How The Love For Outdoors & Adrenaline Opened This Lady’s Eyes To Travel, and Tales of Solo Travel in South Korea & Perth, Ramadhan in Singapore ft. Nurul of exploretomakan.

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On the sixth-floor rooftop cafe in the heart of Bukit Bintang, recommended by the guest herself, Nurul Jalil sat in front of me, collecting her breath as she had just come in from Singapore with her husband for a weekend work trip.

A Singaporean with Malaysian roots (born in Malacca), Nurul is no stranger to KL. “It was actually here (in Kuala Lumpur). We were here in KL when we first started the account,” she opened up about exploretomakan.com as the clouds were turning grey above us, minutes before it started pouring on the rooftop.

As we weathered through the medium showers in KL, Nurul opened up about her dreams of retiring in Oceania, her knack for the rush of adrenaline, and how her freelance camp instructor job opened the doors to her discovery of solo travel and eventually now, running her own exploretomakan.com Muslim food & travel blog with her husband, Fazwan.

Her First Taste of Solo Travel in South Korea… Came From A Camping Job!

One wouldn’t necessarily expect that landing a job in camping would lead to solo travel, but indeed it did, in the case of Nurul.

“Growing up, I did camps. That was my first job, fresh out of school. And then during my third or fifth year, I was introduced to doing camps overseas,

“We brought students over to exchange programs. And then I realized that it was quite fun to be overseas and to be getting paid to be overseas you know – it was really nice,” Nurul opened up about how her love for the outdoors led her to the path of travel.

“For five to six hours I have my own time, so I can do anything I want and explore the country,” she explained how after she sent the students wherever they were supposed to be, she decided to take that opportunity to explore South Korea solo.

This was her first slight glimpse of solo travel.

Aerial View of South Korea
“My first work trip outside of Singapore and Malaysia. I remember looking out the window and feeling a roller coaster of emotions. Disbelief that I’m being paid to be here, grateful for the rizq and opportunity, and determined to make this happen more often.” Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

“I went to a theme park. I went to a zoo. It was interesting because I didn’t speak a single word of Korean back then, and I wasn’t a fan of K-drama, K-pop. I was like, the only Malay Girl there, lost and clueless, using Google Translate to find out everything.”

An adrenaline junkie at heart, Nurul then became even more adventurous and started working at a theme park in Singapore. This later opened her eyes more to the possibility of traveling solo.

“I kept seeing tourists coming into Singapore and see them enjoying themselves (in a theme park),” she explained how this eventually sparked the feeling of wanting to be on the other side, seeing from a visitor’s perspective instead of a host’s perspective.

The Sudden Discovery of Australia.. After A Heartbreak & Planning For Retirement

Travel doesn’t come cheap, but it can be affordable to one’s budget, if one seizes the opportunity the moment the window opens, like how Nurul did when she started earning her income.

“When I got my first adult job, that was when I started to travel with my own money.”

Instead of what was in the past a five-six hour of me time in a different country, she got to snatch a great deal, for a five-six day solo trip in Australia.

Coincidentally enough, this was a tumultuous time in her life.

“It was after a heartbreak, and all I felt was I just want to get out of this country,” she explained why she decided to go to Australia by herself. This was a time in her life before she met her husband, Fazwan.

“I tried to search on flights, and I searched everywhere. The first country that is not in Asia that appeared, which was the cheapest was Perth.,” she said after mulling over options in between Europe or Oceania.

Halal Solo Trip to Perth from Singapore
“My ticket to Perth with the passport cover that I bought from my first trip to Seoul. It was a late night flight and I was feeling all kinds of emotions at the airport when I took this picture.” Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

“I think at that point in time, it was about 400+ Singaporean dollars for a two-way trip. It was all I could afford. That was just for like five days. So short!”

That is also when she became super intrigued with Australia.

To her, the country is “full of animals, a melting pot of cultures of Asian people living there. There’s Islam (too), and it’s quite easy to find halal food. Then, in the end, I ended up applying for University in Perth.”

Nurul majors in Tourism Management & PR from Murdoch University, Perth. The rest… is history.

After 2+ years, I returned to Perth for my last semester and my whole family attended the graduation ceremony! Best trip to Perth so far because it was a dream of mine to bring my loved ones to the places I visited alone previously. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

What was once a country she decided to go on a whim to heal herself after a heartbreak, Nurul now sees Australia, as a potential retirement home.

“Now that I have been to Melbourne. I prefer Melbourne more,” she chuckled, pointing out that the mix of both laid-back and city life that Melbourne offers sounds more realistic to her Singaporean city life upbringing.

“Like if you want peace, you can drive out and then go to the peaceful areas. But if you need convenience and, like, like, reliable services, you can go to the city area.”

By this point in the conversation, she kept repeating the word ‘convenience’, a quality any Singaporean values dearly. It is not surprising to understand how she leans more towards Melbourne now. In comparison to the very much laid back Perth, where some places might not have the convenience of a wifi, or accepting cards as payments.

From Traveling To KL For Wedding Preparations To Explore To Makan (Eat) Around The World

“It was first called so-much-for-diet because we were preparing for our wedding. We were buying all the wedding stuff, dresses, etc from KL, and people kept asking us, where are we eating?,” she explained the initial beginnings of exploretomakan.com.

“And we are supposed to be on a diet for our wedding! But we keep eating all this nice food” Nurul exclaimed in recollection how she and Fazwan (who was her fiance at the time) exploretomakan.com journey went from eating in KL in Malaysia to Singapore and now, pretty much everywhere else that they’ve eaten.

“Hence the the whole objective was to share, share what we eat, and then share with others.”

