award-winning solo travel blogger

How Did Nine Months Travelling New Zealand Change Me?

Dear Mum,

This was never meant to be a journey of self-discovery.

Got my heads in the clouds. Location: Kepler Track.

Got my heads in the clouds. Photo taken on the Kepler Track.

When I packed for my Working Holiday in New Zealand, I had a very clear mission of what I wanted to achieve in the six months. In my first post about my biggest adventure yet, I sang this ambitious tune of personal and professional growth:

“The plan for the next six months is to immerse myself in volumes and volumes of reading and feverish writing. I would also have more energy to focus on my freelance portfolio, and if I have more time, there are a few online MOOCs (massive open online course) that I’ve been wanting to join…

…I’ve set forth to challenge myself to learn a new skill – selling. The first job I applied for was a sales position, simply because I’m afraid of selling, even more so than of a bird attack. I see this as an opportunity to become a salesman and crush this fear once and for all.”

Obviously, all that went out the window.

Six months became nine months. All the adventuring got into the way of my “feverish” reading and writing. I took up a sales job that came in the disguise of fundraising, but, in the end I was more interested in asking strangers about their lives than asking them for money. And let’s not even mention MOOCs.

I didn’t live the Eat Pray Love movie. There was no life-changing epiphany on a mystical mountain top. I did, however, learnt big and small things about myself, people, and the world at large.

Camping with new found friends at Lake Marian.

Camping with new found friends at Lake Marian.

I thought the most fascinating thing about New Zealand was its nature. Fjord, sound, deciduous plants, geysers; everyday I was learning about natural phenomenon that never before existed in my sheltered dictionary. Coming from equatorial Malaysia with that one season, that predictable weather, and that tropical rainforest, New Zealand and its bounty of natural forces showed me how our planet can do so much more than just droughts and floods.

Did you know that there are tomatoes that grow on trees? And that “sound” is not just vibrations in the air? They told me that the valley was carved out by glacier ice. I grew up in the tropics, it took me two months just to wrap my head around the concept of ice-carved valleys!

It wasn’t just nature, it was the people too.

I met people from Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu… I’ve never even heard of these countries before, let alone an entire Polynesian culture tucked away in this isolated part of the globe. We barely hear or talk about the Pacific Islands in Malaysia, yet they are such a huge part of the New Zealand community.

Mum, you always call me her smart girl, but I know so little. We never learned any of this in school! I never realise how ignorant I am until now. There are so many new fruits, new culture, new plants, new weather, new animals, new constellations out there! No offense to Puan Ng, but New Zealand was the best geography class I’ve had, and Mother Nature the teacher. She has taught me that there is so much more to life and the people we see.

I still remember all the people I met when I was working as a street fundraiser in Auckland. All the intimate stories random strangers told me about love, parenthood, hardships. One guy even told me about serving in prison. Can you imagine being inspired by a total stranger? Nothing is as humbling as watching a total stranger reveal a cherished part of their life to you. Your heart touched by an unexpected five-minute conversation at the corner of a street. An ephemeral connection with someone you’ll never see again, but will always tug at the corners of your heart. Behind their smile, their gangster tattoos, their tattered clothes, there is so much untold anguish, wisdom, and character.

My kind of fairy tale. Photo taken at my favourite spot in New Zealand - Milford Sound.

My kind of fairy tale. Photo taken at my favourite spot in New Zealand – Milford Sound.

Mum, I show you fairy tale photos of my life in New Zealand, but there were many little road bumps that happened along the way. Remember when I got robbed? And that friend who scammed me? But don’t worry mom, it just made me a stronger person.

Shit like that happen sometimes, but it always leads to better things. I’ve learned to trust the universe. Oh gosh… I sound like a crazy hippie right now.

I’m not high. I mean, in retrospect, some of the best decisions and adventures I’ve had started with a setback. Like that time my car broke down and my trip was delayed for days. Because of that extra time, Jeffrey joined me on my road trip; because of Jeffrey, we met his rock climbing friends in Milford Sound, who then took us climbing; because of his friends, I met a guy who works at the Milford Sound Lodge; because of him, I was convinced to work at the lodge. All that ultimately led to my decision to delay my flight for two months and spend time rediscovering my love for hiking and camping.

See? Road bumps and heartaches? They are actually magical little fairies setting a bigger plan in motion!

Are you surprised by the hippie your daughter has become?

I surprised myself lots throughout the nine months. I was surprised that I love hitchhiking and CouchSurfing, a total opposite of my pre-conceived notion that I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I was surprised at how lonely I felt when I was in busy Auckland, and how at home I felt living in the isolated mountains. (Though nothing beats the level of surprise you and dad had when I started cooking for myself!)

Most important of all, I was surprised that after living the dream, I still wanted to go home and set out to achieve the plan I wrote down nine months ago. The desire to set camp at home (for now), become a damn good writer and tell great stories on this wee blog burns even stronger than the first day. You of all people know I’m capable of spending the rest of my days washing dishes in a different country every month if I wanted to, but not yet. All that carefree life reconnecting with nature and freedom from the constraints of modern society can wait. Contentment can wait. Right now I want to learn, grow, feel, and achieve great things.

I had my ideal life in my hands, and it did not influence my immediate goals in life. Maybe it’s just me being Asian.

I can hear your massive sigh of relief.

Breathing in happiness at Cobb Valley.

Breathing in happiness at Cobb Valley.

So to answer this question everyone else had been asking me, how did nine months in NZ change me?

It made me surer of myself and who I want to be. It made me a little more matured, a little more inspired, and a little less ignorant. I came out more confident and with so much more drive to become a force to be reckoned with. I hope I make you proud, Mum.

But if any of your friend’s children asks, tell them they don’t need to spend nine months in New Zealand to experience what I did. All they need is to go out and travel. Even if it’s just nine days somewhere out of their comfort zone, they’ll achieve the same in different measures.

All my love,
Your girl x

I’m dedicating this blog to introspective travel stories that’ll teach and inspire. If you like traveling through my stories and photos, follow me on Facebook, and Instagram.