Questions for airlines

Questions after a day of flying:

What is that emotion I feel as I walk through the first class section on my way to coach? Jealousy? Envy? Hatred? Why is the first class section at the front of the plane? Do airlines hope we will be fueled by our jealousy as we walk by the oh-so-spacious seats–those lucky ones already comfortably seated, complimentary drink in hand–and next time opt for the more expensive ticket? Do they think we can’t see through that cloth partition? Why is it that I only want to take a dump in their forbidden-to-us-lowly-second-class-passengers bathroom and not in our designated toilet closet at the rear of the plane? Is it a bigger bathroom? Does the toilet paper have more plys? Are there breath mints in there? Or lotion?

Why are children so annoying? Which would be worse: snakes on a plane or kids on a plane? Would Samuel Jackson star in that movie?

Why is liquid handsoap always blue or pink? Are those colours somehow cleaner? Who invented the air hand dryer? Were they assassinated? Was the urinal puck named after the hockey puck? Or vice versa?

Where do your farts go in a pressurized cabin at 4,000ft?

Why do I apologize to people when they step on my feet?

Are there pets in some compartment beneath me? Do they get an in-flight meal? Is there a vegetarian option for herbivores?

What does John Grisham read when he flies? Is he even a lawyer?

How do you make a pretzel?

Who buys jewelry in an airport?

Is there really such a thing as the “mile high club?”. Does it count if you do it Han Solo? Are there membership fees? Do you get a special card or collect stamps or a punch card? Would security let you carry on a hole punch? How about a stapler?

If you “highjack” a plane, shouldn’t you “lowjack” a car?

Do the pilots wear parachutes?

Just trying to get it figured,

The Broke Backpacker


Tourist vs. Traveller: Pest or Guest

A tourist doesn’t know how he got there.  A traveller doesn’t know how he’ll leave.” — unknown

With departure day peeking around the weekend I’ve finally started preparing for this trip.

Where to go? What to see?  How to get there? What to avoid?  The list of pre-trip questions can go on and on and as usual Google has all the answers.

A mix of Internet sources helped me set what I deem to be a reasonable budget.  I got my shots and meds, made that last-minute shoe purchase (who knows if Panama has any size 13s), and even booked the first few nights’ accommodation.  Basically, I’m ready for that first immobilizing sunburn and/or case of explosive diarrhea.

But all this preparation is just material, simple solutions for simple problems.  The real questions are more complicated:  How do you prepare yourself for the social, every-day situations you’ll come up against?  How will you react when a child comes to your dinner table begging for food?  Or when you’re forced to shit into a plastic bag for lack of real toilet?  Or when you’re faced with a policeman screaming at you in a different language?

It’s moments like these that determine whether you’re a traveller or a tourist. Although, I’m not sure there is any way to avoid being a tourist at all times.  When travelling south, we all arrive as white as pina coladas, like shining silver dollars on foreign beaches, crying out for imitation sunglasses and flip flops.

This is an issue I have struggled with in the past.  I remember the city of Sihanoukville on the coast of Cambodia, a place where children sold bracelets and begged—often instead of going to school, a public service provided by the government—while their parents did the same, or perhaps offered some other indulgent item or service to tourists for a dollar or two.  In this environment, that seemingly harmless donation to a smiling child can do more harm than good.  A cute 10-year-old could make $10 or $20 a day selling bracelets—sometimes more than their parents—and trade their education for an opportunity to help the family.

Or in Laos where men with limbs blown off from mines dropped in the country during the Vietnam war will shuffle up to your dinner table, dragging themselves with their hands a few feet at a time, a pinned-up pair of pants covering their stumped legs and a piece of rubber, like a mud flap, strapped to their bottoms, and ask you for money.

How can you say no?  The truth is, no matter how seasoned a traveller you are, sometimes it still gets to you.  I gave money to some of these men and I even gave money to some of the children, but I did learn to ask the children if they were in school first and only give to those that were.

And these situations are only a part of what will separate the tourist from the traveller.  Another way to feel like a wanted guest rather than a resented pest is to learn the language.  Even if you fail miserably, people will appreciate the effort.  Struggle with the words and try to the local food…even if you choke (on either) people will appreciate it.

There are lots of resources online for travellers wishing to get the most out of their trip, including this list of four ways to be a traveller rather than a tourist:

Like I said, I haven’t figured it all out yet and I’m not convinced that I will, even by the end of this two-month trip, but I’m going to try.  Please let me know how you think I’m doing.

Just trying to get invited back,

The Broke Backpacker

Unemployment and other travel preparations

I find myself at this very moment (12 noon) sunk so deep into the cushions of my couch I may as well be a faded old nickel. I’m worth about as much; Unemployed, not a friend in sight, bored to death.

“I’ve wandered around with nothing more than time on my hands. I was lost in the night with no sight of you and at times it was so blue and lonely heading for the light.”  — The Travelling Wilburys

Half of difficulty of being the Broke Backpacker is the broke part.

Unemployment.  For many this word is synonymous with depression, trouble, and hunger.  For the traveller, this word evokes a sense of uncertainty rife with the promise of adventure; it conjures flavours of white rice and bananas; it brings about an aching in the knees and feet, like that from long days of walking, carrying a heavy backpack.  Unless you’re one of the select few who get paid to travel, you’ll know what I mean.

I find myself at this very moment (12 noon) sunk so deep into the cushions of my couch I may as well be a faded old nickel.  I’m worth about as much; Unemployed, not a friend in sight, bored to death.

The job market isn’t the friendliest at the moment, even for those with skills other than shoveling.  Surfing the net day after day, I’ve come across some interesting ads.  One fellow offered his services—doing supposedly whatever—in exchange for some food.  His ad had received over 300 views in the first two hours, which for a city of only 70, 000 is quite a few.  Hopefully somebody gave this guy a can of beans.

While I’m not quite as desperate as him—after all, I am travelling to Central America in three weeks, an option not available to the completely broke—I do feel a strong desire to accomplish something.  Despite my continual efforts, I have not been able to master the online world of Call of Duty; I am currently ranked 5, 465, 555th.  But I’m climbing.   My parents would be proud.

A visit to the YES Employment Center here in town reassured me that, YES, I am getting desperate.

“What kind of work are you looking to do?” asked the young man behind the counter.

“Anything at all,” I replied, watching him tick-off boxes like “snow removal,” “manual labour,” and “male prostitution.”

“I’ll put you on the on-call list,” he said.

I missed a call that very night at 3 am, a questionable hour for calling a potential labourer.  I deduced it was probably some trucker needing “a hand” if you know what I mean.  Luckily the number was restricted and I couldn’t call back.

There are other ways to make money, however.  Considering gambling as an alternate source of income, I flipped a coin and lost.

Just trying to live up to my title,

The Broke Backpacker



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