Flying High - Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin 1

Flying High – Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Flying High – Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Solo Women Traveler Atiqah Khairudin and her sister Izzati became hot-air balloon pilots in September 2015 – the first female balloonists in Malaysia.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day (IWD), Atiqah shares her love for flying and travelling solo as a woman with SmartDory.

The 101 Questions are to get to know Atiqah Khairudin better, get insights into her lifestyle, and get some great travel tips.

Up, Up and Away With Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin!

My name is Atiqah Khairudin.

I am 32 years old and living in Kuala Lumpur.

Ever since I was in primary school, I would cycle between 5 pm – 7 pm around my housing area and explore places independently.

There were scary moments when I got more adventurous, like a curious cat, I cycled under a concrete bridge, and I found homeless drug addicts just staring at me.

Looking back, I knew from the get-go I always loved exploring places by myself.

After working multiple part-time jobs during uni and get a bit wiser, I bought a return flight ticket to Europe for a month trip, intending to do soul searching.

Now I travel mostly to fly in hot air balloons because that’s what I do for a living.

And there’s no better way to experience a city than from a bird’s eye view!

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin flying high. Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

#1 Who is the most exciting person you’ve met so far?

A man named Francisco Arrogini (i am still surprised by how I still remember his full name!).

So this chap was an architect living in my favourite city, that felt like an outdoor museum, Rome, Italy.

He brought me to the underground theatres, prominent figures’ homes and showed me many underrated buildings in the city!

Of course, coming from an architectural background, the way he explained each landmark was astounding!

He told me who built what and why the construction was in such a way.

That really opened up my eyes to meet the locals with various industry background.

#2 Do you feel better or worse about the change in diet?

I feel worse. I really do because I am a foodie; to be more specific, I cannot leave my rice and the Santan gravy.

That’s why I try to sneak in Brahims and spicy prawn sambal in my luggage wherever I go.

#3 City or countryside?

There’s no other place as authentic as the countryside.

It is less frantic with fewer people and a friendlier environment.

People are more welcoming.

You get to have a decent conversation with people of all ages.

I stayed in a town called Igualada in Spain for over a month, and you go to the same sundry shop and kebab stalls.

The locals remember you, and you can’t help but feel like part of the community!

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Atiqah poses with the women coffee farmers fromAraku, Visakhapatnam, India. Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

#4 How are you documenting your trip?

I would always carry a pocket journal wherever I go.

I like to jot down interesting things and draw the scenery I experienced that day.

When I am back in KL, when I go through the journal, it instantly brings back the emotional feelings of wandering in the lost.

I can almost relive those moments.

#5 What food from your home do you miss the most?

Nasi Kandar. Nasi Kerabu. Nasi Lemak. Nasi Campur. Pretty much any type of Nasi 😀

#6 Would you rather see a lot of places or get to know one really well?

When I first started travelling, I thought I wanted to cover as many places as possible, although the time span was concise.

But then I realised, the shorter time you have, the less you get to really enjoy the moment and absorb the culture.

A few years later, I consciously decided to stay put in one city or country as long as I could whenever I travel.

This way, I get to relax more than spending most of the time carrying my luggage, rushing to the airport and repeat.

Cause let’s face it, the reason we travel is to escape.

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Atiqah and sister, Izzati on Saudi Arabia 4WD Touring Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

#7 How much do you plan in advances vs how much do you leave to spontaneity?

All this comes down to numerous mistakes I had made, especially when I was younger; money was a big issue, so I wanted to squeeze in everything in just one day, and I get fatigued and kiasu.

Now I am both. I have a daily framework consists of AM, NOON, EVENING, PM.

I would just put the activity or stay in. No specific place, no specific activity.

So when I arrive at the location, I would take my time talking to the locals and decide then.

#8 What are your favourite apps to use when travelling solo?

The best app that I use is Ulmon – CityMaps2go wherever I go!

It has offline maps that guide you to local landmarks and provide comprehensive details on local transportation.

It is so convenient to use when you do not have a local Simcard.

Another app that I use is MuslimPro – this is used as a guide when I want to look for halal restaurants and halal butcher.

It’s convenient when I stay in one place for more than a week, and I need to cook.

My go-to is also Evernote – that is my brain dump where I do research and include links, details to the places and people I want to meet, hopefully.

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Atiqah at the World Heritage Archaeological Site of Al-Hijr (Madâin Sâlih), formerly known as Hegra in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

#9 What are your packing essentials for a solo trip?

A printed copy of all essential documents (passport, flight tickets, emergency contacts)

  1. Clothing – depends on the weather
  2. Two pair of shoes (walking, sandals)
  3. International Adapter, Powerbank, Chargers & Gadgets
  4. Toiletries (Moisturiser & Sunscreen – the most important!)
  5. My travelling journal
  6. First Aid Kit
  7. Small purse – for daily use (i do not carry all my cash, I keep it safe and only take a sum of it daily)
  8. Credit Card
Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Atiqah and sister, Izzati and her daughter in Saga, Japan – showing the certificate of winning the Asian Champion Cup in 2019. Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

#10 How do you meet new people when you’re travelling alone?

Either through the ballooning community or Couchsurf – a platform where you get to choose to either stay over their houses or to meet the locals over coffee or dinner.

I choose the latter; I wanted to dive into the culture and understand how the locals think, and using the Couchsurfing website to meet locals is the perfect platform!

Quote From Hot Air Ballon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

The more I travel, the more grateful I am to be living in Malaysia. ~ Atiqah Khairudin

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Atiqah Khairudin

Photo: Atiqah Khairudin

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