You will rarely sleep through the night…
Waking up at least once in the night during your first weeks away is to be expected: it’s too hot, the fan’s not doing its job; “sod it, we’ll get air con” – the air con is too low, then too high; the mattress may as well be a plank of wood covered in cotton; there’s a gecko in the room. Then you acclimatise and these things become the norm – as does waking up in the night. You won’t even notice you do it until the first morning you wake up two months in and realise you’ve just had the best God damned nights sleep anyone has ever had on the Thailand to Vietnam trail. You tell everyone.
…but you will learn to sleep anywhere.
Overnight buses, man. They will become the subject of boastful stories over beers in beachside huts and dingy hostel bars – hell, they have served as that in my London office post travelling.
“I once did 28 hours through the Andes,” brags Insufferable Wanker Number One.
“Well *I* did a 32 hour journey from Koh Tao to Kuala Lumpur. Fucking nightmare,” Insufferable Wanker Number Two counters, shaking head wistfully. (Me. Insufferable Wanker Number Two is me.)
But actually, overnight journeys are kind of brilliant. First off, the disastrous and hideously long ones do provide for some interesting anecdotes as well as some of your most vivid backpacking memories; secondly, you save money on a room for the night. There’s a kind of camaraderie in an night train breaking down in the jungle, or a cramped bus giving up on the side of the road in Cambodia, oil spilling out of its patched up carcass, driver bending over to survey the damage with lit cigarette hanging precariously from his mouth.
Over and above all of this though, you will gain a new, not entirely useless skill: slowly but surely, you will obtain the power to fall asleep anywhere, in the most cramped and unorthodox positions, even just for ten minutes. Hey, it may come in useful if you ever have kids.
Either you will have sex in a hostel dorm room, or at some point be in the same dorm room as two people drunk enough to think it’s fine to have sex in a hostel.
It will happen. If you’re lucky enough they won’t be occupying the other bed of your bunk or be directly next to you. If it’s you, pretend it never happened the next morning, then change hostels.
You will develop an unexpected but vehement and unrelenting hate toward ants.
Ants. They’re EVERYWHERE. They get in your bed, in your clothes, on your skin. You will feel a slight tickle on your flesh and you will slap at freckles and moles you have had forever with an expression of seething rage as you mutter something about “fucking ants”. They are so slight that half the time you don’t even notice them until they bite you.
And it’s not just the big red bastards that bite you – although they admittedly bite the worst – the tiny ones about 3mm long will get you too, and then you’ll panic you’ve got bed bugs because some backpacker will tell you “it looks like a bedbug bite”, and I can tell you first hand that bed bug paranoia is just all consuming. Ants are a travelling nightmare. The only time I’ve ever felt anything less than unadulterated venom towards them is when watching about forty of the things carry a dead cockroach up a wall as I sat on one of those fancy outdoor loos.
You will notice that Asia has an inexplicable but fervent love for Kenny G.
Now, I only know this without question because I had the very clear advantage of being raised by a father who would, unfailingly, play Kenny G’s Breathless album on repeat on our long car journeys to Brittany for our annual caravan holiday. Kenny inspired an eleven year old me to INSIST I was going to take up the instrument at my new school and obviously, be very good at it. Luckily the shiny brand new saxophone was bought on a six month return policy that was quickly formalised after the entire family was forced to sit through at least five inaudible Christmas carols that December.
So that is how I know that the smooth jazz the restaurants, bars and weirdest of all – airports – of South East Asia are playing is Kenny G. I can only assume there was once a survey that claimed Kenny as THE man to listen to if you wanted to exude instant chill amongst your patrons, and that there hasn’t been a repeat of said survey for twenty five years, but who knows. Maybe, like my dad, they just really love Kenny G.
You will openly talk to strangers about the shits.
I have long lasting travelling friendships that have stemmed out of an initial conversation about “not feeling great”, followed by a night of them hearing me experience the onslaught of food poisoning through a very thin wooden wall. The people you meet travelling will temporarily become the people you are closest to on earth. You will live together, eat together, get drunk together, get lost together, you will share a bathroom and thus you will experience the highs and lows of bowel activity together. It’s best to get these things out of the way early.
You will become accustomed to carrying a 1.5 litre bottle of water everywhere in one hand.
Helps with the aforementioned bowel trouble and general sickness. Someone says they’re not feeling 100% – a bit peaky, if you will.
“How much water have you drunk today?” you say, echoing your mother. Their face drops. You shake your head thinking ‘what a mug, hasn’t he learnt yet?’ You offer them some (unasked for) sage advice. “I always carry a big bottle with me. Just have it on you, you won’t even notice it. So easy to get dehydrated here”, you finish, passing over one of your twenty four Boots rehydration sachets.
“Yeah…thanks, mate,” he replies, hating your smug self as he runs to the bathroom.
You will bond with strangers over getting drunk on a river.
It may be that you and said stranger got drunk on the same river four months apart. No matter – as soon as you look up at the sink mirror in the hostel bathroom and see the person standing next to you in a ‘In The Tubing’ vest, you will laugh, strike up conversation about getting hammered on 80p buckets of probably illegal booze in Vang Vieng, and promptly head to the nearest bar with your new found best friend, exchanging “absolutely mental” stories about that week in Laos. Go on, enjoy – you deserve each other.
You will miss proper pubs more than you could ever have imagined.
A night in a real British boozer with – my God – an actual wine list. PROSECCO. I miss prosecco more than I miss some of my family members.
Your fashion choices will branch out unexpectedly.
You may think of yourself as someone with fairly decent personal style; someone with a wardrobe that others may be envious of, even. You may get compliments on your coat from strangers on the tube. Hell, you may have even studied fashion. Doesn’t matter. You will, at some point in your travels, acquire and willingly wear – with pride – patterned harem pants, tie dye, several woven bracelets stacked on one wrist and a vest dedicated to the local beer. And yes, you will wear them all at once.
And long after your backpack rounds the baggage belt at Heathrow, with its woven flags haphazardly stitched onto it, these will become your pyjamas and hangover clothes. When you pull them on, against all your better judgement, you will feel a surge of nostalgia and fondness that will make you utter a silent prayer that you are never, ever, forced to chuck those harem pants away.