Backpacking is fun and life-changing, but it’s not all meditation, finding your zen and drunk fests—it’s also challenging and tremendously smelly.
Before you stuff that 50-liter backpack with pajama pants, here’s an 8-point guide to dealing with the surprises and occasional draconian circumstances that you may find yourself in during your trip.
Bed bugs, the little atrocities that live on blood, can populate both clean and dirty places.
They are common in budget accommodations like hostels and guest houses. Do your inspection prior to making contact with beds and couches. Look in corners, and try to really search under the mattress if you can. They’re not easy to find, but not invisible (they’re oval and flat; babies are translucent/yellowish, and the adults a reddish/brown color). Look for a line—bed bugs usually leave uniform patterns that are different from what mosquitoes or other insects leave behind.
They are nocturnal, and would most likely attack when you’re already asleep and helpless. Over-the-counter anti-itch cream containing hydro-cortisone/cortisone and antihistamines are common solutions, but if the marks look different, you should consult a doctor to keep things from getting worse.
Before leaving, make sure you have back-up copies (print and electronic) of everything—plane ticket, important addresses and numbers, identification, and some ID and passport photos.
Jot down the number of the Philippine embassy or consulate of your destination. In the event of a lost passport, this will be the first place that you need to run to. They will provide you with the processes that you’ll need to get a replacement/emergency passport.
Once the horrifying assquake phenomenon that is the traveler’s diarrhea strikes, your trip could go from Eat, Pray, Love to God Dammit, God Dammit, God Dammit.
Pinoy backpackers may have stronger stomachs than their first-world counterparts (Asia is one of the most high-risk areas for fecally-contaminated food and water), but you should still come prepared.
There are preventive measures: stay away from raw/under-cooked food, avoid tap water/ice, and think twice before eating in unhygienic places. You cannot really treat diarrhea, but oral rehydration therapy would help a great deal. Always keep yourself hydrated—drink plenty of purified water, preferably mixed with oral rehydration salts. If you feel like something’s…crappier than usual, consider visiting the nearest doctor and have yourself evaluated. Travel insurance wouldn’t hurt.
In the event that you encounter these creatures, stay calm.
These trolls will go to great lengths to publicly annoy anyone. They belch forth ugly sentiments—there may be racism, sexism, elitism—that will make your trip miserable, but there is a way out other than walking away.
The best response isn’t to ignore, but to reason. Give them a piece of your mind. There will be many questions about where you’re from (“What?! You don’t have healthcare?!”) so you must come prepared for arguments. Which brings us to the next tip…
The Philippines is “more fun,” but how?
Conversations most likely start with questions like, “where are you from?” Once you give your answer, you will likely 1) hear comments about Manny Pacquiao and Boracay, or 2) be surprised to learn that some people don’t even know the Philippines exists.
For this, you should be armed with the basics enough to give them a glimpse of the country, i.e.: A country in Southeast Asia, is nearing 100 million in population (12th most populated in the world), capital city is Manila, home of the “best pig ever” (at least according to Anthony Bourdain), only state other than the Vatican that (in general) does not allow divorce, and so on.
Tell them about the good (islands, food) the bad (government, being located on the Pacific Ring of Fire), and the unfathomable (Kris Aquino).
Like bed bugs, thieves know how to get in and out undetected in seconds. Avoid bringing all your money (or scatter them in different bags), and consider using ATM (but be aware of international charges). Read up on travel advice and how to stay safe in your destination in sites like Wikitravel. You could also use one of those anti-theft body bags. Sure, it may not exactly be your style preference, but in the event that you realize that the money you’ve worked so hard for is gone, you’re going to wish you’d worn it.
Make an itinerary, but leave a lot of room for spontaneity. You will meet a lot of new people, and you’ll receive a lot of random trip invitations—splitting a tuk-tuk ride, eating out, riding elephants, and so on. It’s more fun, safer and cheaper stay in groups (traveling with just one or two strangers may not be a good idea).
This will most likely be the highlight of your trip, maybe something that you’ll tell your grandchildren one day, so be guarded, but also know how to party.
PS. It’s also possible that you’ll get invitations to get lucky, but don’t do it—you don’t know where those things have been. Also, don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad.
The post-travel blues could kick in as soon as the plane lands. It will be tough. Very few people will listen attentively to your stories (because they weren’t there and they’re happy for you and all, but just, please, stop talking) so don’t count on getting by with a little help from anyone.
Scientists have yet to invent a pill for these types of withdrawals, so for now, you can do activities such as traveling in your own city or finally doing the things you missed while you were away.
Within a few days or weeks, things will be back to normal. While you Facebook and Instagram that shit, you can also start planning your next one.
*Editor's note: All instances described above are based on the writer's personal experience (fortunately and unfortunately).
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