Archive for June, 2008

Jun 23 2008

How DO you do laundry while traveling?

Published by under Travel,Virginia

Our first week abroad, we made a rookie mistake. We let our dirty laundry pile up. It wasn’t until we were officially out of underwear that the thought occurred to us that, oh yeah, I guess we have to do laundry here. So, naturally, we packed our dirty clothes in plastic bags and hiked over to a laundromat we’d seen in the busy new town of Chania. There, we made the unfortunate realization that the use of their washing machines cost eight euros (12 bucks) per kilo. On our budget, that was the price of about four meals. Yikes.

We were even more dismayed to find, upon our return, that to dry the clothes would cost an additional eight euros per kilo. To put this in perspective, say you wanted to wash and dry five pounds of clothes. It would cost you forty euros or about SIXTY DOLLARS.

Which is why, on one sunny afternoon, we found ourselves heaving bags of soaking wet laundry through Greek city streets, back to our room, where we hung them out to dry.

Obviously, going forward, we adopted the tried-and-true backpacker routine of manually washing our wardrobes. Eventually, we honed our hand-washing skillz to perfection. For the benefit of fellow travelers, I’ve decided to share the process, in ten steps.

Step 1: Pretend that the hostel’s bathroom is clean. Find a sink.

Step 2: Fill the sink (or bathtub or bowl) with water, some sort of soap (laundry detergent is a luxury; it’s far too heavy to cart around. Shampoo or body wash work just as well), and your dirty clothes. You’ll need some sort of sink stopper (you can get a universal stopper at a travel store, though they never work great). A dirty sock works just as well.

Step 3: Walk away. Entertain yourself for about 15 minutes while you let your clothes soak (more, depending on level of stinkiness [FYI, according to spell check, "stinkiness" is not actually a word]). Try not to forget about your clothes until the next morning when you wake up, walk into the bathroom, see your waterlogged wardrobe sitting in a puddle of stagnant water — actually, stagnant red water, thanks to one shirt — and then for the next six months have to wear clothes that all have a pinkish glow about them.

Step 4: Come back. Stare at the sink full of filthy clothes with loathing. Question, not for the last time, why you chose to travel far away from your comfortable home with washing machine.

doing laundryStep 5: Get your hands dirty. Swish around the clothes for a while. Scrub each item individually, concentrating on Problem Areas (i.e., armpits, stains). Apply additional soap as needed.

Step 6: Rinse! Run each item under the faucet (a shower head is particularly good for this) until the water runs out clean, and not soapy.

Step 7: Wring the excess water out of the item. Now, most proper hand-washers will tell you not to do this, as it stretches or misshapes your clothes. But seriously people, these clothes are going to be ruined by the end of your trip, no matter what you do. Embrace it.

You want to know why I’m pro-wringing? ‘Cause the most annoying part of doing laundry by hand is drying your clothes. That is, they don’t. It can take DAYS for soaked clothes to dry.

But never fear — Brittany’s come to the rescue once again! I have a little trick that hastens the drying process.

Step 8: Spread out a towel on the floor. Place the wet clothing item on top of the towel. Roll up the towel/clothes combo. Whack your boyfriend with it a couple of times. Very important.
doing laundry

Step 9: Wring, squish, squeeze, sit, stomp, have fun! Do whatever you can to that towel burrito to get as much water out of your clothes, and into the towel, as possible. Work out all your aggression! Sing while you do it. Sorry, it’s required.
doing laundry

Step 10: Hang up your clothes, wherever you can. Outside is always best. We brought a portable clothes line with us. If you hang clothes indoors, in a non-air-conditioned, unventilated room, they’ll pretty much never dry. If you can, time it so your clothes can hang out overnight. You’ll be wary of leaving your clothes outside overnight before you realize that no one wants to steal your dirty, hand-washed underwear anyway. Also, get used to wearing damp clothes.
this is how we dry our laundry... on the heater

If you’re clothes are still wet by the time you have to pack up and move on, for the love of God, pack them in a separate, plastic bag! They will stink to high heaven otherwise. Oh, borrowed hair dryers also work for emergency drying.

Ta da! You did it! Your clothes are (kind of) clean!

If ever you find yourself in a hostel, scrubbing your unmentionables in a small sink using hand soap instead of detergent, and hanging them to dry on the railing of your bunk bed in a room you share with eight people, you’re officially allowed to call yourself a backpacker. Be thankful that you don’t have to do your laundry in a river, like most rural residents of S.E. Asia.

Important Tips:

  • Do NOT, for your own sake, let your dirty clothes pile up. Every couple of days wash a few items. Trust me, it’s much, much better this way. Manually washing an entire load of laundry is not a fun way to spend an entire day.
  • Realize that pretty much no matter what you do, you’re going to stink. It’s cool. So does everyone else! Your definition of what’s “acceptable to wear” is far different while traveling than while living at home.
  • And as a “treat” to yourself, splurge once a month or so and let someone do your laundry for you in a proper machine, no matter what the cost. ‘Cause, trust me, you’re never going to feel truly clean wearing underwear you hand-washed in a sink.

