Journey To The West: Prologue

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—- Our holiday was efficiently organized by the TripCase app. Keeps all flight/train schedules and tickets in check, and addresses of accommodations as well!

We all have goals. Short term, or long term, they’re in the same to-do list that tells the stories of our lives. One of my short term goals was to bring mom to the UK as she had always wanted to see what life is like in that part of the world (and so did I). Another reason was more personal for me which I won’t divulge here, but let’s just say all those reasons combined with a desperate need for a holiday and the will to part with a chunk of fortune – it was high time we boarded that plane to the land of tea and scones!

So when British Airways reopened their KUL-LON route with a promotion, I jumped on the chance. Apart from MAS, it was the only other airline that has a direct flight to London. I was really hoping for a good offer from MAS (I’ve always wanted to board the A388!), but alas I had to go with BA since they were cheaper at that time.

Was I nervous to go on a long holiday with just mom? Of course! Because this time the tables have turned – back when we used to go for family trips mom would plan out every single thing – from the itinerary, to our accommodation, transportation to every town and attractions we should see! I do think I inherited this trait from mom whenever I go on holidays with my friends – but I also took a little bit from dad whereby I dislike rushing and ticking off all the tourist spots is not exactly a priority for me.

And of course, over the years, I have grown bigger and mom has gotten a little smaller, I’ve become a little braver and mom is now a little more cautious than before, and I’m the one earning whilst mom has already retired. But it’s not when you embark on an adventure like this that you actually feel how much your roles have changed, even before it has begun! I will reflect on a lot more of this along the way, but to those who want to do a child-parent holiday like me – these are the few reality checks you need to accept.  There were instances where I have stumbled here and there and the child in me resurfaces, but it’s all part of the adventure of a lifetime.

So going back to the planning stage, I had three different options in mind, and it would all boil down to cost and practicality. After much research and comparisons, this was the conclusion:

  1. Option 1: London & Switzerland trip – most costly option, I wasn’t even sure if I could feed us decent food everyday throughout the trip. Of course, Huffington Post later on enlightened me that Switzerland is the most expensive country in the world! Maybe next time.
  2. Option 2: England & Scotland road trip – the cost for this option and Option 3 were quite close, so it all boiled down to whether it was practical to be driving all the time.  Mom also had her reservations of me driving in the UK (our rules are pretty much the same but I do think I’ll be a road hazard instead). So, with all that came the alternative…
  3. Option 3: London, Paris & Belgium (Bruges & Ghent) trip – if you look at the map, it was a nice little triangle. Since the cost didn’t vary much with Option 2, I felt this option was more worth it as we would also get to experience different cultures and sights. And the efficient transportation meant that I didn’t have to spend most of the time driving.
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—- From London to Paris and Belgium by high speed trains, and a cheap, fast flight back. Most of the time, flying is cheaper than taking the train – but taking trains saves you the hassle of long immigration lines. Seems legit.

So we decided on Option 3. I must admit, that as least touristy as I claim to be the notion of visiting the Lourve and Sacre Ceour was hard to resist. After all, it’s not often that I’ll be able to bring mom along to that part of the world, might as well pay a visit to a couple more European countries.

I decided that we should do Paris first, as I figured it might be the most hectic and complicated city among the rest, and then settle down for a nice and slow trip in Ghent and Bruges. Brussels was initially on the list but we cancelled it as we didn’t want to cramp too many places into 4 days. This was our itinerary, with most of our traveling done in the morning to maximize our day:

  • Day 1: Arrive at London early in the morning, spend a day at Leigh-on-sea where my friend Sharon lives.
  • Day 2: Leave for Paris from the St. Pancras station to Gare du Nord via Eurostar (duration:3 hours).
  • Day 5: Leave for Brussels from Gare du Nord to the Bruxelles-Midi station via Thalys (duration: 2 hours). Then take the Belgian InterCity (IC) train to Ghent (duration: 30 minutes).
  • Day 6: Day trip to Bruges via the Belgian IC (duration: 30 minutes)
  • Day 8: Back to London via British Airways (duration: 1 hour)
  • Day 9 & 10: Stay in London
  • Day 11: Day trip to Cambridge (duration: 1.5 hours drive)
  • Rest of the days in Southend, Essex, and then back to Malaysia on Day 14

