic. Finally, anyone with a passport from Europe got their access denied to Japan, where we were supposed to visit many cities from Tokyo to Fukuoka during our last 6 weeks of travelling.

What my best memories are

This travelling experience by itself was the best project I’ve ever put together. Among the 6 countries we went to, the only 2 places I’ve been before were Brisbane and Surfers Paradise (Australia) so 99% of it was a complete discovery. I’ve been impressed by Singapore and enjoyed New Zealand way more than I thought I would do. My best memories overall would include:

  • Singapore – Admiring the illuminated super trees in Gardens by the Bay and listening to the evening Rhapsody show
  • Malaysia – Being spoilt for choice in various food markets
  • Bali – Enjoying a private romantic diner for two when I got engaged
  • Australia – Driving along the Great Ocean Road, arriving just on time to watch the sun set over the 12 Apostles
  • New Zealand – Witnessing the natural beauty of the turquoise glacial water of Lake Tekapo

Apart from specific places, I would say my best memory is how I felt when we were travelling: free, happy and very lucky.

What I would do differently

In hindsight, there are always some things you would do differently when you put a plan in motion for the first time. I have no regrets in general, but if I knew better, I would have…

  1. …picked a better time to travel. We left when it was convenient in our calendar but sometimes overlooked the season in the country we were going to. In Southeast Asia & the Pacific, their winter is our summer. So their summer is something we’re definitely not used to and it was a bit difficult for us to cope with so much heat and humidity at times.
  2. …planned ahead for events to celebrate. Our Christmas plan was a bit last minute and my birthday was overlooked. You don’t think of it when you’re planning an entire trip but on the day you can regret it. I would have planned better for these special occasions!
  3. …worked harder to be in a better shape. Fair to say we were not in our best shape when we left travelling and I think we missed out on some physical activities that required a good fitness level, which was a bit of a shame. No need to be able to run a marathon but improving our cardio beforehand would have been a good idea.
  4. …allocated some rest time in the planning. When you’re travelling you also need some time to properly rest. We neglected that part and as a result we felt like it stopped us from enjoying our experience fully. Also, I wouldn’t book accommodation for only 1 or 2 days anymore – or only if it’s just a stop to break down the journey.
  5. …travelled lighter. As much as we tried to take only the minimum in our backpacks, we realised there were some things we never used during our trip. We took too many clothes for example, travelling is not a fashion show and we wouldn’t have minded wearing the same thing regularly if it meant carrying less heavy bags with us.

What you need to know before doing it

If you’re thinking of going on a similar adventure, I thought I would give you some tips (on top of what I would do differently from our own experience) as some things can be easy to forget:

  • Do your research properly: watch videos on YouTube, read travel books but also blogs because they will give you more personal advice, ask people around you who have already done such a thing.
  • Check the vaccination(s) you’ll need early on: sometimes there are several injections needed per vaccine and a deadline for when you need to be vaccinated by, depending on the country you’re going to.
  • Book popular excursions or activities in advance: don’t wait until you’re there as it can get fully booked easily and read reviews carefully before you book, to avoid nasty surprises.
  • Work out how much cash you need with you: some countries are not very familiar with card payments and the airport doesn’t offer the best exchange rate, also keep your cash in various places (in case you get robbed).
  • Pick carefully what bank cards you want to bring: when travelling, traditional banks are not necessarily the best option – Monzo worked great for us as it matches the live market rate with no extra fees when you pay abroad. Take several cards if possible (preferably a VISA and a MasterCard) just in case.
  • Talk to the locals when you’re on the road: they would know some cool places to go to that are not in any travel books, they would also know about the local events happening during your stay.

Finally, you have to accept some level of uncertainty, some things will remain out of your control and you’ll have to adapt. We haven’t always been lucky with the weather or natural disasters ourselves for example… We drove through burning trees in Perth, breathed smoky and unhealthy air in Sydney due to bushfires, drove through torrential rain and got stopped by flooded areas. As a result, there are some places we wanted to go but couldn’t: The Pinnacles near Perth (bushfires), The Blue Mountains near Sydney (bushfires), Cedar Creek Falls near Airlie Beach (flooding), Whitsunday Islands (storms) and Milford Sound in New Zealand (flooding) to name a few. I’m not even mentioning the 6 weeks in Japan we couldn’t do because of the pandemic.

