Asking Directions Series
Asking Directions’ is a new series where I interview fellow travelers. It is an effort to build up the travel community through collaboration, just as when we are lost or stuck, we “ask directions.”
My guest for this article is Jeremy from Jermpins. He is an engineer-turned-economist and hopes to inspire working professionals to travel while keeping a full-time job.
You can read Part I Japan, Malaysia here. Since Jeremy has spoken about a lot of places, I had to break it down in two parts. In this second part, we focus on France, Malta, Germany and Iceland.
Tell me more about ‘France sans Paris’ !
Jeremy – Ask any Asian where their dream European holiday destination is, most will answer Paris. Not France, just Paris. It is almost like most Asians just equate France to Eiffel tower and Louvre. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is beautiful, and I agree everyone must visit it once in a lifetime. But the charm wears off after your first night stay.
I am quite a Francophile. I have been returning to France (not Paris) almost every year since 2016. And every time I return, I fall in love with France (not Paris) more! France has so much more to offer outside of Paris, from the beautiful coastlines of Southern France, to the rolling fields of lavender in Provence, vineyard visits and wine tasting in Bordeaux, magical Mont Saint Michel in Normandy… The list goes on, and I am targeting myself to visit all 96 departments of Metropolitan France. Every region offers different landscapes, architectures, chateaux, cultures, food, cheese, butter, wine. So, the next time you are planning a trip to France, extend your reach outside of Paris.
Here are a few of my personal recommendations –
Bordeaux (2 hours from Paris by train) if you are a wine lover
Nimes if you like to experience some Roman influences in France
Marseille, a fishing town with a little old charm appeal in the French riveria, instead of the overly touristy Nice. The Calanques national park is about 30 mins drive from Marseille, if you love a good hike on cliffs facing the Mediterranean Sea. Make sure you bring a towel and extra clothes if you plan to swim in the beautiful turquoise waters!
What’s your favorite spot in the Mediterranean?
Malta – Before I visited, I had little to none awareness of this tiny archipelago of 3 islands. In fact, I probably heard more of the Malta drink (which has no relation at all to Malta the country). Anyway, I was very fortunate that my company sent me to Malta for a water desalination training. Who knew that Malta is one of the leading countries in operating seawater desalination plants (given their lack of freshwater resources)? And later, I would realize that many people have never considered visiting Malta. Which makes Malta one of my top recommended underrated countries!
The beautiful beaches and seascapes aside, Malta is rich in history. Housing the oldest free-standing structure on Earth, the Megalithic temples date back as far as 5,000 BC! My favourite spot is at the top of Citadelle of Rabat. Looking down to the city below, I was reminded that Malta is not just an island, it is an ancient civilisation. Malta has so much to offer, you must add this to your bucket list. Also if you scuba dive, you must do the Blue Hole!
You are standing on a pretty street in a historic European city. Where are you and how does it look?
Jeremy – First city that comes to my mind is Berlin. It is such a beautiful and vibrant city, with so much history! When I was there, I joined a walking tour (I highly recommend it if you want to learn about the history of the city).
And for every beautiful spot I stood on, there is a story to it. One particular spot that stuck with me is Bebelplatz, which is this huge public square near Humboldt University. It is also where the infamous Nazi book burning ceremonies were held in 1933.
Today, you can find this glass panel looking into a subterranean room with empty bookshelves. It is a monument called “The Empty Library”, and the empty bookshelves below is enough to hold 20,000 books, which was the estimated number of books burned in 1933.
You are standing at a place with immense natural beauty. Where are you and what are you looking at?
Jeremy – This is an easy one, and I don’t mean to discount any of the other beautiful sights in the world. But Iceland is truly a magical place, it is almost otherworldly! The best way to explore the natural beauty of Iceland is to drive. Some of my fondest memories from my road trip are those times on the road, no other cars, the horizon ahead almost never ending, and the sceneries besides changing from snow covered plains, to green pastures, to rocky terrains, black sands, and my personal favourite, the moss plains!
So, if I am standing at the most beautiful place of natural beauty, it has to be on top of Skogafoss waterfall! The climb up was not easy but it was worth it!
How has travel changed you and what advice would you give to beginners who want to travel?
Jeremy – I remember starting my travel adventure with a checklist. I have a full-time job, so earlier on when I could make time for travel, I wanted to maximise the time I had to check off as many destinations as I can of my list. I would meticulously plan out my travel itinerary down to the hour, e.g. what to see at 10am, must catch this train at 2pm, reservation at this restaurant at 8pm. My greatest achievement is my first visit to Europe, travelling 6 countries, 9 cities in 14 days! It was fun, and I had the time of my life, being my first time in Europe. However, it was also stressful, and almost felt like work.
Nowadays, my style of travel has changed 180 degree! My last big trip was in 2016, I had 2.5 weeks of travelling days, and I did only Southern France. I got to do more by doing less. I had time to do excursions from the city I was staying in, e.g. Pont du Gard from Arles, Calanques from Marseille. All these I never could have done it, if I constrained my travel to all the happenings and attractions within the city.
My most unexpected experience would have to be when I met my life partner while traveling solo in Europe. But, I will spare you the details. My point is, travel opens up possibilities, and if you have not tried traveling solo, you have to at least do it once in your life.
I guess what I really learned from more than 10 years of travelling, is to take time off for myself. They say travel opens the eye, humbles oneself, but for me, the most rewarding part is when I take time to reflect on myself. Accepting the fact that my problems at home are no different and no bigger from the problems of the rest of the world. Accepting my roots, especially when it comes to food, as I always miss my local cuisine when I travel abroad. Appreciating and being truly content with what life has given me, because life is too short to be discontent or jealous of others.
My advice to full-time working professionals especially, is to first ask yourself what you truly want out of your travels, and be completely honest with yourself. The worst thing you want is to let social media or peer pressure influence your travel choices.
It is hard as is for full-time workers to make time, and save up leave days for travels. So, you want to really take that precious time you earned from working hard, for yourself! Spend that time for yourself and your loved ones. Not for your friends back home.
It is very easy to want to take that perfect shot for my Instagram. I myself am guilty for sometimes spending hours just to take one perfect shot, and ended up not savoring the moment to myself. So, I have to consciously remind myself, take one shot, and then keep the phone away! Be in the moment. Connect with people, make new friends. And if you are lucky like me, you may just meet someone special along your trip!
If you are interested in Asking Directions series, please get in touch me with me. I would love to know where you’ve travelled what stood out personally to you.