And finally, two items a traveler should never, EVER be without:

  1. Tide stick
    Tide to go stick
  2. Febreze! For the uninitiated: Febreze is a miracle liquid that eliminates odors in fabrics. It pretty much allowed us to do laundry half as often. I know, disgusting.

Sweet, sweet modern luxuries.

59 responses so far

Jun 15 2008

Top 3′s!

Published by under Travel

All too often during our travels, we often found ourselves stuck on cramped, smelly buses for unusually long stretches of time. And whenever the iPods gave out and motion sickness prevented reading, we turned to entertaining ourselves by constructing “Top 3″ lists. Top 3 countries for natural beauty, Top 3 ice cream joints, Top 3 scam artists… you name it. We continue to create and tweak these lists now that we’re home, but simply arguing with each other over the best choices has grown dull. We’ve reached a harmonic consensus on too many selections, and we know we’ll simply never agree on certain others. Time to shake things up! And what better way to do that than post some of our Top 3 lists right here for your inspection and consideration? So, if you disagree with any of these brilliant selections, we expect to hear about it. Just know that you’re definitely wrong.

Top 3 Places to Build a New Life
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
2. Aix-en-Provence, France
3. Chania, Crete, Greece

Top 3 Big Cities
1. Rome, Italy
2. Prague, Czech Republic
3. Contested. Brittany says Paris, Ben says Barcelona.

Top 3 Foodie Countries
1. Italy
2. Thailand
3. Greece

Top 3 Beers
1. Kozel Dark! (Czech Republic)
2. Beerlao (Laos)
3. Leffe (Belgium… yeah, we got it in France)

Top 3 Naturally Beautiful Countries
1. Laos
2. Greece
3. Spain (Andalucia clinched it)

Top 3 Most Frustrating Places to Travel (not that we don’t love ya, anyway…)
1. Vietnam
2. Paris
3. London (We spent FIFTY BUCKS on a round-trip metro ride. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?)

Top 3 Street Foods
1. Gyros (Greece)
2. Rotee, aka “pancakes” (SE Asia)
3. Fried bananas (Thailand)

Top 3 Friendliest Peoples
1. Thai
2. Portuguese
3. Australians (And we didn’t even go to Australia. THAT’S friendly.)

Top 3 Best Architecture
1. Barcelona, Spain (this is why. Also this. And the lobster.
2. Rome, Italy
3. Paris, France

Top 3 Ruins
1. Knossos (Crete, Greece)
2. Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
3. Pompeii (Italy)

And finally, some supplementary statistics…

# of times pickpocketed: 0

# of times Brittany got yelled at in a foreign language: 4

# of toilets Ben clogged with his self-proclaimed “giant American poos”: infinity

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Jun 05 2008

Tales We Never Told: So what DO Europeans think of Americans?

Published by under Travel,Virginia

After the dozenth person told us we needed to attach a Canadian flag to our backpacks while traveling around Europe, I became curious. How bad would it be? Why do I have to pretend I’m not American? Do Europeans really hate us that much?

In short, no. Most people we met were able to separate any feelings they may have towards the American government from their perception of its people. That said, George W. is widely mocked. We rarely introduced ourselves as Americans without getting a comment or two about Dubya – to the point where I wanted to start every conversation with, “Hello, my name is Brittany, I’m from the United States, and I DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM, thankyouverymuch.” (Oh, there was also this guy).

We obstinately refused to wear maple leaves on our luggage, and we had no major problems. Sure, I encountered lots of people that were surprised I wasn’t a gun-toting, lawsuit-happy, Bible-thumping, socially-conservative cowboy. They can’t help it—their media depicts Americans that way. And I was more than happy to assure them that, no, I promise, we’re not all like that.

But there was ONE guy…

During our tour of Halong Bay, our group—a mix of Australians, Canadians, Irish, English, Malaysians and, of course, two awesome Americans—stopped on a beach to have a picnic lunch. The conversation was pleasant and fun, aside from an irritating British man at the other end of the table who would loudly state well-known facts as if he discovered them. “Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ?” he’d say proudly. “Yes, I read that in a science journal.”

We largely tuned him out, and talked to the cool Aussies and Canadians around us.

There was one moment, though, when there was a brief lull in conversation. Mr. Science Journal took advantage of this opportunity.

“I mean, I can understand voting Bush into office once, because how could they know?” he said, his voice heavy with condescension. “But the fact that they re-elected him really makes me call into question their intelligence and what kind of people they really are.”

No one said a word. Aware of the presence of two Americans (well, everyone but him, who hadn’t bothered to talk to us), everyone looked down nervously, avoiding our gaze. An awkward silence fell.

