My 2020 Highlights as a Travel Addict Who Couldn't Travel
This abomination called 2020 may have brought a curse on everyone on Earth, but it represents a whole new level of irony to us Malaysians.
In 1990, our fourth prime minister launched a mission called “Vision 2020”, which was basically a long-term goal for Malaysia to become a “fully developed nation” in 30 years’ time.
So, everyone who called themselves Malaysians were more than familiar with the phrase as it became the country’s slogan. Any patriotic song, mural, poster, or logo, would somehow or other incorporate these magic words. Even the prime minister’s car plate number was “Malaysia 2020”.
And every Malaysian kid who grew up in the 90’s were fed with fantasies of 2020 being the year of flying cars and space travel.
Well, what a huge farce it was — the year that the whole nation had been eagerly anticipating for the past three decades turned out to be… hmm, I can’t think of any word to describe it that’s not a cuss word.
Forget space travel — we couldn’t even leave the house.
As someone whose livelihood and sanity rely heavily on travel, this was a big sucker punch for me. Not least because I had just started a travel blog and another side hustle that was also centered around the tourism industry.
But as they say, everything comes with a bright side, and — though it may be hard to acknowledge — so did 2020. At least it did for me.
As per my tradition, at the end of every year, I conduct a self-appraisal, where I take stock of what I have achieved or failed to achieve within the past 12 months. It’s also the time for me to set new goals for the upcoming year.
So, let’s have a look at this year’s goals:
Join one running event? Nope.
Climb one mountain? Nope.
Visit 5 new countries? Nope, nope, nope!
Admittedly, 2020 has been a year of so many nope’s and can’ts, but amidst all that, there have been a few yeses in my life:
– 2020: An Anthology
The year 2020 began on a pretty high note for me as another one of my short stories was published in an anthology that bears the name of this monumental year.
(This is my fifth work to be published in print. You can check out my other published works on my Goodreads Author page.)
Published by Fixi Novo, this book is a collection of futuristic short stories told in present tense, contributed by writers who had been featured in at least one of Fixi Novo’s previous books.
The call for submissions was e-mailed to me some time in October 2019 and I had exactly one month to come up with something. Unfortunately, fiction was never my forte, let alone sci-fi. So, the result was a rather slapdash piece that, to me, was cringey at best.
Surprisingly (but luckily for me), one of the editors was crazy about it, so it was selected to be one of the twenty stories to be featured in the book.
On January 11th, we held the book launching ceremony at Lit Books, Petaling Jaya, where — much to my horror — each writer had to be interviewed in front of the audience.
2020 – An Anthology
Malaysians have been looking forward to this talismanic year for decades. In fact, we started anticipating it when our seventh Prime Minister was still our fourth. Is 2020 really the year when we suddenly become a modern, progressive society that is the envy of the world? Or have things stagnated and ossified beyond repair?
Don’t answer all at once! 2020: An Anthology brings together 20 pieces — mostly fiction, but some essays and a comic too — that reflect on our nation by focusing on our people, who continue to thrive and flail and exist in ways that will never be captured by even the most visionary slogans.
Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented events of 2020, the book didn’t sell very well, mostly because the scenarios envisioned by the writers couldn’t compete with the real-life disaster the year brought upon us.
As a result, the publisher had to sell the book off at 90% discount. Any unsold copies will be recycled before the New Year — to get rid of the 2020 jinx.
– Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 2
Somewhere around the middle of the year, more great news came my way as another one of my short stories was published in yet another anthology, making it my sixth published work.
This one is a collection of 11 personal finance-themed short stories by Malaysians, for Malaysians, that were curated by Suraya Zainudin, writer and founder of Ringgit oh Ringgit, a popular personal finance blog.
The stories had actually been selected the year before and the launch date was set to be in April, but when that time rolled around, the country had been put on partial lockdown, restricting any kind of social gatherings and interstate travel.
So, we didn’t have any book launch event, and the copies were distributed to major bookstores without any fanfare. In spite of that, the book has garnered some pretty rad reviews since its publication.
Check some of these out (of course I picked the ones that specifically mentioned my name):
My story, entitled “The Wandering Waitress” is one that I’m very proud of although at some parts it’s a jumbled mess of present tense and past tense. But it tells the true story of how I managed to travel to almost 50 countries on a waitress’ salary. If you’re curious to know the secret, go get the book!
It’s available at most major bookstores in Malaysia (Kinokuniya, MPH, Times, Borders, and Popular). Or you can also purchase it online in either paperback (RM32.90) or e-book (RM9.90) version.
At present, the paperback version can only be delivered within Malaysia. For those of you who reside outside of Malaysia, please opt for the e-book version instead. Click here to purchase. And thank you in advance!
Ringgit Oh Ringgit also offers an affiliate opportunity where you get 20% of the book price for each successful sale.
Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 2
Eleven short stories. Eleven authors. One theme: Money. From autobiography to science fiction. You’ve never read personal finance literature like this before.
The Language House
Another piece of great news came in late October, when I was announced the first-prize winner of an essay-writing competition organized by The Language House Malaysia.
