Have bump. Will travel.

The day after I ditched my birth control pill, I experienced bleeding and just found out about this on the way to the airport. What did I do? I traveled to Kuala Lumpur and back.

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On the way to Petronas Tower!

A few weeks after, I fell pregnant. What did I do? I kept my commitment to my students and flew to Bali to deliver their course.

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At Bali Tourism Board HQ

As an inter-cultural international couple, our wedding was a two-parter. After a Christian ceremony and reception in Indonesia, we were due to have a marriage blessing in the UK that same year. What did I do? I became a six-months-along pregnant bride in the middle of winter (at the gorgeous Romsey Abbey no less).

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*pretending that we were not cold*

Now, I’m entering my ninth month pregnancy with fourteen flights under my (extra-large) belt. No more flights for me these days but not because I’m not allowed to but mostly because my husband is the ultimate worrier [note from Matt: I don’t think I am but I worry that Rebecca thinks I am]. 

For other ladies out there who have doubts about traveling while “turning food into human,” here’s the rule of thumb: as long as your doctor deems your pregnancy normal (no complications), and as long as you are up for it, pack your bags and go!

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Boarding into my last flight to Singapore at 7.5 months along!

Based on my experience of traveling while pregnant, both short- and long-haul, both business and leisure, here are my top tips:

  1. Book your flight only after you get a flying permit letter from your Obgyn. In my case, I was always up for it so I booked it anyway and then go see the doctor a few days prior to my flight. You have to be in tune with your body, too. I had to cancel one trip once because of sudden, terrible heartburn nine hours before my flight—despite the flying permit.
  2. If you can choose your seat, ask for aisle and no more than five rows from the toilet, for hopefully obvious reasons.
  3. Upon checking in, tell the airline staff that you’re pregnant and show them your flying permit. You should keep the permit for your returning flight, so they normally just look at it or scan/photocopy it. Some airlines, like AirAsia, Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia, ask you to fill out and sign a disclaimer form.
  4. If you’re more than six months along and on a long-haul flight with transit/connection, do ask for a special assistance. They will assign ground staff to wheel you to your next flight and wheel you to the car/taxi at your destination. Low-cost carriers may charge you for this (AirAsia charges S$20 for assistance at Changi, whereas Singapore Airlines doesn’t charge at all—yay for SQ).
  5. Dress in comfortable material and in layers. Pregnancy makes you warm, but the aircon in planes can be chilly.
  6. Wear flat shoes, and for long-haul flights wear also anti-deep vein thrombosis socks. Pharmacies at international airport normally sell anti-DVT socks, which look like very tight and very thin stockings.
  7. If you’re flying with a low-cost carrier, bring snacks in your carry-on bag. If you’re flying with a full-service carrier, don’t be afraid to keep asking for snacks. You normally need to eat small portions every hour or two. However, be careful not to consume high sodium food like salted peanuts, as this will make you even more dehydrated and bloated, which comes with the territory when flying anyway.
  8. Airlines don’t allow you to take more than 100ml in liquid forms into the cabin, but when flying out of Singapore (and other airports probably), do take an empty bottle, which you can fill with water from the fountain inside the boarding lounge. I once flew with AirAsia from Jakarta airport and the security officer told me to just carry the full 600ml bottled water because he saw I was massively pregnant.
  9. On a long-haul flight, always, always allocate time to walk around (or rather, back and forth) the aisle. I did it on the way from Singapore to London and I arrived fabulous (or only as one can be after 13-hour journey). I did not do it on the way back because it was an evening flight so everybody including me was asleep. I ended up with pillow-like feet I could barely fit into my shoes.
  10. At your destination, if you can afford it, get a foot and back massage to release tension so you can enjoy your trip or recover from it. (And yes, pregnant women are allowed to get massages as long as you sit or lay on your side) I normally research spas that can handle pregnant clients and book it before the trip just because I’m a control freak.

If I could add one more tip, it would be to take more pictures of your pregnant self at different destinations, because you will want to show your little one that they started racking up mileage before they even had a passport!

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At London Waterloo station.

