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How to prioritise your well-being and reimagine your leadership style with solo travel

Ms Agnes Eu, Chief Executive of HomeTeamNS, reflects on her passion for solo travel and how it has shaped her leadership style.

PHOTOS: AGNES EU

TEXT: AGNES EU

“I would describe solo travel as liberating. You make decisions on your own, sometimes spontaneously, and deal with whatever comes next — even if it’s something bad, like a missed train. Being alone gives you the space to reflect and observe. During a trip to Kyoto, Japan, I noticed how softly people spoke on public transport, out of consideration for others. It made me a lot more conscious of my own tone and volume; something that I continue to be mindful of even today.

As a leader, I value these quiet pockets of time for inspiration and introspection. They’re hard to come by, which is what drew me to solo travel in the first place. I embarked on my first trip around five years ago, shortly after I turned 50. I remember thinking that my whole life until then had revolved around others, in my roles as a daughter, wife, mother, and manager. ‘What am I doing for myself?’ I wondered. At that time, solo travel was all the rage on social media and I decided to give it a try. Of course, I still enjoy family vacations, but these solo journeys are now also a must for me.

Solo travel has influenced my leadership style. Not knowing things and making mistakes are a part of life, and travelling on your own can remind you of this. You gain humility.

Picking a destination for my first solo trip was tricky. Friends encouraged me to challenge myself, perhaps by visiting a place where English is not widely spoken. I also wanted to feed my natural curiosity about the world by going off the beaten track, albeit in countries that I had already visited. Eventually, I settled on Japan, which I’ve since repeatedly explored as a solo traveller, discovering new areas and landscapes each time.

AN EXERCISE IN PERSONAL GROWTH

I always challenge myself to try something different, like a driving holiday or not purchasing mobile data. The lack of a Wi-Fi connection can be challenging, especially when you’re so used to posting on social media. I’m a shutterbug, and not being able to share my vacation photos wasn’t easy. But I resisted the temptation and was thus more ‘present’ during the holiday. I’m glad I did it; I took some photos that I’m very proud of and will probably share them with my friends and family soon.

Of course, there can be moments of frustration while travelling solo. Once, I was lost in Japan and getting quite desperate because I couldn’t speak the language or read the street signs. Naturally, hailing a taxi — which was the easy way out — popped into my mind. But I had told myself at the start of the trip that taxis were a no-no. Somehow, I persevered and found my way around. It reminded me of my own resilience. Such experiences also teach you to accept that things will not always pan out the way you want, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying to make the best of the situation.

Planning these trips is a breeze with online resources. But I’ve learnt over the years that you can over plan and miss out on spontaneous experiences. It’s a new concept to me since I’m usually very particular about planning. Gradually, I’ve learnt to let go. I now plan about 80 per cent of a trip and leave the rest to chance. I think that approach is also useful at work, where we deal with curveballs at times. The recent pandemic comes to mind; even our best-laid plans had to change as the situation evolved.

Now that I’ve completed three trips in Japan, I’m looking westward, specifically to parts of Central Europe. I’m still working out my plans but I hope to embark on this adventure later this year. During the next trip, I might engage in a newfound passion. I’ve recently taken up art and might spend some time drawing and painting in another country.”

WHAT THE LUNAR NEW YEAR LOOKS LIKE TO ME

With the Year of the Dragon fast approaching, Ms Agnes Eu shares the traditions and memories that make the festive season extra special for her.

My most memorable Lunar New Year: I think many can relate to this — the first time I had to give ang pao (red packets)!

My most cherished Lunar New Year tradition: Family time. I’m the one who coordinates the gathering among all my immediate and extended family. The Lunar New Year just wouldn’t be the same without that big gathering.

My Lunar New Year wish: It’s the same every year: a happier one for all and peace everywhere. And as always, we hope to widen and deepen our engagement with the HomeTeamNS community.

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the App Settings.

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Family Time Travel

The Best Family-friendly Road Trip Ideas for Your Next Holiday

They say that the journey is as important as the destination, so hit the highway with your loved ones to make lasting memories.

TEXT: BEATRICE BOWERS
IMAGES: UNSPLASH

According to a report by travel booking platform Expedia, travel these days is about “saying “no” to normal, breaking routines, and searching for experiences without compromises.” All that can be achieved through road trips, which have become increasingly popular, as they offer travellers the flexibility to explore destinations at their own pace — sans the stress of rushing for a tour bus or connecting flight. Thus, it isn’t surprising that the #VanLife hashtag, which sees people documenting their nomadic lifestyle on social media, started trending even before the pandemic.

