There are so many times I have to sit down, throw my head back, and laugh at what my life has become. There’s something about traveling for a decent amount of time that just brings out the funny parts of life.
Also, I think you might have the impression that this is a very glamorous life. And it is, for the most part. It’s a crazy blessing to be able to do it, and it’s been such a fun adventure. But it’s not all islands, sunsets, and adventures. Sometimes there are moments that don’t make the highlight reel… but here they are anyway. (With some random photos thrown in just because I have extra photos?)
I met a couple from the Netherlands at my hostel in Coron, and I mentioned to them that something had upset my stomach a bit. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but they joked with me “Ah, so today is not quite solid.” I just laughed and said “Well, that’s one way to put it.”
So between the two of them, they explained to me their points scale – because yes, this is a contest. For every day that’s “solid” each one gets a point. For a day that’s not, no points. For a day they take medicine for it, that’s minus one. And they both knew exactly what their scores were at that point in the trip. I could not help but laugh so hard at this.
Travel stomach is definitely not the same as home stomach!
At my hostel in Coron, I was chatting with a guy from Australia – he was a really nice guy and we got to talking about my trip. He reacted to my planning with a “Wow, that’s quite a trip.” but also wondered out loud whether or not I was truly “backpacking.” To him, backpacking meant not having a schedule or plan, and having life a little rougher.
And then I realized how much “rougher” is different from person to person. For me, and probably everyone reading this in the States, what I’m doing is on the side of “roughing it” – sharing dorm rooms in hostels, trying out street food, all of that kind of stuff makes it more “backpacking.” And the Australian guy joked with me that “real” backpacking involves having more time than money and he speculated that perhaps I’m time poor and money rich. I told him that no, I’m on a budget for this trip. Yet still he looked at me.
The whole exchange left me to thinking what backpacking really means, and was an introduction to the levels of what I’ll call “travel snobbery” among backpackers. First you have real “travelers,” which means that they travel on buses, rarely take airplanes, and spend a month or more in each country. Then you also have “backpackers” who don’t have a plan but just drift from place to place on a really tight budget. As far as I can tell, these are the people who try to live in places like Thailand for less than $10/day. I think they define me as a “holidaymaker” in that they think of my trip as more “vacation” and less “travelling.”
What’s really odd to me about all of this is that having levels of travel snobbery is, I think, a defense mechanism and way to say “I’m cool and important” even though they’re not staying in nice resorts and living lavishly. And to them maybe the experience is more authentic.
It all makes me laugh because it’s all ultimately a matter of perspective. But I thought it was worth sharing the laugh. You can judge for yourself where I fit on the spectrum – I’m not sure I really care.
When I was in the airport in Manila, I was headed to my gate and passed a Jo Malone store. I went in and smelled the perfumes, and tried one of them on. I had to laugh at how far I’ve come that just trying a perfume on made me feel so much better. There are two things I’ve really started missing from the States – one is a general feeling that I smell good, and the other is my hair straightener. My hair over here is just a mess. And I constantly am worried that I smell. Y’all – it’s hot, dirty, and very active over here.
Anyway, I considered buying a small bottle of perfume because I realized how much I liked it, and didn’t just that moment. I know I’ll have other opportunities. But it did make me realize that a lot has changed in just two weeks that simply trying on perfume did wonders for my self-esteem.
I had been thinking about the “real backpacker” conversation that day and decided that I am, in fact, a real backpacker. Whoever wants to disagree, I don’t care. I have a backpack, I’m traveling the world, thus, I’ll call it backpacking.
Then I got on the airplane to Siem Reap.
I boarded the airplane in Manila to head over the Siem Reap. In my head, I definitely did not do a good job accounting for time differences and thought it was going to be like an hour and a half flight. It was three.
As we got on the plane, it was clear that it was not going to be a full flight. A nice Filipino lady was sitting on the aisle and I had the window. We looked at each other and the middle seat and commented that the seat was probably going to be open for the flight, shared a bit of a smile and relaxed into our seats.
About two minutes later, as boarding continued, a gentleman boarded who made me realized what the Australian was saying about “real” backpackers. He was wearing pants from some kind of Asian market, a sweater that looked like it had been run over by a lawn mower, and had his hair in a man-bun. And it was all in dreadlocks. Dreadlocks made into a man bun. Quite odd.
Well… you can guess where this story is going. Mr. Backpacker had the middle seat in my row. As he walked over to get into his seat, I smelled one of the worst smells have maybe ever smelled. (This, by the way, about 20 minutes after the Jo Malone store.) It was the most odorific combination of body odor, weed, and cigarette smoke. Upon smelling the marijuana, I realized why this guy needed out of Duerte’s Philippines and into Siem Reap. (Where they sell “Happy Pizza” as a normal course of events, and yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.)
I had to suppress my gag reflex, and for the first time ever, considered asking the flight attendant to move me. But I decided to tough it out. I was thinking about this guy (wondering if perhaps he might be a “begpacker”) and wondering what could possibly have prohibited him from showering in the last month. I was speculating that perhaps he was on an extreme budget.
At that moment, he pulled out his MacBook (shiny and new, clearly a newer model), and his iPhone 6 or later (couldn’t tell if it was a 6 or 7). My only thought was “Seriously?! Why haven’t you traded in your gadgets for money to buy a place with a shower?” And yes, this was extremely judgmental of me. I know. But I had to smell him for the entire three-hour flight. It was quite a long three hours.
And then made me reconsider whether a “real” backpacker is something anyone would ever want to be.