The topic given was “Tourism Post-Covid-19 — Can Tourism Survive Post-Covid?”, which happened to be a subject close to my heart. So, it was a joy to write.
Prizes were sponsored by Holiday Villa and Orient Escape Travel Sdn Bhd. I’ll let you know what they are once I have redeemed them. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, you can read the winning essay here.
For those of you who haven’t been following this blog since its conception, here’s a little backstory:
I started Ummi Goes Where in May last year. This isn’t my first time blogging, although it’s my first time owning a dot com domain.
In 2013, I had another blog on blogspot. It was a bucket-list blog, where I listed out more than 900 things to complete in my lifetime — from the mundane (get a manicure) to the outrageous (jump out of an airplane), from the attainable (climb Mount Kinabalu), to the nearly impossible (have a flat tummy).
Without going into too much detail, 2013 was a rough year for me and the bucket list gave me the will to get out of bed every morning (more on that on my About page).
So, for almost 6 years, I had been updating the blog on and off whenever I ticked something off my bucket list. Six years may sound like a long time, but it didn’t make me an expert at blogging. The blog was more like an online diary for my own eyes and those of a few close friends.
I didn’t know the first thing about SEO, landing pages, mailing lists, monetization, or any other terminologies related to blogging. To me, it was nothing more than just a self-care practice.
But after a while, I felt like my stories — particularly my travel stories – deserved a bigger audience. I wanted more people to read them and benefit from them. There must be someone out there who’s just waiting for that little spark of inspiration. There must be someone out there who will read my blog one day and find that this is exactly what they’ve been looking for.
So, that was how this blog started.
This time around, I decided to do it professionally from the get go. Using the internet as my course material, I taught myself the basics of web design, logo design, SEO optimization, and a little bit of everything that I needed to know to start a responsive self-hosted website.
I decided to retain my bucket list but pared it down to 600+ items to keep it travel-related.
Things went quite well for the rest of 2019 and early 2020. Although traffic didn’t exactly come pouring in, I was fueled by excitement and was happy enough with the few hundreds views I had per month.
And then, around March, Covid hit Southeast Asia hard. Malaysia closed its borders, along with many other countries in the world.
For a while, I continued writing about my past travel experiences. There was plenty of material to work with. But when June came around, I started to lose some steam.
As my page views dropped, so did my motivation. It’s pretty disheartening to write something, knowing that nobody’s going to read it. Who wants to read or search about travel at a time like this? Consequently, the blog went quiet for a few months with no new posts.
It was only in September that I started to discover Facebook groups for bloggers. And there are many of them!
If you’re a new blogger yourself, I can’t recommend this enough. Joining groups and engaging with the community can do wonders to your blogging experience. Not only do you get to learn from more experienced bloggers, it also helps you get traffic and engagements on your blog, and this of course motivates you to keep writing.
I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. After actively participating in those groups, I started to see a significant increase in activity on my blog. And as a response, I doubled the frequency of my posts from once a week to twice a week, and then to three times a week.
These are some of my favorite posts of this year:
- The WORST Hotels I’ve Ever Stayed At
- How to Travel in Santorini on a Budget (3D2N Itinerary for less than $500)
- How to Go on a Budget Safari in Masai Mara, Kenya
But interestingly enough, my most popular posts are the lists of top 10 food and drinks to try in Malaysia:
That’s a total of 131 countries! A big thank-you to my viewers in Malaysia and the United States for being my biggest supporters (although I suspect the views from Malaysia might have mostly come from myself).
My total views for the whole year amounted to around 15k, which is admittedly a rather embarrassing amount compared to the millions of views earned by my fellow bloggers in the blogging community, but I’m extremely proud of it nonetheless. It shows a 295% increase from my previous year’s performance.
Another milestone that I think is worth mentioning is, in October, Ummi Goes Where received its very first sponsored-post offer from a quite prominent local brand. Hooray!
But I (politely) turned it down. Yup, this small-time blogger had the audacity (and stupidity?) to say no to a big brand.
I’m too big-headed for my own good sometimes, but in my defense, the brand didn’t fit my niche or target audience at all.
The whole purpose of my starting this blog is to share my travel stories, and possibly inspire others to see the world. That is my passion and that will always be my priority.
Idealistic much? Maybe so, but one thing you can be certain of is that if I do promote something, it will be something that I truly care about.
In the meantime, if you’d like to support my work, you can buy me a coffee! It’s only going to cost you $2.
Malaysia Website Award
Just three weeks ago, about a year and a half since this blog was born, it was selected by the Malaysia Website Award as the Website of the Month for the month of November.
This came as a complete surprise, as I didn’t expect to even make the shortlist when I submitted my website.
For someone with no prior experience in web design/development, and using only a free WordPress theme, on a 12-year-old laptop that needs rebooting every hour, it is a huuuuge achievement to be listed alongside professional web developers.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m an expert already. Far from it. There’s still a long, long way for me to go to be in the same league as the other contenders.
