Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Bugs In My Hair? No Problem.


It’s my final night in Kampot, and bugs are falling into my hair. They’re tiny black beetles, each of them about a centimeter long, and soon the cream-colored sofa on which my friend Suzanne and I are sitting looks more or less polka-dotted.

But you know what?

I don’t care. I’m happy to be sitting outside, sipping sweetened lime juice and watching the river, and if bugs are falling into my hair, so be it!

Suzanne is one of the more interesting people I’ve met on the trip so far.  She’s tall with short, spiky blonde hair, a nose ring, retro eyeglasses, and she rocks the hippie backpacker look like she’s been wearing it every day of her life.

Suzanne has a high-powered job at home in Dusseldorf, jet-setting all over Europe several times each month.  And on her first week on the job, she asked her boss point-blank for three months off to travel Asia.  Ballsy doesn’t even begin to describe her!

And on top of all that, she grew up on a farm in East Germany! The wall fell when she was 11 years old, and times were quite difficult for her family until then.  She and her siblings would often go hungry.

“That’s why I don’t mind the bugs,” she says with a laugh.  “I’ve lived through much worse than this.”

“I can understand that,” I reply.

“What about you?”

What about me? Had I been at home, I’d have been a drama queen about the whole ordeal, screaming every time a bug fell on me.  (I won’t even tell you how I reacted when a bird landed on my head in a Boston park last summer.)

“I have no idea,” I confess.  “I grew up camping, but that’s the best I’ve got.”

“Maybe you just have the ability to adjust well.”

“Maybe.  I know my girlfriends wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff I’ve done here.”  Don’t get me wrong – I adore and admire my girlfriends.  But most of them would have booked a ticket home at the first sight of a squat toilet.

The more I think about it, the more I’m surprised at myself. I haven’t had a hot shower in a month.  And I’m a girl who loves scaldingly hot showers.  I keep sleeping on overnight buses, as uncomfortable as they are, and wearing the same clothes, day-in and day-out.

Does backpacking turn you into a more easygoing person?” I wonder aloud.  “Or are the only people who would consider a trip like this easygoing to begin with?”

“I think it’s both,” Suzanne replies.  “You can’t do a trip like this without it changing you.”

I agree with that wholeheartedly.

The night goes on.  I tell Suzanne about Si Phan Don, how there are more stars in the sky than you can imagine, and how the northern end of Don Det is more or less steeped in marijuana smoke.  She tells me that she used to have her friends knock the wind out of her while she had her face pressed into a homemade bong before she discovered that she lacked the ability to react to THC.

I’m telling you, this is one of the craziest girls I’ve ever met.

I keep thinking of our conversation later, though.  Since settling into travel mode, I’ve been so happy, and I still can’t figure out why.  Maybe it’s because I don’t let little things bother me anymore.

Bugs falling into my hair?  No problem.


31 Responses to “Bugs In My Hair? No Problem.”
  1. I think you summed it up perfectly. That’s what, above all else, travel has taught me: to not sweat the small stuff.

    That said, when we were in Borneo, we stuck to the coasts and islands, as the whole “leeches falling from trees and attaching themselves to your skin” bit wasn’t that appealing. Not on my honeymoon, maybe not ever…

  2. Cam says:

    Insightful post. We felt the same way as our journey progressed. I’ll always remember a time in the Philippines when a cockroach ran across our bed while we were sleeping in a beachside bungalow. Instead of freaking out, we simply flicked it on the floor and went back to sleep.
    Now think about how you’d react if that happened at the Hilton in a major city!
    So – YES – backpacking DOES make you a more easy going person.

  3. Tee heee…. this is a cute post. Backpacking in the wilderness has taught me that I can go potty even without toilet paper, something totally inconceivable just a couple years ago. But honestly, I hate bugs — give me anything else, no showers, cold showers, mosquitos, diesel fume– I’ll take it. But bugs 3 ft away from me, I’d scream like a girl (oh wait — :p)

  4. Amanda says:

    Kate, I love love love this post. You summed up travel’s ability to transform people so perfectly. And it sounds like it’s changing you in a really positive way!

    I don’t think my travels have changed me quite as much, but they definitely have changed me. I came back from my 5 months in New Zealand a much more independent person than when I left. I think the “no worries” kiwi attitude rubbed off a bit, too. … I skipped more classes during my last quarter at college than in the previous 3.5 years combined! Haha.

  5. Silje says:


    Me and my friends are going to Cambodia in April, after thinking very hard about excluding Vietnam this time; it’s a hard choice to make 🙂 I was wondering if you could recommend any places to go in Cambodia?

    We’re going from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and from there down to Sihanokville; is it worth it to take a short detour to Kampot and Kep before heading back to Thailand? (We’ve only got 2 and a half weeks this time, so time is somewhat limited).

    I saw from your last update on your Facebook-page that you’re going to Vietnam next. I recommend JetStar airlines if you want to move a bit quickly; their prices are unbeliavably low! ( – from Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang you can get a ticket for about 30 dollars, and some of the flights are even cheaper).

    We wanted to go to Jungle Bungalows in Nha Trang, but we don’t have time for Vietnam this time, so check out if you haven’t decided where to go yet. Phu Quoc is also amazing, and custom shoes and clothes are made easily in Hoi An 🙂

    Your blog is amazing, thank you for sharing 🙂

    Best regars,


    • Silje, I like to err on the side of spending more time in fewer places, especially somewhere like Southeast Asia where transport is slow and often difficult. That said…you could make it work. Spend just an afternoon in Kep and be sure to eat crab. Have fun!

