On the road, you fall into a certain state of disrepair. You don’t keep up with your usual self-hygiene regimen, and in time, your body begins to accrue a corona of stank. That much walking and inclement weather invites wear and tear, and pretty soon you have a cake of your own filth. But it’s okay, because you’re on the road, so everyone else is also disgusting. But some people decide to take this liberty too far. Some people decide that once a backpack cushions their spine, they are free to abandon the mores of gentle society like so much garbage and scalp grease, and hoe the road of grossness unbraved by so many before them. They take the opportunity to be a douchebag because no one they know will ever see them, except maybe in the facebook photos, and make a stinky, oppressive time for all the rest of us on the trail.
But how do you know if you are one of them? What signs can you search for to make sure you are not becoming one of the legion? Here are some simple warning signs of impending travel douchosity, those early hints that your decision-making is impaired, and pretty soon you’re going to be purchasing panflutes and trying to make a go of busking your way around the world, one annoyed roommate at a time.
1. Pirate Pants and Other Poor Choices
You’ve decided to travel to a hot place, and you really would like more of the breeze to be tickling the parts of your swimsuit area. Also, you’re sick of wearing a belt, and hours of sun exposure and litres of alcohol have made you think that blotchy, acid-washed colours and utter shapelessness are selling points. Also, so many other people around you are doing it!
Stop. Think. You’ve gone to this warm place, which you’ve already seen swarming with hippies and miscreants, and you want to follow their clothing choices? Any article of clothing which has a main selling point of “indistinct floppiness” is not a correct sartorial manoeuvre, no matter the occasion. Unless you are actually planning to take to the seas and captain a galley, you do not need pirate pants.
1. a) White-People Dreads
You’ve noticed a great density of white people around you, here in South Asia or Jamaica or the Netherlands or wherever else people with poorly formed ideas of how good their dreads look go. And some of them actually pull it off. And also you’ve just recently smoked an enormous amount of pot, so why can’t you gather your hair into grungy cords? But you really hate the idea of caring for them or installing them on your head in some sanitary fashion, so you figure that the way of truth is to just let your head fester until your luscious logs form of their own accord. This is a bad choice, and you are falling into a major douche thinking trap: if other travellers are doing it, why not I? Because a lot of other travellers are kind of gross. Because other travellers are also pretty dumb, and make also terribly decisions concerning their heads.
2. Sniff Test For Life
The sniff test is a time-honoured, useful tradition for the road: search your bag. What smells the least like mildew and yesterday’s pad thai? That’s what you’ll wear today. If it’s not encrusted in viscera and mysterious fluids, it’s basically fit for wearing.
But what of when you expand that to everything? To what you eat, and sleep in, and become? When you use the sniff test on yourself, you are ruining not only your own day, but everyone else’s. If your body begins to undergo the sniff test, and if your threshold for self-care becomes greater and more robust, and justified mostly by thinking of others as first-world, bourgeois prudes, you are beginning to become a douche, and should really seek the nearest shower. Or nuclear waste disposal facility.
3. Extremist Minimalism
It’s cool to pack light: it makes it easier to move around, you can shove your back into tighter and more easily lockable places, and you conserve greatly your winnowing reserves of back-sweat. However, there is a thing as packing too light: you cannot make it through all of South Asia or Europe with a single set of underwear, one stained shirt and a toothbrush. These things speak not to your free spirit, your oneness with the road, your ultimate divorce from modern, classist, wealth-obsessed society. It speaks to how much you smell like death, how your undies could certainly use a wash, and how you proud of yourself you feel for not owning a towel or grooming products. Congratulations! Now buy some shorts and a bar of soap.
I once met a Scottish man in Thailand who had brought exactly one shirt with him for his travels with his countrymen. When he had arrived in Thailand, he abandoned this shirt for another one he found in a market: a small wifebeater emblazoned with a large, full-colour picture of an Asian woman on a toilet, in incredibly high contrast. He wore this shirt every single day that I saw him, and was confused when they refused his entry into various Buddhist sites and restaurants and anywhere where people had eyeballs.
4. Packing Your Beer Bong
Part of travel is enjoying the local consumables, and this, of course, includes booze. But you haven’t eaten since your hostel breakfast, and you’re so dehydrated that your skin might as well be sand. A couple of beers and shots deep and you will be good.
Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you feel the need to do a keg stand right next to the mosque, or take your cherished college-age, hand-crafted beer bong with you while you temple-stay through the most serene, and also most slammin’ ashrams and holy places. How else can you be impressive to people unless you are covered in your own vomit; how else unless you are the king of King’s Cup?
In Vietnam, there was a restaurant attached to our guest house, where all of the moneyed college students and backpackers would cluster every night. On our arrival, one group of goons had dragged their small metallic table out into the road, and were chanting at their companion, who has totally rockin’ his beer bong, brah. I desperately prayed that each would be run over by an 18-wheeler.
5. Inopportune Humping
Okay, so you’ve met someone on the road, and you really would like to smash your genitals against one another while drunk on absinthe. This is fine. There are places where you can do that. Those places should not contain unwilling bystanders, hostel staff who might be forced to clean up any of the remains, or under the shadow of something famous and likely to be swollen with tourists and their children. Take it to the woods or a cheap motel.
Really, it’s about having a tiny modicum of respect for the space that you are occupying with others. They too are sleeping there, or eating there, or rotting gently in whatever drug-infused haze they have purchased, and they should be able to enjoy this with a degree of understandable peace. A hostel, of course, will naturally be shellacked in bodily fluids and about as noisy as a tarmac, and this is to be expected, but using common sense and not humping directly on top of others or shedding any part of your person on their person should be upheld as common courtesy.
Do you recognize yourself in these warning signs? Do you scoff and mentally classify me as kind of a snobby jerkbag, and begin explaining to yourself why your pirate pants were super wicked when you backpacked through Indonesia, and also that you’re fairly certain you don’t produce body odour anyway, and showers are for raised-pinkied rubes? Then you have been caught in a cycle of douchebag, and it very well might mean everyone on the road wants you to get eaten by a shark.