Inspiration

Inspiration, Travel

This Is Why I Airbnb My Way Around The World, While On My Way To Free $1100 Airbnb Credit


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Image Credit: Airbnb


Airbnb is the current trend that people settle for when it comes to traveling in style. It started off as a home-sharing option in San Francisco in 2008 and then today, we have the opportunity to stay in cozy houses for a reasonable price. We fell for this ideation because Airbnb fits perfectly between the hotels and private long-term lease option. The world is slowly embracing it, even Chinese people is the 2nd largest group to visit Airbnb homes in Singapore. What is even more surprising is that the first spot is taken by Singapore. Singaporeans are filling local Airbnb homes faster than any other foreign travelers, which I attributed that to the staycation trend in the country. This was shared by an Airbnb rep at their downtown office in Singapore.

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This home-sharing concept is fresh and inviting to the younger generations, yet proved to be difficult penetrating the older generations in terms of usage. I am certainly not working for Airbnb, nor an advocate for them. But I have to admit that they have changed the way I travel, or rather the way I choose my accommodation option from Vietnam to New York. Indirectly, by choosing to stay in these homes we are also helping the hosts that are willing to lease out their properties – to make use of empty rooms/apartments to generate income. Just like car-pool and bike-sharing, or even commercial business like Uber, the idea revolves around tweaking private ownership to increase social welfare. This social thing, I am an advocate for that.

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Thanks to my readers who tried or signed up Airbnb first-time through my referral! Slowly but surely to the cap of USD 5,000

 

I worked with brands to help manage my cost of travel and that is in exchange for content creation – something which I love doing. Airbnb’s referral programme is another good opportunity to leverage on as a travel writer. Educating people through my content (authentic and practical experiences) is one of reasons why I started writing. This way, I have ‘inspired’ about 32 people (first-time users and counting) around the globe to try out Airbnb so far. The referral programme works for every Airbnb users out there, you can start referring your family and friends to give them and yourself travel credits! If you have read my post about Iceland itinerary, I have a good amount of users who signed up through that because no one is going to build a hotel in the middle of nowhere where the local population is just 2.3k (as of 2016). This way, Airbnb has opened up the option for hosts to accommodate travelers in these remote areas. We are looking at a travel game-changer here.

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Airbnb cottages in East Iceland

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Image Credit: Airbnb

I like the way new businesses do their marketing nowadays, that is through their new customers’ word of mouth, nothing beats the review coming from an existing customer. This probably explains why traditional marketing is not effective for some brands out there. If we look at Airbnb’s cancellation policy, they left it up to hosts to decide their cancellation policy which in a way, determines the percentage of fee (3% or 5%) they give to Airbnb. This is another reason why I like them, because the percentage is much lesser than branded OTAs out there. The resulting effect is that more money to be spilt between the host and the guest – another social benefit.

Since the inception of Airbnb, I have been staying in Airbnb homes except for the times when I was on a campervan road trip in New Zealand or partnering with accommodation providers. There are humble rooms in the city of Tokyo to luxury villas in Europe top-notch locations. It is an experience that is vastly different from staying in a hotel (sometimes I do miss it). Compare walking out of your apartment surrounding by locals on the street of Okinawa to walking into your Sheraton hotel lobby full of tourists.

Last but not least, this is not a call for my readers to sign up with Airbnb through my link but a pure sharing session. But if you really need it, it is here.

If you are a first time user of Airbnb, use my link to get a USD33 credit which can be used for your bookings. By doing so, I get a credit of USD20 too. It helps to sustain me longer on the road to create content for my readers.

 

Europe, Inspiration, Sweden, Travel

Journey to the Artic Circle: An Overnight Train Experience With A Syrian Refugee


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21st march, 2016. I got into Stockholm Central Station from Skavsta Airport and had two hours of waiting time until my overnight train to the Artic Circle. The public bus was more than an hour late. I decided to get some much-needed calories and experience the famous Scandinavian prices at Burger King. I was more hungry that I expected and quickly devoured it. I booked a 3-bed compartment sleeper to Bjorkliden (a ski town 10 minutes away from Abisko; Lonely Planet’s top place for viewing the Northern Lights) to avoid the ridiculously-priced accommodation and hordes of other tourists at Abisko.

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Around SGD 13

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The train pulled to the platform on time and people started looking and hustled for their carriage. I got to my carriage and became the first who went into my assigned compartment. Before I could start snapping photos of it, a middle-eastern looking man whom looked like he was in his forties walked in. I did my “Hi, How are you?” routine. He stared me for two seconds and gestured back. He didn’t seem to speak English or Swedish. Out of curiosity, I asked where he was from and he replied “Syria”. “Wow, Syria!” I kept it to myself and then realised that he only spoke Arabic, simple Swedish and barely any English. All kinds of negative thoughts started to flood my mind, I was expecting to meet certain kinds of people in my journey but not someone from Syria.

The last person assigned to the compartment came in and he looked way older than the first, probably in his fifties. He told me he was from Algeria and had been living in Umea for thirteen years as a translator. He asked me some questions about Singapore, I thought he sounded pretty interested. His English was conversational and we talked for a bit despite the age gap. Right before I went under my blanket to retire for the night, the Syrian offered me a banana and I gladly took it. That sparked a tingle of warmth in my heart and comforted me. I closed my eyes and felt grateful for this very experience, the gentle chugging of the train worked like a charm to send me into deep sleep.

