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well you didn't tell me that, now did you?
things learned about traveling while traveling
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)

Despite having been a flight attendant for the last year and a half, I've never been as intrepid as I may seem. At work, I'm always on someone else's schedule. After sleeping off the jet lag, I seem to find myself with barely enough time to find a souvenir, then I'm in the air again. I've never gone off on my own, never traveled without a safety net of family or boyfriend, never explored the unknown. I'm a creature of comforts when at home: I order the same dish from restaurants because it's easier than trying a new dish. I nearly died when Olive Garden canceled the Cannelloni al Forno from their menu. I actually haven't been back since I found that out. I'm quite unadventurous, it seems, and I do all my living through books.

This trip to India is my first 'walkabout' on my own, and even as I left the states I was nervous. Okay, I cried. I really did. Even as I left, I anticipated my flight home coming a mere twelve days later. It's been nearly a month and I still haven't left yet. This column is being written while sipping a Kingfisher beer in an unpainted cell of a loosely-termed 'internet cafe' around the corner from Assi Ghat in Varanasi, India. In four hours I have to catch an overnight train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then on to Jaipur and Mumbai. Next week, I'm headed to Thailand. Why go home to cold and snow when I can relax on a beach and get a thai massage instead?

Meanwhile, in my travels, I'm constantly learning new things:

Bring a Bigger Flashlight
A tiny keychain torch does you no good if you happen to wander into a pond at night thinking the street has merely overflowed in monsoon season. Also good for seeing cowpats while walking through rural India in the pitch dark.

Bring Toilet Paper
I was so not joking about this in my last column. I thought I was overpacking, taking three rolls for a ten day stay in an ashram that only has squat toilets where you can't flush toilet paper. I stayed longer, of course, and those rolls came in handy at the hotel that didn't provide toilet paper, but has western-style toilets.

Your Own Mug
Chai time at the ashram was at 2pm daily. Now it's become a habit, and I've discovered that no matter where I am, a hot refreshing tea is PERFECT around that time to keep you going. Your own mug -- with handle -- is essential there, and quite handy when traveling around, and for a variety of purposes: soup, tea, coffee, washing up...

Essential Oils Are Just That
Essential. Tea Tree oil for zits and disinfecting. Lavender for calming and sleeping. Grape Seed for cleaning vegetables and fruit. Peppermint or Thieves for putting on the scarf you then wrap about your face when going through a particularly smelly area.

Take What You Might Need, but also -- Don't Overpack
Take the western drugs you might need. Ayurvedic herbs are widely available, but you can't always get to them, depending on how sick you get or what time of night it is. Pack light, but pack well. Layer. Handwash things. You can always buy some climate-specific clothes when you get there. Especially here in India where female modesty is expected and quite smart (you attract enough attention as it is, don't invite the wrong kind of impression), I picked up some kurtas (long, loose shirts) and baggy lightweight pants and I fit in much better.

Be Flexible
Accept, Adapt, Accommodate. You'll be surprised what you can adjust to. For instance:

Things I Can Live WITHOUT
As it turns out, I don't need meat, air conditioning, flush toilets, toilet paper, knife and fork, electric appliances, electronics (anything with a plug full stop, really), hot water, a showerhead (a bucket will suffice), shaving any body parts, makeup, plush beds, chocolate, sex...

Okay, those last two have a time limit, honestly. On the flip side are:

Things I NEED
Earplugs, my favourite invention. Drugs to make you poop (you get constipated in the ashram eating breads and rice and daal all the time). Drugs to make you stop pooping (for the rest of India with the spicy, delicious foods). Tea. Hand sanitizer. Hair ties. Soap. Talcum Powder. Clean underpants.

I'm sure there's more I'll learn, but it all tends to be relative to the country and region I'm in. Which reminds me of something I learned when flying to Sao Paulo in June and had only packed a single light dress and a bathing suit: Check the weather. I had never been to the Southern Hemisphere -- the seasons are opposite what I'm used to. So when I say I'm going sailing in New Zealand for New Year's, I promise I won't be freezing my arse off!


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


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sandra thompson
10.27.09 @ 9:06a

Good for you, Maigen! My Uncle J. T. never shut up about the educational benefits of travel when he'd jerk me out of first or second grade to go gallivanting off on one of his business or pleasure trips with him. His beautiful wife, Starlight, was a civilizing influence on us, as we traipsed through zoos, museums, business meetings and stage shows, but we still managed to eat too much, drink too much (a six year old on creme de menthe is a sight to behold!) and talk entirely too much. I did schoolwork on the long segments of drives from one place to another, but once we hit town we became intrepid explorers. More power to you on your treks both long and short!

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