Beyond such extended escapades, road trips are also a great family-friendly and quick vacation option. Cruising through unfamiliar locations on four wheels presents opportunities to bond with your loved ones as you soak in the changing vistas and groove to tunes piped through your car’s sound system. If this has sparked your wanderlust, you may want to plan your next getaway around these family-friendly road trip routes.

THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD, AUSTRALIA

Soak in coastal views along Australia's Great Ocean Road.

A drive along the 243km Great Ocean Road that hugs Victoria’s coastline is one of the best ways to experience Australia’s diverse landscapes. Although the full route stretches from Torquay to Allansford, you can begin your journey in Melbourne, where it’s relatively fuss-free to rent a car or camper van. Before committing to a rental, check out aggregator sites such as Camper Champ, which will allow you to compare rental fees across major companies.

A trip along this scenic route can take as little as a day or may require a week for those planning to traverse the entire stretch with pitstops along the way. Three days is the sweet spot for capturing most of the iconic sights, which include limestone formations that make up The Twelve Apostles, national parks, and the charming seaside towns of Torquay, Anglesea, and Apollo Bay. Apollo Bay is a hotspot for whale watching between May and September and it has plenty of accommodation options including bed and breakfasts, hotels, and campgrounds like Marengo Family Caravan Park. If you’re unfamiliar with the region, fret not as the Great Ocean Regional Tourism Board has plenty of itineraries to help plan your trip.

THE HOKKAIDO SCENIC BYWAYS, JAPAN

A Hokkaido road trip will take you to various scenic locations.

Hokkaido is a popular winter destination for Singaporeans, but it also holds plenty of charms during other seasons. Spring and late summer, in particular, are great times to embark on a road trip through the northernmost Japanese island as you may spot an abundance of flora and fauna such as blooming sakura (cherry blossom) trees, red-crowned cranes, deer, and foxes in their natural habitats. These are accessible along extended byways that will lead you to smaller towns and cities, which are usually off the beaten path for tourists. Hokkaido road trips are known to be flexible — you can choose to navigate through longer day drives from a central city or plan a short trip from point A to B.

Those starting off from Sapporo will have multiple routes to choose from. A popular pick is the drive to the Shakotan Peninsula: a full-day trip that will take you past the quaint town of Otaru — known for its picturesque canals and music box museums — before opening up to views of the ocean. A sojourn by the sea is possible thanks to several campsites including the Nozuka Municipal Camp Site. Plan your breaks with the Michi Japan Road Guide & Map app, which lists the nearest roadside rest stations with free parking. If you’re looking to rent a caravan, we’d suggest opting for one with a kitchen and dining area so that you can take full advantage of Hokkaido’s famed fresh produce to prepare delicious meals for the fam.

SINGAPORE – KUANTAN, MALAYSIA

Stop at picturesque beaches along the drive from Singapore to Kuantan, Malaysia.

For a quick getaway closer to home, try Kuantan  a Malaysian coastal city five hours from Singapore by car. Along the way, you may want to consider making a detour by driving on Jalan Kota Tinggi, the route along Highway 3, to the Kota Tinggi Waterfalls. The natural wonder, which is a 30-minute drive from Johor Bahru, cascades down a rocky hillside amid a lush rainforest. Then, head to idyllic beach town Mersing to fuel up on seafood — don’t miss the steamed grouper at classic Cantonese eatery Loke Tien Yuen Restaurant. From there, it’s an approximate three-hour drive to Kuantan, a favourite among nature enthusiasts.

The capital of Pahang state has a wide variety of forested trails for both seasoned hikers and beginners — from an easy 30-minute climb up the staircase leading to the Bukit Panorama peak, to the more challenging trek to Sungai Lembing’s ‘Rainbow Waterfall’. It’s said to get its name from the multi-coloured arc that appears when sunlight hits the waterfall’s mist at a precise angle — a spectacle that can be spotted if you complete the hike before 10am. Child-friendly activities that are available in Kuantan include banana boat rides at Teluk Chempedak Beach and the opportunity to spot fireflies at the nocturnal Kuantan River Cruise.