How it changed my mindset forever

This season in Australia has been a very dark summer for the country who’s suffering first from the global warming and climate change. It’s been a real eye opener for us, it’s always easier to face the truth when you witness it yourself… It was not only in the news, it happened just in front of us. We were not really worried about our holidays, we just felt sorry for the locals who lost their homes and all the defenceless animals we couldn’t save. It made me want to care more for our planet, because if we don’t, there will be nothing left to visit for the next generations.

It also taught me how important it was to be grateful in life and how to prioritise things better. Having a healthy body and a healthy mind offers you the best chances to make the most of everything, not only when you’re travelling but in life in general. That’s what triggered my drive to become the best version of myself.

Travelling is key in self-improvement and this is why it’s one of the main categories in this blog. Travelling makes you a better person, it’s the only real way to unlock your mind from preconceived ideas and be more open to the world. Would I do it again if I had the chance? Yes, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. Have you done it yourself or is it in your plans too?

Big Girl x

Bali, Popular Destination Victim of Its Success

Bali is such a popular destination that I don’t know many people around me who have never been there. Over the years, social media – mostly Instagram – has contributed to its success. There is no place more photogenic than Bali, it’s literally impossible to take a bad picture and I was really keen to discover this place everyone was talking about. Over 2 weeks, we stayed in 4 different locations to have a better chance to visit more places: Seminyak (close enough to the airport so ideal to start with), then took a boat to Gili Air (one of the 3 Gili islands close to Bali), Jasri and then Ubud (perfect to round off our trip).

Enjoying a Mie Goreng at Seminyak Beach

I remember Seminyak for being so crowded. You’ll find an amazing beach at sunset, many cool restaurants dotted around and loads of markets to find clothes and souvenirs. But there are a lot of tourists too, everywhere. It’s one of those places you can hear all sorts of European languages around you and bump into many Australians who are here to party. Seminyak would be for Australians what Ibiza is for Europeans. So we simply enjoyed our quiet villa with our own swimming pool, rather than fighting to find a nice spot at the beach. I feel very old writing this.

In search of a slightly more rustic lifestyle, we took a boat to Gili Air, the smallest of the 3 Gili Islands. We stayed overnight on this tiny island and it was epic to be able to cycle all around it in less than 2 hours (mostly because it’s quite hard to cycle on deep sand…). The island is Muslim – as part of Lombok – so you can hear prayers from the Mosque several times a day (including in the middle of the night) which resonates across the entire island. There are not a lot of inhabitants, they live with almost nothing and yet they seem so happy… Slowly rebuilding everything after the earthquake in 2018.

Gili Air

There was no worse experience than our boat trip back to Bali… Several hours below deck in an overcrowded boat without any AC (fans were also not working), going so fast than we smashed into every wave and I thought I was going to vomit my previous meal (and I’m not usually seasick). We felt like cattle being transported. Visiting the Gili islands is definitely worth it but bear in mind the conditions to get there are not going to be your usual luxury. Don’t forget to read reviews properly before you book your “ferry”, not all companies are equal.

This time we came back to Padang Bay and stayed at Jasri, where it was a lot less touristic than Seminyak. We loved wondering around and about, but you don’t have a lot of autonomy if you’re not local in this area. Our villa did offer services from a chef and a driver, so we used both to make the most of it. Some parts of Bali are more quiet but it also means you need to use extra services, it’s down to you what you prefer!

Jasri Beach – Black sand and no tourists there

Because of all the Instagram pictures I’ve seen about the Heaven’s Gate, I really wanted to go there so we booked a day trip with our driver. Let me tell you something, and it’s not going to be pretty but I want to be honest here, this experience is the reason why I would openly say Bali is victim of its success. Too many tourists with specific needs and a thirst for popularity on social media result in Balinese people trying to meet the demand. I kid you not, we queued 2 hours for a picture of us in front of the gates. Not even a real picture, they used a black mirror to create an illusion of water’s reflection under our feet. A bit disappointing for people like us who were in search of a whole experience and not a tourist trap. So I wanted to share a more genuine picture below, same place but no special effects and no lie:

