We have now been home for a few days, and it's a good time to look back and think about what we learned on this trip, and to offer some tips for overseas travel.
1. The news media doesn't tell you everything about what's really going on in other countries (does it even tell us what's going on here?)
2. Road Scholar trips have great guides, the people are interesting and there is no tipping; we highly recommend them
3. It is useful to learn a couple of phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. I would recommend knowing how to say "Hello" and "Thank you". I still recall the former in each language: Burmese - mingle-a-bah, Thai: swah-dee-kah (if you are female) - the last syllable is kop if you are male, Laotian: Sum-bye-dee
4. It's also handy to know what the money is worth, though in many places, US dollars work. It was a bit confusing to recall Burmese chat, Thai baht, and Laotian kip. A funny note: John once gave a Cambodian porter a $13 tip by accident.
5. Don't eat everything. Drink a lot of water; bring one good plastic water bottle - I like the flat kind that totally collapses
6. On this trip we each packed only two pairs of shoes, Chaco sandals and Keen sandals (which we wore with socks on the overseas flights). We didn't do any major hiking, so that was enough.
7. Using packing cubes helps a lot when you are changing hotels often - or even if you're not. I had two large ones - one for tops, one for bottoms, and a medium one for underwear. I also had my swimsuit in a small one, and the socks and other warm clothing for traveling home in a medium one. Those sat in the bottom of my suitcase most of the time.
8. If you are signed up to go on a tour or a boat, leave home a day or two early. Then you have a chance to adjust to the time change and get settled in the new country, and you also don't have the worry about checked luggage not making it.
9. Always have some tissues in your pocket, since you can't count on toilets to provide paper.
10. You can usually do a fairly decent job of doing your own laundry this way: when you take off your clothes to shower, throw them on the floor of the shower and stomp on them while you are showering yourself. If at all possible, squeeze out the excels moisture and later roll them in a towel. We take along a few decent plastic hangers in case the room doesn't have any. Stuff usually dries overnight if the room has air conditioning. Except for wool socks, we take only synthetics which dry faster than cotton.
11. Take more sunscreen and bandaids than you think you will need. It's a pain to run out.
12. On this trip (as well as some others) I was REALLY glad that I had packed a small bottle of clear anti-itch lotion and Benadryl. I think the mosquitoes heard that an American woman with really tasty ankles was coming.
13. If you are into shopping (I am not), have an extra bag to take stuff home. Better yet, just buy really small stuff.
14. Complain if things are not right; we have been very happy with the service provided by the travel companies we chose (IOT, Vaya and Audley) when we ended up with a lodging problem.
15. Go through your photos every night and delete all duplicates and those that are blurry. Then do a second review asking yourself if the photo has meaning for you, i.e. will bring back a memory from the trip. If you don't do this, it is easy to come back with over 1,000 photos which you won't want to spend time going through.
Here's a story that didn't seem to have a lot of significance when it occurred, but in retrospect, it's a wonderful memory of this trip and the kindness of the people we met. During the river cruise up the Irrawaddy, we stopped at a temple where, at the end, there was no place to sit to put our shoes back on. I was looking for a spot so I could wipe off my feet, and suddenly a young woman vendor brought me a plastic chair. I was thrilled! In order to thank her, I opened up my wallet and gave her the smallest bill I had, which was worth about 80 cents. She insisted on giving me three handmade bracelets (made from seeds linked together) as a return gift. I really didn't want them, but decided to be gracious and brought them home with me. When I returned to school, I gave them to the first three calculus girls who asked me about our trip. They were thrilled with the trinkets and especially enjoyed hearing about the circumstances under which I had acquired them. It was a win-win situation! I have also given our folding fans to kids who turned in their take-home tests first!
We never did mention much about the trip home. Things went smoothly for the most part. The Bangkok airport is enormous, and they have purified water in their fountains. The Seoul airport had a fabulous Transit Lounge (complete with recliner chairs and a nap room), and the Korean tourism department has free day tours for travelers with long layovers. Our Delta comfort seats were really nice for the long trip across the ocean, though it would be better to fly first class. We are not willing to pay the extra amount for that. In Detroit, immigration and border patrol took about a minute and a half, but then we had to go through security again, and there was no TSA pre-check line. We had a tight connection, so that was not fun. It seems weird since we had just gotten off a plane and had already been patted down twice. Off with the shoes, dump out your water bottle, take out your laptop.... We left Thailand at 98 degrees and when we got home, it was snowing lightly. That's okay; it's good to be back!