Malaysia is an easy place to digest. Everyone speaks English here -- as they do in most countries these days -- and theyve got super food and public transportation. Also, the prices cant be beat: I stayed at a Malaysian familys guest house right on Ferringhi Beach (Foreigner Beach) with an ocean view for $13 per night. There was a grandma cooking at the wok downstairs and the Malay kids of the household were hypnotized day and night by cartoons on a flatscreen TV, the same as anywhere in the world. As a popular saying goes in Asia: Same, same, but different.
Malaysia is a mostly-Muslim country, so youre roused from bed at 4:30 in the morning with the call of the muezzin at the mosque next door. Get up and say your prayers, everybody! is my loose translation. The reading of the Koran goes on for hours, but some of these guys up in the tower are great singers, and it sure adds to the atmosphere.
Dinner is often at halal restaurants, meaning the chicken has been prayed over in thanks to Allah before it got its head lopped off. A lunch of spicey fried noodles and chicken runs about 60 cents.
Id like to ramble on for another month, island-hopping through Indonesia, touching base in Australia and hop-scotching through Fiji, Hawaii and L.A., but you can only give a mule so much tether, and mine ended Jan. 18 with a flight home from Singapore. Plus, after following the sun around the world and suffering through eight months of summer, I wouldnt want to miss the chance to enjoy the coldest part of the winter in Northern Michigan. And of course, to see my lovely wife, family and friends again.
What do you learn on a trip around the world? That Planet Earth is much more interesting than you might imagine, and that people everywhere are pretty darned friendly to a lonely traveler, especially if you take care to wear your warmest smile.
Those of you whove suffered through these columns over the past few months might wonder how much it costs to take such a trip. You can buy a round-the-world plane ticket starting at around $1,800, which will take you to half a dozen hotspots, such as London, Cairo, Delhi and Bangkok.
But I chose a more whimsical approach, vowing to visit all the places Id ever dreamed of. That meant biking up the west coast of Ireland (the land of my ancestors) and from sea-to-sea across England and down the Danube. I have an interest in British seafaring history, so I went to Portsmouth, England, to see Admiral Nelsons ship, the HMS Victory. I went to Budapest because back in junior high school, Id read James Micheners book about the Hungarian revolt against the Soviets. I went to India to fulfill a youthful backpackers dream, and to Vietnam because of the impact that country had on my generation. Silly reasons, but they meant a lot to me.
Long story short, the bedrock of my trip cost $5,000 for all the flights around the world, and for three tours with the backpacking company, Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), which provided 45 days of native travel and lodging through the rough spots of Egypt, India and Vietnam.
A combination of camping and staying in cheap hostels and guest houses kept other costs down. Overall, I spent about the same amount that I would have if Id stayed home for nearly five months.
By the numbers the trip included four continents, 20 countries, 18 flights, 20 trains, 10 long-distance buses, 700 miles by mountain bike, and countless trips by boat, car, pedicab, tuk-tuk, motorbike, camel, donkey, elephant, and on foot. And thousands of smiles, laughs and happy memories.
Id never encourage anyone to travel the rough way around the world, because if youre wired for this sort of thing, youre already dying to go -- chances are youre already planning your next move or have been there.
There were places I wish Id seen, such as Russia, Tanzania, Turkey and Australia, but all that will have to wait til later, and the magic words: next time.