As the end of my temporary life on the road grows close — I think I have about two months left if that — I’ve been thinking a lot of deep thoughts. Very deep thoughts. Have I learned anything? Do I do anything differently? Should I do anything differently? And why, when I have so many amazing places I could write about (Chengdu! Xi’an!!), do I just want to write about what’s been going on in my head? It’s always the type of blog post I’ve preferred writing so…here you go…some stuff I’ve been thinking about these last few months…
Always Wear a Bathing Cap If…
Let’s start with the mundane but important. IF you color your hair and go swimming in a swimming pool, you are really really dumb because now you’ll have to color your hair again. Chlorine undoes hair dye. I did not realize this until this year. I know. I’m dumb. Getting my hair colored in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Chiang Mai was actually pretty fun, but I think I will get one of these for future swims.
Buy a Bike Lock for Train Trips
If you travel on long-distance trains in China (or anywhere really), lock your bag to the overhead rack. Or else someone is going to grab your bag and rustle through it. Like what happened on my train to Suzhou to Yichang when I stopped a robbery. Seriously. (Experts recommend a bike lock like this one.)
Keep Your Personal Belongings Close
Related to the above but totally different…Don’t ever put your backpack with your laptop and valuable shit in the back of a taxi. I’ve had more than one situation where for oddly strange reasons that still are unclear to me, my taxi to or from an airport has had to pull over for seemingly arbitrary checks where the entire world turns out to investigate the trunk of the car. Worse still, there have been so many times where my drivers have decided to get gas while I’m in the car and this always seems to involve some sort of opening of the trunk. Keep your good stuff with you. Not in the trunk.
Distracted Driving is Everywhere
If you are hiring a driver or guide for the day, you might want to make a point of asking the travel agency for a few things upfront and being very very clear about them: you don’t want anyone one who is very tired and no one who is going to check their phone constantly while they drive. My closest brushes with death have all occurred in the last eight months, as drivers have nodded off and/or been distracted by their phones. (Just happened AGAIN in Belgrade on Monday. For the love of god. I practically had to hit the guy.) Would you report something like this? Especially in a low income country where it could cost someone their job?? This is the thing I wrestle with.
Instant Noodles FTW
Instant noodles are amazing. The world needs more instant noodles. I’ve made so many meals out of instant noodles these last few months. They are perfect solo dinner food. Buy some fresh broccoli and cut it up and instant noodles are even better. Instant noodles are cheap and delicious. High in sodium yes but delicious. And so many varieties! They are my new favorite breakfast.
There is Too Much Plastic in the World
Everywhere guys. Everywhere. There’s so much plastic. I can’t even put this into words. In Koh Lanta Thailand, where I started my trip back in September, I would take walks on the beach every morning — when it wasn’t pouring rain (don’t visit Thailand during monsoon season) — and I was devastated by the amount of plastic that appeared on the beach each morning. (Despite the numerous resources devoted to cleaning up the mess daily.) Oceans everywhere are full of plastic. Beaches everywhere are full of plastic. We need to get rid of plastic. Struggling with where to start? First step: Get rid of your shower gels. Switch back to old school soap that comes in a paper wrapper. And definitely stop drinking bottled water and buy a Lifestraw instead.
F*ck ATM Fees
The global banking system is messed up. I know I’m stupid for not having a US Schwab checking account with no international ATM fees but hey changing banks has high switching costs. (This is how they get you!) I don’t even want to know how much I’ve paid in ATM fees over the last eight months. Too much. ATM fees are stupid. I KNOW it doesn’t cost $10 for me to get money out of my US bank account from the airport in Macau. Is there a petition I can sign here about ATM fees? Can I become an anti-ATM fee influencer? Help a gal out.
The Only Way to Get Instagram Followers is To Buy Them
Speaking of influencers…I’ve hashtagged the shit out of all my Instagram photos over the last eight months — 30 hashtags on most pics which is the max — with very meager results. (Give us a follow love will ya?) This says a few things to me: 1. My photos are shit. (Not denying that.) 2. No one is following anyone on Instagram via hashtags these days 3. The people that have many many followers on Instagram were either early adopters OR have purchased Instagram followers. (Maybe both.) Real authentic growth is not easy. Unless you become famous (rare) or post a gazillion times a day (who has this much time unless you hire a virtual assistant) or play follow/unfollow (again who has this much time) or join one of those crazy Facebook groups where you all agree to comment on each other’s photos which to me is just like…stupid.
Everyone Loves Bieber
Despacito is still everywhere. I have heard Despacito within 24 hours of arriving in every country I’ve been to in the last eight months. I still sing it. I think it’s a good song. (Dude the video has over 6 BILLION views on Youtube! And it’s not even the version with Bieber.)
