Hi everyone, James here. As the first post for Backpacker’s United I wanted to share a little bit about my story, both why I began traveling, and what I think it’s really done for me in a positive way. I’m the newbie here compared to Eric, so I know he will have quite a bit to add, but what I think is the most important part of this is that we started somewhere. Personally out of necessity, but also because of a deep love of new experiences.
My to-be wife’s name is Sandy, and she’s a lot better at everything than I am (why I put a ring on it). Some things that she is especially talented at are writing, interpreting, teaching, and politics. This landed her a Fulbright Grant in Malaysia for the entirety of 2015. One full year being a great deal of time, this afforded me two options: crippling loneliness compounded by Casey’s pizza and energy drink addiction, OR a number of trips overseas to spend time with her.
I chose both.
At the time I was in my third year of being an Independent Investment Advisor, so I was not struggling, but I knew that in order to make it work I needed to figure out how to ball on a budget, so I began with the google search “how do I travel cheap,” and stumbled on ThePointsGuy.com, the utmost authority on all things frequent-flyer.
After voraciously devouring almost all of the content on the site within the span of 1 night, I decided that the frequent flyer game was definitely for me, and proceeded to order myself a United MileagePlus Card, and a Starwood Preferred Guest Card. More on that later.
It took about two months of solid research for me to gain confidence that I knew what I was doing when I booked travel for myself, and I finally pulled the trigger and booked myself a 10 day trip from Chicago to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
I had no idea what I was in for.
My planning consisted of throwing a bunch of clothes in a tiny suitcase, and stuffing it to the brim with pop tarts, peanut butter and my toiletries. Malaysia is not known for its stellar supply of peanut butter or pop tarts, unfortunately.
I met Sandy at the airport after roughly 35 hours of flying and layovers, and we headed for her small but modern home (complete with electricity, hot water, stove and electric kettle) situated in a small town called Beaufort in the Sabah state of Borneo. It’s in the South China Sea. Borneo specifically is a very interesting society. It draws from India, China and “Sabahan” tribes and has cultural norms that I will never begin to understand, but the thing that I always felt was welcome. Through the language barrier, through my own ignorance to the largely Muslim customs and manners, all that I met were inclined to greet us, help, and get to know us as best they could with the limited communication that we could have. I felt nothing but love in Sabah, except from one British man.
Lets talk about jet lag for a moment here: expect it, and it’s a bitch. Talk over.
That week was a whirlwind. It began with a 30 minute drive down a paved road (bike trail), a 30 minute hike up a mountain, another 30 minutes down the other side and into the jungle, ending in a completely deserted stretch of mountain waterfalls in which any human being would’ve been remiss not to spend a day playing in. Thus we did.
We stayed at a resort for a night, which was so deserted we were given a private villa all to ourselves for the US equivalent of $30. We ate Lamb overlooking a herd of Lambs, and the ocean. It was great juxtaposition.
The highlight of the trip came after a drive up to the northern tip of the island, situated directly on the south China Sea.
There we came across a man named Howard who ran an eco-hostel in the jungle just a mile from the sea. For $15 per night, tourists are able to sleep in these…
…and are provided with breakfast, the sights and sounds of the Jungle, and a brief walk to through the jungle to the sprawling white beaches of Borneo.
We spent two blissfully relaxing days in the Jungle, got drunk on the beach, and ate tons of local food before heading back to the Capitol for a few days at the Meridien Hotel before my departure.
These days included scuba diving, hours eating freshly caught lobster at the Phillipino Fish Market, Dim Sum (chinese dumplings) for most meals and all of the love the Capitol could show.
Upon leaving I thought about how silly all of my pre-travel nerves now seemed. We had seen the country, the city, the Jungle, and all of the people in between. We stayed in a hut, dove in the sea, ate donuts at the local corner shop before heading to Pizza Hut. I realized as I left that life is just life, no matter what your situation. I took back with me a little better understanding that I need only treat people like people, accept a little more, be a little less harsh and sweat less the small things, and life will both go on, but be filled with fabulous and eye opening experiences for the rest of my life.
I was hooked.