My journey around the world didn’t begin with a round-the-world ticket. It didn’t even begin with a ‘I-will-quit-my-job-and-travel-around-the-world’ thought. Such thoughts were too ambitious for a 23-year old Malaysian girl possessed with fervent wanderlust. I had some cash to my name but not enough. No worthy assets that I could sell to fund my travels. No rich parents to loan me some. No credit cards for emergency usage. No travel insurance. Nada. The only things I have, of real value were time, health and some spunk.
So mine begin with a simpler thought: I will take one step, and then another.
I never knew where I’d go and where the road will lead me to. I only planned to keep pushing boundaries and see how far that would take me.
And as the story goes, my miraculous round-the-world journey somewhat kick started with denied boarding.
It wasn’t unusual that after a one-way train ticket to Bangkok and many other one-way tickets later across South East Asia within a span of 6 months, that I had toyed with the idea of Europe. While sitting cross-legged on a hostel bunk bed, in Hanoi, I confided in Heather, an English backpacker that I had just met a few days ago. I confessed to her, that Europe had been calling out to me a long time now. But how could I go when my bank account was almost. I had heard only of so many tales about travelling Europe, from drinking zesty white wine under the summer sun to eating pickled herring to cure a hangover, from hitch-hiking across sleepy nameless Lithuanian towns to dancing barefooted under the stars. My heart ached for the exoticism that the West provides.
Heather mulled over my confession for a while and then, offered to lend me £200 so that I could chase my dreams.
My monstrous backpack’s straps were starting to dig into my skin. My shoulders felt numb with all the weight of what’s left of my worldly possessions on them. I was lining up at the Egypt Airlines’ check-in counter at Suvarnabhumi Airport, clutching a one-way ticket to Amsterdam.
In May 2007, Bangkok’s new International Airport was still fairly new. Public transportation to the airport had yet to be organised. It was a feat on its own to get to the airport. After changing countless of busses from the backpacker ghetto of Bangkok plus crazy traffic, I was amazed that somehow by sheer luck, I’d managed to arrive at the airport on time.
When it was my turn, I slid over my passport, a printed itinerary and waited for the Thai lady behind the counter to pepper me with the usual questions.
But she didn’t.
Only blaring airport announcements and her fingers clacking across the keyboard in the background.
I tiptoed to peer at my opened passport, lying open under her flaming red nails.
“You have visa for The Net-erlans?” she finally said. Her eyebrows were knotted in a deep furrow.
No, I explained. As a Malaysian, I could enter and travel any of the Schengen Countries without a visa for 90 days and that included The Netherlands.
“Well, for one-way ticket, you need visa. Or you cannot go. You must have return ticket. Back to your country,” she said firmly. Airline’s policy, she added, as if not wanting to take responsibility for my crestfallen face.
I tried to argue my way in. I told her that MY FRIENDS got to go to Europe or anywhere in the world on a one-way ticket, why not me? I bit my lips to stop myself from tearing.
It then dawned me that those of my friends who’d travelled on one-way tickets were the Americans, the Australians, the Dutch and the English. How could I have afforded to miss that?
Please, I pleaded. I just didn’t know that I need a return ticket, I said. The lady’s face slowly softened. The seedy tour agency on Khao San Road where I’d bought my ticket from didn’t warn me.
“I can help you postpone flight, ka,” the lady said kindly. “But you must come back with two-way ticket.”
That night, I trudged back to Soi Rambutri and emailed my Dutch friends that I wouldn’t be arriving in Amsterdam the next morning. In my 200 Baht shoe-box of a room, I tried to cover my worries with the scratchy sheets provided.
It took me a while to find the seedy travel agency where I’d bought my one-way ticket. Behind the cluttered desk, the dark skinned man with sparse mustache, who’d sold me the ticket, scowled when I regaled to him about what had happened.
“I told you. One-way ticket big problem but you no listen,” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and lifted my hands sheepishly, as if to say, Whaddya I know.
“Listen,” he beckoned with his finger. “I know you want cheap. I can give you. No problem. But, risky.”
Hope surge within. I leaned in closer and smelt his post-cigarette breath while my mind whirred furiously, thinking about the various legal (or illegal) possibilities that he’d offer.
He said that he’d get me another ticket from Amsterdam all the way to Kuala Lumpur but on another airlines. The trick was to get the ticket one day before so that he could cancel the ticket right after I fly. All I really needed to do was to pay 40 USD for the cancellation fee, and well, pray hard.
Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Was this how far I’d go to travel? Would I want to find out how far I could go with this ‘technically-valid’ ticket? What would happen if the authorities find out? Would the Dutch authorities send me to labour camp?
The questions swam in my head. Yet, yet–what if it works? What did I stand to lose exactly anyway? 40 USD? A day? My bruised ego?
A clear safety net didn’t appear when I eventually paid the man 40 USD but I decided to leap anyway. I was young. And naïve. What could possibly happen?
When I entered the blasting cold Suvarnabhumi International Airport the second time, it was déjàvu. Except this time round, after scrunitising my perfectly legit (until the next 72 hours) ticket, the lady at the check-in counter smiled, gave me my boarding pass and waved me off to the departure gates.
23 hours later, I had my first Dutch beer at The Gollem and was taught to say: “Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest”.
I started out without a journey in mind. Yet by taking one step after another, it somehow led to an epic journey of 6+ years and one hell of an adventure.
P.S-During the transit at Cairo International Airport, an Officer asked for my return ticket. After checking it, he returned my passport and my golden ticket and told me to enjoy my travels.
P.P.S-If all fails, you may try this technique too: Fake Onward Flight Tickets by The Dromomaniac
P.P.P.S- All content provided on this post is for informational and entertainment purposes only. The owner of this blog post does not encourage or perpetuate illegal activities. :D