TAIPEI – PINGTUNG COUNTY, TAIWAN

The four-hour route from Taipei to coastal Pingtung County passes by rustic villages.

The four-hour drive from Taipei to coastal Pingtung County is so scenic that you may feel reluctant to end your journey. Unfolding along a twisting highway that takes you through wind-swept mountains and little villages, this is one for more experienced drivers. About an hour from your destination, you’ll encounter the tranquil Sun Moon Lake, which is surrounded by forested mountains and bordered by a 400m bikeway. The area is home to the indigenous Thao tribe, whose intriguing traditional culture you can immerse in during a tour of the community.

Heading down south from the lake, you may want to make a pit stop at Tainan City. It’s known for its historic temples — including the Grand Mazu Temple, which served as the palace of the last emperor of the Ming dynasty — and night markets selling street food delicacies such as danzai noodles (egg noodles in a shrimp and pork broth). When in Pingtung County, do carve out some time to explore the 33,268 ha Kenting National Park as it’s home to a variety of land and seascapes, which includes pastures, mountains, sand dunes, coral reefs, as well as a sika deer sanctuary. Bed down amid nature at Shady Tree Campground, where you can park your vehicle and rent a spacious tented cabin.

ESSENTIAL ROAD TRIP TIPS

Map out your journey digitally: The Roadtrippers app — which covers destinations in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — identifies attractions, accommodation, dining options, as well as petrol stations on your route.

Be aware of traffic conditions: The last thing you want is to lose precious time abroad while stuck in a jam. Try to avoid planning your trip around major holidays or events and don’t set off during rush hours. Download Waze, an app which helps to identify jams and traffic pain points.

Get insured: Travel with peace of mind with the one-year Singlife Travel insurance, which comes with free HomeTeamNS membership.

Be savvy about fuel prices: Save a pretty penny by comparing fuel prices through apps such as Fuel Flash and Petrol Prices and planning your pitstops around gas stations that offer the best rates. HomeTeamNS members planning to drive to Malaysia can refuel at selected Sinopec gas stations in Singapore and enjoy up to 24 per cent off petrol prices.

Interested in serving beyond your obligations? Consider the Volunteer Extension Scheme, which allows PNSMen who have completed their NS liability to continue serving beyond their statutory age. PNSMen (With NS liability) who have passed their statutory age of 40 years (Junior Officers) & 50 years (Senior Officers) may apply.

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the app settings.

Categories
Travel

Insider guides to Melbourne, Taipei and Bangkok for families

Tired of overrated tourist traps? Frequent fliers and Singaporeans abroad share their top picks for under-the-radar attractions, food and activities for families visiting cities popular among their compatriots.

TEXT: THERESE TAY

PHOTOS: Hank’s Café and Bagelry; South Melbourne Market; Koy Gozleme; Murmur; Sovereign Hill; Flickr user Ji Soo Song; Flickr user Iwtt93; Flickr user Ken Marshall; Flickr user Streets of Food; Kate’s Place; Asia Herb Association; Klook; Michelle Ang, Elvin Sng; Audrey Ang

It isn’t surprising that Melbourne, Taipei and Bangkok rank among the top 10 destinations that Singaporeans are interested in visiting, according to data recently released by Google. The cities have long captivated us for an array of reasons, from their tantalising foodie spots to hip haunts for urbanites. While many of such draws feature prominently in the endless scroll of social media feeds, it can be tough to distinguish the must-visit gems from the overhyped and underwhelming locations that locals tend to shun.

At times, it takes an insider to help you sidestep the tourist traps and point you to attractions worth your limited vacation time. To that end, we spoke with three Singaporeans — including residents and a frequent visitor — of these popular cities, who share their favourite spots and practical tips for families. After all, who knows our hearts better than our fellow countrymen?

MELBOURNE MARVELS

About the insider: Michelle Ang is a 27-year-old product designer who has been living and working in Melbourne for a year. Though she misses the food and familiarity of home, she enjoys discovering the Australian city’s parks and international foodie offerings.

MELBOURNE MARVELS

About the insider: Michelle Ang is a 27-year-old product designer who has been living and working in Melbourne for a year. Though she misses the food and familiarity of home, she enjoys discovering the Australian city’s parks and international foodie offerings.

