(Click here to read What happens when you travel: Part I)
Today marks our two months traveling! Hooray! Lots of successes and plenty of missteps, but we’re loving the adventure and everything it is teaching us. In no particular order, here’s another analysis of what happens (to us, anyway) when traveling:
- Bug bites become a constant
We packed plenty of anti-malaria tablets. We bought the ultra-strength DEET-filled bug repellent. We went through a whole battery of vaccine shots for months prior to departure. We carefully sprayed down our clothes with the special last-through-several-washings formula for cloth. We sleep under mosquito nets nearly every night. Despite all these precautions, we can’t seem to avoid getting eaten alive by beasties. Mosquitos (along with spiders, gnats and flies) are our constant and annoying companions and we count itchy bites every day. Today I have 14 more than yesterday. Seb has 38. Yaaaay…
- You develop a love/hate relationship with your clothes
It took several months to decide on what made the final cut with regards to our wardrobe: a few t-shirts, a couple long-sleeves and some pants, along with some dresses and a skirt for me, is basically the extent of our attire. Two months on the road means we’ve worn every item dozens of times already. Choosing your outfit in the morning is extremely easy and makes getting ready a snap (hmm, should I wear the orange top, or the cream one…or the orange one?). All our items are comfortable, useful and mostly dirt-proof. But I’m pretty sick of seeing the same colors/textures/shapes day after day and we have to actively restrain ourselves from buying new clothes when we see something temptingly cheap in the local markets. Usually, a quick question from Seb quells my consumerism tendencies: Do you really need it, or do you just want it? Nine times out of ten, it’s just plain want. And whatever we buy, we have to carry so my lack of muscles always wins out over vanity.
- Your eating habits change
For the past several weeks, we’ve been eating only one or two meals a day. The stifling dry-season days of South East Asia means that most afternoons are just plain too hot to think of putting anything in your mouth (except the multiple liters of water we down every day). Most days, we start with a hearty meal while it’s still cool, and it doesn’t necessarily include typical ‘breakfast foods’ that we’re used to back home: a protein-filled breakfast of barbecued pork and sticky rice or fried river fish with spicy pumpkin have become common. If we get hungry later when sun begins to set, we might split a beer and have some more tasty local fare, often finishing with a fruit shake as dessert (which in my opinion, is the only thing worthy of being called a dessert in this part of the world). Days spent in transportation have us snacking on rice, limiting fluid intake (due to sparse bathroom breaks) and enjoying a single large but balanced meal when we arrive at our destination.
- You learn to roll with the punches
Over the past two months, we’ve had a few minor setbacks that have resulted in adjusting our schedule and/or expectations. The bitter cold weather in southern China meant that we spent only a few days there (despite having paid $150 in visa fees) before high-tailing it to Vietnam. Holding on to our Western expectations of bus travel (ie: if they sell me a ticket, I’ll automatically have a spot on the bus – not necessarily true in Laos) meant we missed our connection to trek in Phongsali and instead headed off for a kayaking trip from Muang Ngoi. Perhaps most significantly, our motorbike accident in Laos delayed us traveling north and we’ve spent more time here that expected. Consequently, we’ll be heading straight to Thailand in a few days and then over to Myanmar by air – something we wanted to avoid, but it just makes more sense given the circumstances. We’re learning to take these changes in stride and just roll with it.
- Price haggling still sucks
I am the type of person who avoids conflict if at all possible and therefore, I can’t bargain. Haggling over prices is the most unnatural and uncomfortable thing for me. Unfortunately, the Arab traders who came through on the spice routes hundreds of years ago left a cultural legacy of negotiating prices. Anything from hotel rooms to tuk-tuk rides to toothpaste can be bargained down from the original stated price. You rarely see any prices displayed because there are no prix-fixe. Locals are used to it and are even taken aback if you don’t try to negotiate a little. Some travelers find it amusing or fun to try to get a cheaper price. I don’t. I try to keep an open attitude, but mostly I feel it’s just unfair to one or both parties, and satisfying to no one. Maybe my attitude will change by the end of our trip?
Stay tuned for more in the What Happens When You Travel series!