Confidence is Key
Living in Hong Kong, we tend to take travel for granted. Southeast Asia is at our fingertips, and we can easily jet to the best beaches in the region without a second thought. Unfortunately, women are often told not to travel alone, that it’s dangerous, and we should always be wary of solo travel. But, we know better than to put ourselves at risk (we’re smarter than that!), and above all, we know travelling by yourself is a really empowering experience. (Our very own Pearl Yan tells us just how amazing solo travel can be, and you can read more about her experiences here: 10 Tips for Solo Female Travellers)
To get us ready for our adventures, we chatted with Stephanie Chai, founder of The Luxe Nomad, about what first inspired her love for travel, the challenges she’s faced in the industry as well as her advice for those who may not feel confident enough to travel on their own.
Tell us about your career and what inspired you to start The Luxe Nomad. Has travel always been a passion of yours?
I have always, always loved to travel.
As a child growing up in my father’s hometown in Kuching, East Malaysia, there wasn’t a lot to do (a few shopping malls and a 10 minute drive to get across town!). So heading abroad for school holidays was something I immensely looked forward to.
That passion for travel also came to fruition during my modelling days, where, as a university student, I was lucky enough to head to different parts of Asia for shoots. Fast forward to my late twenties, and I was looking for a ‘great’ start-up idea. Being an entrepreneur had long been on my to do list, but who knew that finding the right idea would be so difficult!
Read more: That Girl: Stephanie Chai of The Luxe Nomad
What has been the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
Managing people. As the company grows, different personalities come in and sometimes it is tricky managing everyone in an equal manner whilst also trying to keep the same company culture. I have to start new business arenas, which requires me to travel, so I often have to oversee everything from afar.
What do you feel is the most important quality/trait you need to succeed as a female entrepreneur?
Don’t think of yourself as a female entrepreneur, but simply as an entrepreneur. To a certain extent, we see ourselves how others perceive us.
Honestly, I never thought about “glass ceilings” until Emma Watson’s campaign for equality came to light. Whilst the world is not perfect, and I’ve sadly been told that occasionally Venture Capitals don’t like to invest in women. But, it’s something I don’t tend to dwell on or even worry about when I am fundraising. We just focus on finding the right investors and having the right idea. Be yourself and don’t feel as if you’re any less deserving than someone else.
Which women/woman are you most inspired by and who has had the strongest impact on your career?
I’ve always loved reading about how Natalie Massenet’s started NET-A-PORTER from her bedroom. People are quick to think execution and operations are vital to a business. Whilst they are important, I don’t think it compares to the ideas and innovation that founders or creative leaders can bring to the table.
Do you think that travelling can empower women? How so?
Definitely. Travel is an education in itself and going abroad and meeting new people adds to your character in a way that a university degree or a job cannot. Travel has a way of pushing you out of your comfort zone and testing your limits. Sometimes you have to do things that might scare you, especially when you travel alone, but this is how you find out what you’re really made of. When you discover that you’re capable of more than you thought possible, you gain a new sense of confidence, courage, and independence – which empowers you long after you have returned home.
Which destinations are must-visits for solo, female travellers?
If you’re after a beach vacay, I would say take a page from Eat Pray Love’s playbook and visit Bali or the Gilli Islands. Sign up for a yoga retreat or just relax poolside with a good book. For a zen and meditative experience, Bhutan provides you with much needed quiet time to restore balance into your life. If you’re a more adventurous traveller, Queenstown, New Zealand is a must-visit!
Favourite travel destination?
The world! But if I could choose a destination for a holiday, it would probably be Greece or Italy! We have a lovely villa called La Bandita in Tuscany that I would love to visit again.
I recently had the most amazing experience in Amanpulo in Palawan, Philippines, which is just as beautiful as the Maldives but much easier to reach! Palawan itself was named ‘The Most Beautiful Island in the World’ by Condé Nast Traveller, but Amanpulo is in a league of its own.
For cities, I have always loved the energy of Hong Kong, so much so that I moved here last year! I love how the city is so full of life and there’s always something to do, similar to London or New York but with its own unique grit.
Any top tips for solo travellers?
As female travellers, we should bare in mind that we may need to take extra safety precautions when we travel, and you can start by researching destinations. When you travel alone, try to travel during the day since more crime happens at night, and purchase a local sim card so that you can stay in touch with friends back home. Dress to blend in with the locals, especially if you’re going somewhere more conservative, so that you don’t make yourself a target. Also, don’t talk to (all!) the strangers. There are still some unforgiving people out there, so keep your wits about you!
What do you love most about travel?
It’s a question mark. You never know what’s waiting when you get off that plane.
What’s your must pack item for any trip?
My toiletries, laptop, iphone charger, sleep mask and a magazine or good book.
Read more: Top Tips for Travelling Light in Asia
Any advice for those who may not feel confident enough to travel on their own?
Start somewhere local and easy before plunging in to a long haul trip across the globe. Read up on your destination and learn some key phrases from the local language – the more prepared you are, the more comfortable you’ll be.
If all else fails, just a book and flight and go! I think you’ll surprise yourself with how independent and adaptable you really are