ROLLING IN DOUGH

“While Melbourne is known for its cafes — and correspondingly, its coffee culture — it’s also home to a burgeoning baked goods industry. Check out Hank’s Cafe and Bagelry, in the historic and upscale Armadale suburb that was an important commercial area in the 19th century. Taking pride in bringing “a hearty dose of New York to the leafy streets of Armadale”, Hank’s declares on its website that bagels should be “chewy” and “malty”. Savour these qualities in elevated creations such as the beetroot and gin-cured salmon with herbs, red onion and cream cheese; and the lamb and rosemary meatloaf with pistachio pesto, provolone and cream cheese.”

MARKET DAY

“Hit up South Melbourne Market — open since 1867 and a treasured landmark for locals — not only for its ubiquitous fresh oysters but also some of the best toasties I’ve ever had at the French-themed Oui Chef! Toastie Bar. Favourites include the classic Croque Monsieur (ham, bechamel (a rich white sauce), chives, comte (French cheese made from cow’s milk) and gruyere (a hard Swiss cheese)), and Saucicson (French salami, raclette (melted Swiss cheese), usto (traditional French mustard)). For a delicious Halal option, head to the iconic Koy Gozleme — gozleme is a crispy stuffed Turkish flatbread — where Turkish mamas hand roll and cook the savoury treats in four flavours: Cheese & Spinach, Mushroom & Veg, Minced Meat and Herbed Chicken.

SING OR SPIN

“Beyond its vibrant culinary scene, Melbourne has no shortage of interesting venues for a fun night out. These include piano bar Murmur, where resident and visiting artistes belt out mostly old-school hits to a lively audience. Cocktails are priced at A$18 from 5-7pm. If you’re after an arty day-time activity, spin the potter’s wheel at one of 2 Mayfield Street’s workshops. Its studio is situated in the peaceful and eclectic Abbotsford suburb, which lends access to plentiful green spaces and the Yarra River.”

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

“If you’re in town in June or July, you must experience the yearly Winter Wonderlights event at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This Christmas-themed festival presents a rare opportunity to bask in the Yuletide spirit in the middle of the year, which happens to be when winter falls in the Southern Hemisphere. Expect lights, faux snow, dressed-up storefronts and costumed merrymakers.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Use public transport as it is pretty accessible, and most buses and trains are stroller-friendly. There is also the Free Melbourne City Circle Tram (route No. 35), a “hop on, hop off” service that covers attractions such as St Paul’s Cathedral, SEA Life Melbourne Aquarium and Queen Victoria Market.

  • Score free tickets to an Australian Football League match — a quintessential Aussie experience — under the Kids Go Free programme. The latter grants free access to selected matches for kids aged 14 and under.

  • Go camping with BIG4 Holiday Parks, which offers family-friendly cabin accommodation and camping facilities within easy reach of the city.

TAIPEI TREASURES

About the insider: Elvin Sng, a 42-year-old regional director in the energy industry, has been living in Taipei for five years with his wife and four-year-old son. He relishes the city’s friendly people and the easy access to nature it provides.

TAIPEI TREASURES

About the insider: Elvin Sng, a 42-year-old regional director in the energy industry, has been living in Taipei for five years with his wife and four-year-old son. He relishes the city’s friendly people and the easy access to nature it provides.

WATCH YOUR SNACK

“One of Taipei’s top attractions is its street food. While some of the best can be sampled at the OG of night markets, Shilin Night Market, those seeking a gastronomic adventure might want to head to the slightly smaller Ningxia Night Market. Here, you’ll find Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated Liu Yu Zi, which is famous for its egg yolk taro cake — deep-fried taro paste-filled pastries topped with salted egg yolk and pork floss. Don’t miss Yuan Huan Pien Oyster Egg Omelette, which uses Tainan oysters known for their plumpness and sweetness, and are drizzled in a homemade sweet-spicy sauce.”

WALK THIS WAY

“Speaking of adventures, Yangmingshan National Park is known for its nature trails with lots of manageable options for families and those who want to take it easy. The 2.4km Qingtiangang Circular Trail, for instance, is a particularly scenic and relaxing route. I took a walk there with my wife a week before she gave birth to our son, and we had a really nice time.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

“You can glimpse Taiwan’s richly-layered past in Taipei’s historic parts. A 30-minute drive from the city takes you to Heping Island, which is connected by a bridge to the main island, and home to the ruins of a church built in 1626 by Spanish missionaries. The island is also presided over by an ancient fort constructed by the Spanish, who were later driven out by Dutch colonisers, as well as old buildings that can be traced back to the Japanese Occupation. Those keen to discover Taiwan’s pottery heritage should head to the quaint Yingge Old Street, where they’ll find a ceramics museum, pottery workshops and traditional teahouses.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Take the MRT, an affordable, reliable and efficient way to get around, even with little ones on hand. Plus, children under the age of six travel for free. The rail operator even provides umbrellas on rainy days!