  6. this post was amazing kate! it’s unreal how much you can transform on a trip like this. i remember reading “the lost girls” and how they had to get acclimated to sleeping around cockroaches and having to brush it off if one accidentally got cooked into their meal or landed on their shoulder.
    i’m glad you’re meeting so many cool people & having a great time. i hope you write a book when you’re done!! 😉

  7. “most of them would have booked a ticket home at the first sight of a squat toilet.”


  8. Daniel N. says:

    Just don’t let the bugs fall in your drink!

    Good post Kate 🙂

  9. Abbey Hesser says:

    Ya, I don’t think it matters… I would still FU-REAK out if beetles were falling into my hair. I don’t care how hippy and laid back I am. Maybe being with someone who isn’t bothered by it is the key here, but I’m not sure. I still think I couldn’t handle this – no matter what I’ve been through.

  10. Scott says:

    It defiantly helps you to chill out a lot, to realize that all these little things really don’t matter. To live in the moment a little bit more. When there’s everything else you see while traveling, from the good to the bad, a couple insects are just part of the experience.

  11. Rebecca says:

    I think most of us are fairly adaptable, and we’ll just adjust to situations as we need to. It’s funny the things you’ll do / suffer through while travelling that you would never ever EVER do when you’re at home and close to your usual comforts! Bugs though… I do draw a line sometimes 😉

  12. Poi says:

    Great post Kate – I often find myself saying “we would never do this at home” and I like. Caring less and less about the rules we use to follow at home everyday.

  13. Gattaldo says:

    I must admit, bugs aren’t my forte, but having been brought up on an island in the med, with hot and humid summers, I got used to the odd cockroach here and there. Perhaps one day I’ll have the balls to try backpacking!

  14. Sofia says:

    I agree, traveling changes your life in so many ways, it’s hard to travel without changing who you are. And yes, I do think that people who backpack often are more easy going than others.

  15. Amy says:

    Enjoyed this post, and would have to agree with you about the squat toilet thing. I’m definitely not into that. Or the bugs in the hair. And that’s fine by me – I enjoy knowing that those are my limits, lol.

    Your new friend Suzanne sounds awesome! I think the European attitude toward jobs and the workplace is much more realistic. I hate the American model. Any time off is severely frowned upon, no matter the reason. European attitudes toward vacation, long-term travel (like gap years – not many overprotective American parents would let their 18yr olds roam the world after high school), maternity leave, health leave, etc are just more flexible. I would be curious to know if you’ve met more Aussie/European backpackers who have flexible jobs to return to vs Americans like you, who had to quit in order to travel.

    • I absolutely agree with you 100%! The past few weeks, I’ve been traveling with a few English guys. One threatened to quit his job and was rewarded with a month of holiday per year for the next three years. And he is just out of college. Another threatened to leave and was given a six-month leave…and he honestly doesn’t want to return! You see this quite often with both Europeans and Australians here.

  16. Jill Marie says:

    when i started reading, i thought i heard you scream. let the buggers fall. I think they were shooting for your sweet limeade cocktail not your tresses. I would go for bugs in the hair before I inhaled another on the back of a motorcycle. Bugs deserve cocktails at sunset, too.

  17. Emily says:

    Love this post! I still have major problems with bugs, but if I was relaxing in Kampot overlooking a beautiful river, I’d like to think that some beetles in my hair wouldn’t bother me 🙂 Suzanne sounds like a pretty amazing lady. I love encountering people like that on the road!

    Regarding Kristin’s comment, I never knew that there were leeches that fell out of trees in Borneo–gross!!!! Not at all ready for that challenge yet! Haha.

  18. Nicola says:


    I’ve just stumbled across your blog and I love it! This is a great blog post and it just sums up exactly how I felt when I was backpacking Asia.
    I’ve just returned from my first ever solo trip and you’re right, it really is the best thing you could ever do!

    It’s so true all you say about becoming more easygoing and accpeting of things that back home you’d probably kick up a right fuss about. Travelling ( Asia in particular) teaches you more about yourself than you thought you could ever find out.

    Good luck with the rest of your journey!

    Nicola x

  19. I’ve had a similar feeling since coming to Oz, esp. when it comes to the bugs (which are everywhere here…even in my bed at one point). You just learn to stop sweating the small ish when you go somewhere new. You’ll put up with them for the experiences you get to have.

  20. Jennifer Brown says:

    I am definitely one of the friends who would not last!! Especially since I’m used to fancy Vegas hotels. haha 🙂

  21. Jeremy B says:

    Without a doubt, a trip like this changes you. When you have seen and experienced the things you have, I think we forget about our own comforts. What we used to find so important we don’t think those things are a big deal any more. Is that a good thing? I think so because letting little things like bugs in your hair and showers go means appreciating the life we have without complaining about the things that don’t matter.

  22. It’s pretty hard to make the necessary adjustments especially if you’re used to it. Like what you and others have shared in this post. Experiences during travels can make you embrace the anything in this world. No matter if you’re in a worst situation, you wouldn’t just mind about it but just go on and enjoy everything!

  23. NIce article. I think I have relaxed more as I have travelled longer. I am able to deal with things a lot easier although I still can’t stand having really dirty hands and feet. In fact, I think I have gotten worse over the last few years… always wearing sandals..

    When you are at home, and you are in your job, and you are in your house, with your nice things… the world beyond your four walls looks so daunting. But once you are out there, you tend to just change with the mood. I still can’t squat toilet properly, and I really hated them when I first had to start using them, but now I find it better to poop on!

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