The Grosser Side of Travel

So when your book editor says, “the only thing that’s off limits is writing about your vagina” and then, the first thing you do is write about your vagina - it’ll get cut from the book. But- that’s what blogs are for!

Living out of a van and sleeping in a tent with my husband and young children for months on end throughout New Zealand and Australia - for all the dripping rainforests and sprawling beaches - also had some less welcome consequences I had not anticipated.

 It erased all boundaries any of us might normally have had. We simply didn’t have the luxury of privacy, we couldn’t close doors because there were no doors to close. Secrets weren’t an option. An example being when I developed a medical condition that I might have preferred to keep to myself if we were back at home. ( Then again – who knows? Now I seem to be writing about it on my blog.)

I’m not sure what kinds of diseases you can contract from undercooked meat or sleeping in a tent, but I’m pretty sure that’s how I got Bacterial Vaginosis.

   “I think an animal sneaked into the car last night and died,” Isla complained, checking under the seat. 

 “Um, I don’t quite know how to phrase this, but could you cross your legs?” Rob asked as we were driving. 

“That smell is me?” I stick my face down toward my crotch. “Oh my god, I think it is! I thought something in the cooler had gone bad again.”

There was an odour wafting out of my vagina that made even me gag. Who gags at their own vagina?  Because we were spending the better part of three months living out of our car, odours tended to linger and pile up. I could still smell the chocolate milk Oskar had spilled weeks ago.

Car camping in New Zealand

Car camping in New Zealand

 I went to a medical clinic in the next town.

“What is the reason for the appointment?” the doctor asked.

“I think something sneaked into my vagina and died?” 

He diagnosed me with Bacterial Vaginosis when we cleared up that there were no actual animals in my vagina. At least there was a medical explanation for this smell and it wasn’t just that my vag was past its expiry date or something. 

 “Quite common, actually,” he explained. “Sometimes it develops from increased sexual activity.”

“Well that certainly hasn’t happened,” I throw up my arms in protest. At least not since that family bathroom weeks ago back in Nelson. We sent the kids on a scavenger hunt - didn't actually hide anything - never mind. So, can you catch this from camping?” I ask.

 “No. It just happens. It’s an imbalance of bacteria.” He gave me a prescription that he said would clear up the problem. “Nothing else required.”

I googled BV.  Basically, it means the bacteria in your vagina get so out of whack and then the next thing you know you’re hosting an entire campsite of bad bacteria. Like teenagers, all they do is drink and party and don’t clean up after themselves. And they’re living in your vagina, because it’s warm and cozy there. The medication cleared out the party in my panties and everything would go back to smelling like flowers after a spring rain or whatever it’s supposed to smell like. 

“So?” Rob asked when I returned to the park where he and the kids were playing while I was at my appointment.

“Bacterial Vaginosis.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s from camping.”


 “We need to spend a few nights at a good hotel so it can clear up. Doctor says I need a Jacuzzi tub, some high-end organic bath products.”

I stop myself from adding that good-quality wine will also help the situation and that I’m not supposed to eat anything out of a cooler. Best not to push it.

As we traveled, everything seemed to be out in the open and after a while, I don’t think the lack of privacy even phased us. There may have been some unintended positive benefits to living this way for a year. When we returned home, I noticed that the kids didn’t have reservations about discussing any subject. As Isla heads toward double digits – she was quite keen to share all the weird places you can sprout a new hair– often brought up as fodder for dinner conversations. (This happens in your 40’s too but don’t feel the need to discuss at dinner.) Oskar would go on to give us play-by-plays of the Family Life class, or the changing social landscape of middle school. I attribute their openness about every subject and development in their lives to the fact that for that year abroad, and especially during the months we would spend in a tent, we all shared one another’s space and one another’s concerns. Even if it involved my odour-wafting nether regions.  Pretty much every individual problem became a family problem. And it seems that we would continue to operate in this tradition as a family for years to come. BV anyone?

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Don’t Try This At Home: One Family’s (mis)Adventures Around the World (Turnstone Press) May, 2019

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