I spent a lot of time travelling to Southeast Asian countries for work (Eg. Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc). This was also the period where I first started taking blogging seriously by attending online courses to learn how to create content and set up websites, etc. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com
“I spent a lot of time traveling to Southeast Asian countries for work (Eg. Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc). This was also the period where I first started taking blogging seriously by attending online courses to learn how to create content set up websites, etc.” Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

With a passion for sharing good Halal food, Nurul mentions that now their audience is people who are like their aunts and moms, a demographic that is keen to travel but does not necessarily have the energy to look for information.

Nurul & Fazwan’s intention is to break this stigma that looking for Halal food and Muslim-friendly places is inaccessible.

According to her, “you just need to know, simple tips and tricks. Like if you go to Australia, just find a mosque, 5 min away from the mosque, and surely there’ll be Halal food. So it’s really easy.”

We got married during the pandemic so we couldn't go on a honeymoon, so you could say that this Umrah trip was our belated honeymoon. It was the first time that I felt so at peace in a foreign country, like everything is so unfamiliar but yet, you feel at ease as if you're home. Subhanallah. It's a place that we pray every Muslim gets to visit again, and again. Insha'Allah. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com
“We got married during the pandemic so we couldn’t go on a honeymoon, so you could say that this Umrah trip was our belated honeymoon. It was the first time that I felt so at peace in a foreign country like everything was so unfamiliar, but yet, you feel at ease as if you’re home. Subhanallah. It’s a place that we pray every Muslim gets to visit again, and again. Insha’Allah.” Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

How to Experience Ramadhan in Singapore? Or Just Travel in Singapore as a Muslimah Solo Traveler..

According to Nurul, there are two options when it comes to Ramadhan.. Either go for modern vibes or Kampung (village) vibes, which she recommends both, but it all depends on what is one’s preference.

Kampung Glam is usually top of the list when anybody comes to Singapore, and Muslims should not miss out on the opportunity to experience the holy month there.

“Lots of halal restaurants and cafes, Wardah Islamic bookstore, and during Ramadhan there is always a bazaar there too. Taraweeh is easily performed at Masjid Sultan — biggest mosque in Singapore,” she said.

If one wants the classic, kampung (village) vibes in Singapore during Ramadhan, Nurul recommends going to the East Side and to check out Geylang / Joo Chiat area.

“There is also a Ramadhan bazaar there, where the original Geylang Serai Ramadhan Bazaar started in the past. You can find many more mosque options around the area for taraweeh and communal iftaar. For converts, there is also Darul Arqam that’s like a conversion center with an Islamic bookstore and all. Great resource for those wanting to learn about Islam.”

Outside of Ramadhan or Eid, Singapore is “the easiest country to travel to”, according to Nurul, and pretty much the whole world for the reasons of how tiny and accessible it is.

With a reliable transport system, be it MRT, taxi, or ride-sharing services, Nurul affirms that Muslimah Solo Travelers won’t have a hard time exploring the island city-state in Southeast Asia.

Her best tips? “There are free tours for tourists to go and explore. So even if you don’t want to make Singapore your main definition, you can choose to make it a layover stop, and then make use of your boarding pass first to get a free tour out of it.”

Final Words to Muslimah Solo Travelers: Inner Work & Self-Reliability First Before You Venture Out Solo To Experience The World! ft Driving, Skydiving Advices

Solo travel globally has become synonymous with the journey to ‘find oneself’ after experiencing a crisis at different turning points of one’s life, popularized by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love movie. Often, shedding a negative stigma on this form of travel.

However, Nurul extends that stepping out into the world would be easier if one learns to be ‘self-sufficient’ first and foremost, rather than making this the emphasis as the latter.

“Coming from a female traveler’s perspective, I would say, try to be self-sufficient first, and be their own reliable person before you try to please other people, partner or spouse or family member, that sort of thing.”

Before being married, Nurul mentions that she grew up with a lot of autonomy, and she was given the freedom to do whatever she wanted by her mother, provided that lines were not crossed.

That excludes, her first bungee jumping experience on her birthday with her best friend and going on a helicopter tour with her husband.

“Unfortunately, I found bungee jumping quite boring because it was so anti-climatic and the duration was so short (hahaha) but I do recommend everyone to try it at least once. I want to go skydiving next,” Nurul on her first bungee jumping experience after travel was at a halt post-pandemic. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com
“Unfortunately, I found bungee jumping quite boring because it was so anti-climatic and the duration was so short (hahaha) but I do recommend everyone to try it at least once. I want to go skydiving next,” Nurul on her first bungee jumping experience after travel was at a halt post-pandemic. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

Another example she extended is her upbringing in Singapore, where public transport is fantastic. This also highlighted the fact that Nurul resonates with Muslimah Solo Travelers who share the same dream to travel, beyond the touristy spots, at their ability. Usually, driving is always in the books.

“It is a skill. I wouldn’t say, it’s a need. I would say, if you have it it’s a bonus, But if you don’t have it, then the transport system is not that bad,” she cited Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a famous hot spot for many Singaporean travelers.

“If you want to explore further, off-the-beaten tracks, it would be easier to have a driving license. Even if you don’t have the license, you have the money, then you can always book tours. There’s always an alternative for you. It just depends on what you have.”

From our most recent road trip to Victoria! I actually surprised my husband with a helicopter ride in Phillip Island and he only found out about it 5 minutes before arriving at the helipad. It was the best experience in Australia so far. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com
From our most recent road trip to Victoria! I actually surprised my husband with a helicopter ride in Phillip Island and he only found out about it 5 minutes before arriving at the helipad. It was the best experience in Australia so far. Credit: Nurul/exploretomakan.com

Of course, top of it all, “You really need to trust your instinct and trust Allah, in sha Allah, everything will be okay, like, what’s meant to be, will be there.”

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