January 8, 2012

World Traveler: The Unglamorous Side

Eyes half-closed, mouth half-open :-)
Yes, yes, I know that I forgot about Awkward and Awesome Thursday. Doesn't mean I forgot to take an awkward picture of Josh sleeping, though :-D

Well, guess what? I also forgot about a billion other things, including blogging AT ALL, because I was a little busy remembering all of the essentials of life abroad in Avila, Spain!

And boy, did all of the planning pay off. Everything went off without a hitch. No lost tickets, passports, visas, or Euros. No missed flights. No forgotten or stolen luggage. I am so beyond relieved. The trip went perfectly smoothly, albeit horrendously long. We were either sitting down or running off to the next place where we needed to be sitting down for a total of 18 hours.

When all is said and done, here I am in Spain. I am exhausted, but too excited to sleep. P.S. I have school in the morning. 

This got me thinking about some of the reasons that world travel is not as glamorous as you might think it is. I figure these nuisances and some tips that might remedy them can sort of fill in for last week's lack of awkward and awesomeness.

1. Jetlag

This one's pretty notorious to anyone who has taken a flight, international or otherwise. Why, it's even the reason that I've put off posting until ten o'clock at night (Spain time).  I have discovered a little secret over the last two days of red-eye flights and time zone changes. It's not the most pleasant option, but it will help you the most in the long run.  

Stay awake until a "normal" bedtime the day after jetlag. If you can make it through the day. you will be so utterly exhausted come nightfall that you will sleep soundly all through the night and wake with the rest of the world (or the rest of your time zone, rather), rested and refreshed.


2. Ear pressure

Moms have been saying it for ages: "Chew gum during takeoff. It'll help drain your ears during the change in air pressure," or something like that. Now the cliche quip has become "Take Sudafed before your flight to drain your ears before the change in air pressure." I always listened because I was a good and complacent child, but I therefore never really had a chance to experience what failing to do so would mean. 

Let me tell you, I had just the teeniest head cold when we touched down in Madrid--just a wee bit of extra pressure in my sinuses. I had forgotten to take my next dose of Sudafed because i had fallen asleep on the flight. For the entire 30-minute descent, I thought my head was going to explode from the pressure! I was literally crying from the pain, but it gets better . . . my ears started dripping bloody ear gunk! I literally thought I was going to die. 

My word of advice? Take your mom's advice. Take Sudafed. And then keep taking it. And probably chew gum, too.

UPDATE: In all of my experiences flying since this post was originally written, I have learned a useful yet admittedly risky trick. When the ear pressure starts to get painful, close your mouth, plug your nose, and (very, very gently) attempt to blow out through your nose. Blow until your ears pop and then stop immediately. For a few moments it will feel as though your ears are even more clogged, but you will gradually feel relief as a small amount of built-up fluid drains out of your ears. One last tip: if one ear pops and the other hasn't gotten any relief yet, plug that ear as well to avoid injury as you keep blowing.

Allie's feet as an example of shtanky plane odors! :-D
3. Lack of personal hygiene (others)

I don't want to go into details, but certain types of people on stuffy little airplanes (not the nice ones like the one we got to ride in after our layover) tend to smell like wet dogs. Then there are the people who have a little trouble in the lavatory and mingle that odor into the plane's potpourri.

In all seriousness, what can you do when you're trapped in a plane's cabin with a nauseating smell? Take advantage of the air vents above your seat. Turning them off can keep an unpleasant smell from wafting towards you, or pointing them full blast in another direction can blast some of the stench away from you. 

4. Lack of personal hygiene (you) 

Depending on how long your flights and layovers are, an inability to sneak away to shower can leave you steeping in the same dirty clothes for hours and ending up as that person who smells like a wet dog.

Sanitary wipes to the rescue! These are a great item to have on hand in Europe anyway, since public restrooms often don't even have toilet paper. Of course, if you have enough time to dash to a bathroom between connecting flights, you can always wash up typically raunchy spots like your underarms. Do not do not do not overdose on perfume and cologne to cover up traveler's BO. I know I for one  would not like to be asphyxiated by a lung-sucking Hollister monster.

Also, pack an extra shirt and clean underwear in your carry-on. NOTE: Not only could this be just the freshen-up you need, but it will be a lifesaver if your checked baggage doesn't make it to your destination at the same time you do.

5. Language barriers  

Yes, the idea of returning from this trip 100% fluent in Spanish is very romantic and inspiring indeed, but I have been forced to face the reality that not all Spaniards are as understanding of my ineptitude as the sweethearts running the language school and the wonderful woman housing Josh and I are. I was pretty embarrassed when the man behind the counter at a sandwich shop kept shouting the number four at me ("Cuatro! Cuatro!"). Turns out he wasn't telling me the price but rather that the combo I had been trying to order was not offered until 4pm.

For this frustration, I offer the following piece of advice: If you are traveling with someone else from your native country, speak Spanish (or whatever language you are trying to pick up) with them whenever you leave your lodging place for any reason; however, when you get back to the comfort of your home-away-from-home, don't be afraid to slip back into your native tongue. These moments of de-stressing with give your brain time to relax and rebound from the adrenaline rush from trying to operate in a very foreign-sounding world.

Also, make friends. Find and pursue people worth talking to. This will make your drive to become fluent all the stronger.


  1. Well I definitely enjoyed reading it. This tip procured by you is very effective for accurate planning.
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    1. Thanks for saying so. Hope your travels are wonderful!

  2. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I'll certainly be back.
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Thanks for your thoughts!