FIVE TIPS FROM MATT:

  1. I’d also add that given low mobility when pregnant, take everything you need out of your carry-on luggage and to your seat area and ensure you have easy access to everything from iPod to DVT socks. That way, you avoid having to stretch and reach—or have your partner do it.
  2. When you get your food, horde the small cup of water they give you and ask for refill from the attendant even before you need it. You may need it later when you don’t have access or there’s turbulence.
  3. Always travel with earplugs, eye-pads and medicines. This is a general rule of thumb for life.
  4. Ensure that all the arrangements as described above, like ground staff assistance, are made and confirmed way in advance and again with the cabin crew. Avoid missed expectations.
  5. Always be patient with your pregnant wife. Don’t lose your cool and be even more supportive than usual. Remember: the bulge she carries is a small piece of life, not 20 years of accumulated beer fat.
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On London’s double-decker tour bus!

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H for hotel (part 1)

View from our room at Meritus Mandarin at Orchard Rd., Singapore

We worked in travel magazines (and at one point of our careers Matthew and I were rivals).

He and I met on a coffee corner at a convention centre where a travel trade show was held.

The first 12 hours we’ve ever spent together involved: a party on a hotel rooftop, another party in a hotel ballroom, and a room-service midnight dinner in another hotel room.

In the first year we’ve been a couple we’ve stayed in more than 30 hotels, mostly in Southeast Asia and including some that were under renovation or even under construction.

Those were fun facts about us that lead to this blog post. We’re summing up a list of things in a hotel we fancy and/or found handy. I think this would be helpful for hoteliers who are designing and building hotels at the moment. For fellow travellers, this list will be useful in choosing your next camp!

On a site inspection at a big white colonial private villa. East Bali.

Attending a travel & tourism summit, NOT as an Egyptian delegate, obviously. Westin Resort Bali.

Things we need and want in a hotel when we’re on a business trip…

  • First and foremost: high-speed Internet connection, preferably free and wireless. These days we may not bring our computers with us but only portable tablets that depend on WIFI. Also, this is not the era where you put on “auto-reply: out office” when you’re travelling. You’re expected to be online anywhere and at anytime.
  • A big working desk is appreciated. Even better: one that has multiple and universal electricity sockets. A club/suite room normally features a study or a working station. The separation makes it easier for you to focus when working or trying to sleep.
  • Iron and ironing board. Even better: free ironing service. This service is normally offered for club/suite guests so don’t be shy to ask, as it is mostly only valid on arrival.
  • Portable hairdryer. I know that hotels fear that guests will steal hairdryer but there must be a way to prevent this other than plugging it to the wall of the bathroom. Some of us have long hair and need to look sharp for that important business meeting, so it needs work for at least half an hour. And we’d like to dry our hair while watching TV, please.
  • Full cable service. Business travellers normally stay alone in the room. It gets boring if you only have limited channels on TV (and no Internet connection!). Even better: a DVD player and a library of DVDs for guests to borrow.

The coziest rooms we could find (so far) in Singapore that has greenery as the view. Fort Canning Hotel.

  • Room service that comes at 30 minutes or less. This is pretty standard actually, but we could get food delivered from outside the hotel for the same wait. So when we stay in a hotel that delivers at 20 minutes, we tend to order in, especially if our schedule is packed and we can’t be bothered to explore what the foreign city has to offer.
  • Breakfast in bed. Eating alone is no fun. Ironically, the only hotels that serve in-room breakfast without extra charge are honeymoon hotels, not business hotels. I guess it would be a hectic service if all thousand of your guests order in-room breakfast every time.

More praise for Fort Canning Hotel: most distinctive room service tray!

When we’re company delegates:

  • If given the choice, we would stick to the budget but choose our own hotel
  • We choose free WIFI over breakfast inclusion
  • We would order a paid airport transfer over public taxi for comfort, safety and security
  • We don’t care for iPod docks, we care about user-friendly control panels and uncomplicated lighting systems
  • Swimming pool and gym are not a consideration but would be nice to have for when we feel like it

Breakfast with a view. Karma Kandara, Bali.

Yes, we were on a business trip in Bali. It was for an interview and photo op, also attending a beach club opening. Envy us, please. And now we’re wishing we could have a nickel for every person that envies us 😉

Now, if you wanna know our preference when we travel as a couple, read here.

