If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” – Eleanora Duse
Along the trail, I’ve found a few things that really, genuinely make me happy. They’re ridiculously simple: a hot shower and more importantly, a fresh wash of laundry. The more I think about how much these two things make me smile, the more I smile like a complete goofball. Seriously.
If you’re not traveling and not living in a 3rd-world country (kudos if you are living 3rd-world and reading this!), a shower and laundry are just run-of-the-mill events. Granted, I’m not hiking the Appalachian Trail or crossing the Sahara by camel, so showers are available to me every step of the way and laundry can be accomplished for $3-4 AUD ($8 if there are no clotheslines), but I am living out of a rather small backpack. When I get down to my white t-shirt – which acquired a dirt stain in a canoe a couple months back – and the five pair of underwear have been worn longer than you’d like to think about, I grab the bottle of detergent, my coins, and the plastic bags of stinkery. It’s a chore, just like it is for everyone, but when I’m pulling the clothes off the line and rolling them tight to fit back into the backpack, it’s a little like Christmas for me. A whole new, clean wardrobe of choices!
If that sounds lame, try it. Pick out a pair of jeans, 2 shorts, 5 shirts, 5 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of underwear (why are these called pairs?), a swimsuit, 1 pair of sneakers, and some flip-flops. Wear only those clothes for two weeks. Make sure you’re going for runs or to the gym to work up a nice sweat occasionally. Switch them around – no one wants to be seen wearing the exact same outfit all the time, right? When you’re “done” with them, toss them in a plastic bag and keep the bag under your bed until you’re ready to wash a load of laundry. Let me know how it goes!
Showers should be self-explanatory, but are definitely not for some of the people you meet along the way. You sweat, the sunscreen no longer smells like coconut, your hair gets oily or crusted with sea salt or both, your shoulders ache from toting a heavy backpack, you’ve been around smokers and have that eau de nicotine aroma. Basically, a shower is that small moment when you’re alone (or not…bow chica wow ow) under hopefully heated water, when the muscles can relax and the hair can soak and the body can shed the stank. You come out feeling close to human again, especially if no one is in the adjacent shower, splashing your legs from under the dividing wall with their filth-runoff.
As for the title of this post, creaky beds are a part of the package. Most hostels are outfitted with bunk beds, which Will Ferrell taught us in Step Brothers, “provide so much more room for activities!” You get someone above you who tosses and turns in their sleep, or your bed has a stressed grid underneath: commence creaking. Rarely have I slept without earplugs on this trip. I’m also amazed at the amount of sleep-talkers I’ve run into. Everyone in the room woke up one night to a British guy having a complete conversation, only without a phone. It takes all kinds.
So, why exactly would anyone do this whole “long-term traveling”? Because you can. Because it strips away all (or most) of the pretense of comfort you build up over the years. You stop worrying about fashion (if you ever did), what new technology is out, what car you’re driving, who got promoted, or how much money is in your 401k. Instead, you occasionally hear that Hugh Jackman might be in the area and you try to catch a glimpse, or you run down the coast from Bondi to Coogee and swim in ocean baths, or sit for an hour watching and listening to the ocean crash against the rocks.
Most importantly, you get back to smiling about things like hot showers and clean laundry. And while that may not appeal to everyone reading this, I know there are a few of you going through tough times and maybe a genuine smile, for whatever reason, could be just the thing to keep you going.