the traveler’s wife

Frequent flyer miles are Drew and my most affluent currency at the moment. This means that if the promotions, miles, program memberships, and cosmic forces all align correctly, I get to live like a businessman’s wife, cruising along my facebook page on a five-star hotel’s high-speed lounge internet while eating a meal of entirely free food from the array set out by the unendingly flattering lounge staff. It’s very nice and the first few times I got to experience this kind of travel, I had no idea what to do with myself. I didn’t touch the food because I wasn’t convinced it was free and I was self conscious about whether or not I fit into the five-star setting with my dusty backpack and tennis shoes. And when the lounge staff lady came up to me and exclaimed how wonderful my sketches in my sketchbook were, I fully believed her and was flattered to pieces. Drew gently reminded me that she is paid to make me feel wonderful about anything and everything: paid to make me feel like I belong in a five-star hotel lounge (if not for my business finesse, than for the doodles in my sketchbook.) I don’t care how genuine or disgenuine this woman’s compliments are, tonight when she recognized me from our stay here at the Renneissance Bangkok a month ago and said “Oh I remember your beautiful drawings!” I chose to accept the flattery with a grain of salt, but accept it none-the-less. Perhaps the others in the room are professional business-men and CEO’s and the like, but I happen to be a professional sketchbook doodler and I am very ok with that.
The second half of this picture is completely different. With frequent flyer miles as our most affluent currency, this means that when the promotions and flyer-miles and program memberships and cosmic forces DON’T align, we are the most penny pinching travelers for countries around. I don’t usually make statements that sound so exaggerated, but I am actually somewhat convinced that this may be an accurate statement. Many travelers have dropped in to join us and travel with us for a bit…that is until they see how frugal and odd our style of travel is, at which point they move along and find others to travel with.
But I’m going to be honest, I absolutely love frugal travel. Frugal travel is one of the best ways to filter out tourism and soak up a place simply by watching it with open eyes. It is a good way to maintain that beautiful sense of “awe” for a place. While there are a list of things that backpackers in South East Asia tend to do including guided tours, visits to the tiger temple, and “cobra kissing,” Drew and I are rarely among the tourists participating in such things. They travel in little tourist clouds, hovering just above a place without ever quite settling down upon it. Instead we do what we can afford, or simply live life. I would have definitely been a part of this “tourist cloud” if it weren’t for this need to be frugal, which is why I am so grateful for our peculiar position.
We spend our time where another culture buzzes around us. We watch. We write. We talk and we laugh as locals bear with us to attempt to teach us a few phrases. We eat street food and ride public buses from time to time. We linger. We don’t have the money to go where that tourist cloud goes.
I love it. How could I be anything but grateful? If it weren’t for this odd balancing act between points-benefit travel and frugal travel, there would be no travel, at least not long-term travel. This is our travel option and it is wonderful. Tonight I am sleeping in a five-star hotel and tomorrow night I may still be stuck on the 5 hour bus to the Cambodian border. Or perhaps I’ll be in a concrete hotel where the water from the sink drains onto the floor. I won’t be in a hot air balloon or on a guided tour through the mountains and I won’t be standing with a crowd of other foreigners inside the crowded temple where they sell t-shirts and trinkets. What could be more beautiful than a chance to sit quietly in the background and watch? I watch the backpacker culture and note it’s many love-able nuances. I watch the Thai culture around me and wrap myself in tangled questions.
This is what travel is like when you’re broke and platinum.
The adventure tonight was giving Drew a haircut with the office scissors brought to me by the staff at the Renneissance Bangkok. Tomorrow’s adventure will be crossing the border into Cambodia.

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