And now, ladies and gentlemen of the internet, we enter the very last week of my time in the US (eight days. It’s actually eight days, I know. Stop being pedantic. You’re always criticising me, internet). But we’re not going to talk about that, because that’s hugely depressing and this isn’t livejournal (look, a blogging platform joke! How niche), so we’re just going to stick to talking about how, for the last month and a half, I’ve been roadtripping around the East Coast with my own personal Jesus (my flatmate Saskia, who may have had some level of control as to what she is referred to as in this post).
I wish to discuss this, because, as it turns out, it’s next to impossible for one to do a roadtrip such as this, particularly when on an unreasonably low budget, without emerging from it a changed person.
You may scoff at this, saying things like “don’t be so overly dramatic” and “you’re exaggerating” and “get over yourself, it’s only a roadtrip”, but to that I say two things: firstly, if you had been reading this blog religiously, as I expect you to have been doing, you should have realised that everything I say, aside from being inarguably witty and adorable, is largely overly-dramatic self-indulgent babbling, and you should be used to it by now. Secondly, unless you yourself have experienced budget travel for an extended period of time, you can’t understand my pain. I’m sorry. You just can’t. Never fear, though, because I fully intend to explain them in depth.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Let’s start with the physical changes, of which there are many. Despite being a decidedly peely-wally Scottish girl who has never shown the tiniest suggestion of skin colouring in her life, I have ended up with incredibly defined tan-lines on my shoulders, thighs, and, bizarrely, my lower calf, due to my very exciting Nashville purchase of cowboy boots. On top of that, we’ve come away from Louisiana (which, despite insisting on referring to itself as “the pelican state”, is quite clearly the man-eating-swamp-monster state. Seriously, the place is overrun with mosquitoes, cockroaches, alligators, and countless other unattractive beasties that want nothing more than to feast on my flesh) with an interesting dot-to-dot puzzle of mosquito bites all over our (beautifully-tanned) skin. Surprisingly, I managed to escape relatively undevoured, compared to Saskia and my sister, who both have bites akin to some kind of plague victim (Saskia would like it to be clarified that, despite these bites, she still has excellent legs, and is both attractive and eligible, as well as being a non-smoker with a good sense of humour), but this didn’t save me from constantly clawing at the mountains of itchiness on my calf. Now factor in the yards of visible natural-hair-colour emerging on my head (if you’ve seen me in person since the age of fifteen, you’ll understand that this is a very rare occurrence), the irregular weight fluctuations from a horrible diet of street vendor food, and the fact that, due to having walked the length of pretty much every major city on the east coast, our legs are truly spectacular, and you can begin to scratch the surface of the dramatic transformation we’ve undergone in the past couple of months.
Then, perhaps most powerfully, there are the psychological changes. We have developed, for example, an almost hound-like ability to sniff out free food. Living on a food budget of around ten dollars a day (we haven’t stuck to it even a little bit, but we do try), we have taken to stealing as much food as is possible from our hostels (our hostel in New York charged us for internet, but gave us free bagels for breakfast, so we, quite justly, stole an appropriate amount of bagels every day. It averaged around five bagels each per day, and that did us two meals) and roaming the aisles of supermarkets looking for 2 for 1 offers and really, really cheap pasta (really, really cheap pasta is disgusting and I refused to finish it because, though I am a penniless traveller, I am a penniless traveller with standards, goddammit!).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of our spiralling loss of sanity:
I’m completely convinced that never again will I be able to fall asleep in a bed that isn’t preceded by “bunk”.
Due to living in hostels for so long, it has been deemed totally acceptable to approach a nearby stranger and attempt to start a conversation about where they’re from and what their direction in life is.
“Privacy” has become a fantastical myth.
I have lost all sense of fear or disgust regarding public transport, even the greyhound (due to the fact that, on being released from prison, you are given a free greyhound ticket to wherever you need to go, every greyhound bus is choc-full of murderers and crime lords. In fact, on average, you will be one of three people on any given greyhound bus that has not, at some point in your life, killed a man with your bare hands and worn their skin as a cape).
I’m almost taken aback when I pass a homeless man and he doesn’t either proposition me or make some kind of bizarre comment regarding my hair, my legs, or my “bazookas”.
It’s become largely socially acceptable to wear the same socks, underwear, or t-shirt for two days at a time (up to five days for socks).
To summarise (this is how I was taught to end essays when I was in high school and, even after three years of an English degree, haven’t managed to break the habit), budget travel has taken us, two fresh-faced and innocent British girls, and it has broken us down, until we emerged as brand new, stronger, more tanned, much less mentally stable, seasoned travellers. It’s been an experience. Just… don’t ask us about that night in Virginia.