We are So So Doomed to Repeat Everything
We all need to know our history better. In Da Nang, Vietnam, the kind young man waiting on me was university educated but knew nothing about the French occupation of Vietnam. (“I only know about the American war,” he said, as we were discussing Bahn Mi. And just in case any Americans are perplexed by that statement — he means the Vietnam war, not the US Civil War.) In Taiwan, while I was enjoying my beef noodle breakfast, an older woman approached my breakfast table and demanded — demanded — my answer: “Do you think Taiwan should be a part of China?” I really just wanted to eat my beef noodles but I listened because I was woefully uninformed about Taiwan’s past. (The BBC has a good brief but imperfect explanation. ) In Belgrade, I tried to unsuccessfully explain to my bartender why the U.S. Confederate flag was not something to be proud of and he should get rid of it. (“But musicians use it,” he kept arguing.) During this same trip, one Belgrade tour guide told me very clearly and specifically, “Kosovo is Serbian.” She reminded me so much of the Albanians who had told me with the same certainty just last year, “Kosovo is Albanian.”
Eat All the Fruit
Enough about politics. Let’s talk about food. In my opinion, we — and I say this meaning Americans and Brits — don’t appreciate fresh fruit enough. Some of my sweetest moments have been when someone has presented me with a plate of fresh cut fruit for breakfast or for a snack. Fresh oranges and fresh strawberries — there’s nothing better. Especially with a squirt of lime. Also, dates are underrated as are most dried fruits. Nuts are also underrated. Eat all the international nuts. (A sad moment, in Egypt. When we complimented the crunchy peanuts from Esna — a higher roast, apparently. “You know who used to have the best nuts?” our guide asked. “The Syrians. They really had a way with nuts.”)
Elephants are Amazing
I have such a newfound respect for the elephant. They are so smart! They have memories! They know stuff. I thought this recent news story was a perfect example of elephants knowing what is up.
F*ck the Patriarchy
Arrrggghhhh. Many parts of the world are run completely by men. Except in Vietnam and China — they feel refreshingly equal — and perhaps Thailand although I have so many questions about sex workers in Thailand. Bali? Mostly men except in spas. The Maldives? All men. Sri Lanka? All men. Egypt? All men. It kinda kills me that economies are reducing their capacity for a whole shitload of stuff by so much by keeping women in the home — today, in 2019. 2019! Make the pie bigger people!!! Get a bigger table! Get a bigger table with more chairs!!!
There are Racists Out There
I don’t want to even tell you these stories but you know when you’re on your own and have to talk to strangers a lot, 90% of strangers are totally cool but 10% of them are f*cking racists. You want to know why Brexit happened? Why Trump happened? Because there are racists out there. Travel is good because it forces us to talk to other people and understand how they see the world. And let me tell you — some people have a pretty messed up view of the world and/or think the world owes them an awful lot.
The World is Full of Disappointing Croissants
Trying to buffer the racist thing so let’s talk about…CROISSANTS! There are so so many disappointing breakfast buffet croissants everywhere in the world. Why???? Why??? Don’t even offer a croissant if you can’t do it properly. I can’t wait to go to Paris next week and have some real croissants.
Potable Water is a Gift
The ability to drink water straight from the tap is a gift. Appreciate it. Every day. It might not always be there. I am happy to write this from Belgrade where people look at you funny when you ask if you can drink the tap water. “Why of course you can,” they answer. Little do they know. When I explained to my Chinese teacher in Shanghai that I thought it was odd that the water in the world’s most populous country wasn’t potable, she looked at me like I was the crazy one. “No of course not. You should always boil it,” she said.
Tampons are Also a Gift
So many pads in the world, so few tampons. I would die if I had to wear pads all the time. In China, they actually put tampons on DISPLAY to help people understand what they are. In other countries — I’m looking at you Egypt — it’s nearly impossible to find tampons. Do you know what I was looking forward to about Serbia? I had a feeling I’d be able to easily buy o.b. tampons. (The best.) I was right and man have I stocked up. (o.b. are even hard to find in the UK. I used to import mine from Germany via Amazon.)
People are Beautiful
I mean, if there’s anything that will convince you of the existence of some sort of higher being, it’s the beauty of people all around the world. I love how both Vietnamese and Egyptian young men take the same care with their hair — closely shaved sides and all the gel at the top — from so many miles apart. In Laos one night at the bar before dinner, my server was so distractedly sexy that I actually announced to my friend Jen in full earshot of the man…”Um he’s so distractingly sexy.” In the Maldives, on a day trip to an all-inclusive resort, I met a group of young Malaysian girls away on a girls’ weekend — stunningly butterfly-like in their pastel colored floor length ensembles and hijabs during the day, returning to the boat in the evening like slick Bond girls in their full-length snorkel gear and head coverings. The Maldivan and Bangladeshi boat crews — themselves also distractingly sexy — were entranced.
The World is Also Full of Disappointing Pillows
When you go to bed tonight, ask yourself if you like your pillow. If you could be cozier. More comfortable. When was the last time you replaced your pillow? If it was more than two years ago, buy new pillows!!! I have been so dismayed by the quality of pillows I’ve encountered around the world. I think I’m going to start a new index — the #hotelpillowindex — and start rating hotel pillows and become a hotel pillow influencer. Because so many hotel pillows are so so disappointing. And part of me blames this on our own shitty pillows at home. So go buy yourself some new pillows. You deserve them. Your head deserves them. And they are not expensive. Like $25 each. Buy these if nothing else.
Not sure I can top ending on shitty croissants, tampons and pillows. But this is what I’ve been thinking about these last few months. What have you been thinking about?? Tell me.