Travelling makes you appreciate the little things. So many of my normal day to day things are at home back in the UK. Things I’d consider now as luxuries, although you might call them essentials. I can’t lug everything around in one backpack. It’s 60 litres, and I was determined not to take anything that I didn’t need, or to fill it to the brim. Pack light, that’s the idea. And it’s worked, it’s OK to carry around. Probably a bit too heavy, but there’s nothing I can get rid of now. I’m into my 6th month of travelling now, and have got packing and unpacking down to an art (although to be fair, I never really unpack as such). I know where everything is, and where it goes. All the pockets have their own purpose. It all balances out, to make carrying it easier. I can walk a few miles with it on, in the hot, hot sunshine (although, it’s really not pleasant) and can spot it a mile off on a boat, bus or in an airport. Everything I need is in my rucksack. Amazing the relationship that develops. My whole life in one little bag. All I need to get about. I keep it dry with it’s raincover. I tuck the straps away when it goes on the bus. I brush it down when it gets dusty.
But I kind of digress. This blog post is to mention the little things. The little things that matter. The little things that you really notice and appreciate when on the road. Which, I like. Because, back in what some people would call the ‘real world’ (although what is the ‘real world’? Another post for another time, that) you wouldn’t give these things a second thought. You’d take them for granted. Hell, of course I did. Which means they’re all the more special now. And make me realise what, in general, people take for granted. For perhaps what a lot of people don’t have to start with. Because, in a developed country, we’re so very lucky.
So, what are my little things? There’s probably more, but this is what I can remember now. I’ve spent the afternoon drinking Bia Hoi in Hanoi, so I’m bound to have forgotten some. But, you’ll get the idea.
1) Clean clothes. Oh, clean clothes. The smell of clean clothes. Now, I’ve not been walking around like a stinky student all the time, but, when travelling, you do wear clothes more times/longer than you would do at home. FACT. Then, when sending them off to get cleaned, the thought of getting a pile of clean clothes back is just HEAVEN. Especially if they come back smelling of lovely clean laundry. Which, again at home, if you use lovely smelling washing powder and fabric conditioner every time, is a given. Out here, not so much. Most of the time they’ll come back clean, but not smelling of well, anything. So that odd occasion when they smell of washing powder, well, it’s like I’ve just got a huge fat amazing birthday present.
2) A hot shower. Again, sounds like a given. But, some places advertise hot water as an extra. So, I’ve stayed in places that have had COLD showers. And I mean cold, cold, cold. Most have been just cool, and some luke warm. I’m in my 6th month and I’ve only stayed in ONE place that has had a HOT shower. A proper HOT shower. And yes, you might be thinking “but you’re in a hot place, you don’t need hot water”. Well, no matter how hot you are, you try having a freezing cold shower at 6am in the morning and tell me how you get on 😉 Oh, and this also combines the ‘decent shower that’s not a trickle of water’. When I get one of those, it’s like having a power shower. Bliss.
3) Going to a toilet that has toilet paper provided. Sounds odd perhaps, but a lot of Asian toilets don’t have toilet paper. Either just a bum jet (have mastered this but not the art of how you’re supposed to get dry without toilet paper – I might be missing something), nothing or a bucket of water and a scoop. Remembering to take toilet paper everywhere is a bit of a pain in the arse (ha!) and if I’m out on the beers, generally doesn’t last the whole day/night (I have the bladder of a gnat when drinking beer). You also can’t flush paper down the loo, so it all goes in the bin. It’s kind of second nature now, but when I started off I’d have to remember every time, and I really didn’t want to end up blocking an entire Asian sewer system. I needed the toilet today walking around Hanoi and stopped in a posh office block. It was a proper western posh type toilet. With toilet paper, proper sinks, soap and hand dryers. Ooh, it was just lovely. I probably spent longer in there than I should have.
4) Free soap and shampoo. This doesn’t happen that often, as, although the kind of places I’ve been staying at have been decent, it’s on the clean-but-basic scale and so they’re the kind of places that are lucky to come with toilet paper and a towel, let alone any complimentary toiletries. But, sometimes, even the cheapest places (£1.66 a night the cheapest so far) have some free soaps. This is good, because this is Free. Shower gel and shampoo is expensive, even in cheap as chips countries like India and SE Asia, so every little helps. That one free soap is probably a glass of beer in Hanoi. Probably. That’s my justification.
