It was six in the morning at McDonald’s in the terminal trying to wake up when this huge Englishman slides in besides Maan all because there was space at our table. It was a bit disconcerting.
When it’s that early, this guy who shoves his hand at you and calling himself Mick and declaring his love for Asia was enough to make you barf if not for Karen, his wife, who slides in too, more moderate and even keeled.
Three years ago, Mick got the “redundancy” notice at his job in Northern England. He didn’t believe the rationale. He knew his job was “sent to China.” He got a package and instead of moping, he said to Karen, let’s go.
Karen went on the internet, checked out Air Asia’s routes, and since they were planning a year in advance, clicked “Like” on all those flights for a pound or a bit more. They decided to go light in keeping with baggage restrictions so they each had a 7-kilo knapsack. They figured on spending 15 pounds a day and they left on their first Air Asia flight to KL. That was two years ago.
Since then, they’ve flown over 50 times on Air Asia on almost all points in SE Asia. They took only buses, jeeps, and walked, and stayed in homestays throughout. If they went under their daily budget, it was tea or lots of beer which in their mind the Philippines had the best and the cheapest.
They went to places that never saw their white likeness ever. But if you check out their smiles, you’d understand how they could have melted the natives.
When Maan and I caught up with them at that ungodly hour, they were headed back to England to attend their son’s college graduation, but after that, they were flying back, you know on what carrier and will stay maybe another year.
From left : Maan Hontiveros (CEO of AirAsia Philippines) together with the wonderful couple, Mick & Karen
They were fearful of being back in England, knowing their friends had already given up on them as looney and weird. They also knew that their friends were going to do the small talk and not ask WELL HOW WAS IT?
That’s why they’re returning, outcasts from their country but they certainly ain’t crying.
They had not a single bad thing to say about Air Asia. One time, Karen had booked wrongly and it couldn’t be untangled but the agent figured out a way so that instead of losing the unused ticket, he was able to place some of the money into buying their onboard meals. They liked that very much. This couple is your poster types for Golden Travelers! That’s a huge market.
We asked them why not write a book. Well, these are regular people who just want to experience life after 40 years of grinding work. Writing a book was not in the cards though Karen said she took notes, how much from here to there, what bus to take, what house to stay. that would give Lonely Planet a run for their money.
A memorable quote: Mick said what he liked about traveling budget either on the air or on the ground, was there was not the least bit attitude about their travel mates. It’s budget, and there’s no bullsh*t. So Mick and Karen had the most delightful time striking up a conversation with their seat mates, house mates, and fellow walkers. And they usually had a great conversation going like what we were having too. He could never talk to someone in a hotel where the rules are “Don’t Bug Me.”
We had to catch our flight. Our hugs were unusually tight. I looked at the two knapsacks and was amused. “You really traveled with just that?” I queried once more.
“YUP!” Mick bellowed. “THAT’S ALL YOU REALLY NEED TO CARRY IN LIFE!” He laughed. Karen Laughed. They meant it.
Story by Mr. John Silva