The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm


I’d never drawn a tampon before.

But now, here, drenched to the bone and desperate, in a Vietnamese chemist shop, I realized that my rendering of one held an uncanny resemblance to a mouse without legs.

“Not mouse, TAM-PON” I repeated for the hundredth time.

The ever-growing number of Vietnamese pharmacists and shop assistants remained mute before us. Bewildered shoppers poured in from the street.

“Not mouse,” my sister repeated.

“TAM – PON!”

She grabbed the crumpled napkin and lipstick and next to my drawing of my mouse-tampon she began to draw a sanitary pad.

On completion she was received with the same row of blank faces and blinking eyes that met my attempt.


So, with elaborate gestures, I began to mime the climax of the menstrual cycle wooshing and swooshing and rolling my hands around my mid-section.

Finally one of the doctors at the back of the shop raised his hands and made the universal sound we longed to hear that no language barrier could obstruct, “ahhh!”

Twenty minutes later we arrived back at the hotel with a packet of diarrhoea medication, two bottles of Pepto Bismol and a small block of soft cheese.
But no tampons.

The British reserve that prevented my sister from asking the first English speaking stranger in the hotel for assistance was now replaced with the urgency of the situation. Almost immediately a couple of Belgian backpackers came to the rescue.

With the crisis averted, we retired to the relative calm of Nikko Club Lounge on the 23rd floor for a panoramic view of Ho Chi Minh City.

And while savouring a classic Glenfiddich 18-year-old single malt I contemplated my choice to travel through Asia with my sister and her 9-year-old son.

Travelling solo has its perks – less arguing.

There are fewer discussions about where to dine; when to stop; what to eat; what time to leave for the airport; air-conditioning on or off?

“Did you lock the back door before we left?”
“Where are the passports?”

“You had them last…”

Sometimes, travelling with friends or family can seem more like an exercise in diplomacy and less like a joyful saunter to cleanse the soul.

Yet while trekking the globe alone might appear blissfully peaceful by comparison, at times it can be a lonely planet.

Say you’re in Italy and you feel like ‘Pisa’ but you’ve no one to snap that photo of you propping up the iconic leaning belfry.

Or you’ve had an eye-full of towering Parisian landmarks but there’s no one to share your Chablis back at chez nous.

I discovered the loneliness of travel solitaire at 35,000 feet, on the upper deck of a 747 en route to Buenos Aires.

As I gazed down at the snowcapped Andes: a wedge of baked Alaskas planking Argentina to the east, the wow moment I desperately wanted to share hung mute on my lips as I blinked at the empty skybed beside me.

Sure, you can buy a camera extender for sightseeing selfies, but that telescopic, aluminum stick isn’t going marvel at the epic grandeur of the Rio Grande or coo lovingly with you at the Taj Mahal, or say nothing and give your hand a wee squeeze, just to let you know there’s someone beside you, taking in the crimson wash of the most beautiful sunset this side of Grundarfjordur.

And while all travel had has yin and yang, it’s all about the balance, which is why on my latest overseas, I would swap me, myself and I for a trip with the rellies.

No more carefree, solo sojourns across South America.
I would not end up hurtling through the backstreets of Montevideo in a clapped-out Fiat with a cross-dressing tattoo artist, it was time to grow up and travel en famile.

Which is why, on my latest voyage overseas I decided to trade in my alone time travel for some good old fashioned family vacation fun.

I decided the next time wanderlust grabbed me, I’d keep company.

Not alone to France for a debauched Parisian assignation but the countries of the former Colonial French Empire (Vietnam and Cambodia) by way of Bangkok.

So I asked my sister if I could borrow her child and she said yes. “If I can come too.”
And so when one became three, I wondered how bad could it be?