The Long Road to Malaysia
With just one month to make all the plans, getting to Malaysia was not going to be the easiest job. We had to use most of our best travel skills to make it happen. During this house sitting adventure of ours we have really been experimenting with ways to keep the traveling budget under control, and since flights make up the majority of that budget we needed a good plan for this long haul. This is when the fun and frustration of airline alliances typically kicks in.
We always fly United Airlines within the States, and normally internationally. So our first place to check for flights is their website, but our search there ended quickly. Coming from the UK, the only way to fly on United would be to go backward to the States and then on to Malaysia. We are gluttons for travel punishment but even that seemed excessive. I have done that once to Australia and it was a killer. Occasionally on international flights we end up on another airline in the Star Alliance network. Our goal being to choose the airline with the best price for our flight while still contributing to our mileage accrual and status qualifications. That's key. If you are not careful in checking to see how each airline in an alliance interacts with your airline of choice you can be left with an expensive ticket and nothing in return. So we got online and used a couple of tools to do a quick search of the best flights from London to Kuala Lumpur. On one website, Momondo, there is actually an option to filter by the different global alliances so we could make sure to keep it in house. We had all the potential flights lined up but there was still a problem. The prices were pretty outrageous! I mean, we were cutting it close what with the trip being so soon, but the costs were out of control. It was time to step back, rethink, and figure out a new plan.
Any normal, sane person would have just sucked it up and jumped on a flight from London Heathrow which was only two hours away from where we would be staying. But since occasionally we are neither of those things (normal or sane) we decided to think bigger. We figured we had just enough time if we moved quickly to make it from the place we would be house sitting to one of the airports in continental Europe. So, through quite a bit of research, we found flights out of Brussels on Turkish Airlines, and determined it would actually be £300 cheaper to go to Belgium even including the cost of the drive. One of the big differences in price was avoiding that pesky and expensive UK Air Passenger Duty which is especially punishing on long haul flights. It’s actually not the first time we’ve done this. I’ve dropped Blair off in Paris, Brussels, and even Amsterdam before to save significant money on return flights to the US. So after a call to United and a call to Turkish to confirm, step one of our trip was in place. Yes, it was a little complicated, and we would now have a lot of plans to put in place. But we were proud that with a little perseverance, some flexibility, and a lot of research we made the system work for us. The Malaysia trip was becoming more real by the second.
Did I say we are pretty adamant about finding good deals on flights? It is almost up there with how far we will go out of our way to not pay for parking. Blair can attest to how many times I’ve made him walk an extra mile because a few pounds for parking seemed too steep for just a couple hours. It sometimes seems ridiculous but when you are traveling so much it really does begin to add up. Same reason we almost never pay for airport parking.
I can’t remember the last time I parked at an airport, and we definitely weren’t going to on this trip where every dollar counted. Instead of parking the car at Brussels Airport, we arranged to stay outside the city in a place where we knew we could street park the car while we were gone. We spent the night in a small town outside of Brussels called Merchtem. It lies northwest of Brussels about 25 km from the airport and has the typical charm of a nice sized European town. What we hadn’t counted on when we arranged to stay there was that Merchtem was hosting its 10-day long annual street festival and fair. Each year the center of the town is closed off to traffic and, inspired by hot summer weather this particular August, the entire town came out to party. Beer, Belgian waffles, fries with mayo, musical bands performing in the square, dancing in the streets until 4 am; you name it, it was going on. We left the revelers to do their thing and stumbled home exhausted because we had a bus to catch the next morning. For a few euros we were able to take the regional bus right to the front door of the airport, knowing our car would kindly be looked after by the person we had been staying with.
I mentioned were are both pretty tall. Since both of us stand just about six and a half feet, it can be tough to fit into regular sized economy airline seats. In this case, tough equals impossible if you want to be able to walk when the flight is done. Because we fly so much normally we are pretty much always able to arrange for exit row seats, but that is only on our regular airline. When you are dealing with other airlines even in the same alliance, it's like wandering through the wilderness, expect the unexpected. We thought it would be best to arrive early and see if we could get exit row seats assigned. Early being as soon as the gate opened. Apparently, in Brussels, and unlike the US, that doesn’t mean 4 hours before the flight, but that’s fine. After an hour long wait for the desk to open we were very thankful to be checked-in with great exit row seating on both flights. That early bird thing rings true in this case.
We’d never flown Turkish Airlines before, so didn’t know what to expect. We are such frequent flyers on the same airline (have to get those miles and preserve that status!) that we get nervous whenever we have to fly with anyone else. Luckily, Turkish Airlines turned out to be a really pleasant experience and great choice. Nice modern planes, good food, more than decent on-demand video entertainment options, and all of this in coach. Most impressive, though, is its lounge in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. It makes you want to arrange for a long layover. We had never experienced anything quite like it. Split across two floors, and the size of many large hotels’ lobbies, you can help yourself to practically anything you want. A gin and tonic? Pour one for yourself. Hot pressed panini oozing with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes? Just ask the chef to make you a couple. Fresh, strong, local coffee with Turkish Delight and biscotti as a snack on the side? The barista is there to keep you continuously caffeinated.
Back in the air, it occurred to us that we had just flown out of Brussels, with a connection in Istanbul, on our way to Malaysia. Considering the recent history of all of these places we said a quick silent prayer in hopes of making it all the way without a hitch. We relaxed a bit as we enjoyed all the food, wine, and movies we could desire. Thanks to the wonderful Turkish Airlines service we landed excited and invigorated the following morning in a new part of the world.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, locally referred to as just KLIA, is very far from the city center. You feels like you are flying straight into a tropical jungle as you land because of the surrounding palm fields. With the sun setting by the time we landed, the air had that distinct humid and sticky feel. It had been a while since we’d been to a place like this. It felt familiar yet different.
On this occasion, we would be looking after two dogs for an expat teacher who was taking some time off to vacation. So we jumped into an Uber and headed to a restaurant where we had agreed to meet her straight from work. It was at this point that we made our first exciting Malaysian discovery. Taxis are cheap. It must have taken 45 minutes to get to our destination and the fare wasn’t even $20 with tolls. This would become increasingly beneficial as the week progressed. Once we arrived at the restaurant we made another discovery, this time a little less exciting. The high cost of alcohol, yes, even beer. Oh well. They say alcohol and heat don’t mix anyhow.
We settled into, of all places, a Mexican restaurant, and waited for our host to arrive. After such a smooth journey we were pretty sure it was going to be a good week...
Photo of Merchtem, Belgium by Luc T. flickr.com
Photo of Turkish Airlines A330 © 2015 Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Turksih Airlines CIP Lounge by Jun Seita flickr.com
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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