Heaven’s Gate

Ubud is probably one of the best areas in Bali, a lot more artsy and cultural. It’s also more central so you can easily stay there for your entire holiday and visit most things from one place (unless you want to stay near a beach). The number 1 attraction is the Sacred Monkey Forest. This place is gorgeous, only problem is it’s full of monkeys (as you would expect) and we didn’t feel 100% comfortable walking around. It’s not enough to store food in your bag, they will rip it open if they have to! They don’t understand privacy and their unpredictable nature was a real challenge for my other half who didn’t enjoy the visit as much as I did. Just saying, in case you’re not a fan of monkeys either.

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Ubud is surrounded by rice terraces, but November didn’t seem to be the right time of the year to visit Tegalalang as everything was already harvested. Still worth going, just avoid other tourist traps like swings attached to the trees, that didn’t seem very safe to us. I’m sure it looks great on Instagram though.

Tegalalang Rice Terrace

We’ve been to many places and took a lot of pictures but we still felt like we didn’t learn much about Balinese culture so we also watched a traditional dance and musical drama from Bali: the Kecak & Fire dance. It was an hour of strange show without musical instrument, just a chorus of men repeating “chak, chak, chak!”. We learnt later that it was to represent an army of monkeys. This is usually performed at sunset and at the end they light up a fire to dance on it.

Kecak & Fire Dance

Among other places you have to visit in Bali: Taman Ujung Water Palace, Tirta Gangga, Taman Ayun Temple, Tanah Lot… Just be aware there are not secret spots (as in literally everyone knows them) so it will be busy from dawn to dusk. And I didn’t even mention Kuta Beach and Nusa Penida.

Bali is the island of the gods and demons. We found small offerings (mini baskets made of banana leaves, filled with pretty flowers and some fruits, sweets and/or cookies) pretty much everywhere on the floor. They are a sacred form of gratitude for peace and abundance in the world from the Balinese people, devoted to their gods. Most of the time, they end up being walked over by tourists or eaten by stray dogs though…

Canang Sari – Small offerings to sacred Gods

Other random things I’d like to say about Bali:

  • It’s not safe to drive there yourself, you need a driver. They negotiate a price for the entire day and you can ask them to drive you anywhere. It’s a great way to talk to a local and ask questions about the culture too.
  • In some places there are motorcycles everywhere… Seminyak for example. Some tourists rent them for more freedom but I’ve seen many with bad injuries and again I wouldn’t recommend it. Locals are clearly more comfortable with it and are not bothered carrying 2 adults, 2 kids, a dog and sometimes even loads of extra stuff on it (all at the same time).
  • You have to negotiate before you buy clothes in a market. If you don’t, be aware you’ll pay 4 times more than you should… It’s part of the game and it’s actually fun to do. Don’t go too low though, that would be a form of disrespect and they still have to earn money.
  • The island relies so much on tourism that any service will be charged. They will do their best to keep you happy though, Balinese are lovely people with a constant smile on their face.
  • Don’t drink tap water… It will make you sick. Most villas have a drinking water fountain anyway. Otherwise you can find safe water bottles everywhere but don’t forget to bring some with you when you’re on the road.
  • Fruits are what I miss the most from Bali… They’re everywhere thanks to the climate and they’re so good that I find fruits in Europe very bland in comparison. Watermelon and dragon fruits are definitely my favourite.

Bali will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where I got engaged. But I feel we would pick another destination for our honeymoon as its popularity made us feel too much like tourists, when we wanted to enjoy the scenery a bit more incognito. If you’ve been to Bali too, share your experience in the comments below!

Big Girl x

A Year Ago, We Flew Away on Our Big Adventure

This is throwback time, I’m feeling nostalgic as exactly a year ago I was at the very beginning of this extraordinary journey. My boyfriend (now fiancé) and I were working in the same company and were both suffering from a bad company culture that impacted our work-life balance a lot. So one day we decided to quit our job and go travelling together for 6 months in South-East Asia & Pacific. It took us several months to organise everything: sell most of our furniture and stock the rest in a warehouse, sell the car, donate things we didn’t need to charities, terminate or pause any contracts we had and wouldn’t use for 6 months, find a place to keep our cat safe and happy while we’re travelling, estimate our budget and organise our trip… Among other things.

