BackpackingSeries Backpacker

Lessons from Backpacking

What are some important things/lessons you learned from traveling the world?

Backpacking offers lessons from the most mundane to the most surprising of situations. Besides what it teaches, the fascinating anecdotes behind it might interest a few more. Let me list a few; each ending with a lesson.

– A frog tastes like chicken

Food can get unusual and, sometimes, you need to embrace whatever is on the table. A few years ago, while in Bangkok, I went dining with a Chinese and a Japanese traveler and conveniently left the job of placing the order to them.

When the meal was served, I noticed a large bowl of curry with a frog floating in it! It appeared a victim of asphyxia – with the face immersed, and its limbs, slit at the joints, stretched wide. It was a repulsive sight to hold and, an even more to eat. I darted my eyes across the restaurant simply to avoid looking at the table and in a few seconds, an array of thoughts took over. It is food; it is cooked well; you wont die; people eat lot of things in parts of the world; it might be rude to refuse; you wont vomit. That last thought was unsettling. I mustered courage to bring my attention back. I observed how my friends used the cutlery to help themselves with portions. Yet, sometimes, observing is insufficient. My hands quivered to cut the amphibian’s smallest limb to serve myself. From another bowl, I generously poured rice over the ‘meat’ before scooping it in my mouth. The rice-buffer did not last long before I felt it – a tiny piece, coated in rather spicy curry, with fragments of crunchy bones underneath. And surprise, surprise! The meat tasted like chicken and somehow, wasn’t as revolting any more. Rather, I liked it mildly. Encouraged, I helped myself to slightly bigger second serving, cut from its torso. And, it got better. Since that evening, I have tried them skewered and roasted or just fried. And for that matter, few other peculiar items too.

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A social accident made me realize that food aversion is not impossible to overcome. I am grateful to my friends from China and Japan. I have traveled extensively in the lovely south east Asia and other parts of the world embracing local delicacies. Lesson: Food makes travel fun. Food connects people. Embrace local food.

Ice buckets can be friendly

Travelling to remote places in the winters prompts you to consider icy cold showers. It was a long train journey before my wife and I arrived in a small town of Arunachal Pradesh, the land of dawn in India.

We hadn’t had a shower in a few days. It was freezing the next morning, but blank looks at the reception answered our inquiry for hot water. Given the usual practice of going up to the rivulet for bathing and washing needs, it was a luxury to have any form of running water inside the hotel room and that too in the dry winter season. The thought of washing ourselves with cold water was mind-numbing. Our electric kettle on a fluctuating low-voltage power supply managed to warm up a liter in forty-five minutes. The rest of the bucket was filled with frigid tap water. The electric kettle exercise was futile, and we reluctantly embraced the original ice-bucket challenge in December 2013. The way I mastered it was by using small mugs to soap individual body parts, acclimatizing each to an impending temperature drop, before pouring the remaining bucket over. It turned out easier than anticipated.

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It took a low-voltage supply to suggest that even though you could pack the world (read electric kettle) in your bag, it may not be useful when you need it the most. Since then, I pack light. Lesson: Travel light.

Cops are helpful

It is fun to get drunk sometimes. But, watch your stuff too. Earlier this year (Jan-May), I explored Goa a little bit.

After traveling solo until the second week of May, I felt like sharing social space and checked in to a dorm with two others – an Ecuadorian and a Spaniard. We met few other solo travelers and soon enough, it became a party. A few drinks too many and I crashed on the beach. When I woke up the next morning, I could not locate my day-pack (that had a few valuables including my wallet with all cards, driver’s license (DL), etc.). The Spaniard too had lost an expensive neoprene waterproof bag with similar contents. The property managers helped us liaison with the administration, since a copy of the police’s statement would help to claim insurance or secure a duplicate DL. After spending that day and the evening mourning the loss, to our delight and chagrin, the next morning we stumbled upon the bags under our dorm beds! Since we had thoroughly checked before filing a police complaint, we had no recollection of how the bags got there. Anyway, it brought the unenviable job of owning up the folly and apologizing to everyone who’d kept us company through the previous evening and eventually requesting the cops to cancel the complaint. Goa police was helpful and professional.

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Shit happens. It could have been worse. But it took a false alarm to remind me to drink responsibly, especially when traveling solo. Lesson: Drink responsibly and take care of yourself.

Hope you too find these helpful…

Happy travels!

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