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5 songs from the soundtrack of my travels

When I’m home and need a fix of wanderlusting, I usually pull up my Instagram or Facebook albums to moon over pictures of past travels. Recently I’ve realised that beyond fun photos, I have an audio-linked travelogue of sorts – certain songs that pop up on the radio take me back to specific trip memories, which is another fun way to remember past travels beyond travel journaling. I thought it’d be fun to share some of my travel song memories and stories here and pull up some old trip pix and stories that I never got around to posting.

Cover photo by Melanie Pongratz via Unsplash.

Cheap Thrills – Sia ft Sean Paul

‘Til I hit the dance floor, hit the dance floor
I got all I need
No, I ain’t got cash, I ain’t got cash
But I got you, baby

Sia’s Cheap Thrills was released in early 2016 and became a bit of a personal party anthem – anytime Sean Paul’s biddy-bang-bang comes on today, it takes me back to the European leg of my Career Break trip, a 4-month backpacking journey that saw some hazy nights with lots of alcohol and this song blasting in the background.

Shout out to my bloghouse roomie Helen who does a pretty hilarious Sean Paul style rap – I always hear ‘biddy bang bang’ in my head in her voice. This song definitely rocked our Kenya tour which happened right in the midst of the European leg. My tour group were a fun bunch all around and we had some fun nights out.

Kenya Kilifi Beach Hair Flick Group
We call this particular photo ‘Dead Debbie’ because we were trying to do a coordinated group shot of that IG-style water hair flick while swimming at Kilili Beach in Mombasa, but Debbie unfortunately missed the timing here which resulted in this hilarious shot

I’m usually not much of a party animal, but there were some pretty wild nights on this trip thanks to the infectious energy of being in a hostel with other fun-loving travellers (and cheap European beer – 2L of beer in a bottle for 1.5 Euro? Unthinkable in Singapore where a pint is S$15 in most pubs). I do need to go back to Serbia and Slovakia someday because I only had 2 nights in each of their capital cities and probably a little too much boozy fun there to really appreciate the sights properly.

Poland Krakow Ceiling Selfie
So here’s my first memory of Poland: It took me a 5+hour mini bus ride from Brno in neighbouring Czech to get to Krakow on a Saturday night. Within the first hour in my hostel, I’d somehow made friends with fellow hostelites armed with cheap Polish vodka who dragged me out with them for a pretty fun night out (“Because it’s SATURDAY!”). I’m taking a selfie with one of them here because I’d noticed the ceiling in that club was pretty damn reflective! Sadly we would go out separate ways the next day, but I met this lady again when I passed through the Netherlands later that trip for yet another crazy night out!

Were you hoping for some scandalous stories? The beauty of solo travel is that what happens on the road can stay on the road, no one back home needs to know about what you’ve been up to unless you want them to know. I’d tell you about the story of midnight cheese sampling and a sheep I left behind in Edam near Amsterdam… Also, the best moments usually happen quite spontaneously – no time for photos!

I always encourage solo travellers to give hostels a go, especially if you’re looking to make friends and are able to put up with sharing a dorm room. It’s a little hit or miss when it comes to finding a connection but you are able to connect more organically just by being around like-minded people.

It’s also something that’s easier to do when you’re younger, hardier and a little more willing to put yourself out there. Late-30s me writing this now is probably less likely to go ‘climb the Tatra Mountains’ in Bratislava (hint: this involves increasingly potent shots of Tatratea and has nothing to do with actual hiking) compared to early-30s me back then who was a lot more gungho and was out to have a great time.

Bratislava Tatratea Shots
A random bar in Bratislava: One glass has a 52% shot of Tatratea, while the other has a 72% shot. It doesn’t matter which is which because I drank both and man that stuff is like fire down your throat. Probably burnt more calories than an actual hike lol.

Shaky Shaky – Daddy Yankee

Shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky 
Shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky 
Shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky, shaky
Cómo es, dame una vueltita otra vez 

I cannot emphasise to you how much of a monster hit Shaky Shaky was in early 2017 while I was travelling around South America. You heard this song 24/7 and by golly did I want to smack something every time I heard the words shaky shaky. Hearing this song today takes me back to nights out in South America. Colombia specifically for some reason – Learning to Salsa Cali-style in the south, and nights strolling around Medellin hunting for ramen of all things as the Asian-Aussie travel pal needed a proper noodle fix after being in South America for more months than I had at that point.

