Coming clean about dirt, or, It’s not me, it’s you

Back in my former life, before all this travel business kicked off, I don’t think anyone who knew me would describe me as a particularly neat or persnickety individual. In fact, some may go so far as to say I had a bit of a tendency towards messiness and chaos within my own environment. And I’ve never been afraid to get grimy for a good reason (yoga, gardening, cooking, etc.).

Knowing this about myself made me feel relatively confident that I’d be fine traveling in countries that might not be up to Western standards of cleanliness. I was surprised, then, to find that I was actually more squeamish, far more often than I had expected to be. I was feeling pretty wimpy about all this and was tending to judge myself a lot for it (“Bad world traveller Jenny!”) and actually started to worry that I might be getting a bit OCD – being hyper aware of and sensitive to dirt and grime – and possibly take this new-found paranoia home with me when our trip was over.

My little trip to the States was a great opportunity to disprove this pretty useless theory my “running mind” (as Roman likes to call it) had felt the need to come up with. Within no time of arriving back home, dirt was the last thing on my mind.

Having some time and space, I realize now that there are only certain types of dirt that get to me, in certain situations, and in fact, upon reflection, I’m not even that big of a wimp.

I can totally handle:

•Peeing in “unpleasant” smelling squat toilets on the trains of India
•Taking care not to step in the goat, cow (and occasionally people) poo that was all over the roads of Hampi
•The rickety bus rides in Myanmar that left us and our stuff covered in a thick film of dust and grime by the time we made it to our first bathroom break
•The gleeful rats and scurrying cockroaches of Bangkok’s streets
•Sharing a tuk tuk with fly-filled bags of meat bits (hair still intact; I think they might have been tails but I didn’t want to look to closely…) in Savannakhet
•Watching our Lao jungle guide chow down on massive, living bugs
•Getting totally caked in mud up on the Bolaven Plateau

I don’t think that’s the resume of a big-time travel wuss.

What I realize now though is that I get sensitive when it comes to hotels. Out there in the world I can manage most things. But when it comes to where I lay my head, I need a bit of comfort. It doesn’t even need to be fancy. Simple is totally fine, so long as it’s clean and cared for. Places that look, feel or smell neglected just get me down. Oh, and so does bad fluorescent lighting.

Realizing this doesn’t mean we’re going to upgrade away from budget lodging for the rest of our trip. And it certainly doesn’t mean we won’t end up in shoddy, cheap hotels from time to time.

But having this knowledge means I don’t have to beat myself up for being a wimp while simultaneously trying to pretend that everything is great and I really love stained linens, spider webs and grim lighting that makes me look even more tired and grimy than I may already be feeling. It means I can accept the situation while also accepting that it’s probably not going to be my favorite part of trip, and then I can simply move on. Liberating!!

Oh, and if you’re curious what may have prompted this post, let’s just say it was a bit of a rough adjustment staying at Phonevilay Hotel (I won’t go on and on, but just to paint a brief sketch – while it could have been a lot worse, the floor was not pleasant for bare feet, the gecko poop was prevalent, the ant population was thriving and the sheets were hole-y) after the comfort and elegance of Vayakorn in Vientiane. 😉

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