Why I choose to travel almost every other month and what that teaches me

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Beautiful orange hues from the early sunrise en route to Mount Kinabalu's peak

Recently, my colleagues have been joking to me about how travelling is now my full-time job. I had returned from Chiang Mai on a whirlwind three-day trip to be with elephants. And two months later, I had scaled Mount Kinabalu’s peak, an achievement I hold dearly in my heart as it was not an easy feat.

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Someone once asked me: What is the one lesson I learnt from travelling that I could apply at work? It was actually a really interesting question. You see, travelling is as important to me as giving my best at work; so the one word that quickly came to mind was - resilience. Being resilient in tricky situations like abseiling down the mountain with just a rope and no safety equipment, or being overcome with trepidation from feeling lost while wandering around quiet streets in Thailand, has taught me that I can apply the same quality resilience, as it were, to my work.

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En route to Laban Rata base camp

There are often times when some ideas take a backseat for a few factors, and rather than allow that fear of failure to overcome you, I’d keep that idea in mind and propose it again when the time is right. Or I would subconsciously weave parts of the idea that could be implemented easily rather than scraping the whole process. To me, this feels like I can ‘bounce back’ from difficult experiences, and soldier on.

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Laban Rata resthouse lies 10,739 feet above sea level

Travel solo and learn about yourself

At times I would choose to travel solo either because my friends’ schedules clashed with mine or if I picked up a great airline promotion deal that I didn’t want to miss out on. These solo sojourns often brought me great learning experiences about one’s self when you’re on the road alone. I learnt to be fairly independent and organised, and took to the task of scheduling my trips down to a T.

I learnt while I could multi-task and get certain things done concurrently, jotting down proper notes and researching into places I want to travel to, is the best way to go. I also learnt to manage my finances better, picking hotels or Airbnbs closer to landmarks so I could do without expensive taxis, relying on good old walking. At the end of the day, gaining experiences and making memories on travel trips, fulfills my wanderlust.

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Gentle creatures roaming the highlands of Mae Taeng, north of Chiang Mai

When I picked an elephant sanctuary called Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai as my to-do list, it was integral to me that I choose a park that rallies conservation efforts as their main goal. According to The Guardian, majority of captive elephants were captured from the wild and traded like tools to benefit tourism and entertainment businesses, many of which offer elephant riding and shows.

At Elephant Nature Park, I learnt of inspiring founder Lek’s efforts of rehabilitating and providing a safe haven for these gentle creatures. One of her programs allows tourists, not more than 10 in a group, to walk with elephants on highland and bathe them in a makeshift pond, which I opted to be part of.

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I could not resist a selfie atop of Mount Kinabalu, measuring 4,098m in height

The experience really taught me about humility as I walked alongside a gentle female adult elephant who - while hosing herself down with sand to chase off buzzing flies - had proceeded to shower me with sand as well! The mahout explained that she was probably ‘protecting’ me as well from the flies, and I teared up after that. Animals have so much love and care, even for a different species.

So when the next time someone says travelling is my full-time job, I’ll gladly embrace it as a means to not just learn new skills and culture, but as the best test to my character and how I can better the lives around me whether at work or within my social circle.

The writer, Reta Lee, is Group Editor at SPH Magazines.

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