no country for bare feet

Picture it: Sri Lanka, 1998. It was a time before Instagram. A time when only one of my sixteen cousins had a computer, and it did not connect to the Internet. It was a time when I didn’t know what the Internet was, and frankly, didn’t care. It was a wonderful and memorable time, even though there aren’t any Facebook posts to prove it.

hattonHere is a panorama shot of my mom’s hometown from a recent trip.

December 1998 was one of the first trips to Sri Lanka (my parents both grew up there, so we frequently visited) that I actually remember. I felt an instant connection to the country and the people. I was a kid, so experiences that now seem inconvenient or undesirable just seemed like an adventure then. I didn’t care that we bathed in water tanks in the backyard or that no one wore a seat belt (or that there weren’t seat belts even if you wanted to wear one). I enjoyed the cold water on my skin and jostling around the back of my uncle’s jeep. As far as I was concerned, Sri Lanka was a wilder and more picturesque version of America.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.05.31 PMMatara, Sri Lanka

I was too young to be self-conscious and I didn’t have a phone to hide behind, so I embraced every aspect of the culture. I spoke broken Sinhalese whenever I could. I ate all the exotic fruits I could get my hands on. I walked around the house and yard barefoot, like my cousins. Well, I did, until one day I felt something rubbery on the bottom of my foot…

I lifted my leg to find a gecko flailing around, still mostly attached to my foot. Though I’m sure I wanted to, I did not scream in horror. Before I could really react, the gecko fell to the floor and scurried away. As disgusted as I was by the gecko, it gets worse. The gecko left something for me to remember it by. It left its tail.

While I’ll never walk barefoot again in Sri Lanka (there are so many geckos…), that’s not really the point of this story. The point is that as travelers, we need to immerse ourselves in the cultures and religions of countries we visit. Traveling is about saying yes to every experience. It can be uncomfortable, and it might not work out the way you had planned, but what’s the point in traveling if you never try anything new?

constant vigilance!

Last year I set out on an extended vacation. I’m talking about seven countries over five months. While I’m a fly by the seat of her pants kind of girl, this trip necessitated some planning. I had to get certain vaccines, find natural but effective bug spray, pack the right kind of clothes, etc. My mother also made sure I brought a veritable pharmacy along with me.

I’m sure many of you have over-bearing moms. I don’t. However, my mom still made sure I had it all: bandages, Neosporin, ibuprofen, Imodium, laxatives, and multivitamins, among other things. I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to take a medical course beforehand so I could diagnose myself in case I caught a rare jungle virus.

Joking aside, there are a lot of health hazards innate to traveling, so I am glad that my mom ensured my good health by (excessively) preparing me.

During my travels, I had the pleasure of visiting Cambodia. I found the country had a vibrant, though sometimes bleak, history that was downright fascinating. I equally enjoyed the people I met there — nearly ever Cambodian I interacted with was incredibly friendly and welcoming

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My first night there my friend Gerard and I had dinner at a famous Siem Reap restaurant. The concierge at our hotel gave it an A+ review and told us that David Beckham had dined there as well. Who would pass up a Beckham approved restaurant?

The next day we started with an early morning tour of the Angkor Wat temple complex (pictured above and below). Drenched in sweat, we toured one temple after the next. Beautiful as it was, we were about ready to pass out from the heat when Gerard and I agreed that it was time to head back to our hotel for a break.

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Barely a minute after getting to our hotel, Gerard told me that he didn’t feel well… I won’t give you all the gory details but it seems that Gerard’s beef from the night before was a little too rare. I distinctly remember telling him that I could still hear the cow moo-ing when he was digging into his meal.

Fear not readers, my personal pharmacy finally came to the rescue! I gladly handed over my Imodium capsules and told Gerard to take the night off site-seeing, while I promptly went to the nearest fruit stand and gorged myself on jackfruit.

What this post comes down to is that you need to be careful when traveling, especially when visiting third-world or developing countries with lower sanitation standards. Similar to Gerard (but worse), I got a stomach virus in the Galapagos two years ago and let’s just say it puts a damper on the vacation.

When it comes to tap water, ice cubes, and meat preparation, I must quote the infamous Mad Eye Moody: constant vigilance!