H for hotel (part 2)

This is the second page about what we appreciate in hotel rooms that we’ve stayed in. As a business traveller, we have different needs and wants. As a couple travelling without children…

  • A his-and-hers sink arrangement is a very good way to keep things tidy and peaceful. It allows us to have our own territory and to save time before going out as each of us can do our thing at the same time. Even better: an extra bathroom. This feature can easily be found on a club/suite level or a two-bedroom condotel or villa.
  • And speaking of bathrooms, we prefer ones that have perfect privacy. We have seen a number of design on boutique hotels and villas that actually have clear glass walls around the toilet or have a big open window from bedroom to bathroom. When travelling with a partner, you don’t want them to be THAT intimate with your bathroom business.
  • Balcony, preferably with a view. Maybe it’s the English part of us, maybe it’s just a vanity, but we do like to have tea in the afternoon on a balcony and enjoy the natural sunlight and breeze.

My birthday present for Matthew’s 41st: two nights in the sun. Conrad Bali.

  • Couple’s room spa. We may have separation anxiety issues but even if we were normal, isn’t it nice to have a spa treatment with your spouse in the same room?
  • Turn-down service. There’s something sexy about a white, clean, and made-up bed. This is what couples don’t normally get at home. Coming back to our hotel bed after a dinner out is something to look forward to when we know our room would have been made up. Even better: chocolate as turn-down favors. I have to say, I rarely find this in Asia.
  • Full-on butler service. Just another vanity. We’ve used this service to our delight! From drawing us a bath to packing our overloaded suitcases.

One of the most modest places we’ve ever stayed it but the coffee-shop serves coffee unrivaled by 5-star hotels. Fortville Guesthouse Bangkok.

When we book for a short getaway:

  • We choose location over luxury
  • We can stay in a budget hotel but never in a place that has no amenities, TV, and daily housekeeping
  • We would pay more for room size
  • We would not dine in the hotel, mostly because we want to explore the area and/or eat local food
  • We appreciate hotels that commit to providing a double bed when we book a double bed. Not a lot of hotels can guarantee this nowadays

Simple, cozy, and at a great location. Grey Hotel Bali.

Banged up abroad!

Matthew posted a three-part story about our Southeast Asian adventure that started the day he got deported. He promised himself to blog about it… but because it’s a long story and he’d been back traveling since then, it took him 4 months to finish the story. Here, I’m going to help you with a synopsis and links to read his posts.

This is a story about an editor-in-chief of the bestselling travel magazine in Asia, a British passport holder who was based in Bangkok and had a girlfriend who lived in Bali. Obviously, he traveled a lot to Asian countries, namely Indonesia, China, and Cambodia, all of which give out large visa stickers on visitor’s passport. Even though his passport wouldn’t expire until 2019, it’s a no brainer that he would need a fresh one much sooner than 2019.

Naturally, this series of unfortunate events include the British government issuing a new regulation that says all British in Asia that wishes to renew their passport shall send it to Hong Kong office and wait for 4 weeks to get a new one. This regulation was issued in 2011, just the year when Matthew travels fortnightly.

(rather) fresh passport but full of stamps

Around the time when there was no blank full-page in his passport, we were planning to get engaged in the UK, so he thought he might as well renew the passport in London. But *long sigh* since Matthew doesn’t live in the UK, he cannot renew it in London. God save the Queen!

Change of plans: Matthew secured a job in Jakarta (Hallelujah!), so why not just go to Indonesia with what was left in his passport page and stay there for a month till he gets a new one out of Hong Kong (*rolls eyes*).

It was the Muslim’s Lebaran holiday that week. Since I tragically lived in Bali at the time, we both flew from Bangkok to Bali to unwind for a few days before Matthew starts his first day.

I got my baggage and waited for Matthew’s long immigration queue. It was way too long. Apparently, he had been moved to detention. It’s official: Matthew Beech Leppard is being deported.

You would think two people with connections like us could have asked someone to help out, wouldn’t you? Well, it was August 29, a public holiday in the UK and the next day was August 30, a public holiday in Indonesia. All of our friends in the “high places” were on a nice long vacation and incommunicado.

De.port.ed.

It means, he would be sent to his last port, the one city he had grown to hate: Bangkok.

Since I was innocent, immigration wise, I was free to go. But looking at my poor refugee, I guess I could be the Good Will Ambassador and stayed with him. But staying in an airport requires one thing: a flight ticket. That’s right, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, while canceling all my meetings and gatherings for the following weeks.

