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Introduce yourself! Who are you? and which country do you come from/ call home?
My name is Zhu. I am a Chinese girl born and raised in Shenzhen, the technological and entrepreneurial superhub and mega metropole of the East until I was 17. Before that, I went on exchange to California, New York, and Finland. 17 onwards, I went to school at St Andrews, which is the alma mater of Dutch and Duchess of Cambridge and a very privileged school in general. Because my bachelor degree was a joint-degree, so I went to William & Mary in Virginia for two years and got two diplomas from two schools within four years. After that, I also went to UPenn for a master. Home is New York City, London, and Paris for me. Frankly, wherever I am and my loved one is, that is home.
Where have you been so far?
School: UK USA China
Semi-school and residence: France
Programmes: Singapore, Finland, Morocco, Denmark
Connection to: Iran
Been to: Germany, Portugal, Canada, Turkey, UAE, Thailand, Montenegro, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Sweden.
What has inspired you to start travelling solo?
Nobody wanted to go with me. It was not easy to organise trips away because some people would always be short of ambition, money, have a scheduling bump, or something.
What was your family’s reaction to your travelling idea?
Supportive. Much of my ‘travels’ are related to my education. They opened my world, gave me a new horizon of understanding about the world, and endowed me with valuable professional and personal network.
Many people are reluctant to travel solo because they feel like they’ll be alone and won’t meet anyone. What’s your experience?
Because you travel solo, you meet people and develop new hobbies. I remembered I went to Israel, initially to just have a five-day vacay when I was transitioning from the US back to the UK. I found Israel to be somewhere in the middle so I went as a tourist. Then, I literally bumped into my high school classmate, who was studying in Tel Aviv back then, when I was jogging on the street. I also had so much fun partying with another high school classmate, who was studying in Jerusalem, out of occasions when he saw my geotag. We just connected. No need to say, I also started surfing in Israel. I just decided to learn a new hobby, and surfing was relatively cheaper. From there, life began.
In how far do you think traveling has changed you and your view of the world?
Too much. You realise that the world is bigger. Especially my major countries are the US, China, UK, and France, which are the countries that everybody talks about. Citizens of these countries tend to focus on only what matters to their own countries, especially the US and China, hailing as the biggest two economies with relatively bigger population and bountiful resources. However, the world is bigger. There is technically another half of the world that lives in quite different yet similar lives. For example, I was really scared to travel to Iran before I went. I thought of Iran as a random terrorist country on the map. After I went, I was very influenced by its dense culture and history. I also met my current boyfriend, who is Persian, on my first trip to Iran. From travelling, you also realise that people are quite similar. Now in my businesses or ways of dealing with people, I cross-share a lot of experiences and learnings from alternative places.
The biggest concern for travelling solo as a female is safety. What would you tell women who want to travel solo but worry about their safety?
Be aware of common sense. I would advise against travelling to less safe places alone. Don’t go to bars and clubs in extravagant outfits apparently. But the first step, it is not too bad. From travelling alone, a woman gains independence, courage, and confidence as a lady, not as a girl. A woman that knows how to handle her movement and her businesses in a society should be very well respected. Unfortunately, male dominance is still prevalent in most parts of the world. In certain countries, a female traveller may face verbal harassment or even physical harassment. However, light risks should not be the reason to not travel at all. We may die from car accidents, but we are still driving cars isn’t it?
What should every solo female traveller pack?
Humble outfits, especially travelling to less tourist-friendly countries or countries with xenophobia. Books about the cultures and history of this country, for it only makes sense to me that we learn about the place first before visiting instead of just Instagramming. Notebooks and cameras to record and remember the journey.
How do you afford your travels, and what tips can you share for keeping costs down while on the road?
When I was in school, I had, fortunately, the support from my family. Sometimes I got grants from school. Sometimes I sponsored myself from my investment gains or internship wages. Now as I am starting my companies, the economy has sharply come down. Living with a local friend can save a lot of accommodation fee. But frankly, when you travel to less developed countries from a more advanced economy, only by GDP sense, it is somewhere affordable. The only big expense is return flights.
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started?
To learn about a country. My first trip to Morocco started with no previous research or reading about the country. I had a rough time and cultural shock there. After that, I always read books, prepared for trips, or read what others say about a place, first to know the place properly, and second to better protect myself.
Do you ever think to yourself, “Shit, what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be back home now and own an apartment or house or something?”
Sometimes. I had quite turbulent teenage years because I was travelling to schools. It was the hardest to say goodbye to the people I had connections with. It wasn’t uncommon for me to cry in a train, flight, or bus when those farewell moments or tough moments arise. Nevertheless, I emerged to be a way stronger woman with my distinctive strength after all these pains. Eventually, life is about a farewell isn’t it? Solo travelling may not be for everyone. It’s not for the faint of heart.
However, I am never a big ‘traveller’. I travelled as I was fortunate to study in various places, maybe out of my own choices. I would not risk everything to just go wanderlust. I think to be able to contribute to the societies that raise me up and connect with a few that matter. I still go here and there occasionally, but my major focus is more on my businesses and projects I am passionate about, the ‘owning my apartment’ part on top of many others. Zhu is the founder of Zhuorui Fu Collection, a simple and classy style curation based in New York, London, and Paris. ZFC makes bespoke, sustainable, and chic haute-couture pieces 100% handmade in France and USA.
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