“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”   – Paul Theroux

My eyes scanned the quote as I sat at the funky bar of the uber- cool rooftop lounge at the Singgahsana Guesthouse in Kuching, Borneo, chatting with an academic from Denmark whose area of study is travel and tourism, with a focus on “independent” travelers such as us. (Anders looked upon us with some fascination as apparently extended travels with children as young as ours – and three of them to boot – are not that common, at least not according to his research.)

Chilling with a Tiger beer at the Singghasana Guesthouse bar

Chilling with a Tiger beer at the Singghasana Guesthouse bar


I could hear the kids’ laughter from the far corner of the room where they were playing foosball after a day of travel from Penang, and a rather sweaty search through the labyrinth streets of a new city for an inexpensive, late dinner. Karl and I were enjoying a cheap Tiger beer, and if memory serves a Bob Marley tune was serenading us all. Back in our small room downstairs, our backpacks had been thrown into the narrow space between the beds and the walls (what would otherwise serve as our walkway to the bathroom), and we were waiting for the air con and the mosquito coil to work their respective magic before retiring for the night.


The Theroux quote really struck a chord, as I have been contemplating this duality of travel, especially with young children. On one hand – hello?! – we’re in freaking Borneo, an iconic land of jungles and beaches, ancient cultures and orangutans. We’re sharing amazing experiences and having wonderful adventures.

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

On the other hand, there is no status quo, no auto-pilot routine to fall back on and very few creature comforts of home (like say a washing machine or a fridge), things we take for granted but that make our lives so much easier, especially with said kids.

We are on a tight budget and for the most part living in small, ever-changing, and certainly not “glamorous” quarters. More times than not the beds we’re sleeping on are less (far less in some cases) than five-star, certainly nothing to write home about (‘though I do plan to write “An Ode to My Pillow” someday soon – my pillow back home that is). The kids scoff at my pillow woes, as they are often relegated to thin, roll-up travel floor mats when there aren’t enough beds to sleep on (a common occurrence given most lodges are designed for 2-kid families, not three).

Meskie invariably takes the opportunity to remind me of the time I tried to pass a folded up towel over as a pillow (‘cause we were only given 4). In my defence, I did put the towel in my pillow case as a gesture of good will; it wasn’t my way of sneaking one by her, as she suggests (‘though, yes, I did perform my slight of hand while she was in the bathroom and said nothing when she slipped into her sleeping bag…)

As for personal appearance, our wardrobes consist of the same handful of shorts and shirts week in and week out. Our benchmark for grooming success is whether we stink or not. Sometimes we don’t meet the mark. (Karl asked me to let you know that he never stinks… Whatever you say, dear.)

Yet I have no doubt that when I look back at the pictures, video and blog posts of this 8-month adventure, I won’t remember washing underwear in the sink, the Penang pillow from hell, the times we ate potato chips and noodles in a cup for dinner (or some variation on the theme) so we wouldn’t go over budget, and the days – and some nights – when we felt less than stellar. And then there’s the sweating… so much sweating…

Even now when I look at pictures from June and July, I reminisce fondly about all the places we’ve been, the things we have done and the people we’ve met. Mr. Theroux is right… traveling is pretty darn glamorous in retrospect, and sometimes even in the moment…

Borneo sunset at Santubong Peninsula

Borneo sunset at Santubong Peninsula

Soon to come from Cate: A lengthy blog post on our Borneo adventures to date (including her run-in with a Bidayuh tribal hunter and a blow dart).

Categories: Borneo, Malaysia | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Duality

  1. Terry

    Wonderful writing, as usual, Gloria. I think you’ve got a book in this adventure!

  2. Gloria

    Thanks, Terry!! Hope your summer Wildwood courses are going well. The kids are looking forward to joining in again in the future. Cheers, G

  3. anymommy

    You captured it, how travel always has these two threads running through it. The annoyance, uncertainty and sometimes unhappiness wound inextricably around the joy, wonder, and incredible memories. The memories are the important part.

    • Gloria

      So true… and so thrilled to read your comment; have been following your blog for a few years now. Love it.

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