It was a strange feeling to see our flat completely empty

Everyday whilst we were completing our 3 months notice period, we were really excited to get home in the evening just to keep planning everything. Some travellers only book their first plane ticket and then decide when and where to go next on a whim. But we opted for a very organised trip, we knew exactly where we were going and when, everything was booked ahead of time (accommodation, flights, trains etc). Doing it this way allowed us to stay on top of our budget and prioritise all the stops we really wanted to make during our trip, as well as securing the best places to stay in advance. We had 2 backpacks each, one on our front, one on our back, a bum bag for important papers and a neck pillow.

So this is a teaser for what’s coming up in the next 2 weeks on the blog! I’ll come back to each country we visited and tell you all about our best memories in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Australia (Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast all the way to Cairns) and New Zealand (both islands). Most of us can’t go anywhere at the moment thanks to this pandemic so if you want to travel via my stories, you should definitely stick around. For me, it will be the occasion to live again what were probably the best moments of my life!

Our travel itinerary, using Polarsteps

I already covered Fiji which was unfortunately not our best experience as we got stranded there during lockdown. Our last country was supposed to be Japan but they closed their borders on us before we had a chance to get there so I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule for another time (maybe for our honeymoon in 2023…).

I’m really looking forward to telling you all about our first 5 months of adventures. Stay tuned!

Big Girl x

We Got Engaged in Bali, in a Pre-COVID World

How I Got Engaged

You may be wondering… “Ok, she’s decided to focus on her health and change her lifestyle for good. Any particular trigger?”. Of course, the fact that unhealthy people tend to be the most likely to die from the virus is one of the reasons. I love my life and I don’t want to take the risk to shorten it. Especially if I have the power to increase my chances to live longer. But there is something else… I’m a bride-to-be and I want to look my best for the wedding! Let’s go back to how it all happened for us.

Communication is key

I would like to think this article will not interest only girls but guys as well. There is so much pressure on men’s shoulders to make it right! Let me tell you something guys, you don’t have to do it all alone. After all, are we not evolving towards an era of equality between genders? When you’re in a serious relationship, you know it’s inevitable to talk about your future together. Do you want to get married? Do you want kids? It could compromise your entire relationship if you disagree on one of these questions. Nowadays, it seems like couples don’t invest so much on relationships and tend to call it off too easily. Are you scared of being hurt or missing out by committing too soon? You better be aligned on these two points before you invest too much time in it.

We made our own rules

Now that you know that you both want to get married, it’s a matter of when to pop the question. My boyfriend (now fiancé) and I knew we were at that stage of the relationship and discussed about when would be the right moment for him to propose. It’s a formality we didn’t want to skip (he even asked my dad’s permission beforehand) but we also wanted it to be at our image.

So we agreed on the following: he picked the moment and the location (but we decided it was going to happen at some point during our 6 months travel) and we picked together the ring I was going to wear for the rest of my life. The ring is a big investment so I don’t really think it should be left to one person only to decide. You know what, it’s actually a lot of fun to compare options and agree on what to buy together. Don’t forget this symbolic ring reflects your relationship, whether you go discreet, extravagant, unique or traditional etc.

Tip for those who are planning to propose abroad: Bring a fake temporary ring with you! It’s not worth the stress to bring THE ring with you and worry about losing it!

The element of surprise

I left him to decide the date, the location, the setting etc because it’s important to leave these decisions to the one who’s proposing: it kind of maintains an element of surprise when you’re making sure you’re at least aligned on the bigger picture. So here we are, he proposed in Bali! He booked a dinner experience with a rice terrace view at sunset, we had our own waiter at our disposal and a sophisticated set menu of 5 courses… You get it, we’re both foodies and we could enjoy our meal in all intimacy! The setting was amazing and they even made a heart with flowers on the floor.

Kupu Kupu Barong Bali

Happy memories

This place is called Kupu Kupu Barong, in Ubud. It takes me back to December 2019, just before the pandemic started to affect us all in the world. I can say these memories will stay in our heads forever. Are you also engaged? If yes, please do share your experience in the comments below!

Big Girl x