Meet the Girl Who Left Indonesia to Travel with Just US$1000 and A Backpack

Meet the Girl Who Left Indonesia to Travel with Just US$1000 and A Backpack

Against the odds of financial woes and hate comments, this 25-year-old Muslim girl continued chasing her dreams of travelling the world.

They say life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. For us, Anissa Syifa Adriana is larger than life itself.

With just a 40-litre backpack and US$1000 in her bank account, this Indonesian lady left behind all things familiar to pursue her dream of travelling the world when she was just 24 years old. For an entire year, she couchsurfed across Southeast Asia and all the way to China all by herself. Whilst travelling, she’s also worked in a Malaysian hostel, volunteered in a Chiang Mai school, and even rode a motorbike for 900-kilometres over five days in Vietnam!

How did she do it? We were just as curious ourselves. As such, we caught up with Syifa on her travels, and here’s what we’ve learnt about this tremendously determined and intrepid female explorer:

Her fierce passion for travel triumphed over any financial concerns.

In 2014, a full-time stint with a government agency only earned the young graduate a meagre US$200 each month. By 2016, she had saved only nearly US$1000. Any plans of long-term travelling seemed pretty much impossible for one under such circumstances.

Yet, Syifa wasn’t just your typical traveller. To ameliorate her financial woes, this resourceful girl found work via Workaway as she travelled, and couchsurfed to ease her budget. For her, it was far more important to have the boldness to take the step out in faith to pursue her dreams. After all, what good are wings without the courage to fly?

A lone girl with her trusty backpack – Taken as Syifa was about to leave for Puerto Princesa (Philippines)

Fighting against fears of financial difficulties and an uncertain future, Syifa left Indonesia for the world. She also faced other obstacles on the road – solo travelling with a hijab (a head veil donned by Muslim women) attracted plenty of curiosity, and unfortunately, animosity too.

Despite all these, Syifa never once looked back on her decision. “Life is a great adventure, or nothing at all”, she muses. For her, travelling has never been about money, but about courage.

She’s received plenty of hate comments, but never allowed them to beat her down.

Syifa’s decision to wear don a hijab as she travels is a personal conviction. “The hijab becomes my guard and keeps me grounded,” she shares. However, her outward expression of her faith has brought her numerous horrible experiences.

For one, she’s received hate comments from Islamophobes on her YouTube travelogues demanding that she “get out” of Vietnam. One even went as far as to say that he’s “surprised that [she] didn’t get beaten up for being Muslim.” As if these weren’t bad enough, she was also attacked on social media by Muslims who deemed her as unbecoming of a Muslim woman for travelling alone.

Smiling her way through adversity – Taken in Cambodia

While we were shocked and baffled by these cruel responses, Syifa remained unfazed. She recognises that being a hijabi solo traveller isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but continues standing firm to both her beliefs and her dreams.

“I’ve learnt to become more resilient and not take things too personally. After all, these people don’t know me in real life, so why should they preach to me how I should practice my faith and how I should travel?” Syifa says.

She hopes to make an impact on perspectives of Islam, a step at a time.

Some of Syifa’s deepest impressions during her Couchsurfing and Workaway experiences were from her interactions with western travellers. Whilst being hosted, she had many opportunities to share her faith with both her hosts and other travellers. “Most of them never had a Muslim friend… so [they] can be quite cynical [initially]. But once we get to converse and exchange stories, they began to see my identity as a person, and not based on my religion.”

Friendships know no boundaries of nationality, race or religion – Taken with a fellow couchsurfer from Netherlands.

Another meaningful experience was in Chiang Mai where Syifa volunteered with her Workaway host in a workshop conducted for students of Chiang Mai International School. The workshop centred around educating the students on universal values.

On the first day, the students were told that there would be a Muslim attending the workshop the following day and that they could write a question for him/her. For this purpose, Syifa did not wear her hijab to class that day. When she came with her hijab the next day, the students were surprised to learn that it was her. They then had an open discussion about how all humans were the same, regardless of their religion or race.

A beautiful sunset – Taken in Northern Thailand.

A few weeks later, Syifa was told that one of the students wrote a poem about how his perspective of Islam had changed after the workshop. Heartened, Syifa shares that being able to plant these seeds of equality in the minds of young ones was far more valuable than any other experiences she’s had.

“I don’t intend to clear up misconceptions about Islam as it is a very big task to do. But by being who I am, I hope that it will at least help those with negative perspectives about Islam understand the faith more and become a bit more neutral,” says Syifa.

Her favourite travel memories were from her toughest times.

