A few weeks ago I (temporarily) moved outside of Pakistan for professional reasons. I will likely not be back in Pakistan for the next few months. My initial feelings after spending first 30 days here is that even though this place may classify as having better standards of living, there’s more to life than that. And even though being here is financially better for me, which is why I’m here, it doesn’t translate into me being happier.
Better savings today may mean more financial freedom in the future – which is all very great – but my happiness stems from people. My home is where my family and friends are and hence I can not wait to go back.
For years I had read tens of blog posts of travel hackers paying a tiny amount of money for flying business and first class flights. It does sound mythical, right? It even seems like a cheap way to get clicks to generate ad revenue. I thought so too, until I made an effort to actually try it.
If you have read this blog before you may know that I spend a great amount of money on Facebook ads for my e-commerce stores. For every $1 I spend, I get 1 loyalty point on my credit card which is worth 1 cent. Not a lot, right? I’d need to spend $100,000 in order to get 100,000 points that could be worth $1000. But that’s what the points are worth if I use them to make purchase directly from my credit card.
The points can be worth a lot more if I move them around as airline miles and so I made an attempt to do so.
I bought an economy class ticket for $772 while the business class was for over $1800.
I then moved 20,000 points from my credit card to Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles program. I earned these points by spending over $20,000 on Facebook ads. At the rate of 1 cent per point, these points had a face value of $200. But since I used these 20,000 points to upgrade my economy ticket to business class, I received $1028 in value from these points.
Since I’ve never paid for the business class I’m not sure if I’d feel good about flying one. I’ll probably be confused between the value received in comfort vs the cost incurred. With miles however, it’s a no brainer.
In the developed world, everything is too developed. The manual tasks are getting lesser visible. The food is now prepared on assembly lines and sold in boxes with an expiry date. Horse-carts, if found anywhere, are for tourists and insta stories.
In summers of 2019, I got to visit Montreal. One of the highlights of the Montreal trip was to visit the old Montreal. The one with cobblestones and horse-carts. Of course, horse-carts aren’t needed. They are just there to get tourists’ attention and money. And to be honest, they do look nice in the old Montreal.
In Istanbul, where I returned from yesterday, fresh juices preparation is for insta stories too. Every-time I saw a fresh juice vendor squeezing juice out of fruits, there were tourists making videos of the process.
Why are they surprised and in awe? Aren’t juices supposed to be prepared like that? Or should juices be a mixture of water, sugar, coloring and flavor all done on assembly lines.
The developed world has developed a bit too much. The under-developed, is a bit too under-developed. The developing world, is where my heart is.
I try to travel at least once every year to reset and rediscover. Sometimes I travel more. Sometimes I travel to new places. And sometimes I travel to the places I’ve been before.
There are places that I genuinely like to go back to. I appreciate them when I visit them again. Although, I appreciate them a bit lesser than I did the previous time. But I still like them enough. It is why I go back, of course.
Nevertheless, for places, first time is the charm for me. Every repeat visit, I still love them, but slightly lesser than before. So in a way, I think humans have the tendency to want to go to new places. It keeps the excitement alive and one can continue to witness things that are beautiful in unique ways. This is how I feel about places. The gratification from places is temporary, it is why it reduces on each repeat visit.
For people, it doesn’t work in the same way, at least for me. For example, every repeat meeting with my parents, or my daughter, or my wife, or my friends isn’t lesser gratifying than the previous one. Each repeat meeting can make our relation warmer than before. Each new day spent with them, can build on the last one, and be more rewarding for my happiness.
The problem is that people are location-dependent. To be with your people more, you have to be at one place more. And to be at new places, you have to be further away from your people.
I asked my wife to look for a hotel for us at a resort town called Çeşme. She headed to Booking.com to make the reservations. By giving 0 shits about the location, she sorted the listings by price and found a cheap and nice property.
It was cheaper than everything I had seen in Çeşme so it surprised me a bit. But she had made the reservations by that time. Later, but not too late, I found out that she booked us up in a resort town of Greece instead of Turkey and the hotel is in Chios and not Çeşme.
I was annoyed, but I was also surprised. How did Booking.com recommend her a place in Greece instead of Turkey. The reason is that both the places are really close. They are about 15 KMs apart and it takes merely 20 minutes to reach by ferry from Çeşme.
My suggestion to the travel website; when you make a recommendation like that, it’s not a feature but a bug. I understand they recommend near-by places when sorting by price, but they shouldn’t be recommending near by places beyond borders.
It’s such a shame that we can’t stay at the property we booked because obviously we can’t go to Greece without a visa. It would have been fun though, to cross borders like that on a ferry. I’m sure someday, but today isn’t that day.