The Terminal

He needed me. I have never been certain about anything else. He needed a translator while being held captive for 24 hours in Bali airport. He needed a personal assistant while his big-move suitcases were scattered in Bali, Jakarta, and Bangkok. He needed a mother to protect him from cockroaches or just cocks. He needed a secretary to book his next flight, appointment with multiple embassies, find a room to decamp, and an ongoing flight to ensure any immigration we would have to encounter that Matthew was not going to permanently stay there, where ever “there” is.

So we went back to Bangkok...  Thank goodness Muslim holidays are not celebrated in Thailand. The UK embassy was open! Matthew got his single travel emergency passport.

One.Single.Travel.To.Indonesia. Alright!

Short of cash and short of breath. We decided to take a road trip to Pattaya and have a taste of backpacking.

Of course, with Matthew’s bad back and my menstrual period, we ended up dragging suitcases on the streets. I managed to feel good about myself. Easy. Just look at every single woman in Pattaya.

I celebrated my birthday in Bangkok, on our way back to Indonesia. This time, we opted for a direct flight to Jakarta.

We arrived midnight, buying us enough time in the morning to get Matthew’s photo taken for his new passport application. But the British government asked someone in Jakarta who is not a family member to write a statement that they have known Matthew for over 2 years. Man, he just arrived 7 hours ago! C’mon!

Well, the following day I was due to fly back to Bali. I had to wrap it around my head that I actually have a job to keep. So I left Matthew in Jakarta without a single paper that says who he was.

Today, he has about a dozen of papers, books, and cards that say: Matthew Beech Leppard, subject of the Queen, resident of Jakarta, technical advisor of a media mogul, fiance of Fredina Rebecca. Phew.

Cunning trilinguist

I just ordered a cup of coffee in Bahasa Indonesia And this without hand gestures, broken English and confusion on all sides. A small victory of sorts.

When I first got together with Rebecca, learning Indonesian was not (I hate to say) a major priority. She is basically natively fluent in English, albeit with a cute American accent, and a journalist (in both languages) and PR pro. Communication was never an issue.

But having met her family in April and having now moved here, and commanding a staff of 72 Indonesians and one Malayasian, learning the local lingo has become a must. As with Thai, I think it also shows a certain respect for the country one is a guest in.

Bless her little white cotton socks (she does have some), Rebecca did teach me the basics, and while she perhaps thought I didn’t take it seriously, I still remember them. But two lessons down and I am starting to get to grips with conversational Bahasa. Yes, I still talk “like a robot” (she says) since I have to recall each word: sentence construction is not easy for me yet. But hey, it’s two hours of lessons and I can still ask for coffee, tea, and so on.

I feel quite proud of myself. In Thailand, it was three years before I could hold an actual conversation. And that was simply: “Barman, 10 more pints!”

I do remember Thai, and I can still speak it I think. But I do have to simply “turn off” the Thai in my head and switch to a Bahasa head.

*As written in coffee shop outside Bank Mayapada on Forbes Indonesia business… See attached pic! Now onwards into a meeting with some rich people!

Writing this, before Forbes meeting

Our anniversary: love, life and a fresh outlook

Day 366: October 22

With a very trying half-week behind me, and having only said goodbye to my Rebecca a few days earlier (she left Jakarta for Singapore on Monday morning; I left Wednesday afternoon), it was with a perhaps unexpected level of trepidation that I left for the Lion City.

First off, we’d had some worries about what our one-year anniversary meant to us. Our first encounter at travel trade show ITB a year ago, while clearly significant, was colored with a few elements that have had some resonance ever since.

Not only that, but my experience of Singapore had largely been negative up to that point. As I’ve related to Rebecca and a few others, my first brush with the place involved an early flight coupled with the onset of severe flu, carrying tens of magazine copies (yes, even tens weigh a ton), and, on arrival, a panel discussion with Nancy Novogrod, veteran editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure magazine, as well as Lucas Krump, the Ari Gold of my then-magazine’s commercial side (Entourage fans take note).

Subsequent trips always revolved around trade shows, and I view trade shows like I view house spiders. I cannot stand to be around them or even aware of them, but I know they serve a purpose; they are a necessary “evil” in God’s good world. And largely given the company I was always in (expat party people) and having been in the grip of an emotional deadness for decades of my life, there was normally only one way to kill off the long, lonely hours of empty trade show tedium: by drinking to blackout excess at evening parties.

No more. Don’t get me wrong, though. This trip got off to a very inauspicious start. The flight from Jakarta was delayed. Twice. When I arrived at Singapore, I signed up for a local SIM card without activating my BlackBerry service. I sms’ed Rebecca twice, forgetting that it cost her the earth to receive SMS’s. Moods and tempers were frayed on arrival.

