Planning your first big trip? Advice and humor to get you through the process.
A Little Too Much Info
Preparing for a recent trip became an adventure when the author encountered a pushy bandana saleswoman and a backpack clerk obsessed with Thai massage.
To keep the price of a recent four-month trip manageable, I had to transform myself from a Boston yuppie into a budget backpacker. The first order of business was the purchase of a hiking pack.
I visited a super store that catered to outdoor enthusiasts. Inside, it was the size of a national park. The floor was a herringbone maze of aisles displaying gizmos with digital readouts and clothes with more pockets than a four-piece luggage set. I heard something rustling in the tent area. I picked up the scent of salesman. I tracked him down. He was in his early 20s and had just backpacked through Southeast Asia. As he leaned against a rack of overpriced travel pants, he raved about the cheap massages available in Bangkok. He raved about the cheap massages in Koh Samui. He raved about the cheap massages in Phuket. He was a little too knowledgeable about the subject, so I avoided shaking his hand.
I tried on a few packs and settled on a man’s large. The clerk loaded it with 30 pounds of weight and for 15 minutes, I took it for a spin. I tried running with the pack as if being chased by South African street thugs. I tried moving my hands around as if I were fending off frisky Bangkok masseuses offering multi-visit specials. I tried balancing on one leg for no reason at all. It was good spending the time because the bag jabbed me just about everywhere. The clerk recommended I try a medium that was available at another of the company’s stores.
The clerk at the new store was an attractive woman about my age. "I'm taking a four-month solo trip around the world," I boasted. She snatched a medium-sized bag off a rack and said that she had taken a similar trip when she was in her early 20’s. "Umm, I've always been kind of a late bloomer," I mumbled. I tried on the pack and she loaded it with weight. I walked around for another 15 minutes. It pinched my shoulders, but she had intimidated me and I was afraid to complain. Besides, I'm Jewish, I'd suffer. I paid $199 for the pack and bought a few other items she pushed on me, including the Swiss Army knife of bandanas -- a $12 shmata that not only protected your head from sun, it was supposed to repel ants, fleas, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, greenheads, yellow jackets, see-ums, and no-see-ums.
I read more travel books and developed an extensive shopping list. And once I started buying, I was like the guy addicted to Thai massage – I just couldn't stop. I bought things I ultimately never used, such as a water treatment kit. I came down with buyer's remorse and returned a u-shaped inflatable neck pillow and syringes for use in Third World hospitals with questionable hygiene. My rationale: I figured I’d never get the needles on the plane without a weapons permit. I returned a pair of waterproof sandals one day and then went back and repurchased them the next.
Finally, I went to the library and borrowed a beginner book on Spanish and introductory level language CDs in Thai and Greek. My goals were modest but practical: I wanted to be able to say, “Excuse me, do you speak English” and "How much is the Pepto-Bismol?" in three languages.
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