  • Check out themed cafes, for which Taipei is famous. Apart from those inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Moomin and Gudetama, many kiddos will no doubt be tickled by the Modern Toilet Restaurant, which will bring their toilet humour to another level.

  • Use Google Translate when hailing taxis — which are easy to find and inexpensive — as few cab drivers speak English. You may also want to ensure your destination is saved to your phone, ideally in Traditional Chinese which is commonly used in Taiwan.

  • Download the Halal TW app by Taiwan’s Chinese Muslim Association. It’s available for iOS and Android users and is handy for discovering Halal and Muslim venues in the country, including restaurants, hotels, mosques and prayer rooms.

BANGKOK BOUNTIES

About the insider: Audrey Ang is a HR manager in her late-40s who travels to Bangkok some four times yearly. She loves the affordable and value-added experiences in Thailand, and skilled professionals — including chefs and massage therapists — who are truly passionate about what they do.

BANGKOK BOUNTIES

About the insider: Audrey Ang is a HR manager in her late-40s who travels to Bangkok some four times yearly. She loves the affordable and value-added experiences in Thailand, and skilled professionals — including chefs and massage therapists — who are truly passionate about what they do.

NOODLES FOR DAYS

“Food-wise, there’s more to Bangkok than just the usual Pad Thai and pineapple fried rice. A lesser-known yet delicious street food delicacy is duck noodles in a comforting broth that comes complete with duck blood pudding — try the one from Siah Duck Noodle at Rama IV Road. Another hearty meal can be found at Rung Rueang Pork Noodles at Soi Sukhumvit 26. The noodles here are light, silky and super delicious.”

BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT

“Bangkok is home to a plethora of creative contemporary cafes and dining concepts. Prepare to be surprised as you put your tastebuds in the good hands of Pikun “Kate” Wangsantia of Kate’s Place, a supper club hidden behind a bookshelf on the second floor of a shophouse. The latter also hosts a noodle shop. True to its private dining roots, Kate’s Place serves what the boss’ mood dictates. Thankfully, her local-inspired dishes have been described as comforting and uplifting.”

KNEAD TO UNWIND

“For relaxation, Thai spa group Asia Herb Association, which has three conveniently located branches, always hits the spot with great service plus a welcoming and clean atmosphere. It specialises in the traditional Thai “Herbal Ball” massage that uses a warm compress filled with natural herbs. Register as a ‘family member’ and earn points for every visit — these can be redeemed for more massages.”

BUY BY NIGHT

“If you like markets and have already visited the well-known Chatuchak, try Jodd Fairs, which is sprawled between Central Rama 9 shopping mall and the Unilever building at Rama IX Road. This night market offers a slew of interesting things to eat and purchase, including vintage clothing and customisable handbags. I do enjoy the Insta-worthy XL Leng Zapp Volcano Ribs from Diaw Maekhlong Restaurant. The dish’s name is a misnomer as it features stacked pork spinal bones (not ribs) served in a moreish sour-spicy soup. There are also quite a few Halal options, such as fresh barbecued seafood, cute character pancakes and fried snacks among the plethora of stalls.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Consider apartment-hotels or serviced apartments, which are generally equipped with facilities such as a kitchenette, and washers and dryers for laundry. HomeTeamNS members enjoy 15 per cent off the best flexible rate at Modena by Fraser Bangkok Hotel Residences. The same discount applies to Fraser Suites Sukhumvit Bangkok, which also offers a complimentary breakfast for one.

  • Don’t relinquish date night. Many top hotels offer guests babysitting services through accredited partners. Enquire about them at reception.

  • Bring a baby carrier if you’re travelling with an infant or toddler, as Bangkok roads aren’t exactly stroller friendly.

EXCLUSIVELY FOR HOMETEAMNS MEMBERS, GET TRAVEL READY!

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the app settings.

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