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The Realities: Let’s Keep it Clean, My Hygiene That Is

Hi, I’m Katie, I’m human and I’ve neglected my hygiene from time to time.

Of course I’ve gone a few days too many without washing my hair or shaving. I’ve worn my most comfortable bra more times than I should. And I’ve been that lazy that sometimes a ‘baby wipe’ shower will suffice. I’ve done it. And I know you have too.

Don’t write me off here. It was on a rare occasion. Down to sheer laziness more than anything.

But since I traded my very comfortable life full of routines and habits in Ireland, for an unpredictable one on the road, you could say I’m now a write off.

I quickly learned that you can pack all the toiletries you want, or avail of the extremely cheap prices and book all the beauty appointments your heart craves, but travelling fulltime and for a long period of time will still take it’s toll, no matter what.

This is my long-term travel debut. I’ve travelled a lot over the years but I always returned home. Now, here I am I traipsing around Latin America with everything I own on my back. Every week is unpredictable, every day is unplanned.

We’re budget backpackers now. We chose to dislodge from a life of luxury. And unlike some travel bloggers out there, we don’t spend our nights in jaw-dropping hotels, or our days laying by the pool or on a beach.

Our perfectly glowing tanned skin is a lie. Just look up the term ‘farmer tan’ and there we’ll be.  Where there are tanned bits, there are also insect bites, dry skin, cuts, bruises and a glaring heat rash.

Our whites are no longer white, our socks are full of holes and my bra straps are more twisted than a Frankie Boyle joke. We even discovered the concept of sunderwear. When you substitute your swimwear for underwear. Definitely our most genius idea.

The handful of outfits we have are the clothes we’ve worn on holidays over the years and we’re scraping the bottom of every complimentary hotel toiletry we’ve liberated over the months.

Anything new we’ve bought along the way is functional. I mean unless the rip in my shorts shows off parts that could have me arrested for indecent exposure, or the stain on my dress  makes people think I’ve leaked bodily fluids. It’s fine and it’ll do.

Once, while we were in Ometepe, Nicaragua, I was called a “smelly backpacker” by a hostel owner who tried to scam us. That was the moment it was finally confirmed. Little did he know I took it as a compliment.

See, people keep telling us we’re living the dream, and too right we are. But what is “the dream” exactly?

Is it standing on a bus in 30° degree heat for more than 5 hours with over 13kg on your back? Or, on the contrast, is it arriving to a location high up in altitude, a place where that 13kg cannot keep you warm enough. 

 Is it going four months without a hot shower? Maybe living the dream is when, after nearly two weeks, you finally have fresh and clean clothes to discover nothing is missing. Or the moment you finally find a sink to brush your teeth after travelling non-stop for over 28 hours on busses and boats.

Doesn’t sound too pleasant but the answer is yes. Yes to all the above. Why? Because to me, the ‘dream’ is freedom. We’re free. 

We’re no longer slaves to “the system”, we no longer need the concept of time. We don’t need to work just to live, and live just to work. We owe nothing to no one and we can finally dedicate the small duration of life we have on earth to ourselves. We don’t need to worry about how to stay alive, whether it’s in the form of food, a roof, a job, money. We’re living life. We’re learning from our worldly neighbours and most importantly we’re finding out who the hell we are. Not who society wants us to be.

Fear not people, I haven’t turned into a new age hippy, I’m not growing dreads and I still like to wear shoes and socks.

My point is this. Even the dream has it’s realities. Nothing to complain about but if you plan to become a backpacker, particularly a budgeteer backpacker, be prepared to sacrifice a thing or two. Like your basic hygiene and luxury needs, for starters. 

Say goodbye to make-up, perfume, your magic moisturiser or face wash, favourite shampoo and conditioner combo. Say hello to bug spray, sunscreen, 2n1 cheap (and small in size) hair products and plain soap. Sometimes plain soap is too fancy, and we just enforce our shampoo to multitask. Hey, it’s all added volume.

Be one with your wild self and embrace the prickly hair growing from your knee, knowing that majority of the local woman don’t fall for the idea of beauty being “hairless” anyway.

If you’ve dyed hair, sure you may as well pick up an instrument and join Jimmy Fallon’s house band, or bury yourself. Roots are no longer roots at 2inches but more like 6/7.

No hairdryers, no styling products, very few bobbins (my current one broke and has been tied on more than two occasions now). 

Maybe I’m writing this blog to justify the hack of me nowadays. Followers and friends tell us we’re glowing and we look healthy. It’s true we are more healthy than ever, drinking litres and litres of water a day, eating fruit plucked straight from a tree and no longer dumping processed crap into our bodies. But you’re blinded by our happiness.

