Jerome Taylor: Pack your bags and dodge the downturn

Malaysia Notebook: About 60 per cent of people said the economy was the prime reason for their decision to go travelling
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The Independent Online

Whenever I head off for a holiday, many of my more financially successful friends often wonder why I continue to insist on bunging a few ragged T-shirts in a tattered backpack and bunking down in grubby hostels, rather than stumping up cash for a half-decent hotel.

It's probably got something to do with not wanting to grow up. I love the cliché of sitting round campfires with predictably pungent backpackers who, until recently, seemed to get younger and younger with every passing year.

But not this time. After two weeks traipsing around peninsular Malaysia, I was astonished at just how many fellow travellers were people in their thirties who had hit the dusty trail to escape the recession. The school-leaver and university gap-year student has suddenly become a critically endangered species.

On the bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, pictured, the wide-eyed undergraduates knocking back ice cool Tiger beers and deep-fried pork belly seemed outnumbered by unemployed professionals on year-long travel adventures, waiting for the economic monsoon to die down.

On the flight out, an architect from Manchester said he had given up looking for a job and decided to move to Borneo to work pro bono with a charity for the next six months. An Italian-born former advertising exec for a British fashion label, meanwhile, said the recession made her realise life was too short and unpredictable to keep putting off her plans to see the world. Another European couple, Chris and Lotte, had moved to Kuala Lumpur after failing to find anything in their home countries of France and Sweden. Chris had found work at an Indian-owned importing company on the outskirts of the capital, and Lotte had become a teacher.

In the end we began counting. About 60 per cent of the people we met said the economy back home was the prime reason for their decision to go travelling – an admittedly imprecise headcount but one that gives an idea of the recession's fallout nonetheless. As I packed my bag and headed to the airport, instead of feeling depressed that my holiday had ended, I felt immensely lucky. For once, I was happy to be rejoining the rat race.

Here come the Harajuku girls

Anyone who has been to the Tokyo suburb of Harajuku on a Sunday morning cannot help but notice the vast array of bizarrely clothed Japanese teenagers, who descend upon the area to show off the latest counter-cultural fashion trends. Well, now Harajuku girls have come to Malaysia. Every weekend, middle-class teens with money to burn head to Berjaya Times Square, South-east Asia's largest shopping mall, to hang out in cutesy gothic gowns and brightly coloured knee-high socks that make them look like they've just jumped out of a Manga cartoon strip. "All the rich teenagers love Harajuku," one shopkeeper who sells Japanese clothes told me. "Malaysians aren't so keen on American fashion trends, they like to look east."