Frequent Flyer Feature – Nora Yusuf

Nora YusufYou know that place that you’ve always wanted to go? Nora Yusuf has been there. She calls Malaysia home but the world is her playground. We asked her about the dozens of countries she’s visited.

How many countries have you visited and what 2 stand out to you the most?

To date, 80 countries.  The second part is a very difficult question.  I love the outdoors and nature. So I’m drawn to places where the landscapes are not typical to Malaysia.  If I’d have to choose, maybe:

  1. Jordan – I love Petra & Wadi Rum.  Actually I love desert-scapes in general, so I guess any of the countries what have desserts stand out.
  2. Antarctica (technically not a country) – If given the chance I’d go back in a heartbeat.  The landscapes and the wildlife there are out of this world. This also includes the countries around the Arctic circle where the landscape is also amazing.

Most people who travel a lot can point to one trip where the travel bug bit. When did you get it?

I got it when I was still at university.  I got a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom.  I worked evenings and weekends to get extra funds so I could travel during the holidays.  My best friend and I traveled around the UK first, then ventured out to Europe bit by bit. And finally after graduation, we took the one-month Inter-Rail pass and backpacked around Europe, including Morocco.  This was back in the summer of 2000, just us, two 21-year-old Malaysian girls, with our 20kg backpacks. 

A lot of women are apprehensive about traveling solo or even with their girl friends. Where do you get the courage to visit a totally new place, where you don’t know anyone there?

I guess for me, I have too much curiosity.  Reading up and looking at pictures just won’t do it.  I want to see the place, the people, the culture. I’m not too keen on big cities though.  I love the outdoors and nature. Not knowing anyone there is not a problem. It actually gives you a perspective as an outsider initially, and then you’re bound to get to know the locals, and interact, and then, eventually see the place as locals see it.

A question many people want to know but probably afraid to ask, how can you afford to travel so much? 

I’ve been quite frugal since my university days, saving every penny for travel.  Then as an engineer, I made a point to save at least 20% of my salary every month towards my travel/emergency funds, and I was quite strict about it. 

I had to leave my job a while back due to the economic downturn.  I’ve been freelancing here and there as a photographer, travel organizer/guide, and whatever comes my way ever since.  It’s not sustainable, at least not yet, so I’m pretty much living off my savings, and it’s catching up with me. So this year might be a bit quieter until I find a more stable job.  Let’s see..

What’s the annoying part about traveling that people don’t get to see on Instagram?

People only post pretty photos on Instagram.  They don’t usually post whatever goes behind the scenes and how they got the shot. 

I travel to see the places and the people, and the same thing also annoys me during travels, sometimes.  You turn to one side, and there’s the picture-perfect Instagram spot that people line up to photograph. Then you turn the other side and there’s this trash-strewn place that the people don’t bother to take care of, and worse still some of the tourists also partake in littering and making the places worse.  

Some people travel just for the food. What country had the best food in your opinion?

I love food.  And as a Malaysian, I believe Malaysian cuisine is the best. I know, I’m biased.

Ok, so usually before a trip, I check on food options and recommendations. I think the food in the Middle-East & North Africa region are also some of my favorite – Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Oman.

Safety is a big concern, especially for female travelers. What advice do you have for young women traveling without a spouse?

Researching the places in advance is important.  So you know places to avoid and which times. Trying not to stand out so much with flashy jewelry & be careful with money.  I think the key is to have & practice common sense. Always be alert to your surroundings.

For peace of mind, there are these self-defense classes geared up for females in general.  My hope is that you’ll never have to use it, but at least you know what to do in certain situations. 

What’s next for you? What’s still on your bucket list?

My bucket list is never-ending thanks to the internet.  At the moment, I don’t really have a specific place I really really want to go to.  I’m game for anywhere and everywhere, and open to any opportunity that comes my way.


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