5) A decent night’s sleep. Staying in aforementioned basic-but-clean places generally means it’s a lottery on whether I get a good night’s sleep or not. For a variety of reasons: crap mattress (too many springs, too hard, no mattress, too soft), no soundproofing between rooms (Laos, I’m looking at you – lovely to look at but noisy as hell wooden houses), snoring dorm room mates (not stayed in that many dorms, so luckily only had to throw something at someone once), time differences (messages on my phone causing it to light up like a, well, a very lit up thing), having to get up very early for buses or trains (hasn’t happened often) and just general being-in-a-new place restlessness. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole night through, so to get a night where I only wake up once or twice is pretty sweet. A whole night would be lovely. Maybe. One day.
6) Proper food. By proper food I mean food that I used to cook myself, or proper, healthy food. Maybe you’d class it as western healthy food. Or maybe just vegetables. When travelling I’m at the mercy of what’s out and about to eat. And OK, there’s a lot of fresh stuff available here. Exotic fruit, fresh [raw] vegetables. But, a lot of them need a kitchen to cook. Or a knife or other kitchen implement to eat. I miss eating stuff like just scrambled eggs with chilli flakes and spinach. Or fishfinger sandwiches. Or porridge and banana. Or salmon with just salt and a bit of broccoli on the side. Or raisins, which seem to be like rocking horse shit in South East Asia. So when I come across somewhere that does something resembling something like this, I might get a little bit excited.
7) New toiletries. Like a new shower gel, toothpaste or shampoo. Using the same thing all the time gets boring. Like wearing the same outfits day after day (clean or not). Packing lightly means less choice so something new in the day-to-day, no matter how small, can make a huge difference. When I get to Australia I’m going to throw some stuff out and buy some new clothes. Nothing too fancy, or expensive, just basics that are needed. And, oh, I can’t WAIT for that day. Although I do wonder whether I’ll have a tough time deciding what to wear when I get home when I get back to all my old stuff. Too much choice?
8) Not having to wear my hair up. I’ve got long hair for the first time in years. Years and years. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been this long. Although, it could do with a trim, that’s for sure. Pretty much all the places I’ve been bar Zambia have been so hot and humid I couldn’t stand having my hair down and stuck to my neck; so, up it goes. So, as it’s getting a bit cooler, there’s been a few mornings where I’ve worn my hair down. What a treat! Oh, and the other thing is I can now wear my hair in a plait. I can’t remember ever being able to do this.
9) Getting messages. I love getting messages. People saying hello, or asking how I am. I always have, but even more so now I’m on the road. I know some people don’t think they have anything to say, or they think I wouldn’t be interested in ‘real life’ (there it is again, what is ‘real life’? I’ll blog about this soon) but that’s not true. I love hearing about what’s going on at home, or what people are up to. I always have been, so why wouldn’t I be now? As many new things I’m seeing or experiencing, it’s always nice to hear from a friendly familiar face. As most people know, I love to talk. To chat. And with sketchy wifi, I don’t always get online that much, so don’t assume I’ll always see stuff that’s on Facebook. Best to assume I’m not that up to date.
10) Using something up and not having to replace it. Like my malaria tablets. Every finished packet is one less packet that needs to go in my backpack. I’ve always loved having a bit of a clear out so I guess this is is just an extension of that. Every now and then I’ll go through my stuff in my bag and make sure I’m not carrying anything I don’t need to. Even though I know exactly what’s in my bag and where, I’ll still do it. Just in case. You never know, something might have crept in there while I was asleep. Maybe a gecko. Or some extra toiletries.
11) Having clean feet. I’ve pretty much had dirty feet since Zambia. Flip flops, dusty countries and lots of walking don’t always go together that well. Of course they get clean in the shower. But, 5 minutes later they’re filthy again. In fact, this could apply to not just my feet. Clothes get dirty. Covered in dust and dirt. Sitting on stuff, or having nothing else to wipe your hands on. Spilling stuff on yourself (this might just be me). Clothes getting covered in suntan lotion, mosquito repellent or tiger balm. Being rained on. My backpack is dusty as hell from the last two bus journeys. My coat smells like wet dog. There’s no time or option to be precious about stuff, although that’s not me anyway. Never take expensive or nice stuff travelling; it won’t stay that nice for long.
Just the little things. They can mean a lot. You can keep your expensive material stuff, I’m not interested. And I’ll not take some of these things for granted ever again. My top little thing? Clean laundry, for sure. You just can’t beat that smell. It’s up there with cut grass in the summer or fresh bed sheets. I was quite a simple creature before I went travelling, I suspect now I’m even more so. It won’t take a lot to win me over or make my day. And that’s just how I like it. Marvellous.