We’re fully invested in making sure that no matter where you travel to this year, you’re raking in unforgettable experiences that’ll stay with you long after you’ve returned home. But traveling is about much more than picking a place on a map and just going — there are a lot of little things that people forget to think about that can massively impact how much you enjoy your journey. What essentials should you bring? How do you manage your time on a long flight? And what do you do to find comfort anywhere you lay your head? They’re trivial things to think about, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to be the person who arrives on your Spirit airlines flight with no book, Nintendo switch, tablet, or laptop, because when you remember that Spirit doesn’t have personal screens on the back of every seat, you’ll feel not only like a fool but a really bored fool.
To help you out with the nuts and bolts of traveling well, we sought the advice of one of our favorite world travelers — electronic pop singer Yuna. Who better to ask about managing life on the road than a professional singer, especially one who has been traveling as much as Yuna has this past year? We connected with the Malaysian-born star over the phone in the midst of her current acoustic tour to get some insight into how she’s made a home on the road. Last summer’s Rouge, Yuna’s latest album, is far from an acoustic affair, so her current tour offers fans a unique chance to explore her songs in a more intimate and stripped-down setting. Luckily, there are still a handful of dates in D.C. and New York left on the tour (plus a residency at the Blue Note in Manhattan from Feb 27-March 1st), so if you’re a Yuna fan, check out those dates here and then put her expert travel tips to good use on your next flight.
You’re currently on an acoustic tour, and I just wanted to ask before we get into some travel, what made you decide to strip the songs down like that?
Well, I used to do a lot of acoustic stuff starting out, maybe like 10 years ago when I first started touring. It was just me and my guitar. But I haven’t done that in a while. When I got this opportunity to do this acoustic tour, I was like, “oh yeah, definitely. Let’s do it.” Because I think it gives a different experience for the audience and my fans. I think they’re so used to listening to me either on Spotify and Apple Music, and then when they come and see the show it’s me and this full band.
During my last tour, I even had dancers. But this time around you’re able to kind of just get me, and my vocals, and just minimal music and acoustic guitars. And also with me talking about the songs that we are about to perform. It’s very intimate, and I think that’s an opportunity for me to kind of reconnect with my fans that way.
Has it revealed anything to you about your own music that maybe you weren’t aware of?
Oh, definitely. When I do my newer songs with an acoustic arrangement, it brings out all these different vibes. “Likes” has a very hip hop, kind of singy, rappy kind of vibe, but when we do it acoustic it’s like wow, it’s kind of a proper R&B song! I never realized that.
Of course, performing it with the band and everything, performing it exactly how the track is, is fun. But this one is just, it gives a different meaning. It’s so much stronger and the message becomes clearer in that way.
What’s one of your favorite cities to play on this tour?
Definitely Chicago. I think I always have a great crowd in Chicago, and people are always so excited and they sing along. Actually, Chicago and San Francisco. But I know you’re asking just one. But, Chicago, San Francisco comes close second.
Let’s jump into travel, you’re an expert on Malaysia, if we’re visiting, what needs to be on our itinerary and when is the best time to visit?
Wow. What’s the best time to visit? Definitely not the monsoon season, and I’m not sure when is monsoon season is now because it’s changing. The weather’s changing! It used to be the end of the year, like, okay, avoid Malaysia end of the year. But now it’s like, oh, the end of the year is perfect. But yeah, definitely check websites and avoid the monsoon season.
And I think the best place to go is the east coast. All the islands on the east coast are so beautiful. And food-wise, I would say ease yourself into it a little bit. Try the least scary ones first. Don’t go straight for the durian, you know what I mean? Don’t go straight into it because you’re going to think that, “Oh my gosh, this is what Malaysian food is?”
Try the curries, just try all the kind of the mild chili stuff. And then you’ll slowly open your palate to like different things. Because Malaysian food to me is the best food in the world. There’s nothing like it. It’s flavorful. And you can actually taste the spice, it’s amazing. So yeah, the food, the islands, and the people too. Try talking to them, they’re very friendly. And we always love showing foreigners what to eat and what to experience.
I was just going to ask you about food, actually. You kind of answered my question already, so I’ll have to ask you about your second favorite food. Of all the places you’ve been, where have you found your second favorite food and why?
Oh, second favorite? Oh God. Second favorite is still Malaysia! No. I think… Thai food? I think Thailand is — I love Thai food, so whenever I go to Thailand I get super excited about having food there. My favorite thing would have to be the tom yum soup. The best one is always in Thailand. I mean, of course. And, Pad Kra Pao. It’s chicken with basil. It’s minced chicken or ground chicken with basil and chile. It’s so good.
And rice and little fried egg on top. Yeah. That’s my jam.
Which country, in your opinion, is really friendly to first-time travelers?
Thailand, I think. Yeah. No, Thailand. Thai people are so friendly and they’re funny, they laugh a lot. I like to joke around with them. And you could go anywhere in the world and it’s like, not only are they super polite, but they have a sense of humor too. Their outlook on life is just so refreshing. And it’s very different, let’s say you go to New York and everyone is just kind of rushing like they have to do something and they’re just not interested in communicating with you.
But in Thailand, you can just literally stop and talk to someone and they’ll just have all these stories to tell and just have you try things.
Let’s talk a little bit about packing. Are you a light packer or you do you have to bring everything with you? What are the essentials?
I’m trying to be better at packing. I like to travel light so I always try to limit myself to maybe one bag, but I always have another carry-on. Like one carry-on, a smaller roller bag, and then a big one. And I love all the compartment bags, these are for pants, and these are for shirts. So I have maybe two of those. And then yeah, I’m very organized when it comes to packing, but I bring everything, that’s why I have to be organized.
So, I’ll bring an extra pair of shoes, sneakers for traveling, and the whole makeup bag because I need my makeup. And what else? Some hangers, a garment bag. So I would fit in the garment bag, and two-compartment bags, and a makeup bag and a bag for my shoes, and that’s it…
I’m getting pretty good at it now.
How do you kill time on a plane? Are you a book person? Are you making beats on a laptop? Watching movies?
I’m always watching movies. I’m definitely a movie person on flights. I used to be the kind of person who makes beats, doing work on my laptop. But I tried doing that lately and I never end up opening it. It’s so weird. I’m always just watching something. I think I never get the time to just watch TV or watch movies. I’m always working. So on flights, I’m always catching up on all the new stuff.
So I’m just like, “yeah, no, I’m not going to work now. I’m going to work anyways when I land,” you know?
As someone who’s on the road often and for a long time, what are some of your tips for keeping your sanity on a long trip abroad?
When you’re traveling a lot, I try to bring stuff that reminds me of home a little bit. It doesn’t matter, it could be maybe like an essential oil that you use in your diffuser at home and that kind of makes you feel comfortable. Or… I like to bring my own pillow. It’s kind of weird, but I just kind of just started doing that because I have trouble sleeping in new places.