Colombia Cali Club Crowd
Gosh I remember the crowd being pretty thick but these days I can’t imagine being surrounded by so many people again! Me and my hostel mates in Cali had popped down to a nearby club for a little salsa and beer. I was mostly amazed that there were ‘trees’ in this club.

Quito in Ecuador was another place where I stayed in a pretty happening hostel – I usually try to avoid the full-on party hostels, but I do like those with a good community vibe, which makes it possible for me to go check out nightlife because I’m usually quite hesitant to venture out on my own in the evening when I’m travelling solo.

Ecuador Quito Panecillo Hill
El Panecillo or the ‘breadroll’ hill with the Virgin on top. Took this shot on a city tour around Quito but would later visit the hill with some friends, lovely views from up there

The iconic Luis Fonzi’s Despacito was another song that makes up the soundtrack of South America for me. Hearing the Bieber version in English when I got home was really weird for me because I’d become so accustomed to listening to the song fully in Spanish. Other frequently heard songs during this period include Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You and Clean Bandit’s Rockabye.

Nowadays I can listen to this song without wanting to rip off my ears, though I’ve kept it off my Reggaeton playlists because it is a lot. I love blasting Reggaeton in the car to keep my spirits up and it inspires me to practice a bit of Spanish listening skills – sometimes I translate the lyrics out of curiosity and am amused/horrified to know what I’m singing along to.

London Bridge – Fergie

How come every time you come around
My London, London Bridge wanna go down, like
London, London, London
Wanna go down like
London, London, London
Be going down like

With an obvious title like that, you’d think my memory would have to do with partying in London – I have been there several times over the years and will admit to a particularly fun night in 2016 where we tried to nab this standee of Queen Elizabeth from a pub we were in…

London Night Out Queen
Yes, that’s me selfieing with the queen at goodness knows what time. The staff took her back so don’t worry, we didn’t actually kidnap her

But actually, my mind goes back to freshly-graduated me travelling around Taiwan with my friends in 2007. We were big on clubbing back then and this party anthem was perfect for yell-singing along to which we did, very loudly, in a random Hualien pub called All Star that we wandered into one rainy evening. I think the bartenders were very amused by these loud foreigners and gifted us some tequila shots and jagerbombs on top of what we ordered.

Taiwan Tales Hualien Me Umbrella
One reason we ended up at that pub in Hualien was because it had been a super tiring + rainy day (had to buy myself a frilly umbrella) and we just wanted to chill out.

You might notice that alcohol is a pretty common theme with the songs that have popped up so far. I really don’t drink that much honestly – drinking is more of a social thing for me. But for me it’s these loud catchy songs that get stuck in my head and that usually happens around nightlife.

Side note: this video is playing the censored version of the song singing ‘Oh Snap’ instead of ‘Oh Shit’, which is really one of the best parts of the song to yell along with.

Now I’ve been back to Taiwan many times since then, and I do need to return to Hualien because I really want to see Taroko Gorge again and check out more of the eastern region of Taiwan on my own.

Jac in Liwa Desert, UAE
Shoutout to this group of friends. Here we are horsing around in the Liwa desert back in 2012

Another song that I link with this group of friends is Rihanna’s Diamonds. Because this song was playing NONSTOP on the radio in 2012 when we were driving around the UAE and I would throw a fit every time it came on radio, my friends had a lot of fun going “SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND” at me throughout that trip and watching me groan.

Daddy – Psy

Hey, where did you get that body from?
Where did you get that body from?
Where did you get that body from?
I got it from my daddy
I got it from my daddy

In 2015 I went up to Seoul and Gyeonggi on a press trip and throughout my trip I was made perfectly aware that Psy (you can’t NOT known Gangnam Style at this point) had a new song out. Because it was, seriously, playing EVERYWHERE I went. It’s catchy and boppy and I can look back on it now with some fondness, but boy I was sick of that song when it was just released. I wasn’t even into Kpop back then but I knew this song because it was blasting in all the malls and shops.