Our accommodation in Paris and Ghent was via AirBnb, and they were lovely! In UK, Sharon hosted us back in her place at Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and I could see why she calls that place home. And we spent a night in a hotel near Hyde Park when we were in London (to save us the hassle of travelling to and from Leigh, and Les Mis ended quite late).

britishairways
—-The faithful BA0034. Old plane, nothing fancy – but does the job.

When I showed mom the luggage that we would bring for our trip, she got worried. One 65L backpack (which dad kindly loaned me) and one cabin-sized luggage for two pax, for 14 days? That’s the beauty of using AirBnb, you can opt for houses with proper amenities such as laundry and kitchen so you don’t have to worry about running out of clean clothes or eating out all the time! And yes, having friends who live overseas is probably the best option of all.

In fact, all of our clothes and necessities were packed in the 65L backpack since that was the only thing I was going to carry to Paris and Belgium. Mind you, European countries have a lot of stairs (especially the metro) and cobblestone-laden roads, so those fancy luggage with wheels will bring more inconvenience in these circumstances. If you’re on a shoestring budget like me and can’t afford to hire private travel agents that will transport you from door-to-door – do build up a bit of stamina and patience before you go.

Other travel tips include:

  • Use PACKING CUBES! These should be on the top of every traveller’s list! I got a set of 7-pieces at RM49.00 from Lazada, and they helped us segregate our tops, pants, undies, toiletries, shoes and even our chargers and cords efficiently! They’re sized in a way that it’s so easy to place them into your luggage and backpacks while keeping everything in order!
  • Use VACUUM bags for dirty clothes. This pretty much applies to the times when you are too lazy to can’t do laundry and you have to pack your dirty clothes along. To save space, these reusable vacuum bags help eliminate the air in between your clothes, making it as compact as possible. You can use them to pack clean clothes too, but they do make them all wrinkly and your luggage can get very heavy because they are so dense so you tend to overpack. I got two of them for RM5.30 from Daiso.
  • Get good walking shoes. Some people say don’t wear tennis shoes because you’ll stick out as a tourist. I say wear anything you feel most comfortable in because there will be a lot of walking – from tar roads to cobblestone streets to uneven staircases – and sometimes even running, especially when you’re chasing for the metro. I wore a pair of Nike Free’s throughout the trip and I absolutely loved it.
  • Get a good travel charger with multi-USB ports. Almost everything charges with USB nowadays. A multi-port saves you from bringing too many charging devices. (Tip of tip: If what’s available is not enough (for the days where everything you brought seem to need charging at the same time) – you can always find a hidden USB port or two in the electrical appliances (ie. TV, players, etc.) at your accommodation.)
  • ASK and ASK and ASK your potential AirBnb host ANYTHING you need to know before booking. For instance, because I was traveling with mom, I wanted to make sure we didn’t have to climb a lot of stairs, especially after a full day’s worth of walking. And in European cities they have many old, steep walk-up units. So I was always checking to see on which floor the house was at and if they have any elevators. Also, it’s a good way to gauge how friendly your potential hosts are.
  • COMPROMISE with your travel partner and manage each other’s expectations. My mom and I compromised on a lot of things, from what to pack, what to eat, what to see (this was tough because we were two different kind of travelers) and tolerating each other’s mood swings.
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—- All set and ready to go!

As we move to the next few posts on the different locations, it will get a little more personal – just like my holiday. Traveling with mom has opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I’ve learned so much in those two weeks than I’ve ever had in the past few years about our relationship.

Some of my friends who have followed the updates of my trip have been inspired to bring their moms and dads for a holiday too. If you have the time, and the cash to spare, I say do it and do it NOW, even if it burns a hole in your pocket. Money can be earned back, but not time.

Hopefully, in the very near future, I’ll create an adventure with dad too.

 

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