One of my favorite questions I get asked is what to pack for trips. I know many people that feel they need to take everything possible with them. They end up lugging half their home in their suitcase and then return from their trip not having used the majority of the things they packed.
I, on the other hand, am a minimalist and not just in traveling. I’ve lived in my current apartment for 4 years and I still have people come over for the first time and ask ‘How long have you lived here?’ followed by ‘Where’s all your stuff?’ I don’t need a lot to live my life and having too much stuff actually stresses me out.
So it might come as a surprise that one of the ‘must haves’ for my travels is a book…I know, I know, dead weight. But it’s not just any book, but rather a specific series of misadventures written from funny female travelers. My obsession started when I was preparing for my trip backpacking through Europe. My sister had found a used copy of ‘Whose panties are these?’ at the bookstore and picked it up for me because she thought I would enjoy it. I threw it in my pack as one of those things that would be a little extra weight, but with the idea that I could also leave at a hostel along with the way if I didn’t want to carry it anymore. However, it became one of my most treasured possessions.
I was hooked from the first story. From buying underwear in India to Lebanese big boobs caused by eating too much chicken to finding the size of your butt matters in Senegal, the book is filled with outrageously funny stories written by female travelers. These are above and beyond the normal misadventures that one may have when traveling. Many of these women travel off the beaten path and their experiences are so intriguing because they are often places that I haven’t visited myself.
This book is actually the second in a series. After returning from my trip in Europe, I bought the first book, “sand in my bra.” I then proceeded to buy the rest of the collection: “the thong also rises” and “more sand in my bra.” They also introduced a book that focuses on male and female travelers, “what color is your jockstrap?” While I enjoy them all, I definitely prefer those that focus solely on female travelers.
In ‘sand in my bra’ there are a couple paragraphs that I think define travel in the best way I’ve ever read:
“Let your smile be your umbrella!…and trash can and shield. Foreign travel simply does not always go smoothly. It can’t. There are too many moving parts. So rather than think of it as a booby-trap, think of it as your big chance to play Lucille-Ball-Goes-on-Vacation. If you can make peace with the concept of travel as a comedy-waiting-to-happen, then almost nothing can rob you of the deeper thrill of it. The delight of eating your first Provencal truffle, the joy of setting foot finally on your Irish grandmother’s homeland, the rush of breathing in the cold wind of the Himalayas, the delirium of making love to your good familiar husband while the sweet smoke of temple incense twists into your window from the Kyoto monastery across the street.
This is the heart of travel. This is why we do it. This is why we are so willing to strap our fragile bodies into metal capsules and fly thousands of miles with hundreds of strangers endlessly exhaling new viruses into our airspace, drink water from dubious sources, eat food virulent with unknown flora and fauna, put up with impossible travel companions, lost luggage, and the legions of mule-like bureaucrats who manage to win positions of petty power in every city and village on earth. We do it because we love this beautiful dangerous planet and we want to know it personally and, on balance, the pluses far outweigh the minuses, right?”
Right. I do want to know this world personally. I want to travel as much as I can and take advantage of every opportunity I have. I want to learn languages and customs and respect cultures that are completely different from my own. And I want to have a deeper understanding of my own country because I’ve taken the time to see it through the eyes of others.
But despite all these desires, I still have bumps along the road. I’ve roamed the same street for over an hour looking for the invisible door of my hostel in Prague, gotten a questionable massage in China, peed on the side of the road with 50 of my students and fellow teachers in Madagascar, and slept on the street in Barcelona. I wouldn’t trade any of these moments as they are some of the most hilarious and memorable from my travels. However, they’re not always funny at the time they’re happening. I think this might surprise some people, but even after all my travels, I still sometimes feel defeated when things go terribly wrong overseas.
That’s when I pull out ‘Whose panties are these?’ or whichever book I’m traveling with at the time. I always have one with me and I switch it up for each trip. I have a rule that I’m not allowed to read them when I’m at home. They are reserved for those moments when I need them. When I need a smile or laugh or to be reminded that this is just one bad moment on an otherwise wonderful trip, that this too shall pass, and that one day it will make a great story. This is when I pull out my book, open it to the next page and read and laugh until whatever setback I’m experiencing doesn’t seem quite so bad.
This is one of my secrets to travel. If you think it’ll work for you I suggest you take a look at Traveler’s Tales. They’re my favorite, although there are many others out there. If you have other suggestions to help get you through those tough moments, please feel free to share in the comment section.