Traveling in developing countries necessitates a distinct rhythm to life. It’s both the little moments and the big ons that create a consistency of experience. It eclipses the life I used to know and becomes the new norm. Traveling in developing countries is simply different compared to other travel destinations. After landing in Bangkok, overwhelmed and in need of a friend, I adjusted quickly. I now carry spare toilet paper in every pocket of my clothes was just second nature. In Nepal, I planned my entire day around the four hours we would have electricity that day. And on the weekends, I needed to plan time to hand-wash all of my underthings. These are the little things that became a part of the routine. I confess that I resisted some of the changes at first, but it’s all become old-hat now.
Day-to-day life these past six months has included so many cultural experiences, but also a lot of learning a self-sufficiency that we lack in the west. Laundry is a good example. I could always find affordable laundry service. A woman would take my pile of dirty clothes (minus the underwear — those you have to hand wash all throughout the country) in the morning. Then she would wash ‘em, dry ‘em, and return ’em in a neat stack at the end of the day. And these women, they weren’t using a washing machine. Every item of my clothing has been slapped onto rocks and beaten into the earth. The stains were scrubbed clean with stones. Every washing aged my clothes about one year. And this was the normal.
But then I arrived at my volunteer placement in Pharping, Nepal and I learned that my own two arms would now scrub and beat the dirt out of my clothing using a small detergent cake, a big blue bucket, and elbow grease. This isn’t a skill I knew previously. There is a process, and it if you want your clothes clean, you have to do more than push the clothes around in the water bucket. After my first time hand-washing all of my clothes, my knuckles were raw from the effort of rubbing clothes together.
The cultural experiences are among my favorites. If I had zipped through India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, I would have missed the smaller moments in life. Like learning how to play Carrom while hiking in Nepal, or sharing chai with the vendors in India.
Then there’s the bargaining. These past six months throughout Southeast Asia and South Asia have taught me that nearly everything in life is negotiable. I was able to pay my way into an expedited visa at the embassy in Kathmandu. No souvenir actually costs the advertised price. There is an art to bargaining that I have embraced and truly love about life. I’ve read that some travelers never acclimate to the bargaining climate — they reach a point where they just want everything ordered, with fair prices. But that’s merely falling back on previous patterns. It’s an easy complacency that keeps things humming along in the West. Here, everything is up for negotiation and it has made me train my brain to enter every situation with a different awareness.
Given time, I acclimated to the intense pace and controlled chaos of traveling through Asia these past months. Even more, I came to love so many parts of the experience. But I also looked forward to landing back in Europe — it’s been years since I was last there. I dreamed of the creamy sweetness of Italian gelato hitting my tongue. I looked forward to traveling with a friend from home. And I was optimistic about the use of washing machines — that would be a welcome change!
The transition jolted me more than I expected. I flew from Delhi to Helsinki for a long layover. It was the bright lights, gleaming glass and steel that caught me off-guard. It was all so sanitary and ordered and calm and quiet. And the icy-cold air conditioning blasted through the entire airport. And Helsinki airport offered WiFi throughout — what a treat!
Then there’s the fact that I haven’t been aggressively marketed to in nearly six months. Many of the advertisements were written to target locals, so I didn’t understand the text, nor the radio spots that jabbered between songs on the radio. But in Helsinki, blindingly bright advertisements gleamed behind glossy glass, each one framed in sophisticated black.
Color is an experience in South Asia. Indians and Nepalis love color, always more color. Color on the walls, color in the clothes, it’s everywhere and it’s all so happy and cheery. But in the airport, I remembered that the West tends toward a sleek modernism. It was an assault to the senses akin to the shock I experienced when I first landed in Mumbai all those months ago.
For my first week in Italy, I constantly exclaimed, “I forgot this existed!” And things like, “Woah, the train is on time — it’s here right now!” I oogled at the huge grocery stores and again. It was surreal to be surrounded by so people who look like me. I blended — I haven’t blended in six months.
Helsinki was just a layover in route to Milan, Italy, home of gelato and a meeting spot for my friend Jenn! My dearest friend from Florida/Los Angeles had emailed me several months ago for a rough outline of my itinerary. Then she took that information, matched her flight to mine, and arrived in Milan on the same day! She is joining this round the world trip for three weeks as we travel through Italy and Croatia! Jenn shares my love for hiking and has a complete 100 percent matching love for ice cream.
These coming three weeks with Jenn mark a change in my travel style. Although I have been backpacking on a budget all of these months, I entered Italy knowing that I would blow my budget out of the water for the ten days we were in Italy. I wanted to enjoy my time with my friend, and I also just wanted to indulge. Italy is one of my favorite places and so these coming weeks will prove to be the most expensive in my RTW trip budget.