Travel Therapy: Night Train to Turkistan

By Perrin

I found my most essential travel tool: Stuart Stevens’s Night Train to Turkistan: Modern Adventures Along China’s Ancient Silk Road.

In his travelogue, Stevens wryly recounts what he and his friends encountered while attempting to travel by train across a China only newly opened to the West, circa 1986. The book is a good laugh. It’s brilliantly written.

But most importantly—most usefully—it provides a comparison. Stevens’s trip comes off as the worst travel experience since the crusades. The details would make even the most embattled modern traveler feel as pampered as Warren Buffet on his private jet munching on caviar and enjoying a pedicure.

Allow me to explain. As a backpacker on a budget, at times you naturally want to cry. It’s entirely possible to travel for 16 hours only to find that your flight has been delayed by a French transit strike and that the airport is clean out of liquor. Some amenities are out of the question: a bed, an English speaker, peanut butter. (Why don’t they sell peanut butter outside the U.S.?) It’s times like these when a little schadenfreude, goes a long way.

“I realized what I was traveling in was not so much a bus but a frozen toilet on wheels,” Stevens recounts in NTTT. “The thought came to me right after a bump vaulted me out of my seat and onto…a mixture of vomit and baby urine.”

The people Stevens encounters are frequently troublesome as well. “The man had one of those exaggerated faces—teeth jutting out, eyes bulging behind myopic lenses—that seemed more like a caricature than a real person,” Stevens recalls, “He reminded me of Jerry Lewis imitating a Chinaman.”

Some trains are fun!

Reading about the ardors of Stevens’s journey made me realize that it doesn’t matter that it took me 3 buses, 1 plane, 1 train, 1 subway, 24 hours and a good deal of pantomime to get from Spain to France. The important thing is, it didn’t take me 3 months. No babies regurgitated on me; and no one rolled me up in a canvas, like a fly trapped in an out-of-control shade, on a donkey cart in Kashgar.

These are lucky stars I would have forgotten to count.

Another florescent sunrise at the Ryan Air check-in zone. Endless queue, left; traveler campsite, right.

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About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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One Response to Travel Therapy: Night Train to Turkistan

  1. Del Priore says:

    OMG I loved my experience waking up in the airport! Were you by any chance at London Stansted? Good times! Miss u guys!!

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