As travelers, we love to showcase the spectacular beauty around the world. We post beautiful photographs of our adventures on social media, we write about our favorite moments, we laugh with friends back at home of our transit mishaps, we publicly check things off our bucketlists. Traveling is part of who we are, and often the world only sees just a smidgen from the great parts of this lifestyle. It’s normal and it makes sense. Whether you are a traveler or not, it is hard to show your vulnerability or the “not-so-beautiful-aspects” of your life.
For us travelers, these raw experiences are extraordinarily defining. Homesickness, actual sickness, frustrations, loneliness, lost, tired, sore – these are all things we feel daily while traveling and things that others might not know about our lifestyle.
We all have a story or two that helps to define these raw experiences. We should use these moments as evidence of individual growth learnt only by travel, learnt only by living through these experiences.
Let me tell you a story of how a bag of Cheetos helped me through one of my toughest times abroad. I can type this now since it happened 4 years ago and it now makes for a great story, but during this experience, it felt like every hour was 4 years long.
I spent two summers conducting research with an indigenous tribe on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua – the Miskito tribe. These summers were both the most rewarding, yet most challenging summers of my life.
Some of the things my friends and family back home saw were: Miskito children dancing to music, the rainforest, the $3 for 3 lobster tails, the culture, the poetry.
Some of the things my friends and family back home did not see were: food poisoning several times a week, rats sleeping next to me, mosquito bites everywhere, the humidity, the language barriers.
Well, the second Summer I was there, I came across a lot of bad luck. It all began one morning when I woke up to about 68 mosquitos on my right calf. My right calf ALONE! I can tell you that at the time, I thought this was one of the most painful things I had experienced there as of yet. With the heat and the humidity, my calf swelled to about the size of my thigh and all I wanted to do was itch. It was like chicken pox on steroids.
The next day, a few people I knew said that they wanted to go to a pool (right? I couldn’t believe there was a pool near an indigenous tribe either!). Thinking, “This is a great idea! Some chlorine on my swollen calf might dry it out and fix my mosquito bites!” Logical, right? So, I went with my friends to the pool, had a great day, came home, took a “shower” and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up with a full-body rash from the chlorine. Now I had 68 mosquito bites and a full body rash. Safe to say, my whole body felt like I scratched it away. At this point, I thought I was experiencing the most painful things in both my summers there.
So, I w0ke up the next morning, my mosquito bites still enflamed and my full-body rash settling in with full force. My friends let me know that they were going to the ocean to swim since it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Considering I didn’t want to dwell any further in my agony, and thinking, “well salt water could probably dry up my rash and my mosquito bites” (logical, right?), I went with them.
I slowly stepped into the water and felt so much relief as the salt water began to dry my aching skin. We were all having a blast, joking around, laughing about my mishaps, when all of a sudden I felt like I was electrocuted 6 times. Jelly fish thought it was a good idea to come to suck the joy from my great day in the ocean and sting me all over. I screamed Bloody Mary and got to shore as quickly as possible. Of course, I was the only one who was stung during that whole debacle (luckily, but I mean, come on, really?).
More than anything, we were in an indigenous tribe and there was only one word for jelly fish. No one knew if it was a venomous jelly fish or what it was. My arm swelled to the size of my torso and for a while, I thought I may need to be airlifted back to the West coast! Now I knew, THIS was actually the most pain I had felt in my time there.
This is where the heroic bag of Cheetos came in and a helpful hint for all you travelers out there. Anytime I travel anywhere for a long period of time, I bring 3 things: 1. Mexican spice seasoning packets to clench my food cravings. 2. Ranch dressing packets to fix my homesickness. 3. A bag of Cheetos, in case of emergency. It was so hard to hold on to the bag of Cheetos for as long as I did this summer, but I am so glad I did.
After I physically and emotionally came down from shock, I became so vulnerable. At first I had so much adrenaline, let me fix this mode. As I got back to my “home” and laid down in my hot and humid room with my rat friends Mike and Joey coming out to say hello, I felt absolutely defeated. A defeat that I’m sure we have all experienced in some form or another on our travels. As we all should when we feel low on our travels, I let myself feel this way. I cried, I hurt, I missed, I cried some more, I wished, I “what if’d”. I had only good intentions for both the pool and the ocean and both came back to haunt me.
The next morning, I woke up and decided that the emergency Cheetos were necessary. I don’t know what it was, but the wonderful fake dehydrated cheese over fried carbs, Cheetos, actually brought me back to a happy place. I cried during every single bite of every Cheeto in the bag, and it was extraordinarily therapeutic. By the last bite of the last Cheeto, I felt like my swelling had gone down, I felt like I could face the day, and I felt like I had perspective. While it sucked, I knew I was going to look back on this and learn from it. Thank you to that bag of Cheetos for bringing life back into my travels.
I think the takeaway from this story is twofold. First, feeling these feels is so normal when you are away from your comfort zone. Being equipped for your travels with some of your comforts from back home is a great way to feel a little safety net during your darkest times abroad. Second, I really think Cheetos have a super power!