It’s almost been a year since the Big Blog Exchange (BBE), and before its anniversary we caught up with 2014 contestant Vincent Quek from Malaysia, who won the experience of a lifetime and swapped blogs and countries with Argentinian Belén Palacios for a ten day trip to Buenos Aires and beyond.
Vincent has been travelling the world since 1993, and this is his second time in the UK: “four years ago, my intention was to visit the landmarks – but I’ve seen those now. This time I wanted to meet friends from Facebook I’ve never had the chance to meet, and visit some places I haven’t yet been including London’s Camden Town. I visited Anfield [stadium] again, but Liverpool won this time!”
It might seem like just yesterday that sixteen very different people from around the globe were packing their bags to venture into the unknown, but it’s been a little while, and Vincent is as ever, curious to see the world and encourage others to follow suit. “Having travelled to Argentina and been exposed to such a different culture, I want that feeling again” – and the next stops on the list? “Russia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Costa Rica and Austria”.
Vincent runs his own café in Sandakan, a relatively small Malaysian city, and he often has young people working alongside him who he speaks to about his experiences, and shares his travel euphoria with; but what about limited means? “Many people see travelling as a luxury, but I don’t think it necessarily needs to be so. There is such a thing as budget travel – so young people, get out there – there’s so much to see and learn.”
From his first journey overseas to Japan over twenty years ago, Vincent has surely seen not only a change in the way people travel, but in himself. “It’s been eye opening and it’s really changed my perception of things, and you get that even within Malaysia – the farms and rural areas have a distinctly different culture.” What about a change in travellers’ sleeping habits? “Hostels are a good way to travel – why spend £180 a night at a 2* hotel when you can pay £75 per night for en suite facilities? You don’t get a doorman to open the door for you, but hostels don’t lack in any way. Cleanliness is really important to me, and facilities are extremely clean, particularly in London and New Zealand”.
Oh yes, and meeting people. I’ve been a life member of HI since 2000, and I’ve met people from Korea, Japan, Peru, Germany, Switzerland, and many more. You’ll probably meet them again one day, like I am doing now”.
On travel tips
For those who are just starting out, a few simple tips go a long way. It pays to be street wise when you’re outside of your own country, so learn about local culture before you leave, but prepare to have your preconceptions challenged: “Buenos Aires doesn’t have a good record in terms of personal safety, and I was out at 2am – not for drinks but to explore and take photos. I stayed very sharp, but I was fine.” So Buenos Aires was a pleasant surprise, but oddly enough, Vincent found another South East Asian country a bit tougher to travel – Vietnam. “Not many people speak the language, and it’s not easy to order food in a restaurant. The best trick is to point to someone’s food you like the look of and order that way. You can always go for the universal sign language big fast food chains have created for super-size, too. Cambodia is great but again, communication is a bit of a problem.”
Onto more trivial things; how many languages can you order a beer in? “Just mention beer anywhere in the world and they’ll understand. Beer works anywhere. I speak Malay and English, and by descent I’m Chinese – so three languages.” And how to contend with serious trials and tribulations; no coffee, no football or no travel, for the rest of your life, which do you choose? “Must I answer this question? Coffee; I’ll give up coffee.”
Any more advice for someone searching for travel inspiration? “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
On travel blogging:
Vincent is the winner of an international travel blogging competition, but he still doesn’t seem to have much faith in his travel blogging abilities. Obviously we love his writing, but he refers people to fellow BBE contestant Jono Cusack’s blog See Something: “he’s my idol. The guy is class. I’m in touch with him frequently; he’s honest, straightforward and writes in a raw, direct way without being offensive. I wish I could imitate his writing style but we each have our own.”