And by mighty, I mean me.
When “planning” this trip much of the time was spent dreaming about huts on the beach, $8 thai massages and indian food. Our thinking was, and is now, that we can just figure it out as we go – from which countries we’re going to visit, to where we’re going to stay and how we’re going to get there. With our laissez faire approach to this trip there are some things that I just failed to consider- like housing, clean clothing and being constantly on the go.
Wow. Those are some pretty gigantic things to forget! I haven’t been on a long-term backpacking trip since 2001 and the only thing that’s changed is my personal lifestyle. It’s super easy to pack up and leave college when what your really leaving behind are shared dorms, communal bathrooms and canteen food.
But at 31 I’ve come to really enjoy a few basic elements of my life – notably I’ve indulged in a queen sized bed, great home cooked meals and bi-monthly visits from the best cleaning woman in the world, Angela.
The first few weeks we were pretty pampered: we had a homebase in Pohang where we could ditch our larger bags and head out to see the environs. Even though housing in Samsung town is a little like section 8, with dirty outdoor concrete stairs and front doors made of metal, we were clean. We had a washing machine. We had hot water.
The longer I backpack, the lower my standards have become. Clothes are never really clean. You will end up wearing the same shirt once, twice, five times – why not? Just smell it first because sometimes clothes don’t fully air dry before you have to shove them in your pack to leave. Then you’re not only dirty but you smell as well. Thank god for my fast-dry underwear that I struggled with at first (so uncute!). At night I wash them in the shower with shampoo and they’re ready to wear the next day.
And the places we’ve stayed. Ohhhh, the places we’ve already stayed.
Round Beds with no sheets
Samsung Town’s dirty outdoor concrete stairs and metal doors would be considered high class now. Our first love motel was great – at least it was clean and didn’t advertise prostitutes. It’s gone downhill from there.
We’ve stayed at crack den love motels with paint chipping off the wall and water dripping from the ceiling. We’ve crashed on bunk beds, on mats on the floor and on beds with NO SHEETS. Most of the rooms have no windows. The worst was the love motel with pink rooms and a round bed. That night I slept in my clothes with a scarf wrapped around my head.
Finally, a hostel
It was only a matter of time, I just wasn’t prepared emotionally. It’s not a laughing matter to go from Angela-quality to shared squat toilets.
The hostel environment is just like I remember – tons of different types hanging out downstairs, chatting, chain smoking and enjoying life. And upstairs is exactly the same as well: communal mildewy showers, small shared rooms and a row of public toilets with heavy competition to get to the only sit down toilet.
I admit, I cried. Maybe I was suffering from travel shock or maybe I just wasn’t ready to downgrade all the way back to college.
I’ve been talking about this trip for years but the reality of being on the road was not part of those dreams. It’s laughable to think that we would be staying in high end hotels, eating top notch food and casually strolling around a city. The reality is that we’re staying in questionable locations, probably eating cat meat and we haven’t washed our pants in a good week.
After a month on the road, I’m beginning to get the hang of this.