My smiley head steers you away from my pimples across my chest, back and forehead (thanks sweat!) and eczema breakouts (thanks cheap soap!) my unwashed hair (another shout out to sweat!), hair overgrowth, my chipped nail varnish (I painted them five months ago), and the fact I’ve been wearing the same clothes for two (few) days.

This is probably where I need to *insert monkey covering it’s eyes emoji*

Hey, maybe that’s the key? Maybe Bob had it nailed. Don’t worry. Be happy. That’s all we do now. Well, that and a good Instagram filter.

I’m not too sure why I even wrote this blog. Maybe it’s because our ethos at The Ungraceful Guide is to share with you the realities of travelling. And the reality is, your hygiene and physical appearance is about to take a back seat. So far back, it’s in the boot.

At first you’ll be a little embarrassed when you admit hygiene is a little overrated and the world is becoming an overly sensitive germaphobe. I always think back to my shelves and drawers full of unnecessary and false products. The wardrobe bursting with clothes that I barely wore but refused to throw out. The luxuries I called “the little things” that got me through my day or week.

I’m not a polished gal, I never was. I rarely put effort into my physical appearance anyway, always preferring the natural (slightly messy) look. But I’d envy those who had style, whose hair, brows, makeup were all, as the cool kids say, on fleek.

Nowadays, I don’t care. And that’s not down to choice. This is not a cop out, it genuinely is difficult to keep to a high standard when travelling as light as possible, is the priority.

Without overly stereotyping, it’s easy to guess who is travelling on a budget, and for temporary amount of time. Well, sometimes.

You have the picture perfect traveller, who looks like they’ve jumped straight from a magazine. Ironed clothes, dab of perfume, jewellery, make-up, collection of shoes and fashionable clothes, oh and a flawless Instagram account to match. You immediately ask “so how long do you have left?” as they look us up and down, bathing us with their eyes.

We’ve even met some stereotype chasers. Once in the form of a young French guy who wore mismatched shoes, wrists and ankles laced with woven bracelets, trousers 50 times his size and a cut up T-shirt and a headband. He looked a little scruffy, in a stylish way. In a travelleing way. I remember thinking “wow, bet he has a tale or two” and when asking about his adventures, he told me he was on a two week holiday to learn Spanish. TWO WEEKS?! For god sake dude! He looked like he’d been living in the wild for years. I’ve left a four-day-alcohol-fuelled festival looking better.

I suppose my main point is this. Comfort combats all. Less is more they say, well with a 60 litre bag, you’ve no choice. Nothing is bought without a thorough think of “where can we fit this”, “will it leak”, “will it break” and “can I live without it”. The slightest doubt will make you walk away empty handed. Even if it only cost €1. Buying for the sake of it being cheap doesn’t exist in our world anymore.

We try not to travel as tourists, we try travel as locals. The word budget means some sacrifices, and while you may be thinking sacrificing your hygiene, really? That’s a sacrifice!? Well, yes. According to Western Standards.

But would we trade any of it in for a scrub and some products? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

I’ve never been more confident. I’ve never felt more connected. I’m free. My cares are full of love, my days stress-less, my smile bigger (even with slightly stained yellow teeth), I’m a cliché. I’m footloose and fancy free.

Not every day is awesome. Despite what everyone thinks. Between the picturesque moments, and the ‘life is too good’ spells are the rough reigns. But we’re not here for that. That’s for another blog

We’re here to justify our smelliness. We’re here to stamp on the backpacker stereotype, or rather, to join it.

Secretly, we love it.

So now that you have a tiny glimpse into our “behind the scenes”, when and if we do ever return to Ireland, bear with us before grabbing the hose and scrub brush.

We’ve lost a lot of good habits. But we’ve replaced them with awesome ones. Even if it does mean having flies buzzing out of us for a while.

Thanks for jumping into my sweaty-hair-smelling-head, and letting me vent my bad breath. 

It’s been fun.


Author Katie

I’m a self-diagnosed wanderlust sufferer who fell victim to the travel bug. As someone who has yearned for the freedom to travel for as long as I can remember in 2017, I decided to quit my dream job, run away from the "marriage and baby" queries and trade the societal life for a life on the road. Now, I spend my days wandering through the unknown, being nosy as hell while sharing stories, building websites, helping others plan their backpacking adventures, writing, filming, snapping and reminding myself to shut up and stop talking every now and again.

More posts by Katie

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