Wondering & wandering

25 Truths About Backpacking Through Asia





Admittedly, ‘truths’ is a stretch. This is more like a list I made to reflect on my own magical experiences while in this part of the East. On that note, apologies in advance for not treading lightly on the sacred ground of travel lingo. Turns out people get precious when you throw around words like ‘Traveler’ and ‘Backpacker’. Feel free to add your own.

1. Some people won’t wash their hair. Or their bodies. Through superior genetic remodeling (no doubt), said individuals have developed the ability to block out their own stench. This is not, however, extended to those who have the misfortune of being in close proximity to the human cesspits.

2. Your hostel bed will give you cramps. It will bend your body in places you didn’t know possible and inflict muscular spasms the extent to which were only previously known to Olympic athletes and prima ballerinas. Said bed may have despotic springs, a musty smell, and almost definitely no cushion to speak of. Waking up rested, what’s that?

3. Circadian rythms are a thing of the past. Night and day are so passé: who sleeps when there is so much to see/ eat/ do/ shag/ drink?

4. (Almost) everybody is looking for someone to sleep with. When the unrelenting travel-lust bites it turns everyone into dogs.

5. Doxicycline clears everything. And I mean, EVERYTHING. A friend informed me over a Chang (or ten) that not only does it prevent you from contracting that horrible disease known as Malaria, it also works to get rid of acne. And Chlamydia. (And at the rate you’re going, you’ve got a higher chance of getting an STD than malaria!).

6. Changovers, the raging-misery-come-volcanic-headache induced by excessive amounts of Chang beer, will happen to you. The term can be roughly used to convey the sheer agony of other beer-overs.

7. People will have sex in your dorm room. At night. When you’re trying to sleep but can’t because the grotesque sounds of sweaty thighs smacking together is louder than the track you’re blasting through your headphones. Ear plugs are an investment. Sometimes a single room is, too.

8. Showers are a luxury. Hot water is unheard of. Get used to hopping in and out of a stream of freezing water (unless you’re in BKK and actually want an icy shower!) while trying to scrub your filthy heels, underarms and everything between.

9. Shit left in the bathroom is fair game. That’s your Aquafresh? Over there on the counter? Above the sink? In a communal bathroom used by 22 people? Cool, thanks. Same applies to hair products, shampoo and soap. But not to soap bars – FFS stick to shower gel – not the pube-infested solid variety.

10. Friends back home think you’re on holiday. Stop trying to convince them otherwise. To them, you’re swanning around the world, sampling exotic cuisine and partying till the sunrise. In reality, you’re lugging a backpack twice your body weight around a vermin-infested city in 100% humidity, and skipping meals so you can afford to drink that night. That said, be gracious. You’re fucking priveleged to travel the world. Recognise.

11. Aloe Vera gel will save your life. No, really. Buy some. Do it now. Especially if you’re going anywhere near an island. And even more if you tend to neglect sunblock. The burn will get you, and it’ll be lobster/grilled tomato bad. Note: it doubles up as moisturiser.

12. Finishing your book means leaving it on the train, in a hostel, or passing it on to a fellow traveler. Ain’t no space to lug around unnecessary luggage, even if it is your favourite novel. American Pyscho, anyone?

13. Orientate yourself with 7/ 11. In Thailand, this is the God-send of all God-sends, a mini-mart made for even the most discerning of travellers. Not only can you book your flights, buy cheap booze and stock up on much-needed toiletries, you can also get phone credit AND those infamous ham-and-cheese toasties.

14. Facebook will surpass all other forms of communication. You can share your boast-worthy photos, connect with new friends and send a word to your mom. No really, your mom, not mine.

15. You’re not going to meet your soul mate. Okay there are always exceptions (this is to you, girl-about-to-object-and-looking-at-the-fiance-she-met-at-Songkran-two-years-back), but most people on the road just want a shag or fleeting romance that keeps the loneliness at bay. Don’t. Get. Attached. That said, Tinder had made almost anything possible.

16. Hostels in Bangkok have more stairs than those in Led Zeppelin’s song. Bible. Don’t try dispute this. It is fact.

17. Cuts, scratches, bites and other travel-inflicted wounds will get infected if you don’t use anti-septic lotion. Seriously, get some now or don’t even bother leaving the 9-5 and buying a plane ticket. This is worse on the islands, since the wave-less, sea-and-coral combo breed bacteria like there’s no fucking tomorrow.

18. Your heart will break with every goodbye, every last time you hug a friend who’s become closer than family in the space of a few days. It’s okay to hate this part of the journey, but it’s one of the beautiful, unavoidable cruelties of travel. Embrace it. And then drunken message your mates when you miss them.

19. You’re going to be filthier than any shower can clean. Really. Watch in amazement as your hair turns to a rat’s nest, your nails a teeming bed of bacteria and your skin… Well, scratch your arm and see the dirt that curls up like a bad orange peel under your nail.

20. You may just find yourself. I’m pretty sure you will; there’s nothing like leaving home for months on end with nothing but the shell of a backpack and a plane ticket. But I bet it won’t be the blinding enlightenment you expect. It could be in the 1000-year-old Buddhist shrine or on a beach only you know. It could happen when your eyes meet those of another, once Other. But it could just be in the rare moments of quiet that link the scenes of your wandering existence together: listening to hippies murder the sitar through your dorm door, curling up next to an airport stairwell and feeling content because tomorrow you’ll be somewhere else. Peace lies in awareness. Be present.

21. You need to phone home once in a while. Or email. Text. Just don’t let your poor mother/ father/ girlfriend worry. They still exist, and they probably miss you more than you know.

22. Your stomach will become unrecognisable, inside and out. Not only will it oscillate between beer belly and concave-emaciated, but it will churn uncontrollably and leave you bedridden at the worst of times with cramps and other nasties. Occupational hazard and side-effect of eating in another country.

23. Mosquitoes. Ah, mosquitoes. Where to begin? Maybe at the beginning? When you bit me and turned my once tanned leg into a pulsating nest of oozing bites? Word to the wise: get your repellent. Stat!

24. You’re living a life some people only dream of. And no, it’s not because “they’re afraid to leave the confines of their cushy mediocrity”. This nauseating thread of travel rhetoric is painful and, for the most part, simply not true or applicable to many peoples’ lives. ESPECIALLY in South Africa. Some currencies (like the Rand) are weak, making travel an unrealistic opportunity for those who aren’t filthy rich/ sponsored by parents/ blessed with a good job. Some twenty-somethings have responsibilities like siblings and children and parents to care for. Others will work harder than you do every single day of their lives and due to the unfair nature of existing societal, economic and social structures, never make enough money to do so. Gratitude is attractive. Brats aren’t. [Rant over.]

25. You may return home broke, sun-weathered and behind on the corporate ladder. Your friends might get married and buy apartments and really, really save money. But, let’s face it, what’s a career or new car when you’ve lost yourself in Pai for six months straight or taken a grueling train journey with locals through the heart of India? What’s a diamond ring when you and six others squashed into a three-person tuk-tuk and rode through the festering streets of Bangkok like you were on fire? Why would you even envy that wardrobe when you’ve skinny dipped in the warmest, clearest waters and then been chased by security guards up a beach? Thought so. Besides, there’s always travel blogging. If you’re really desperate.


2 comments on “25 Truths About Backpacking Through Asia

  1. Zelda Maclear
    April 19, 2014

    Brought a smile to my face 🙂

  2. megandthewaves
    April 22, 2014

    Thanks, Zelda. (Most of) it is fact. 😉

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