It’s been 6.5 weeks, and you’re halfway there! It seems like you’ve been gone for years, and though you have the same amount of time remaining as has already passed, suddenly it feels like you’re going home tomorrow.
Your first week on the road was a crash course in backpacking and in making it work in Southeast Asia. After six, your knowledge, impressions, and excitement have multiplied exponentially. Here’s a little bit more of what you’ve learned.
Always take advantage of regular toilets. Squat toilets are, shall we say, hard to master, and most public bathrooms are of this variety. If you find a Western toilet that flushes, use it! It’d be nice to be a guy and be able to pee anywhere.
Kleenex packs and hand sanitizer/antibacterial wipes are essential. Most bathrooms, including those in some guesthouses, won’t have toilet paper or paper towels, and soap doesn’t seem to be popular either. You’re going to feel grungy enough, so do what you can for basic cleanliness. Ditto a bandanna — they’re great for wiping off sweat or dirt or coconut milk that has dripped all over your hands.
You can get *almost* anything you need wherever you are. It’s possible to find toiletries and clothes in shops or markets. In fact, you’ll probably want to buy things locally once you figure out what’s comfortable and appropriate for the setting.
There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is technology. You’ll see familiar brands here, but it’s buyer beware. You don’t have the protection of a warranty or return policy or support should something go wrong. Second, bring along any specific brand or item you have to have. You’ve seen Crest toothpaste and Nivea lotion and all manner of Western clothing lines, but obviously not Boscia face products. And tampons are nearly impossible to find. What do women over here do?!?
It’s OK to pretend you’re not alone. You generally have no problem telling people that you’re traveling by yourself — it seems to make you more approachable, and it’s a good conversation starter. But you also shouldn’t — and don’t — hesitate to say you have a boyfriend waiting for you back home (or who is meeting you in the next town) when you’re in situations that may turn uncomfortable.
A nice guesthouse is worth the extra $2-3 a night. Keeping a tight budget means you can travel longer, but clean bathrooms are nice to have. If you have to pay a few extra dollars not to feel dirty when you get out of the shower, do it.
Be thoughtful when you haggle. Haggling for goods and services is ingrained in many cultures around the world, but that extra dollar that does nothing to your bottom line may go a long way for the person you’re haggling with. Respect the difference between cheap and CHEAP. Also, tipping your guides and waiters even the slightest amount can and will make a difference and invite beaming smiles.
Sponteneity is very doable, but book ahead if you can. It’s always possible to hop on a bus at the last minute, and you can certainly walk up to a guesthouse or hostel and find an empty bed, but if you have your heart set on a particular one, give a few days’ advance notice.
You’ll continue to pick up new habits along the way. When you get home, you’ll probably be tempted to take off your shoes anytime you enter a building; take cold showers no matter the temperature outside; bow your head slightly when saying thank you; expect a plate of steamed rice with every meal; and use words like accommodation, proper, and uni instead of hotel, good/right, and college. You’ve also changed the way you pronounce “a” in various words after weeks listening to English spoken with accents of all kinds. Embrace it.
You have a new enthusiasm for language. You’re inspired every day to learn a new word in Khmer, if only to make people giggle over your funny pronunciation. Burmese is likely to motivate you even more. You realize how much people appreciate this little bit of effort and how much you truly enjoy the challenge of communicating when English isn’t an option.
You still have to pinch yourself every day to make sure that this is real. What you’re doing, this adventure, this time, is an incredible gift, and it’s just really fucking awesome. Have fun in Myanmar!