I am very humbled to be approached by the editors of FlyMe360 Magazine, an online travel magazine based in Malaysia which was newly set up a couple of months ago. They ran a competition last year to look for contributors on travel writing and my piece on Mumbai won their Honourable Mention Award :-)
The Mumbai article was scheduled to be published in the October edition for quite some time, and just two months ago, the editors contacted me and asked if I would be interested to do an interview as well (via email). Needless to say I was more than happy to do the interview :-)
To view the interview and other travel articles featured in the magazine, subscribe to FlyMe360 NOW, click here .
In the meantime, here’s the text format of the interview for easy reading:
FlyMe360 is proud to have Kathleen with us this issue. Let the camera roll…
1. Hi! First of all, thank you for taking time to sit down with us. To start the snowballing, could you please explain what does Kat Pegi Mana mean?
Kat Pegi Mana means Where is Kat Going To. It’s a question most friends ask me ever since they found out how passionate I am about travelling. They are curious to know where my recent travels were or where is my next destination.
2. What basically started your decision to travel so much? Was there a ‘spark’ of some sort?
I think the “travel genes” runs in the family. My parents love to travel too, in fact, their first overseas trip was in 1972 to Japan & Korea, and if I recall from their stories, they had then been to other places such as Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1980s. It was a big deal in those days to have that opportunity to travel abroad.
Although my sister and I never travelled abroad with our parents when we were schooling, we went with them on domestic trips to Ipoh, Penang, Pangkor Island, Cameron Highlands, etc. I often recalled being on road trips most of the time. My father used to say that we should always take the opportunity to travel and explore places, and to learn from these experiences.
So I started travelling during my university days in Australia. Then travel plans were put on hold during the initial years of my career in KL because I wanted to save money. However, the ‘spark’ or the urge for wanderlust became greater in 2009 when I befriended a group of work colleagues who shared the same crazy travelling interest as I. And with the advent of low-cost airlines, my life has changed since then – I became a frequent traveler!
I no longer travel with this group of friends because we have moved on to pursue other life opportunities – relocation to other countries, change of jobs, birth of a child, etc. – but we still keep in touch and hope that we might have a big reunion someday in Bali!
3. How exactly do you choose your location when you travel? Was there a plan? Or just random decision?
Well, I’m a Capricorn and my job function is in business planning, so there is always a plan! I may not plan my activities to a tee but I like to have a rough idea on where I want to go and what I want to see. I guess this planning habit is helpful as I have limited time off from work, so I would like to visit and experience as much as I can within a short period of time. I would probably “plan less” if I’m a full-time traveller :-)
I have a bucket list of places I want to visit…oh c’mon, all of us have a bucket list of some sort! But I don’t travel to places just to tick off the checklist. Most of my destinations are chosen based on a couple of factors: ability to take time off from work, climate/weather and budget.
There had been situations of random decisions too in the past – travel talk over pints of beer and flights were booked the following morning for travels a few weeks later :-)
4. Of all the countries you have visited, which one is your favourite? Will you go back there again?
I have a few favourites: India, Bali and Italy. I have been to India 8 times and will be making my 9th trip in Oct. I fell in love with Bali a few years ago and have been there twice and would love to return again. Italy never let me down and I would love to return to Italy in the near future when the foreign exchange rates are more favourable.
Oh, can I add Sri Lanka too? I have been to Sri Lanka twice and it is such a beautiful island with amazing beaches, ancient history and incredible gentle people who love to smile. A very special place.
5. Do you plan your travels? If yes, how?
For airfares, I like to make comparisons of a few airlines. There were times when I didn’t mind paying additional MYR100-200 (USD$23-47) for a national carrier flight because baggage check-in and meals costs are inclusive of the airfare.
For accommodation, I usually stay at guesthouses, B&B or 3-star hotels, depending on the country or city. I often check reviews in Tripadvisor before booking. I have also stayed in boutique hotels in Thailand especially during the low season when prices are much cheaper. I have tried AirBnB this year and the experience has been positive so far.
In terms of sightseeing, I research quite a bit on where I want to go and what I want to see. The amount of information available on the internet is endless. Although it can be daunting for some people, I would urge travelers to read about the country before travelling particularly about its culture and customs. We certainly do not want to offend the local people for not respecting their customs or not adhering to attire rules.
Having said all that, I don’t plan my trips everything to a tee as it’s always good to have some flexibility in my plans for changes that could occur anytime. And it’s the changes that make the trip more fun and memorable!
6. Any travel experience/story you will never forget?
I travelled to Iran in May this year. It was an unforgettable experience because Iran is such a misunderstood country due to global politics, as a result, people have avoided travel to this country. Despite its global political circumstances, Iran welcomes foreign travelers with open arms. It’s fairly easy to travel in Iran especially for women.
I had enjoyed my trip immensely – the country is very rich in ancient history, arts and culture; jaw-dropping Persian architecture with colourful mosaics and frescoes; beautiful gardens and flowers; delicious food cooked with saffron (saffron is king in Iran), rosewater, yoghurt, fruits and nuts; and most of all, Iranians are the most generous and hospitable people I have ever met.
7. What is the biggest challenge you face when travelling as a woman?
I don’t go on organized tours because I prefer independent travels and there have been several solo travels as well. Touch wood, I have not had any major challenges when travelling.
My advice to female travelers is to be observant of your surroundings and be street smart. For example, look out for landmarks when moving around so that if a taxi driver takes you through an unfamiliar route, your instincts would tell you that something is not right, you can speak up. In that way, the driver is aware that you’re not someone who he can fool easily.
Another example is act confident even though you could be feeling lost and confused. Eventually the false confidence helps you to put the situation into perspective and you would find a solution to the problematic situation.
Other than that, just go out there and have fun!
8. What are the five most essential items you bring along every time you travel?
Passport, camera, mobile phone, book and a shawl (to keep me warm on flights).
9. Kat Pegi Mana is a website you have started. Do you have a future plan for it?
No future plans really. At the moment, I’m enjoying sharing my travel experiences with my readers.
10. How was it like to run a travel blog/website? Was it as easy as you initially thought?
I’m actually not a techie so the initial experience was a little mind-boggling. It took me a few weeks to get the site up with contents and design layout but once it was up and running, the website was easy to navigate and manage.
I blog twice a week but I don’t actively blog during my trips. I create a travel series of the destination that I have recently visited, hence readers are able to come on a journey with me as they read my posts.
I enjoy running my travel blog. It is energizes me, provides a perfect avenue for me to express my thoughts when I write about my travel experiences and to share my photographs. Managing a travel blog also helps me to get in touch with other bloggers and camaraderie is formed among us. We share experiences and tips with one another.
11. To those that want to start a travel website, what will you advise them?
Go for it…and don’t stop regardless the number of followers. Just keep on writing and sharing your experiences, and one day, your travel website will get noticed.
On The Lighter Side…
I guess that’s enough of serious questions. Let’s do a few light ones.
Let’s start with… Coffee or tea?
Definitely coffee but I switch to masala chai when I’m in India. There’s something invigorating and comforting about masala tea.
If you are a fruit, what kind of fruit will you be?
A banana. Friends call me a banana anyway because I’m a Malaysian Chinese who can’t speak Chinese!
Any pre long haul flight ritual?
No, I don’t have pre long haul rituals. I’m generally not a very fussy person when it comes to flights.
Apple or Android phones?
What are the books you are reading lately?
Just finished reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I have just started The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher.