She left Malaysia to sail the world seeking freedom, adventure – and the ‘soft life’

“Ever since I was a child, I had a burning curiosity to explore the world around me,” she told This Week in Asia from Costa Rica.

Her journey isn’t just about exploration, but also the active embrace of freedom, adventure and a simpler existence. Her days are now a blend of navigating, fishing, restocking essentials during shore trips, and refreshing dips in crystal-clear waters, all chronicled on social media.

A typical day on board the boat involves a mix of maintenance, navigation, and leisure for Syasya. Photo: Instagram/whatswrongsyaa

“My childhood ambition was to be a flight attendant, so I could travel or be a professional athlete. My family always knew that I had big dreams to travel the world,” she said. “Although I never imagined doing that through sailing, only via planes or trains, but never beyond that.”

Syasya is part of a growing cohort of young Asians seeking what the internet dubs the “soft life” – a lifestyle choice that place more emphasis on personal happiness than the relentless pursuit of career goals or success. The “soft life” ethos advocates comfort and minimal stress.

This mindset shift was underscored in a survey last year by recruitment agency Randstad Malaysia, which revealed that 79 per cent of employees under the age of 34 had considered leaving their current jobs in pursuit of a better work-life balance.

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Acknowledging this change in priorities, especially among the young, Singapore announced a new guideline earlier this month that will give employees the right to request more four-day work weeks and work-from-home days, starting from December.

Syasya’s journey around the world began in October last year with an unexpected invitation to join a crew bound for Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island.

She quickly embraced the joys of independent living in beautiful natural surroundings, despite the close quarters of a boat that she shares with a captain and two other crew members.

I’ve always been fascinated by the freedom and adventure that comes with living on a sailing boat

Syasya Syahirah Nor Azmi, soft life practitioner

From casting her fishing line into the ocean to discovering hidden beaches and watching the sunset, every Instagram upload captures Syasya’s maritime adventures. Her posts capture candid moments of laughter and companionship, as she relishes the simple joys of camaraderie or a refreshing drink, with the endless sea always in view.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the freedom and adventure that comes with living on a sailing boat,” she said.

“The idea of being able to travel to different places, explore new horizons, and live a simpler life close to nature really appealed to me. It’s a way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life and embrace a more serene and peaceful existence.”

A typical day on board the boat involves a mix of maintenance, navigation, and leisure activities like swimming, reading, and creating social media content.

Syasya enjoys the “soft life” with a cocktail on a beach. Photo: Instagram/whatswrongsyaa

“Living on the boat means an endless project of fixing things, made tougher by the heat and humidity. When there’s a breeze, it’s bearable – just open hatches for airflow. But on windless scorchers, thank goodness for the generator-run air-conditioning,” she said.

“While we have encountered a few minor issues like adjusting the rigging and adding more solar panels, our attention to detail has ensured a smooth sailing experience overall.”

There are other downsides to the adventurer’s life, she concedes.

“Living on a boat can be pretty lonely sometimes, away from friends and family. When we meet other cruisers, we can connect, but in the end, there’s always a goodbye, and we won’t see them again,” she said.

“With limited space and missing loved ones, it can get really lonely. Plus, there’s never an end to boat work. I do have breakdowns once in a while … I also miss Malaysian food more than anything.”

Leaving harbour aboard the Beneteau 57 sailing boat. Photo: Instagram/whatswrongsyaa

‘Embrace the unknown’

Syasya’s peripatetic roots run deep.

Raised in a small town of Sekinchan on Malaysia’s west coast, her life path saw her study sports at a specialised school in Johor, before dabbling in fashion design and running her own businesses.

“I went to Johor for a sports school as a track and field athlete. Through sports, I had the opportunity to compete in competitions. For me, that was a way to travel. I always found smart ways to travel from early on,” she said.

After graduating high school in 2013, Syasya worked in a hotel, then a cafe, and also pursued fashion design studies. Although she initially enrolled in sport science at a university in the Klang Valley, she eventually decided to drop out, which allowed her to embark on a backpacking journey across Malaysia, concluding in George Town, where she started a new chapter of her life on Penang Island.

A haul of goods seen below deck on the sailing boat Syasya calls home, after a supply run. Photo: Instagram/whatswrongsyaa

“I worked in a bar, cigar shop, and cafe to make a living. When the pandemic happened, I took an online course for three months. After the pandemic, I started selling fresh lemonade at the Sunday flea market, only working on weekends,” she said.

“I was scouted for modelling jobs in a grocery store. I also opened a thrift shop in George Town. From all this experience I gained, I made so many friends and established a strong network.”

Syasya credited her time in Penang for deepening her understanding of different cultures and enhancing her ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds.

“Living in Penang, surrounded by friends from all over the world, has made it effortless to embrace diversity. We frequently organise cultural exchange events, where we come together to celebrate our unique traditions and customs. The friendships I’ve formed have profoundly enriched my perspective and brought boundless joy to my life,” she said.

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Life on the boat is a far cry from the city life Syasya left behind. Instead of crowded streets and bustling cafes, she wakes to the sound of waves gently lapping against the hull. While most people rush to their workplaces, she spends her days exploring remote islands and soaking up the sun.

As she sails towards new horizons, Syasya has a simple piece of advice for anyone thinking about following in her footsteps: just do it.

“When you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, have the guts to take the next step,” she said.

“Always keep an open mind and broaden your perspective. This willingness to embrace new experiences can lead to personal growth and unexpected opportunities. So, embrace the unknown, take risks, and seize every opportunity that comes your way.”

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