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In a world where the typical narrative for success in your 30s involves climbing the corporate ladder, owning a home, and settling down, this Malaysian couple, both 27, have chosen to defy these conventional milestones.
Jiaxuan and Weihan, who moved to Singapore for work opportunities right after graduation, represents a growing number of individuals questioning the traditional path of life and career.
Upon graduation, like many of their peers, the couple were drawn to the economic allure of Singapore.
Worked in Singapore
Jiaxuan, originally from Johor, embarked on a career as an accountant, while Weihan, working in the F&B industry, was later promoted to food court manager.
Despite the higher income in Singapore, the reality of working long hours aimlessly and not understanding the purpose of living a life like this made her rethink everything every night.
“I didn’t want to think about buying a house; it seemed impossible,” she reflected on the pressures of living in Singapore.
Her typical day began early, with her waking up at 6am to prepare for her office job that started at 8:30am.
After work, she faced a lengthy commute, spending an hour on the bus to get home.
Despite earning a decent salary of between 2800 and 3000 SGD, Jiaxuan found herself questioning the purpose of her routine.
“I didn’t know what my goals were, and there was no sense of satisfaction,” she explained.
Life is like living on autopilot
Weihan’s experience in Singapore’s demanding food and beverage industry was similar.
The grueling work schedule left him with little time for personal life.
His experience in the F&B industry, where the working hours were particularly long, often stretching between 10 to 12 hours a day.
He recounted, “I would just wake up, go to work, and then come back to sleep.”
During his tenure as a food court manager, his salary was around 2500 SGD.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the business, leading to the closure of many food courts and the elimination of bonuses.
Despite these challenges, there were some benefits. “Food at the food court was free, which helped me save a lot. I would spend just over 10 SGD a week.”
Thought of embarking on a campervan life
During the lockdown, Jiaxuan found herself in a reflective state, leading her to contemplate a significant change in her life.
She spent a year avidly watching YouTube videos, learning about transforming vehicles into campervans.
“That’s when I really started thinking about the future,” she said.
This idea had been simmering in her mind for 1-2 years, and she frequently discussed it with Wei Han.
But the idea actually took root in Jiaxuan’s mind following an campervan experience in Australia.
The trip introduced her to the unique challenges and joys of this lifestyle, including the tasks of managing water and dealing with waste.
Left full-time jobs and started the journey of campervan
They made the audacious decision to leave their stable jobs in October 2021.
At 25, without ever having owned a car, they made a bold decision to buy and convert a van.
“We had never bought any vehicle before, and then we bought this one,” Jiaxuan shared, highlighting the leap of faith they took.
With a desire for change, they invested in a second-hand van for RM30,000, spending an additional RM45,000 to transform it into a campervan.
“Every screw was tightened by us,” Weihan proudly states, highlighting their hands-on approach to this new life.”
“Initially, they thought it would take only three months to complete the campervan conversion, but it ended up taking ten months. The process was fraught with difficulties, leading to numerous arguments and demanding a significant amount of physical effort.”
After 10 months of setting up their campervan
Their first destination of their campervan life was in Air Papan, Johor Mersing.
“Our first experience in Air Papan, after enduring ten months of hard work on the campervan, was exhilarating. Sleeping in our own bed in the van felt incredibly rewarding.”
Adapting to van life brought its own set of challenges, from learning about the van’s electrical systems to finding places to sleep each night.
But the freedom and simplicity it offered were unparalleled.
Their initial testing ground was of course West Malaysia, where they traveled around to get a feel for their new home on wheels.
Across the borders
Eventually, they ventured further, backpacking through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, with an extended stop in Laos.
The decision to cross borders was filled with apprehension.
“We were really scared. Can we even enter? But with our car card and passports, we just went,” Jiaxuan recalls.
Their stay in these countries varied from three to four months, with a monthly expenditure of RM 4500 for both of them, covering essentials like fuel.
In Thailand, they often stayed in their van, while in Laos, they treated themselves to resorts, costing around RM20.
The journey was not just about the destinations but also about adapting to life on the road.
“How we stayed in the campervan? We’d make breakfast, find an indoor place to work on videos during the day, and by evening, we’d look for a place to sleep. We usually didn’t have a plan on where to sleep,” Weihan explained.
Their journey was punctuated by moments of uncertainty and surprise.
“Twice, people knocked on our door when we parked in places we shouldn’t have, like near a private property,” Weihan recalled, describing their experiences in Taiping.
Despite challenges like managing water and dealing with uncomfortable conditions, they persevered.
“Nothing was really a problem. We had a toilet, and we needed to fill up water every one or two days,” Jiaxuan said, highlighting their adaptability.
Their ultimate dream is to explore Europe, which requires insurmountable funds, and to travel through China, which requires permits and a guided tour.
“Our next plan? Maybe working holidays in New Zealand. Our mission is to see as much as possible with the least money,” Jiaxuan mused about their future plans.
Know what you want
“The journey is more about facing yourself honestly and having the courage to do so.”
She contrasts working life, which often aligns with others’ expectations, with traveling, which allows for personal reflection and detachment from societal norms.
Highlighting the importance of bravery and spontaneity, she encourages, “It’s about being brave and making decisions, even on a whim.”
Reflecting on her experiences, including a working holiday in the U.S., she notes how such experiences can change perspectives and encourage bravery, especially regarding financial concerns.
For university students contemplating their future, Jiaxuan offers a piece of practical advice: “Working holidays are definitely worth considering. They offer a great opportunity to save some money while also giving you the chance to see the world.”