I used to think a rough day traveling meant your flight got delayed by 30 minutes and the flight attendant informs you when she comes around that she's out of ginger ale. That changed after we experienced some rough travels during our time abroad.
Headed from Luang Prabang, Laos back to Chiang Mai, Thailand, our options were limited to a two-day slow boat down the Mekong River (which we already did one way) or 18 hours by bus. Eager to get on our way, we chose the quicker option by bus. We arrived at the bus station half an hour early, only to find tickets were sold out for the day! We really didn't want to catch a ride back into town and find a hotel to stay in... when you're ready to leave a place, you're ready to go.
Not all hope was lost. We were given the option of riding downstairs where all the luggage is stored on the bus (for the full price of a ticket, mind you). Deal. We tried to look at the bright side—we’d be able to stretch out our legs, lay down to sleep, and not be confined to a seat.
But we were in for a surprise. Not long after we got cozied up between suitcases, bikes, and a giant spare bus tire, we were joined by a crated dog, a cage full of confused ducks, and 2, then 3, then 5 local Lao people! We rode the distance in utter disbelief sandwiched between bodies and luggage (after a while, they’re all the same… just extra baggage). 4 of the locals were men, and one was a pregnant woman. I don't know how she did it. It was a miserable night of exhaustion and inability to sleep. The man laying next to me really didn't mind poking me with his bony body every time he shifted during the night. The next man over kept sucking loogies and making grunting sounds. It was noisy and bumpy downstairs and I periodically fought nausea throughout the night. The next day my hip was bruised from laying and bouncing on one hip all night long (there wasn't enough room to readjust onto my back).
Oh but these are the times we will always remember. Bad experiences tell good stories. And traveling is about making stories.
While everyone sitting upstairs is in cushy chairs with blankets and TVs, we're riding downstairs with luggage and a handful of locals also without seats.
Horrible quality little video of our space. But you get the picture.