Eventually, Ben broke the silence:

“God, I hate Americans,” he said.

The table burst into laughter, with the exception of Mr. Science Journal. In Ben’s words, “I think I succeeded in making an ass out of THAT guy.”

There’s very little you can say about America that will offend me. I have enough of my own criticisms to appreciate that other people might be critical of government as well. But this guy’s personal remarks and unapologetic generalizations rubbed me the wrong way. It was the one instance during our trip that I had to suppress the urge to defend my country.

Before I end this, I want to tell one more anecdote that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside about Uncle Sam.

Back on Crete, we met a Danish dude named Nikolaus, who’d spent time in Florida, where he had family. His first impression of the States, he told us, was confusion over the extreme number of rules we have; rules that seemed silly to him. No, you can’t walk here! That would be trespassing. And God forbid you show a beer bottle in public!

“It’s like you fear all the time!” he said. “Americans are scared. What are you afraid of?”

This perception was accentuated when he visited the local Walmart to register for a fishing license. He’d brought his passport, his visa, and several other travel documents and forms of identification. However, because he didn’t specifically have an American driver’s license, the Walmart employee would not issue him a fishing license.

Irritated, Nikolaus argued with and questioned her, but she wouldn’t budge.

“She would not use her brain!” he said, getting annoyed as he remembered it. “She just followed the rules without thinking!”

As he was about to storm out angrily, Nikolaus noticed racks of guns lining the wall. “So I can’t get a fishing license,” he said. “But, if I wanted, could I buy a gun?”

“Well, yeah,” the employee said. “Of course.”

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Jun 02 2008

A retroactive disclaimer

Published by under Travel

Since being home and catching up with friends, family, and co-workers, we’ve made an unexpected discovery: everyone thinks that we spent our entire journey drunk.

The first couple of times I heard someone make a reference to our trip as a “drunken whirlwind,” I dismissed it as a joke. But then it became clear that everyone seemed to have a comment about the stark lack of sobriety during our eight months. After the nineteenth person chimed in, it was officially a trend. Confused, we tried to figure out where people would have gotten such an idea.

Looking back over our history of blog posts, I think I see what’s going on. Alcohol, in its many forms, does get more shout-outs on this blog than I had realized. And upon arriving in a new country or region, we absolutely made a point of sampling the local spirit of choice. Which tends to make for good stories, and in turn ends up on our blog.

When my mother told me that friends and extended family members were worried that I was being a bad influence on their children, I have to admit that I found the idea thrilling. Me? A bad influence? To give you some context, just know that my entire life has been a hopeless struggle against my unshakable social image: a nerdier version of Cory Matthews. And now, all of a sudden, you’re telling me that I finally get to be Shawn Hunter? I mean… I don’t even know what to say! Do the black leather jacket and devil-may-care attitude come standard?*

If I’d only known the new image I was cultivating back home, I probably would have blown all of my savings on liquor and hair gel. And started some bar fights to get some edgier material for our Flickr page. But the truth of the matter (whether good, bad, or disappointingly healthy) is that drunkenness was a luxury largely outside of our financial means. We didn’t sleep in crowded 12-bunk hostel bedrooms because we like playing Russian Roulette with the nightly possibility of contracting bedbugs. We did it because we were broke. Broke by American standards, which is to say that European beggars looked up from their tin cups to pity us with alms. And ever since alms were made obsolete by the euro in 2002, we might as well have been trying to buy wine with wooden nickels.

Which was cool with us. We’re not heavy drinkers anyway, and there was too much to see and do in eight months to spend our time passed out on bar floors. The reason I wanted to write this disclaimer is for the benefit of others who will come after us. If we have given the impression that the best frame of mind for exploring the world is a drunken one, then I think we have done a disservice. As someone who enjoys beer and wine, I would encourage like-minded travelers to sample what the world has to offer, just like I would encourage you to sample local foods and customs. But beyond that, plan on saving your alms for hostels, ferry rides, and bizarre puppet shows. You’ll be able to stay abroad longer, and as a bonus, you’ll actually remember your trip when you get back home!

But if, by some chance, you find yourself finally moving from Screech Powers to Zach Morris in the eyes of those back home… and you manage to succeed where I failed by making this realization BEFORE your trip is actually over… well, you know what to do my friend. And when you have to come home six months early because you blew all your money on speed, I’ll be the first in line at the airport to congratulate you.

*This paragraph caused an argument between Brittany and me over whether or not people will know who Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter are. As part of the peace treaty, I am now required to say that these characters come from the hit television program “Boy Meets World,” which ran from 1993-2000 on ABC. And now I will also say that if you didn’t know who these characters were before reading this paragraph, you should avoid sitting next to me at weddings, graduation ceremonies, funerals, and any other event in which you are likely to be forced into awkward conversation with me. Because you won’t understand anything I’m talking about. Thank you.

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