The dirty truth about showering when you travel

I'm not sure what my record is. I've never actually counted how long I've gone without a shower while travelling. Would it be two days? Maybe three? Even – urgh – four?

I can't say for certain. But it would definitely be longer than any hygienically conscious person would go without a decent rinse.

Maybe you're shaking your head at that thought. Maybe you're judging me harshly. But I can guarantee that anyone who has done a decent amount of travel will have a similar record. 

Travel makes you do these things – sometimes embarrassing, sometimes disgusting – and the unfortunate truth is that we've all been there. Maybe we don't all talk about it. But we've been there.

It's usually not because we want to, either. It's more out of necessity. You don't always have access to a shower when you're doing a long transit. You can't always brush your teeth when you've packed your toothbrush. You might not be able to find toilet facilities that you would consider acceptable.

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One of the things about travel that's both great and frightening is that it forces you to shed any pretences you have of being cool or classy. When you're travelling, you gotta do what you gotta do. All modesty and decency must be put aside.

If that means calling your tour bus to a halt so you can go and throw up by the side of the road while 40 people point and laugh at you, then so be it. That's the life of the traveller.

I've done plenty of things I usually prefer not to talk about in polite company. I've been forced, on several occasions thanks to various stomach bugs and a few questionable decisions to drink the local tap water, to use toilet facilities that aren't actually toilet facilities. Or facilities of any kind. And that story about throwing up near the tour bus is 100 per cent about me.

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It gets worse, too, because these things would be embarrassing enough if I was travelling on  my own – but I'm usually not. There's typically someone else there going through exactly the same thing. This is an experience shared.

You really get to know a person when you're travelling with them. You see them at their worst. You smell them at their worst.

You see a person's sense of personal hygiene adjust as the accommodation available to them gets rougher and rougher. You watch as people develop the ability to dip into their backpack or suitcase and pull out a shirt that has definitely been worn three or four times already, smell it and then decide that it is still probably the cleanest thing they own, and put it on.

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You see them gradually come to terms with the golden rule that turning your underwear inside out makes them clean again.

You also see how they cope when they haven't slept horizontally for three days and they have to figure out how to direct the rickshaw driver to the hostel they're staying at without being ripped off. 

And those are just the instances that can't be avoided. What about the embarrassing things you easily could choose not to do – but go ahead with anyway?

I ate at McDonald's in India. I also went to Pizza Hut. I'm not proud of that fact.

I once spent six weeks learning Spanish in Seville, and every Sunday I would go, not to one of the thousands of amazing, authentic tapas bars throughout the city, but to the local Irish pub to eat a full Irish breakfast and watch English Premier League on TV. What a cultural experience.

There have also been times when I've given up on attempting to speak the local language, when I've lapsed into being that guy who just starts speaking in English and hopes that people will understand him.

I've haggled far too hard over small amounts of money in south-east Asia. I've left really stingy tips in the US because I've been trying to save cash and tipping just feels unfair. I once stole a hotel towel because in some countries, finding a place to buy a towel is surprisingly difficult and I didn't want to waste the best part of the day doing it.

These are not things I'm proud of. Fortunately though, they're also not the norm. Ninety-nine per cent of the time while I travel I shower regularly, wash my clothes, clean my teeth, learn some of the local language, eat great food and tip where necessary.

But there are lapses. There probably have been for you, too. So, judge not unless ye be showered regularly.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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