Judging from the previous months’ winners, it’s highly unlikely for me to snag the Website-of-the-Year title or even the People’s Favorite Website award, but I’m quite content with what I achieved, which I think is not too shabby for a first award.
I’m not going to lie — not being able to travel abroad is a huge bummer. I know, I know, this sounds very privileged, and I do realize that traveling is a privilege.
I don’t have huge commitments at home, and for that, I’m grateful. But this doesn’t mean that I have an endless supply of money like many people think. The truth is, travel has become a form of escapism for me.
I’m sure everybody has a favorite thing to do to ‘get away from it all’. Some people read, some people meditate, some people go for a jog. Some may have more expensive hobbies, like scuba diving, shopping, or adding more accessories to their car.
Well, I travel.
Fellow backpackers would be able to relate, but most other people would think that I spend money like water every time I go gallivanting abroad. This is simply not true!
In my younger days, I didn’t care if I had to sleep on the floor of a bus station or eat plain bread for a week — as long as I got to be on a foreign land. In fact, my three-day trip to Indonesia was most likely cheaper than your family dinner at a seafood restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
Due to Covid, I had to cancel three international trips including a trip with my mom that we had been planning for years.
But I still managed to go on two trips in total (one international and one domestic).
– Bali & the Nusas
In January, I went to Bali, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan (that may sound like a lot, but they’re actually separate islands that are located very close to each other).
Bali is one of my favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. It doesn’t matter how many times I go, there’s always something new for me to see and do. And I haven’t even seen every part of the island yet.
On this particular trip, I stayed in a treehouse on Nusa Penida, did a photo shoot in traditional Balinese costume, stayed in a private villa in Sanur (it’s not as expensive as it sounds), and took a scooter lesson in Canggu.
Little did I know that that was to be my one and only international trip of the year.
– Penang, Taiping & KKB
For my birthday in August, I traveled to Taiping and Penang, where I didn’t do anything much other than stuff my face with food. But on my way there, I made a side trip to Kuala Kubu Bharu to do something crazy.
However, just a few weeks after I did the rope swing in Kuala Kubu Bharu, I was shaken by the news of another participant who broke her back when the rope snapped, causing her to plunge onto a rock.
My heart goes out to the victim. At the same time, I am once again reminded of the fragility of life and of how lucky I am for still being here.
Exploring My Own Backyard
For the rest of the year, I didn’t go anywhere else. There was enough to keep me occupied at home and in my neighborhood. So, I went to rediscover tourist attractions in my own city, taking full advantage of the absence of international tourists.
Although I was bummed out about not being able to travel abroad, I actually enjoyed staying at home. Yes, I may be an avid traveler but I’m also an introvert at heart. And 2020 is made for us introverts — we’ve been social distancing before it was cool.
For me, there’s never a shortage of things to do at home. Rather, I often feel like I don’t have enough time to do them all.
Staying at home during the pandemic allowed me to work on myself, learn new skills, practice self-care, and eat! Here are some of the things I did throughout the year:
As you can see, I did a lot of cooking and even dabbled in the art of baking. I also:
- Learned to make kombucha
- Learned to make paneer (Indian cheese)
- Learned to cut my own hair
- Learned to play the keyboard
- Learned to use watercolor
- Learned to use charcoal
- Learned basic calligraphy
So, what are my plans for 2021?
1. Write more!
I have so many more stories to tell. There are at least 20 more countries that I have visited but haven’t had the chance to write about.
If only I could write faster. A huge portion of my time is spent staring at the blank screen as I struggle to put thoughts into words. Every time I manage to write a few sentences, I start to second-guess myself and delete the whole thing. And then I go to the kitchen and open the fridge.
So, I’ll be working on that. Expect to see at least 2 posts per week.
2. Be more active on social media
I’m just very, very lazy when it comes to social media. I can write blog posts pretty much consistently, but I’m terrible at promoting my content on other platforms.
My Instagram and Twitter accounts have probably grown cobwebs by now. For a travel blogger, I sure have a lousy ig feed.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, thank you for sticking around while I post 10 years’ worth of old photos (I started traveling in 2010, after all).
Most of the pictures were taken using phones with 2mp cameras and an ancient digicam that was powered by AA batteries, so that should explain the shoddy quality. I just don’t think I should hide them away just because they’re ugly — they still hold my happy memories no matter what.
If you haven’t followed me yet, please do, as next year I will be posting my more recent photos.
3. Make more videos
Earlier this year, before the pandemic, I started my own YouTube channel to document my future travels, but then Covid happened, and I was at a loss what to post. I didn’t take many videos on my previous trips, unfortunately.
In the end, I did manage to produce some videos, although not all of them are travel-related. The great thing was I still gained a lot of new knowledge on video editing.
Next year, I’m hoping to improve my skill and produce more. You can subscribe to my channel here.
And last but not least, I shall continue doing what I’ve always been doing:
4. Live, love, learn, and laugh!
I’m so full of myself and could go on and on if you’d let me. So, that’s enough about me — let’s talk about you instead. How has your 2020 been? What are some of the highlights in your life this year? Comment below.