But as soon as I saw my Rebecca, I melted and I think it’s fair to say she did too. I then realized that I always would melt like that, and that I really am destined to mope and whinge when she leaves me for Bali or even to the shower, and to wag my tail, thumping it on the floor, when I see her again. Well, I am a Chinese metal dog… And what followed was an enchanted night, too.

But it was not until the next day that the real magic happened. First, I was in Singapore, shopping at Ion Orchard, and not hating it. This, for me, is akin to sprouting wings and flying. The fact that Rebecca is such a gifted shopper and can find me a shirt, or a tie, or a jacket that we both love really helps. And we laugh. We joke. We share. This is all so new to me still.

Our eyes even alighted on the same blue tie and said: that one!

Second, the evening was a surprise. While I love certain events, and certainly love those in which I can see and be seen with the only woman in the room that counts, trade show events leave me cold. Rebecca twisted my arm to visit this one particular show, and I went with (I thought hidden) reluctance.

The party was nothing special, though not as bad as many. But as Rebecca put my glass down and led me outside, I felt the “little boy lost” come out in me again, as Rebecca seemed a little angry. Had I been a bad boy? I had had a few drinks, but I wasn’t drunk. I did ask if we could have a cigarette… But we didn’t.

But she had a plan, of course. She led me to the waterfront so we could see the hotel where we met (at an event party, of course) and the hotel where we stayed. And as if that wasn’t magical enough, she then gave me the sweetest present I’ve ever received. Words fail me (they seem to when I’m with Rebecca in Singapore) as to how that affected me. Suffice it to say that I knew and know that this is it.

We had other great times there after that night, and the Hotel Fort Canning deserves, and will get, a separate review. But sitting here at Changi, washed over with love and not with boozy nausea, I know that this was meant to be. That night was truly special, and our actual anniversary day out in Singapore on the 21st was full of laughter and love and life.

All trips should be like this. And they will be.

 

 

 

 

 

Fugee fun, part 1*

Bali, August 29, 2012—And so it finally came to pass, as I always assumed it would given various life choices to date, that some sort of life-altering poo-poo would hit my personal fan. Inevitable, really.

I was stateless and homeless for a short but sadly memorable time, exiting Thailand by choice but rejected by Indonesian authorities on arrival.

It’s no surprise that during this brief but unsettling time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall offered an appropriate slice of camaraderie with the chief protagonist. But that’s another story and one that my better half won’t want me to dwell on. At all.

So moving quickly and quietly onwards, how did it all come about? Well, as I often have done, I had assumed the best for a quiet life—in this case and at the time, that my on-the-full-side passport would be good for at least one more 1/3-page Indonesia visa stamp when I entered Bali as a precursor to a fatefully doomed but long-planned trip to the UK.

Relying on beleaguered immigration authorities to be lenient is not a decision I would, of course, take lightly—not now, especially. The world is full of cheats, chancers and shady characters who seem to move from state to state unhindered. (Rhetorical question, but how on God’s good earth do they get away with it? Perhaps I should have claimed political asylum.)

In this case, the gaze of suspicion fell on me. Traveling with a full passport with no proof of onward travel is Not Advised in the book of wrong-headed thinking.

And so it came to pass that I was not allowed to enter Bali due to a lack of visa space in my passport. Instead, I was escorted to the “detention room” (yikes!) where problem travelers were sent. Well, it could have been worse: two people emerged following what seemed to be a full cavity search. Thankfully, my mistaken assumption needed no deep probing.

Saying that, what happened next might certainly make your eyes water. Especially if you travel with plans that are time- and career-dependent. It did definitely deepen my bond with my dearest Becky Beech, but it did test the limits of her tolerance, bless her heart. It also afforded some more time to explore Thailand in a way I had never before: with no money, no job and no home.

DENIED!

Read parts 2 and part 3 for more fun in the sun, airplane madness and a trip to Pattaya that was clearly rooted in evil. For down that long motorway lies suffering and madness…

*The Fugees were a band in the 90s who had a brief but shining time in the spotlight with a cover of  “Killing Me Softly,” originally by Roberta Flack. The band name is a contraction of “refugees.” If you believe in coincidences, it’s playing outside as I write this 🙂