Because I use booking.com to book my hotels, I sometimes ask the hotels I stay in about the percentage of bookings they get from booking.com. The answer varies between 60% for some hotels and 80% for others. But it is safe to say that majority of the bookings.
For the last hotel I stayed in Istanbul, the manager claimed 75%. This is despite the fact that from within Turkey you can not use Booking.com to book properties in Turkey. So it means most of the bookings that hotels in Turkey get from Booking.com are booked from outside of Turkey or by foreigners. But some Turkish people also use booking.com to book properties within Turkey by using VPN.
Those who aren’t tech-savvy, and do not know how to by-pass the restriction, then book the properties using Kayak or Agoda. Hotels claim that after Booking.com, they get most bookings from Kayak or Agoda because they are not restricted from usage in Turkey. My last hotel claimed he gets 15% bookings from Kayak or Agoda. In summary 90% of his bookings are coming from Booking.com, Kayak & Agoda.
The interesting thing is that Kayak, Agoda and Booking.com are all owned by Booking Holdings.
Not just that Booking Holdings also own Priceline, Rentalcars.com, OpenTable, Momondo, Cheapflights and many other travel websites.
Booking.com charges 15% commissions to properties which most hotels are happy to pay as “marketing cost”. The manager I spoke to today says before this network, each hotel employed marketing staff and spent money on internet ads that may or may not always worked.
Booking Holdings posted $15 billion dollars in revenue in 2018. They don’t own any properties or any hotel rooms. Marriott posted $20 billion dollars in revenue in 2018 and it is the world’s largest hotel chain with 10,000+ properties and 1 million+ rooms. Since booking holdings has low operating costs compared to Marriott, their operating income is 2.5 times higher.
Some people say that my repeat visits to Turkey are a complete waste of money. Some suggest that I should instead be going to a different county every time I plan a foreign visit. Despite what they say, somehow, I keep coming back to Turkey.
Today I was at Taksim Square and later visited Galata tower, which by the way, looks even better during the night. Taksim reminded me of a story, and I thought to share it with you guys. But before that, I want to give you some back story about Pakistani people.
Due to constant terrorist attacks in Pakistan, two things happened to Pakistanis. One that I’m proud of and the other one that I’m ashamed of.
I’m proud of the fact that Pakistanis live with tawakkul which roughly translates into trusting in God’s plan. Most countrymen are not afraid of death or misfortune on the same level as most other people in the world. Despite seeing so much, Pakistani people continued with their lives, became fearless in the face of adversity and started to live with tawakkul and hope that nothing bad will happen. And if it does, it is meant to be. This makes it easier and better to live life despite the adversity.
The second thing, which I’m ashamed of, is that with so much pain also came acceptance of pain to the point that some people stopped feeling pain at times. This roughly means that many people became impassive or beyhis, showed no emotion or became cold at the time of adversity.
I think both the things are linked. They are just different reactions to same events.
Now back to the Taksim story. It was June of 2016. There was a terrorist attack at Ataturk airpot in Istanbul. I was still in Pakistan at that time. I had a trip to Turkey scheduled for July 2016. I went ahead with my plan and came to Turkey. My hotel was booked at Taksim square. It was my 2nd day in the city and I started hearing helicopters, jets and gunshots. In the next couple of minutes, I found out there is a coup under process.
We were asked to stay in-doors through out the evening. There was a lot of violence during the night but everything had cleared by morning. Turkish people fought off the coup with bare hands and by morning they had won and had foiled the coup attempt.
There was a massive celebration the following day at Taksim square. I celebrated too and was able to spot other Pakistanis doing the same.
I’m happy that Turkey is able to come out of that time and I hope they will defeat the economic turmoil too.
I’m travelling to Turkey, again. I first visited Turkey when I was 6 months old. My parents took me there. They have a lot of footage from our trip which I also recently got to watch again.
My father, who is retired now, spent a lot of time in the past few weeks trying to digitize all the VHS content that he had. He has found some success and restored a lot of that content.
My second visit to Turkey was when I was 25. Since then I’ve been there every year, at least once.
Turkey is what Pakistan could have been. It is also one of the potential countries suited best for digital nomadism.
The quality of life is miles ahead of what it is here in Pakistan. The cost of living is incredibly cheaper than most of the developed countries. In my opinion, cost of living is only 33% higher in the metropolis of Turkey compared to the metropolis of Pakistan. So, if you need $1000 to live in Pakistan, you only need $1300-$1400 to live in Turkey.
This slightly higher cost for a much better lifestyle makes it my favorite spot to spend some quality time.