As far as being well-travelled goes, few have had the privilege of immersing themselves in myriad cultures like Rebecca Jo-Rushdy. Born in Los Angeles, she’s your typical third culture kid who grew up around the world thanks to her father’s job as an architect.
By 18, Rebecca had attended nine different schools and lived in Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and New York City. To make things more complicated (read: interesting), although Rebecca is Chinese by ethnicity, her mum was born and raised in South Korea and her father was raised in Japan and Taiwan. Meanwhile, her husband is half-Irish, half-Egyptian but born and raised in England.
Now a mum to two boisterous girls aged five and seven, the 35-year-old has called Kuala Lumpur (KL) home for the past four years. However, her family plans to move to Edinburgh, Scotland, very soon! Even today, Rebecca considers her parents as nomads, as they split their time between Japan, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Suffice to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Coming to KL, Rebecca became the country’s first certified KonMari consultant. But beyond tidying up, sparking joy is an ethos in every aspect of Rebecca’s life — from where she lives to how she lives to who she surrounds herself with, which brings us to her travels.
Tell us all about the gap year you took as a family.
Once I’d read Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, it truly had a life-changing effect on me, and the process of self-discovery led us to KonMari-ing, the city we lived in. We decided to take our young kids (at that time, nine months old and barely three years old) around the world on a year-long family sabbatical to do some soul searching and figure out where we wanted to raise our young family.
We didn’t know where we would end up but decided that life was too short, and it was important to us to spend precious time with family and friends spread across the world.
We did a year of slow travel spending on average a month in each place. This trip took us to Taiwan, Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and Kenya. We spent a few months in various parts of the US, road-tripping along the coast of California, and spent time with dear friends in South Carolina, Arizona, and Montana.
Most memorable experience during your gap year? Where was it?
Picnicking in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya. It’s a sight you will never forget! For our kids, though, it’s probably Disneyland in Los Angeles 😆
In which country did you face the most challenges travelling as a family with young kids?
With young kids, Hong Kong was not as family-friendly as we’d imagined, especially having a stark contrast to other countries we visited, particularly if you use strollers!
That being said, the city is amazing for the buzzing energy, Disneyland, impressive transportation infrastructure, and efficiency. The kids love riding old school trams and getting a different perspective of the concrete jungle from the top deck.
And how did you end up here in Malaysia?
Nine months into our travels, my husband got a potential job offer in KL. Although it was never in our plans, we decided to make a week-long pit stop. We spent a few days in KL to check it out and a few days out in the jungle of Janda Baik. In that tranquillity of nature, we decided then and there that we would take the plunge, and it’s been the best decision for our little family. We love the diversity of Malaysia and everything it has to offer — especially the food!
When we were brainstorming places to raise our kids, we listed out our ideal family lifestyle (a crucial step in the KonMari Method — the power of visualisation!) One of our criteria was living in a place where our kids can learn Chinese and be immersed in a warm community… and magically, all of it was granted!
Where’s your fave place to #CutiCutiMalaysia?
To be honest, we haven’t had many opportunities to cuti-cuti Malaysia and explore, as half our time in the country has been spent during the pandemic! 😅
But I would say that anywhere we can be immersed in nature, which Malaysia has an abundance of. We love being in the rainforest, and it was in the tranquil depths of Janda Baik at a friend’s villa that we decided to take the plunge to move to Malaysia in 2018.
Pangkor Laut also holds a special place in our hearts — it was one of the few places we had a much-needed parents getaway!!
Favourite country in the world to holiday at.
We love Taiwan — it has so much to offer with its vast landscape — from urban cities to rural mountains to beaches to therapeutic hot springs. It’s small enough that you can travel across the country in a day and have epic road trips and train rides!
It’s a foodie paradise, too, with all the night markets, amazing hot pot, and ultra family-friendly, making you feel incredibly welcome. There are many play centres, themed restaurants, and awesome kids facilities in many hotels. We even had go-karts in this hot spring hotel in Yilan! There are also awesome rustic rural bed and breakfast accommodations with incredible hosts!
Where to next? COVID-19 restrictions aside.
Wherever my family is at. It’s been two years since I last saw them 🥺 We love reunions in Taiwan, and my parents loved cruises. Pre-pandemic, they would go on cruises all the time with their buddies. It’s also such an easy way to host family reunions, everyone is contained in one place, but we also have the freedom to move around and do our own activities, especially if we have a wide range of ages. My sister and I have a slight obsession with Bingo!
The last cruise we went on was around Japan. And our dear relatives from the US also came to join us for an epic 17-person reunion (it entertained everyone from age two to 70)!
Which three cities around the world are your favourite?
This is a tough one — too many good places to choose from!
I absolutely love Vancouver; the urban planning is world-class and super family-friendly. They hosted the Paralympic, so everywhere from sidewalks, public transportation, and restaurants is accessible, making it so effortless to explore for young families. Nature is literally right at your doorsteps with Whistler around the corner, as well as going to the forest to experience Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Science World is also one of our favourite places to visit, and there is a playground within a stone’s throw from anywhere. Even the high streets!
Kyoto was absolutely magical! To step into the beautifully preserved culture of Japan and the surrounding areas like Hiroshima — especially the floating shrines of Itsukushima — was wonderful. We explored Japan on the JR pass (you can purchase passes for unlimited usage, and we maximised it by going everywhere!). My parents spend a lot of time in Okinawa too (also known as the Hawaii of Japan), so that’s another spot to recommend. It’s also a very different Japanese experience because of their steeped history with the US navy. Okinawa has an inordinate amount of epic adventure playgrounds to burn off much-needed kids’ energy!
Edinburgh — it’s another magical and family-friendly city. There’s so much to explore on foot, and it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in arts and culture — especially during the Fringe Festival! The museums are amazing (and free!), plus if you’re an avid Harry Potter fan, you’ll experience first-hand the inspiration behind it all. We also visited the most incredible inclusive adventure playground for kids of all abilities.
City, mountain, or beach?
My husband is calibrated for the mountains, but I am a Cali beach girl through and through. My spirit animal is a dolphin! 😆
Where do you think is the most underrated travel destination?
The Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland! The stunning and lush scenery will take your breath away. Then, there’s that wonderful Irish hospitality and all the food and culture it has to offer.