Gyeonggi Gapyeong Petit France Me
Part of our trip to Gyeonggi for winter activities saw us stop by Gapyeong’s Petit France, a tourist spot made to look like a European town and also showcasing The Little Prince

This particular trip to South Korea had a bit of a hallyu angle to it – we visited several spots that featured K-pop, K-drama and K-variety stars. The boy group Bigbang was very in then too – Bang Bang Bang was another song which came out about that time that I couldn’t seem to shake.

But at that point in time, I didn’t know a thing about the Korean entertainment scene so a lot of this was quite foreign to me. When fellow journos on the trip were freaking out because we had run into the cast of variety show Infinite Challenge and the popular host Yoo Jae Suk, I had no idea who he was at all.

Seoul MBC World Yoo Jae Suk
My star sighting: we were at MBC World when we spotted Yoo Jae Suk and the cast of Inifinite Challenge on a coffee break. He didn’t stop for photos or signatures but kindly waved at everyone gawking at him. I had lots of envious friends on my socials that day!

When I did get back home and started writing up my trip articles, I listened to the songs of these popular artists for some inspiration and inadvertently realised that Kpop was a great way to keep me awake because the songs I favoured were loud and boppy, but since it was in a foreign language I was less distracted from singing along. I started a specific Kpop playlist that I put on when I need to do some serious writing.

I only actually got into Kpop sometime in 2018 or so. I was freelancing around that time and perhaps with a bit more time on my hands, I somehow started delving into the groups of my favourite Kpop music, which led into watching Korean variety shows and the occasional Korean drama. If you’re in my car when my Kpop playlist is blasting, you’ll hear a mix of Bigbang, Winner, Buzz and even some Epik High and Hyukoh.

The soft power of Kpop is real: I’ve returned to Korea several times in recent years and explored outside Seoul to places like Busan and Suncheon and I definitely developed a taste for Korean Ramyeon from watching them slurp it up on all these variety shows.

Thankfully these days I don’t feel like wringing my neck when I hear the Daddy song anymore and can truly appreciate how weirdly cool the music video is.

Hands to myself – Selena Gomez

Can’t keep my hands to myself
No matter how hard I’m trying to
I want you all to myself
Your metaphorical gin and juice

On a press trip to Southern Sumatra back 2016, we spent a lot of time riding buses transversing the country roads to get around the island, and I don’t know whose playlist we were using in the bus but the one song that always came on when the engine came on was Hands to myself by Selena Gomez: CAN’T KEEP MY HANDS TO MYSELF, doob doob, CAN’T KEEP MY HANDS TO MYSELF.

At some point everybody just groaned when that song kicked in, but it’s such a strong sense memory that my mind always goes back to that trip when I hear it on the radio now. I think of looking out over sprawling wallpaper-like tea fields at the foot of the volcano, or the wide open Lake Ranau and its peaceful views.

South Sumatra Pagar Alam Tea Plantations Me
Lovely Pagar Alam and its tea fields looks like the perfect desktop screensaver

I probably should have blogged more about this trip, but it’s not the easiest place to get to on your own and I had a lot of travel happening during those halcyon years from 2016-2018, and we already know that I’m not as dedicated a blogger as I should be – a lot of my travels never make it to the blog unfortunately!

South Sumatra Off Road Muddy Me
Besides witnessing the solar eclipse in Palembang and exploring Lake Ranau, we did some activities like white water rafting and off roading. What cracks me up is how absolutely muddy I was and it turned out I was the ONLY ONE super muddy because my driver was pretty wild while everyone had barely a drop on them. Ah well it was pretty hilarious!

One other memory: I don’t usually get carsick, but on this one day I must have gotten some weird stomach bug because I found myself standing behind the coach puking my guts out at hour 10 of an 11-hour bus ride. That was not fun. Thankfully it only happened one time during the trip!

South Sumatra Tolakangin
One of the Indo bloggers gave me some Tolakangin to drink which is this herbal tea of sorts and it did help!

What songs remind you of past trips or travel moments? Share them with me in the comments. Check out some of my other posts about how I travel here: