Someone once told me in passing that life is served in equal amounts of good and bad, but never at the same time. What was essentially a throwaway comment has always stuck with me as it hits the nail on the head. Sometimes we are up and sometimes things go wrong, but if weighted against each other they roughly balance out. At the end of the day it comes down to how we approach bad times.
Us travel bloggers have a sexy way of making even a day out in our home city seem like the greatest day on planet earth. We dress up experiences with exotic aromas, smiles from local people, and even a storm that forced us indoors was magical due to the electrical storm raging overhead. But as I just explained above, even the honey pot runs out of honey sometimes.
One thing I have seen only a handful of travel bloggers do is tell the truth, ALL the time! My favourite blogger (besides myself obviously) is A Life Of More who has a very honest and refreshing style of writing. She wears the truth like a badge of honour and if she happens to get electrocuted in a shower in an Indian hotel, it goes in the blog (and did) warts and all. I would rather know if I was going to be zapped at a particular hotel before sitting on a bus for 12 hours to get there!
Highs and lows of travel
The truth is travel is awesome! Everything about travel, both good and bad is remarkable! But the other truth is sometimes it’s not all sangria and sunsets. Yes, we have to take the rough with the smooth and whilst travel is pretty much ALL I think about ALL the time, I’ve had a few nasties pop up from time to time, and here they are.
Call the electrician
My first experience of being zapped in the shower was Thailand, my second was also Thailand and since then I have felt a few tremors when I’ve least expected it. I’m not talking about a lethal jolt which shot me across the room, more just terrible wiring in the wrong place i.e. in the shower and typically when turning the taps on and off. It’s not painful, but really scary to feel an electrical surge racing through my body whilst water pours over me. Perhaps it is the thought of being found naked in a Thai shower, in a budget hotel with every body hair sticking up which is more scary but it is this peril that can spoil your ‘buzz’ for a nice relaxing shower.
Each and every country offers us the chance to try different food. Street vendors, colourful restaurants and crafted recipes spanning generations fill dinner plates and kebab skewers. My favourite places (only recently having converted to seafood) are coast hugging places where seafood literally jumps from the sea and onto my plate (with a delicious white wine soaking naturally). But when these taste bud tantalisations go wrong, they tend to go badly wrong. I’ve had food poisoning a few times and I just pray it’s not before I board an overnight bus. Yes when food reverses the process and comes out both ends, only bed, flat soft drinks, boiled rice and water can save me. Here is my blog about the 5 devils of food poisoning. Enough said!
They only come out at night
They creep; they crawl, but never jump. Yes that’s right, bed bugs. Ever seen one under a microscope? They look like miniscule dinosaurs and hide in the corners of traveller beds on the gringo trail. As we sleep peacefully they come out and have a great time biting on bodies but always in a straight line; it’s good to be consistent. They also travel with us in our backpacks from a particularly dirty place on the Khao San Road in Thailand. The bites don’t hurt, it’s more the thought of them being there, waiting for the lights to go out. To this day I refuse to check the sheets before I get into hotel beds because ignorance truly is bliss.
As I said, travelling is amazing and journeying from point A to B is typically where the memories are made. But after a 24 hour overnight bus ride I just need a hot shower and everything will be right in the world again. How many budget hotels have I checked into and asked if they have hot water, told yes, gone upstairs, stripped, turned the tap on and waited for my hand to warm. Waiting….still waiting, and….no hot water. I don’t feel like I’m reaching for the stars here and my Spanish isn’t that bad, I just want a short, scolding hot shower to wash my feet and feel human again. Top tip is always carry a universal bath plug, great for when you do have hot water and want to wash your clothes!
Preparing to be unprepared
Before a big trip I always pack late. Crazy or genius, my reasoning is if it’s important I’m unlikely to forget it, if it ‘slipped’ my mind I probably didn’t need it. This of course does allow for some rather epic fails. One that springs to mind was when I rafted the Grand Canyon for 8 days and didn’t take a thick waterproof jacket on the raft. It pretty much rained heavily for half the trip, I was freezing cold during the day and after flying back from Vegas to London I came down with a healthy dose of pneumonia. And what is even more surprising is that I was surprised by the weather! Normally I would just blow the budget and buy a new jacket however, with the lack of shops, and um…human life, there was a shortage of options.
Rise and fall of the seasoned traveller
I hate being scammed, I mean I really hate it but that’s just the way it is and if someone is smarter and takes advantage of an opportunity unknown to me, then fair enough. But for a seasoned traveller it still stings. There have been a few occasions when I’ve ended up with a counterfeit note which looks so real, but absolutely no local will take. My finest example (which I will feel eternally stupid about), was after arriving by taxi to the hotel in Buenos Aires where I had been many times, I handed over a 100pesos which the driver promptly handed back saying it was fake. So what did I do? Handed him another which he handed back again and said was fake. After a third attempt he took it and I left the taxi. It was literally as he was driving off that I realised he had swapped them…and this seasoned traveller had been done. Easy come, easy go.
When the heavens open
Love it or hate it we can’t control or predict the weather. Sure, we know when seasons will unleash the type of weather we expect and typically that’s enough, but what about when Mother Nature throws in a late Indian monsoon, Japanese cyclone when about to scale Mt. Fuji, or early snow in America? Personally I’ve been fairly blessed with the weather when I’ve travelled and at music festivals, and when it goes wrong the best thing to do is just get on with it. I had a recent experience at a travel trade show in Florida when the outdoor evening party was rained on all night. Roughly 5000 people left and only about 200 stayed on and danced in the rain. What could have been the quickest end to a bad night, ended up as the highlight, why? Because we accepted the expectations in our heads, didn’t match the reality. Embrace the weather and never let it deter you from the reason you’re there in the first place! Is the worst that could happen that you dry your shoes the next day?
Keeping track of local time
Like the Germans, I love keeping to a schedule. Not to say I am militant about it, but I know where I’m going, roughly what time I’ll be there and what I want to do when I have checked in. I remember once having what can only be described as a cracking night in a posh Bolivian hostel, equipped with pool, sauna, jungle view and excellent company. Briefly forgetting my travel plans, and because drinking vodka in the sauna is always a great idea, I woke up early with a death hangover and made my way down to the bus station, which just happened to be outside a police station. After lots of fractured conversations it became clear the bus wasn’t going to come until the late evening and that’s when the rains came. All I could do was plead to sleep off a hangover from hell, on a park bench inside the prison where I lay for 12 hours. The bus came eventually and in the process I met some lovely people whom I went to the jungle with, but man oh man, that day felt like the Summer Solstice.
I love travelling independently; it makes me humble and reminds me that striking up conversations with random people is a good thing. Perhaps out of necessity, but it’s always proven to be rewarding. The reality of the situation is sometimes it can be lonely, especially when there is something so spectacular or so ridiculous and we want to share the laughter or experience. When I travelled around South America I hardly spoke to people for about 3 weeks until I got back on the gringo trail and it was tough. Then I started meeting other travellers and opted for a Spanish course which changed my entire trip for the better. Sometimes we glaze over the realities of solo travel but there are times I just need someone to watch my bag when I need the toilet, have run out of money and need to use small denomination currency as a back-up plan. Now that really is flushing money down the toilet.
So you see, sometimes travel does have a few ‘quirks’ to endure, they tend to be the stuff of memories which personally I prefer but everything in equal measures. Best thing to do is slap a smile on your face and laugh about whatever comes your way, there may even be a blog in it for you!
Happy travelling folks!