As Syifa shared with us her best travel memories excitedly, we were surprised to learn that they were the same ones that challenged her the most.

Fond memories with friends from all over the world – Taken in a hostel in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

One of these was her Workaway experience at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur. She was paid US$500 for six weeks, and this helped sustain her on the road a little longer. Tiring as the chores may be, she thoroughly enjoyed meeting and hosting international travellers every day. The place even became a second home to her!

Exploring the countryside on two wheels  – Taken in Northern Thailand

Another significant memory was during her visit to Southern Vietnam, where she decided to take the path less travelled – the Southeast Motorbike Loop. On this trail, Syifa rode her motorbike for five consecutive days and over 900 kilometres. The aftermath was a horrible sunburn, trembling hands, sore back and thighs, an exhausted mind, but a very full heart. She had completely fallen in love with the country.

The thing she’s learnt most on her travels is about herself.

Syifa picked up plenty of life lessons along the way, but the one most important thing that struck her is how much better she understands herself now. “The more we travel, the more we lose sight of how we [were]… We discover aspects of our real personality that we weren’t aware of [before]!” she exclaims.

Taken in Papua New Guinea

Before she started her journey, Syifa was worried that the US$1000 wouldn’t even sustain her for four months. Yet along the way, as her finances depleted, she realised that it wasn’t as scary as she had imagined it to be. On the contrary, she’s managed to travel for a whole year!

Getting cosy with nature – Taken in Malaysia

Syifa also discovered that travelling solo can get lonely at times, and whether that sense of loneliness is rewarding or daunting depends on each person. For her, that solitude was good for her soul. “Being on your own, you get to have all kinds of conversations with yourself. You get to explore your inner world and [that] will help you to understand the true desires of your heart and soul.” she reflects.

Through travelling, Syifa also continuously learn of the extent of her tenacity and hardiness. It was only when she was put through unfamiliar situations and difficult conditions that she discovered how abled and strong she was.

“It is a calming realisation [that] you can trust yourself a little more, and to believe that, since you have already done so many things alone, you can deal with the next one.” Syifa encourages. Indeed, only when tested through fire is one refined as silver and gold.

Her travels have led her to a teaching job in China.

So where’s Syifa now? Well, she’s been offered an English teaching position to young children in China, so that’s where she will be for the next one and a half years!

All happy with her visa – Taken in Yinchuan China

When asked about her experience in China thus far, Syifa enthusiastically shared that she has begun to enjoy living and working there. “China is honestly not the easiest country to live in because of the possible massive cultural shock [you might experience], but once you get around to it, you will love it!” she tells us.

Of course, transiting from travelling to staying abroad in a country has its own fair share of challenges. Apart from cultural differences and language barriers, staying put in a country, regardless whether you like it or not, requires commitment. For a 25-year-old girl, this was certainly no easy task.

Taken in Yinchuan (China)

Take fasting for instance – during summer in Northwestern China, the daytime is much longer and Syifa essentially has to fast from 3.30am to 8.30pm. That’s a whopping 17 hours! On top of that, she also has to work for nine hours each day.

“I can honestly say that it wasn’t easy at all… but [being able to] experience Eid Fitr (a festival that marks the end of Ramadan) in another country far away from home has humbled me and filled me with gratitude,” shares Syifa. Truly, Syifa’s spirit never fails to amaze us!

Her message to aspiring travellers: Don’t be afraid, don’t limit yourself.

From her experiences, Syifa’s learnt that there are only two things you will need for solo travelling: the courage to challenge your comfort zone and the openness to all kinds of possibilities. “In the end, it is not so much about which country or continent you visit, but how these journeys help you grow as a person”, Syifa shares. Strive towards this without fear and limit, and you will definitely be well rewarded.

Beneath her bright smile and cheerful disposition, we saw a tenacious woman fiercely loyal to her values and beliefs. As she shared with us her experiences, she also exuded maturity and wisdom beyond her age. Clothed in strength and dignity, Syifa laughs without fear of the future – a true inspiration for aspiring travellers out there.

With our most heartfelt sincerity, we hope that Syifa will never lose that gorgeous smile, respectable attitude and her passionate love for travelling.

If you’d like to connect with Syifa, add her up on Facebook and Instagram (@syifaadriana). You can also view her travelogues on her YouTube channel

About Author

Sim Yi Zhen
Sim Yi Zhen

Adventurer and athlete, Yi Zhen has a penchant for planning travel itineraries that are off the beaten path. She also daydreams about travelling to Liverpool for the 2019 Netball World Cup.


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