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10 Tips for the Road Less Traveled

If you're like me, off the beaten path is the only path. But despite the obvious advantages of taking the road less traveled, taking the road less traveled doesn't always come easy.
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If you're like me, off the beaten path is the only path. But despite the obvious advantages of taking the road less traveled, taking the road less traveled doesn't always come easy.

I may be a traveler and an adventurer, but I'm also a New Yorker who has no real "skill" skills and is pathologically afraid of bugs. I learned these tips the hard way. Follow them for a far more rewarding (and fun) road show:

1. Unless in your mouth, keep your toothbrush sealed inside a toothbrush cover, preferably inside a plastic Ziploc bag. Turns out giant rats love toothpaste and have no compunction licking (sucking?) it right off your toothbrush. This has happened to me twice. Both times gross. Particularly the time it took me two days before I realized a giant rat had been sucking on my toothbrush at night, and I was still using it.

2. When traveling to "buggy" countries - that is, countries with a lot of bugs (a.k.a. insects) - keep clothes zipped inside packing cubes, and bags zipped closed. There are few things more disgusting and chill provoking than putting on a pair of pants and having a large, black, furry thing go running down your leg and out the bottom of them. Finding dozens of unidentifiable bugs nesting at the bottom of your duffle is no picnic either.

3. Enter outhouses the same way cops enter buildings on every single TV police procedural ever made: kick open door with flashlight drawn, survey space (including behind door), assess threat, and then enter. Outhouses - especially those located in the forests of buggy countries - are riddled critters you do not want to discover for the first time when you are midstream. Far better to know what you are up against first, and deal with appropriately, before taking care of business. And a word to the wise: never leave your only roll of toilet paper in said outhouse unless you're okay with maggots eating it.

4. When going to the bathroom in the bush, jungle, or woods, be certain you know what's beneath you before dropping trou. Most people are so focused on not being seen by surrounding mankind, they don't bother to look down before squatting, putting themselves at risk for perilous encounters with fire ants, thorns, or other ground level menaces.

5. If you feel something, it is something. At home in your house, or in your bed with fancy sheets, if you feel something on your arm, it's just an itch. If you're on a cot in a tent in Ethiopia, or a hotel room in Kaesong, North Korea, or a B&B in Kolomyia, Ukraine, and you feel something on your arm, it's a bug.

6. If you think you saw something, you did. Think you saw a bug run across your pillow? You did. Think you saw the world's biggest roach scurry in and out of the shower drain? You did. Think you saw a monkey climb through the window and steal all your stuff? Yeah, you saw that too. And just because you no longer see something it doesn't mean it's no longer there, or dead. It's just hiding and will be back.

7. When traveling alone, if you hear a scary noise at night, you're the one who has to deal with it. Laying there hoping whatever "it" is will go away will not make it so. Here's what I do (after first laying there hoping it will go away). I try to determine what it is, and where it's coming from, then I grab my flashlight (which I always keep in bed with me) and remind myself the only thing to fear is fear itself. Then I count to three in my head, and turn on the light, or open the door (whichever the situation calls for), while loudly saying something like, "I see you," or "don't make me hurt you." Invariably it's a wild animal doing wild animal things, or someone who's not in the right place. In either case, they aren't expecting to see me acting brave (crazy), which usually does the trick.

8. When camping in the vicinity of wild elephants, never leave your clothes hanging outside at night, as elephants will eat them. This is bad for two reasons: one, because your clothes will be eaten by elephants, and two, because you don't want giant, wild elephants (that have endured - and remember - decades of poaching and slaughter) coming into your camp. Elephants in some countries, and Dumbo, are domesticated and nice. Elephants in other countries are not, and will stop at nothing to kill you. Unfortunately these are the same elephants that like to eat laundry hanging outside at night. Similarly, do not leave shoes outside at night when staying near hyenas. Same reason; only substitute hyenas for elephants, and shoes for laundry.

9. When you have but a single bucket of water to clean your laundry, your teeth and your person, do so in the following order: Wash hair first. Your body will kind of get clean while you're washing your hair, and if you accidentally use up all of your water, at least you won't end up with shampoo stuck in your hair. Assuming you have not screwed up and have some water left over, use a small amount to brush your teeth. Then clean your body using a small washcloth, so you still have water left in the bucket to wash clothes. Make sure to the wash cleanest clothes first so your water stays clean longer. Reversing this order is not a mistake you make twice.

10. Never leave home without a mini pharmacy. Being sick is bad enough on the road less traveled. Being sick where there are no doctors, or the closest doctor is hours or days away is no fun at all. Pack Cipro plus any medications you've ever taken (ever) for any condition you've ever had (ever). Then throw in a few others for good measure.

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