Horrifying Personal Calamity: A Necessary Ingredient in All International Travel


Climb on board! Each seat comes with a free serving of despair.

“But did you actually like India?” everyone seemed to ask.

It was a fair question. Every time I described India, I usually started with my first impression of the country. The long, circuitous route from the airport into central Delhi, the roadway thick with vehicles diverse in wheels and dimensions, the cow burrowing her head into the flaming pile of garbage while rummaging for some nosh. I relished the grim, gritty details, the number of times I stepped in feces of indeterminate origin, exactly how many times I contracted scientifically-innovative new strains of diarrhea, the many and various attempts to grift me of all of my money and earthly possessions.

The crowning glory in every string of India anecdotes was our journey to Jaipur. The sojourn was a 17-hour ride crammed haphazardly into glass capsules in a rattling deathtrap manned by a driver with an itchy brake-foot. At the terminus of our jaunt was a series of hysterical mishaps involving alleys crawling with braying goats and half-naked children, each of them screaming at us. We climbed into four different rickshaws, each which was trying to rip us for our dwindling supply of rupees, and as we climbed into the last we were sure we knew the face of madness.

I, in fact, really liked India.

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Underwear, Chapstick, Passport: The Long Journey to Travel Minimalism

All ready for the weekend trip!

All ready for the weekend trip!

My backpack was slowly boring a hole into my coccyx.

I was nineteen and had borrowed a 50 litre green Osprey from my uncle to prepare for my Eurotrip. I stitched a Canadian patch across the crest for everyone to see, as seemed necessary at the time. I purchased a compass and some maps and an industrial-sized container of sun-screen. I looked upon my rental pack, considered its dimensions, and decided that its depth and girth were challenges issued to me by the universe. Could I fill it to the brim and manage to cart it around most of western Europe with me?

In hindsight I probably didn’t need all of the button-down shirts, nor the full bottle of shampoo, nor the half-dozen books, nor the array of sweaters, nor the comically large number of socks. The bottle of Windex was probably a little overzealous. The full Dutch-Mandarin dictionary may have been ancillary. Several dozen packets of clean, type B positive blood in vacuum sealed were probably unnecessary preparation for a trip that was very unlikely to include grievous bodily wounds nor encounters with eastern European vampires.

I was young and had never travelled alone before. Previously accompanied by parents, there was always an advisor looming over my suitcase, scrutinizing my choices and declaring when I had packed enough. I would stand before my trunk, stuffing shirts and underwear and socks and books and toothbrushes and then packets of saltines and X-Men action figures and 1980s commemorative mugs featuring Peanuts characters until an adult would tell me to stop. Someone would seal my bag with a travel lock, remove the key from sight, and cart my possessions around for me.

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