Travelling with like-minded people is more fun than going on trips all by yourself
I told myself two decades ago that I would be a traveller, not a tourist. So what’s the difference?
Well, I will not go around with a crammed suitcase on package tours that herd me from one place to another in a matter of a few days.
From experience, all I can recall are just the names of these tourist spots and a few experiences at a particular place, if I am lucky.
So, how does being a traveller make a difference? Aha, a traveller will choose the place one wants to explore and at one’s own pace and time. You decide on whether you want to go solo, with a companion or a group.
Gregarious me will need at least a friend for company, if not a group, as I’d want to share and discuss experiences as I go along. Where is the fun if you are overwhelmed by the great piece of tapestry at the Sistine Chapel in Rome and have no one to share your joy of beholding such a masterpiece! Another reason is practicality.
Making enquiries at information counters, checking on train schedules and answering the call of nature at travel stations can be bothersome if you have to lug all your stuff around or into the cubicle. Besides, sharing the cost of accommodation and transport gives me a sense of security and safety, especially in a foreign land where the language is often incomprehensible.
One of the thrills of travelling is of course sampling the local cuisine. When there are more than one person, you can try more varieties, right?
Now that I am a travel writer, alas, I find that being part of a tour group is very much the norm, especially on media familiarisation tours.
But there are happy differences. For one, your tour mates are in the same profession and should be of the same mindset, barring the odd one out. And when you get on well with some like-minded people, that’s a bonus. On my recent trip to Korea, nine journos from
“Asean plus 3” were the guests. This simply meant there were one each from Malaysia and Indonesia, two from Singapore and Thailand and one representative from China, Hong Kong and Japan.
KC Lim from TTG Asia and I struck a chord after a couple of days. I must admit that I have never been particularly fond of our neighbours across the causeway as in my experience, quite a few carry a chip on their shoulders when they meet us friendly Malaysians.
But Lim and I would banter all the time and, one night, we raided the Home Plus supermarket with Thai feature writer Sirima Eamtako from micenet Asia for some stuff to take home, given that we had little time for shopping included in our packed schedule planned by our various sponsors.
It was hilarious egging Sirima on to buy an elegant mixing bowl when she hesitatingly commented that it would sit perfectly on her kitchen shelf and that she’d use it to prepare salads for her son. As for us, we settled for some handy nail clippers, juicy strawberries and yellow melons as well as seaweed.
One day, when I was down with food poisoning and had to go to the hospital, Lim said my absence was noticeable and that he really felt something amiss as we could not carry on our “Malaysia-Singapore discourses”. In fact, our guide, the sweet and professional Jeanie who took very good care of me during my bouts of sickness noticed the silence in the bus that day and asked if Lim and I were long-time buddies.
Often, the travel writer is invited to sample the first in experiences, food and facilities. As the pen is mightier than the sword or as the Chinese believe journos are emperors without crowns, we are often feted and given every help and all the information we need in the hope of helping us turn in a favourable copy.
I am embarrassed though that there are fellow writers who make demands on their hosts and sponsors, more than what they professionally require. Demanding for freebies for your friends and families is not only unethical but borders on being downright cheap.On a happier note, the sojourns I have chalked up so far have been memorable, informative, eye-opening and in some cases humbling, leaving lasting memories of people and places I have had the privilege of meeting.
At the outset, let me state that travelling for pleasure or work is taxing physically, and hard work. Going on a trip requires planning in terms of packing the right stuff in the most compact way possible.
I am not the type who travels light and is often guilty of over-packing. Well, I am getting there and learning to reduce, re-use and make sure every item I bring along justifies taking up precious luggage space. More so now that airlines are strict on load limits.