The five-foot flashpacker

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Meet Anis, a freelance writer who specialises in travel writing and labels herself as a ‘flashpacker’. With a penchant for discovering the unknown, Anis prefers exploring new lands on her own rather than going on tours, and her adaptability means she’s comfortable staying in basic dorms as well as swanky hotels. Anis collects earrings from nearly all the countries she’s been to and says, “I love that whenever I wear them, I have a little piece of New Zealand, Turkey or Russia with me.”

Name: Anis Ibrahim

Location: Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

Job title: Freelance writer, http://www.fivefeetflat.net

Job description: I contribute articles to a few publications and do proofreading and translation work.

1. If you made it to the cover of a national newspaper, what would your headline say?

“Missing writer sends first dispatch in two years from the Amazon jungle.”—and I’m assuming there’s Wi-Fi there!

2. Tell us something we don’t already know about your work.

I love the fact that I learn something new on every single trip, either about myself, the world, or my fellow human beings. This is kind of my dream job; I get to travel and write about it. I don’t earn very much but I have a lot of time on my own and I get to spend time with my family, which is important for me. If my clients paid me on time, I would love my job even more!

3. Do you have a love or hate relationship with maps?

I actually love maps! I think map makers are geniuses. I’m not very good at reading them, though. It would be great if somebody could invent paper maps which speak to me and tell me, “Now turn left, now turn right”, etc. I don’t want a smartphone app for that—I’ll need Wi-Fi and it’ll consume battery pretty fast. I just want a foldable map that speaks to me!

4. So what’s the first thing you do when you get lost?

The first thing I’ll do is look at a map and try to get un-lost. If that doesn’t work and I’m still going around in circles after 10 minutes, I’ll ask someone for directions.

Let me tell you the best thing that’s ever happened when I got lost during winter in Beijing a few years back. I was trying to get back to my hostel but simply couldn’t find it. In the end, I arrived at a lake which was completely frozen over. There was a cycling track, benches and trees all around the lake, and a group of children walking on the ice. I don’t remember how long I hung around but I sat on one of the benches and just took in the view of the lake and the kids. It felt very nice to stop and slow down for a while. I later identified the lake as Houhai.

5. How much do you trust guidebooks?

I always read guidebooks before I leave, from cover to cover, for background reading. I never read restaurant or hotel reviews though; I do all that online, but I always make it a point to read the history, culture, attraction and suggested itinerary sections in a guidebook. By the time I arrive at my destination, I would’ve read everything necessary in my guidebook and rarely refer to it again. Usually, I’ll just update myself with local information or check online.

6. In what ways has travelling transformed you?

When I’m at home, I’m a night owl; I do most of my work when everyone else is asleep. Strangely enough, this changes when I travel. I can get up at any time of the day to take an early morning flight, train or bus. This continues throughout the time I’m away; I tend to be an early riser when I travel, unlike at home. From a bigger perspective, I’ve definitely become more confident and more certain of myself in what I’d normally see as ‘difficult situations’. I’ve also become more flexible and I don’t plan as much as I used to. I don’t even have Plan Bs if something goes wrong; I’m prepared to decide right then and there, and just see what happens next!

7. Which are your top three places and which three are still on your to-go list?

I’ve got to say I loved Mongolia, China and Russia for their wide-open spaces. There’s nothing quite like seeing miles and miles of emptiness all around. Still on my to-go list are: Cuba for the colours and vibrant culture, Namibia for its desert landscapes, and Tibet for its remoteness.

8. What’s the most interesting mode of transport you’ve been on?

It was just a train, but a really old and creaking overnight train from Yangon to Mandalay in Myanmar. It rattled and shook so badly that it was almost impossible to sit down! I kept being thrown off my bunk, so I ended up lying down and reading most of the time. Imagine being shaken up and down, and side to side for 13 hours straight! By the time my friend and I arrived in Mandalay at 6.30 the next morning, I was ready to lie down again, but on a proper bed. Even later that day, my head felt light and it seemed as if I was still on the train!

9. Was there a point during your travels that you were overcome with emotion?

Yes…and that would be when I arrived at Simatai; a stop on the Great Wall of China. I joined a one-day hike where we started early in the morning from a section of the Wall called Jinshanling and finished in the afternoon. The hike was only 11 kilometres long but it’s one of the most unrestored and steepest parts of the Great Wall. Some sections are so steep that you have to get down on all fours to climb up; if you walk upright, you’ll simply topple over!

Since then, I’ve walked much farther distances on flat surfaces, but over hilly and steep land, it’s a different story. That experience was particularly challenging for me because I have a bad back and hadn’t prepared myself for the hike, so both my back and knees were hurting. When I completed the walk, I was just so relieved that it was over, yet really happy that I’d done it. The Simatai section has been closed for restoration work for a few years now, so I’m really glad I managed to do it when the area was much wilder and untouched.

10. Looking back at 2013, what’s the best thing that’s happened to you this year?

Arriving back at KL Sentral station and seeing my dad when he picked me up two months after I set out from St Petersburg, Russia. Nothing beats the feeling of coming home.

///// Photo credits: Anis Ibrahim

///// Photo montage: YML

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