While travel, along with food, is a national obsession in Singapore, taking a year off work to trot the globe veers from the norm. Which explains Justin Liok’s reaction when his wife of one year floated the idea. Says the 37-year-old asset manager: “I love travelling, but to do so for such an extended period and having to quit our jobs… I initially baulked at the suggestion and hoped that she would forget about it after a while.”
But Shuyi Liok did not forget. The couple had been working for eight years and this was a golden – read: pre-children – opportunity. Justin eventually relented, figuring it would be a way to turbocharge their marriage. With a condensed time frame in which to experience the trials of marriage, they would either break up or “become an inseparable, perpetually-in-love couple”.
Crazy in love: swipe / click to browse through the pictures from their travels.
Fast forward a year to 2015. The couple returned – bitter arguments, silent treatments and impulses to flee notwithstanding – convinced they wanted to work together. Today, they share a name card – as co-managers of the Liok family office. Here’s what went down.
What advice did you get before you went on the trip?
Justin: To go with the flow, not stress on pre-planning and make bookings as and when the time to move comes. But there was so much we wanted to do, we actually dedicated two months to planning the entire trip, which allowed us to cover over 30 countries and 80 cities in a year.
Many expected us to cut the trip short as they couldn’t fathom travelling with their other halves for more than two months. We proved otherwise.
Which region in the world drew you in particular?
J: We had such a love for South America that we revisited Chile, Argentina and Brazil, and ventured to Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
We also headed to Central America – Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands.
These two regions are modern, yet have active links to their centuries-old pasts. The natives have kept alive their cultures and ways, travelling from their insulated communities to the cities and towns to sell their wares and interact with those who embrace today’s trappings. This, and the simplicity and joy of life, coupled with the vibrant colours of their cultural dresses and their love of food, music and family sharing, make these places truly unique and a joy to visit, versus the developed world.
What were your absolute travel essentials?
J: Apart from a pared-down wardrobe, it’s being connected to Wi-Fi. The Internet has made travelling so easy today – with Google, Trip Advisor and a myriad of apps that tell you the best places to visit. With Facetime and Whatsapp, we are also constantly connected to friends and family at home.
What did you learn from your travels?
J: The key observation is that there’s much wanton consumerism and excess in everyone’s lives. We used to shop while on vacation, but we’ve realised that with global fashion and the Internet, you can get anything in Singapore. We’ve also stopped buying excessive souvenirs for our house, as they never get displayed.
While we occasionally indulge in luxury, we’ve recognised that it’s the simple things that truly give us pleasure. We’d rather spend our holidays experiencing meaningfully and consuming purposefully. This would involve doing simple things like snorkelling, hiking and going on picnics, and taking the time to enjoy the natural scenery, interacting with and immersing in the local culture, and trying local food.
What awed you during the trip?
Shuyi: The beautiful landscapes, and how little it takes for someone to be truly happy and content.
J: I saw the full range of human emotions, struggles and joys echoed all around the world, showing that we are all the same in nature.
Any harrowing experiences?
S: No. We were blessed throughout the whole journey. We never missed a flight, our luggage always came through intact, we didn’t fall sick. Perhaps it was a combination of having an open mind and enjoying every moment, good planning, being well-rested, dressing modestly and having basic common sense.
What did you discover about each other during your travels?
S: We had our differences and argued a fair bit in the first few weeks. There were times we’d ignore each other for days and wanted to book the first flight home. But as the days passed, we were reminded that we had both put everything aside for this journey. We decided to focus on our common goal of making the most of our trip, to use our differences to complement each other.
For instance, I’m very structured while Justin likes to go with the flow. So I’d plan the general route, flights and hotels, while he was responsible for navigating the city when we were there. I learned to plan some downtime in every destination, so we could explore something on the fly or catch a breather. Where possible, we stayed in serviced apartments, so we’d have the space to catch up on work, do laundry and prepare some comfort food.
J: That she truly complements me; for all the things I detest doing or am not good at, she likes or does well. This has made our relationship stronger and us, so effective together. We realised that we can make our marriage work only by working together in everything. Literally.
What are some of the unexpected results of the trip?
J: We had contemplated going back to our professional lives but had become so attuned to each other, we knew that we had to work together.
I’d been helping my family manage their assets since returning from Hong Kong in 2008, but not on a full-time basis. Upon returning from our trip, I saw there was a need to consolidate and restructure our businesses and assets more efficiently. So after much discussion with Shuyi and my family, we decided it would be best that we jointly focus on setting up a family office that would allow us to work together for the greater good of all families involved.
Travelling, we were impressed by the rich history and vibrant, young populations of Berlin and Budapest. On some days, instead of touring the cities, we’d meet with a realtor who’d show us the different neighbourhoods. The prices of prime real estate there compared to those in other global cities led us to eventually invest in residential assets in both places. Today, we are working with realtors, fund managers and family offices to source for opportunities to grow our European real estate portfolio.
How has your travel influenced your thinking about business?
J: As we manage our families’ investment portfolios, it is important to be in touch with upcoming global trends, demographics, the lifestyles of youths, policies and societal issues globally. Having spent some time on the ground in each country, we have a macro guideline of the sectors we’d like to invest in. Having greater autonomy now also allows us to be more focused on issues close to our hearts, such as philanthropy, technology, education and sustainability.
How to pack for a year on the move.
BY THE NUMBERS
While going with the flow invites serendipitous connections, planning helps to extract the most value from time off.
2 The number of months it took to plan the trip.
OVER 80 The number of cities visited.
OVER 30 The number of countries visited.
South America: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands
Central America: Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Caribbean islands
Europe: The UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Greece, Turkey
Asia: Dubai, India
PHOTOGRAPHY Justin Liok
PHOTOS (PERU & BRAZIL) TPG & Alamy