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Exclusive Q&A With Yafieda From Travel Chameleon

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I’ve chatted up Yafieda (or Fie for short), a spirited Malaysian blogger behind Travel Chameleon. Why a Malaysian would move to Cambodia, why she loves Japan (to the point of setting her mind on moving there) and why a travel diary is one of the most important things she packs for a trip.

T: A short bio about yourself: 3-4 lines that best describe you, what you do for a living and so on. Where are you currently living and where are you from? Tell us more about your blog and Instagram / Facebook / YouTube.

Y: Hi, I’m Fie, a Malaysian currently living and working abroad in Cambodia. When I’m not working, I write my travel stories on the Travel Chameleon website which aims to inspire readers to see the world whenever they can. I believe that you can have the best of both worlds; working and travelling as long as you find joy in them.

T: Why did you choose Cambodia as your home?

Y: It was a country that I fell in love with when I first travelled here in 2013. The landscape and vibe of the city was more laid back compared to Kuala Lumpur. You could see that Cambodians work very hard to make a better life for themselves and they still smile in their adversity. I was given the opportunity to work here four years ago and jumped at the chance as I knew my heart was set for this city. Their culture feels similar to ours and it is why Cambodia feels like home.

T: Would you call yourself an avid traveller?

Y: Yes, I am an avid traveller who often itches for a new adventure even if it’s within the neighbourhood.

T: What inspired you to travel?

Y: My parents are my number one inspiration when it comes to travelling. They are adventurous and curious at heart, never afraid to try something new. They took us on our first road trip which was in the USA when we were 7 years old.

T: Where have you been?

Y: So far, I have been to 29 countries around the world which includes Asia, Europe and America.

T: Do you prefer to travel alone or with family and friends? Why?

Y: It depends on where we’re heading. With my family, the trip is usually longer, more relaxed and well planned. Whenever I travel with my friends, it’s usually in short bursts and with higher energy.

T: Do you have a full-time job? If yes, how do you find time to travel?

Y: Planning is very important. My first option is to take advantage of all the public holidays that we have and I’m lucky enough that in Cambodia we have an average of 20 days of Public Holiday in a year. Next, I plan my annual leaves between these public holidays which allows me to stretch the trip from 2 days to 4 days.

T: What was your best trip ever?

Y: The best trip ever has to be the recent one to Iceland with my family. It was just amazing.

T: What did you learn about yourself during your most memorable trip?

Y: It’s important to be patient, have an open mind and go with the flow.

T: What were the locals you met like?

Y: The locals were charming and friendly.

T: What was the funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said?

Y: We were buying food from the local supermarket in Iceland and the cashier spoke to me in Icelandic all the way. I adapted to this scene quickly and even understood when he asked me if I wanted a plastic bag. I declined and said in English that I will carry the items. He answered yes, in Icelandic.

T: What was the scariest moment?

Y: The weather can be unpredictable at times in Iceland. We were on the road when the sun suddenly disappeared and rain started pouring. We had to drive very slowly on a winding road with low visibility. It was quite a scary experience when you’re not used to being a left-side driver.

T: What’s your favourite travel destination and why?

Y: The one place I wouldn’t mind to return to would be Japan. I love everything about this country from their organized cities, convenient transportation to the glorious food.  

T: What place is top of your bucket list?

Y: I would love to visit Alaska and do a road trip around the country. From what I observe from other travellers, this country is simply stunning.

T: Have you learned a language when travelling? If yes, did you take a course at home, etc.?

Y:  I make sure to learn a few basic words while travelling, as it’s useful in getting around the city. I just do a quick research through other sites to find out the basic words in local languages.

T: What’s your top travel tip?

Y: Always book ahead; especially accommodation as it can take up a lot of time if you do things last minute.

T: What’s your travel style: budget or luxury?

Y: I’m more of an in-between as I prefer to travel comfortably. As long as there’s a comfortable place to stay in and within public transportation area, it’s good enough for me.

T: What do you think of the current stigma on Muslim travel? E.g. US Muslim travel ban. How we can change it?

Y: It’s definitely unfair to place a ban based on certain events that happened. The only way to change it is by educating the public about who we really are as a person with different religious beliefs. When we show kindness, patience, and tolerance towards other people, it’ll give a better perspective of who we are.

T: And how we can encourage more Muslims to travel?

Y:  We could view travelling as a way to connect with other people from different background and culture.

T: Which country is the most Muslim-friendly?

Y: Most of the countries are Muslim-friendly but so far I am amazed at how Japan embraces Muslim travellers and accommodate to our beliefs.

T: What’s like to be a solo Muslim female traveller?

Y: I rarely travel solo except for business trips and during that time, I’ve only had to explain to colleagues why I’m not able to eat a certain food. It was a good experience for both sides.

T: Was your family OK with it?

Y:  Of course! They don’t mind as long as I keep them updated on where I’m travelling to.

T: What advice you can give to other females who want to travel but don’t dare or their family is not supportive?

Y: To have their support, assure them that you’ve done enough research and share with them your plans in those countries. Always let them know where you’re staying and when you will be back.

T: Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?

Y:  I would still say Japan and yes I would move there if the opportunity arises. I would choose Tokyo only because I love the city which is so vibrant. It would be easy to adjust to this country as there are halal food available in the city. The only challenge would be the language which we will need to pick up as it’ll give us more advantage in adapting to the local setting.

T: What can’t you travel without?

Y: My backpack, camera, shawl, travel journal.

T: Which country has the friendliest people?

Y: Most of the countries I’ve been to has friendly locals, but the best would be Switzerland.

T: What’s the best piece of travel advice you’ve received?

Y: Take care of your belongings whenever you travel.  

T: What’s the worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?

Y: Have never had any bad travel advice so far.

T: How many countries have you visited?

Y: I have been to 29 countries and plan to visit more in the upcoming months.

T: How are you documenting your trip?

Y:  I have a travel journal which I bring with me always. I write everything I can remember about a place, and the experience I had on that day. It’s all captured in my travel journal that I bring with me everywhere I go. I am more of a words person, therefore, a lot of the times you would see my handwriting filling up the pages together with train tickets, stickers, leaflets from my travels. 

Once I return home, I’ll upload the photos and write the stories on my blog.

T: What’s the most reliable source of travel advice?

Y: Other travellers personal experiences on their blogs and Wikitravel. I am currently a fan of Oneika the Traveler, Legal Nomads, Wild Junket, The Blonde Abroad, Alex in Wanderland, The Young Adventuress and Drew Binsky. 

T: What’s been the best street food you’ve had?

Y: The best street food experience I’ve had is in Bangkok.

T: Weren’t you concerned about not-Muslim-friendly street food in Bangkok?

Y: As a Muslim traveller, you come to understand that we need to observe the local culture to adapt accordingly. In Bangkok, there are plenty of street food choices which include desserts, seafood items and yes there is the occasional halal food from Muslim sellers.

T: What destination have you found to be overrated?

Y: Bali because it’s just overcrowded with tourists.

T: Which country you’ve been so far having the best weather?

Y: Any country that’s experiencing spring or autumn, is the best for me.

T: Thanks Fie and safe travels!