IT’S a difficult age to believe in humanity. Every day, flashing across TV screens, on front pages of major newspapers and even through our leisurely scroll on social media sites, we’re reminded of all that is wrong in the world — war, terrorism, crime, economic uncertainty, racism and, of late, religious bigotry.

The world, even to the most gregarious globe trekkers, has become a scary place.

Amidst trying times, Lum Weng Haan packed her bags and did what most of us only dream of doing — she travelled the world on her own. Over three years, Haan traversed over 50 countries, across four continents, relying only on her gut instinct, persevering spirit and faith in humanity.


Haan taking a break from hiking in Langtang, in the Himalayas.

My Lucky Odysseyis a book documenting the trials and tribulations of her epic solo journey - it’s also her first foray into self-publishing. But unlike many who bank on getting a publishing house hooked on their story, the Sekinchan native is taking a different route: she’s running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to complete and publish the book.

PAGES OF THE PAST

“It was so difficult finding an experienced editor for the book,” says Haan of My Lucky Odyssey, set to hit the shelves in November. “I felt like giving up many times because it was taking so long, but I finally found the right person,” she confides, admitting that she has no prior experience in the publishing world other than writing several articles for local newspapers and Singapore-based Mandarin-language travel magazine, Big Foot Traveller.

“Nobody knows me, so I felt that crowdsourcing funds would be the best way to get started.” The Kickstarter campaign, she shares, is a good way to gauge response so that she can have a good idea of the number of copies of the book which should go into print.

“Who wants so many extra copies sitting at home collecting dust? It’s not environmentally-friendly,” she quips.


Africa, says Haan, is one of the most challenging places to travel to. Here she’s seen posing with children in Lesotho.

For Haan, books were what sparked her wanderlust. “I hope My Lucky Odyssey can inspire people to pursue their dreams instead of subjecting themselves to the typical standards set by society. I was inspired by many books in the past and I hope I can do the same for others too,” she says, citing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as well as books from Paulo Coelho and Malaysian writers Lam Yuet and See Guat Tham as inspirations.

THESE LITTLE TOWN BOOTS

The only girl and a middle-child, Haan is a rebel in her own right. She shares that as a child, her mother had to pay for school trips in the hope that she would socialise. “I was quite anti-social!” she recalls with a laugh.

But this wallflower shed her shell when she started studying in Australia, where she first entertained the idea of backpacking. “I was somehow changed. I started to love the idea of exploring places so I travelled within Australia, first with friends, then by myself,” recalls Haan, before pointing out that when she returned to Malaysia in 2006, she started backpacking across Asia, something she never thought she’d ever do.

Her wanderings in Asia ignited a calling, one that she couldn’t ignore for long. “I felt I couldn’t afford to say goodbye to my lucrative monthly salary. But I also realised that money can’t buy us everything and that I shouldn’t ignore my dreams because of it,” she shares, reflecting on the life-changing decision.

The-then 30-year-old ditched her high-paying job as a project manager in a telecommunications company, a decision she remembers mulling over for some time. “The thought of giving up an income is a fear that most have. I too had that fear before the trip. Other than monthly commitments and familial or financial obligations, I realise that most of us underestimate what we’re capable of.”


Haan hanging out with a group of women in Pakistan.

SERIAL WANDERLUST

In the beginning, Haan’s family was worried by her travel plans. “My mother used to disagree, especially when I wanted to go to places like India by myself,” she reveals, before adding that it’s likely that most of our preconceptions about a country would have been based on what we’ve read in the media, and not necessarily from experience. “In fact, I was cheated only once in India and that was by an airline company. None of the people I met had tried to cheat me. In fact, they did their best to help me when they saw how confused I was at the bus station looking at all the Hindi words,” recalls Haan.

Her three-year journey took her along some strange and winding paths, from a work-stay stint in a ski resort in Hokkaido to sitting among locals in a small village in China. She even couch-surfed with fellow Malaysian Ryan Koh in Tunisia and Tanzania, an experience she fondly remembers as “... feeling at home although we were in Africa”.

In Pakistan, she sat and chatted with women decked in salwars. She came across nudists in Greece and hitchhiked in Honduras. She even participated in an Argentine feminist movement march in Buenos Aires. It was in Bulgaria that she met Tim, her couch-surfing host whom she eventually married.

“From the beginning, I never expected this relationship to work!” confides Haan, chuckling. “He fully supports my dreams and he has never once asked me to stop travelling. That’s very important!”


Haan with her husband Tim, who was her Bulgarian couch-surfing host. The couple now reside in Sydney.

Without an income, Haan travelled on what she calls a “shoestring budget” — couch surfing, hitchhiking, sharing meals with other travellers, and doing short work-stay jobs. “People think you need money to travel, but I think there’s a misconception about travelling itself, not money.”

Exploring the world, she confides, isn’t about luxurious experiences and lugging back souvenirs, but understanding local cultures and its people. “When we travel, we’re exposed to more than the bubble we live in. When we know more, we start to foster a better understanding towards others and we become more forgiving.”

Despite years of studying abroad (first in Australia and later in Hawaii), she considers her three years on the road the most significant. “I had no income at all during those three years, yet they remain the most fruitful and memorable period in my life so far. The years on the road taught me so many things, exposing me to our amazing world and the countless beautiful souls that inhabit it, as well as numerous unexpected possibilities.”

FACE THE PAIN HEAD ON

The crowdfunding campaign for My Lucky Odyssey has garnered just over A$4,000 (RM13,150) since the campaign kicked off on July 2. By Aug 9, she intends to raise A$7,000. “It’s an all-or-nothing project. If it doesn’t hit the 7,000 mark, it won’t go into publication and no one will be charged,” says Haan, who’s also donating the surplus money from the publication to KIVA, a non-governmental organisation which micro-finances impoverished and low-income communities around the world.


Together with her couch-surfing host in Argentina, Haan participated in ‘Ni Una Menos’, an Argentine Feminist movement.

“I hope the book gives courage to those who intend to try travelling around the world but are still hesitating,” she confides.

The book isn’t all about good times. She scans her memory before relaying the one story that broke her. It was in Argentina and Haan had her passport and belongings stolen. “I felt so stupid. For a few days, I passed by the place where I was cheated. Every time I did, I felt the pain in my heart. But I was determined to face the pain head on, so I stayed,” she reveals with a sigh.

On the way to the Malaysian embassy, she met a woman named Katherine who coincidentally worked there at the embassy. “She was very kind to me and helped me a lot right up to the moment I left Argentina,” recalls Haan, adding that there were many instances during her trip that she realised that with every difficulty that arose, something good would follow.

“There’s a reason why I called my book My Lucky Odyssey,” she adds, her smile warm and genuine. “The experiences I’ve had has made me believe that yes, there are bad people in the world, but for every bad person there are 10 good people. If I don’t travel, I may not come across one bad person but it also means that I may miss 99 good people as well.”

It’s safe to say that for Haan, her faith in humanity has been restored many times over.

kerry.ann@nst.com.my

If you’d like to make a pledge towards My Lucky Odyssey, visit: http://myluckyodyssey.com

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