Prior to leaving on our round-the-world trip, Tim's dad asked how he thought we might change after our travels. Completely unsure at the time (and perhaps a bit rushed to pack), I can't recall what answer we ended up sharing. But I'm glad he put the question in the forefront of our minds because it became something Tim and I spoke of often on the road.
When we returned from our trip, Tim's dad sagely asked the same question. This time we were armed with a few concrete examples, but less than we thought we would have had given all our time traveling. But after talking about a few changes, we concluded that we probably wouldn't be sure how we had changed for several years to come.
Several years have indeed come and gone, as have many more adventures in other countries since our round-the-world trip. And over the years, Tim and I have enjoyed seeing how much our travels have changed us. Some of the differences are just silly little things, but many others changes have resulted in new approaches to life.
This new series – How Travel Changes Us – hopes to explore many of the changes we've experienced, be they miniscule or monumental. Perhaps the series can serve as inspiration for future travelers, or amusing reminders for current travelers, for how seeing this amazing world with packs on our backs has a way of changing us all. (Hopefully, of course, for the better.)
And with that in mind, I present to you the first in our series. This change is one of my silly ones.
We were settling down for a nighttime of blissful sleep in a little fishing village in Uruguay. The balcony doors (which led out to a patio overlooking the South Atlantic Ocean) had been open much of the day letting the sunlight stream through unobstructed, warming the room even further. Even now as night fell we left one of the doors ajar, enjoying the breeze blowing through the room.
The sheets were cool and crisp, a stark contrast to the warm air. The room was bathed in a rosy glow from a bedside lamp. The orange curtains billowed and danced in the breeze.
Sliding into bed, I remembered I still needed to look under my pillow. I had done something similar ever since I was about 8 years old after my beloved brother-in-law Jeff had (he claims accidentally) scared me into thinking slugs and leeches slept under my pillow. Given I was already petrified of slugs and leeches (and beetles and spiders and anything else creepy crawly), Jeff's news didn't sit too well with my overactive imagination. Thus began my nightly tradition of peeking under my pillow for years and years. Just in case.
Propping myself up on one arm, I casually flipped the pillow, barely glancing underneath. Lowering my head to settle in for bed, my mind poked at my conscious. "I think I saw something there, under the pillow, just a second ago." Figuring I was imagining things, but knowing my conscious wouldn't let me sleep until I double-checked, I sat back up and peeked under the pillow.
Peering back at me – and I swear it said my name – was an incredibly large black beetle, about the size of my hand. Startled, I jumped from the bed, cried for Tim, and immediately closed the balcony doors before any more beetles descended upon our peaceful retreat.
For weeks after that night, Tim would preform "beetle checks" before I ventured near the bed in whatever hotel or hostel we stayed in. Beetle checks were unfortunately rather intensive and intrusive. They involved not only stripping and shaking the bed sheets and pillows, but flipping the mattress over and a thorough check of the floor and walls near the bed. The production often lasted for upwards of 30 minutes while I'd repeatedly ask Tim to "just check one more time, just in case." Reassuring me everything was fine, poor Tim would once again dutifully duck under the bed with flashlight in hand or give the pillows a very thorough examination.
Thirteen months later, I was walking back to our hut under the nighttime sky, accompanied by a few dogs who lived at the elephant sanctuary we were volunteering. It was the third night that I was walking home to our hut in the middle of the Thai jungle by myself. Tim was elsewhere, somewhere near the Thai-Burma border helping to research possible elephant smuggling activities. All of the Park staff were gone on border runs for the next few days which meant I was giving day tours to visitors that week. The elephants had their mahouts to tend to them; but the dogs, cats, cows, day visitors, and volunteers needed someone looking after them. And so I had been left in charge by the Park's founder, a wonderful woman who has dedicated her life to rescuing abused elephants.
Reaching our hut, I put my arms over my face as I ascended the steps to the first bamboo landing. Giant flying bugs of all shapes and sizes pelted their hard bodies against my bare arms and my head. One got stuck in my hair and finally wriggled itself free while buzzing madly. Flipping off the outside light that had attracted them in the first place, I crossed to the next bamboo landing and noticed something large with a long hairless tail scurrying away. The dogs noticed it too and gave chase. The local jungle rats, it seemed, had been visiting my hut while I had been at dinner.
Unfazed, I unlocked the padlock on the hut's door and swung it open with a loud bang. The noise would help scare away many of the 10-12 inch Huntsman spiders who scurried into our hut whenever it was unoccupied (and whenever we were sleeping). The Huntsman moved incredibly quickly down the walls and sometimes even onto the bamboo floor. They would sit still right up to the moment you were near them, but disappear in a flash if you ever attempted to kill them.
Sweeping my flashlight back and forth across the floor, I made sure I had a clear path to all the windows. Unlocking them, the heavy doors fell outwards and swung against the outside of the hut, letting the night air in. I could hear the tokay geckos in the distance calling to one another in their loud barking sound. Luckily we didn't have any of those aggressive beasties in our hut, but we always had a few of the friendlier (and smaller) geckos wandering about, eating any unlucky buggy who got in their path.
Glancing outside one of the windows, I could see the dogs were returning and soon heard the familiar padding of paws and clicking of nails on the bamboo landings. Belly, the dog who we would later adopt and bring home to America with us, paraded into the room with a grin and immediately flopped himself onto the blanket we always left out for him to sleep on. Shining my flashlight over the mosquito netting on the bed, I decided to sleep without it down this evening. There weren't any mosquitoes to be found, and a surprisingly few spiders were hanging about still.
After gathering the net and tying it in a knot, I called to Belly and one of the other resident dogs to invite them onto the bed. Slipping under the sheet, I couldn't be bothered to check under my pillow. I knew the dogs would grab any bugs that might come slithering near me in the night. Content, I promptly fell asleep to the sounds of elephants trumpeting to one another in a nearby field... and, of course, to the sound of beetles hitting one of the other outside lights I had forgotten to turn off.