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Morning came, I looked at my watch and it read 5.30am. However, the compartment was brighter than I thought. The Algerian got off at Umea, that left me with the Syrian in the compartment. More space to move around I thought to myself. I put on my jacket and went to the corridor to check the surrounding scenery. I had to relieve my curiosity about the changing landscape as the train moved up north. Everything out there was completely covered with snow, a stark contrast to the scenery around Stockholm. I breathed in the cold Artic air and felt the euphoria down to my bones. This indeed replenished me after a busy spring term. I was engrossed in watching the snowy white landscape sweep by, pulling my mind along its tempo. The Syrian woke up not long after and greeted good morning. He introduced himself as Omar and he was 45 years old. It turned out that he was heading to Boden for a visa interview. He was on his way to there and then back to Linkoping straight after the interview. I thought he flied to Sweden, but in fact he did an overland journey via trains, buses and on foot. He told me that it was cheaper to do it this way and had been on the move for the past three weeks.

As we talked and gestured to communicate, he took two apples out from his backpack and offered one to me. I declined his offer. My guess was that he understood less than a quarter of what I had said so far. Knowing that I speak zero Arabic, he begun to teach me his native language and Swedish which he said he learned it from YouTube. He wrote numbers in Arabic and I was surprised with how they looked like some Chinese numerals. In return, I showed him Chinese numerals. It made me realised that I had not written Chinese for a good ten years, since my O Levels. As our conversations trudged forward due to the language barrier, my impression of him changed for the better. I asked him about the situation in Syria and he replied that it was bad, which was why he wanted to move elsewhere. The expressions that washed over his face as he spoke gave me a tiny glimpse of his world of thoughts, a tiny glimpse into his life. I was in it for a few moments. I couldn’t help it and asked if I could take a picture of him. My hands reached for my camera and froze his smile in the following picture. He’s someone’s son. Someone’s best friend. Someone’s father. Someone’s entire world. He had triumphs and adversities. Then he asked if I wanted his help for a picture which then took place. I excused myself and I went back for a nap knowing that there were a few more hours to go.

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I woke up for the second time. This time round I was feeling hungry and took out my oats bar for breakfast. I passed Omar one and he declined. He then took out a new pack of danish biscuits and shared it with me. I took one and he pushed a few more into my hands, just like how a mother will stuff food into her child’s hands. As we ate our breakfast, he pulled out his phone and showed me pictures of his family. He told me that his family was in Lebanon and he had four daughters, the eldest married to a Lebanese-Australian guy and moved to Australia after. He complained how he wished that there was WIFI on the train so that he could at least talk to his wife and daughters. He did not earn my respect through offering me bananas, apples or biscuits. He earned it through sincere conversations and friendship, the primitive fundamentals of humans. Throughout our conversations, it didn’t feel like he was a refugee. It felt more like a friend and a fatherly figure, or simply someone who was seeking better life elsewhere.

As the train pulled to a stop at Boden Central Station, I bided him farewell and wished him good luck for his interview. He was washed away by the crowd pouring out, as another poured onto the platform for the connecting train to Narvik. One flight, three busses, one overnight train, one city train and 24 hours later, I’m almost at where and how I wanted to be; deep into the Artic circle. Except that I fell in love with humanity and had an experience that one is unable to get from academic years.

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Inspiration

Travel As The New Black


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“One fine day, it will be your turn. You will leave homes, cities and countries to pursue grander ambitions. You will leave friends, lovers and possibilities for the chance to roam the world and make deeper connections. You will defy your fear of change, hold your head high and do what you once thought was unthinkable: walk away. And it will be scary. At first. But what I hope you’ll find in the end is that in leaving, you don’t just find love, adventure or freedom. More than anything, you find you.”

The Staying Philosophy.

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Travel is the New Black. We all crave getaways, faraway or near as they are. Each experience is not characterized by the distance from home, but by our personalities and faith. We long to find that sense of familiarity with new places, establishing faded footprints within the foreign sand. In hope of finding the positive index from within, be it happiness or excitement. As much as the purpose differs, respect is appreciated on any piece of land we are on. And respect comes in the most rural form of humanity. Simple is bliss and this is very real.

Travel is the new exciting form of escapism rather than adventure for some, not till we realize we actually mature from it one day. We cultivate good behaviors and grow positively. We bring new perspectives and negate stereotypes away. For this is what goes around comes around. Escapism has turned good.

Travel is creative. There is no pledge to say or anthem to sing because nothing is for sure. We have our own mind maps for conquering the world, one step at a time, just like how a child learns to run. Travel slow because it is not a competition but an experience. The visual satisfaction of the number of stamps on our passports is not real, but experiences are. Slow down and we will see how much travel has in store for us. Good things take time, just like how coffee needs time to brew.

Travel is not a manifesto of what you want. Let it be what you pursue to enrich your life. It is a leap of faith to be wild. Imagine captive dolphins being released, the results can be amazing or downright awful. It is the ambiguity and efforts that makes it exciting. Because by doing this, you know that you might lead a better life. This cycle could be vicious but in the most endearing way. No matter what happens, remember that this is our choice and we strive to make this choice an alluring one.

Travel is not perfect but unique. We have our own definitions of perfecting travel, but it will never be. Being unique can be perfect but perfect is never unique. For someone else out there share this very same definition of perfect. The art lies in the absolute way we embrace spontaneity and sacrifices. And these are the aspects that we learn along the road, certainly not teachable yet advisable.

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Travel is not the New Black. It is exhausting. Mentally and physically. We forged bonds on foreign soils, temporary or lasting they might be. Friends that we make come and go like the buses we take to commute in our daily life. They, however serve an intriguing yet important purpose, transport us through phases of life. We slip into that dark hole of believing, though this is what keeps us going. The effects on the body and the soul are grey, alike to the shady line between forgive and forget. Before long, we question ourselves in what we believe all along.

We are all humans, wherever we are. Be grateful to the very moments that happen to you. Unwelcoming, dumb, fantastic, touching they may get, but these are the moments that define your travels, or rather you. For we all return home in time, as part of a bigger home that makes us one.

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