Travel hack: if you have smelly Toms canvas shoes, and you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, get a bottle of rice whiskey.

Walking on sidewalks in any city in Asia carries a risk that part of the concrete will be unstable.  The risk isn’t so much that you’ll be put off-balance and fall; the risk instead is that liquids will have pooled under the unstable block and, when it is disturbed, some foul concoction will squirt up through cracks between the concrete and soak your shoes and legs.  The liquid might be rainwater that splashes up, but it is more likely to be sewage, refuse from food carts, or water dumped by people washing clothes or dishes in the streets, because these liquids are often more common than rain.  

And it happened to me today.  There we were, walking through Bangkok, having a lovely time, probably laughing about something, because this only happens when you’re laughing gaily, when suddenly I was momentarily off-balance, then my feet were wet.  

My shoes got the brunt of it.  I got a pair of Toms from T.K. Maxx before we left, and while I resisted getting Toms for as long as possible, they were absurdly cheap, they fit perfectly, and, in retrospect, they’ve served me incredibly well over the last four months.  I hadn’t cleaned them, so they had taken on a brownish tint.  Now, they had a distinct brown-green hue, which I didn’t think I could ignore.  

I brought them back to the hotel, soaked them with detergent, agitated the heck out of them to clean out months of accumulated dirt, then left them out to dry.  

They were still wet the next morning, and, worse, they had started to smell.  I said to Alice, “My shoes smell, I need rice whiskey.”

“What?” she said.

One of the things I’m learning from marriage is that I’m really terrible at laying out the steps of my thought process, so what might seem obvious to me usually is not obvious to anyone else, and definitely not my wife.  Alice has the unenviable task of trying to sort through my ramblings and make sense of them.  

I hadn’t consciously thought through the steps, but I think they were the right ones anyway.  I had to pause, then articulate them, and I offer them to you in case you’re traveling through Southeast Asia and your cheap canvas shoes smell, which I suspect is a common search on Google, so that might boost the rankings of this post into the stratosphere.  

My thought process:

  1. My canvas Toms shoes smell horrible, and the cause might be that they’re old, it might be because I stepped in a fecal cesspool, or it might be because they are both dirty and wet.  
  2. Regardless, the smell of my shoes is almost certainly caused by bacteria.  
  3. I need to kill the bacteria.
  4. Alcohol kills bacteria.
  5. Rice whiskey is cheap alcohol.
  6. I can pour rice whiskey on my shoes, scrub it into them, then let it dry off.  
  7. Since alcohol evaporates faster than water, I probably should have done this in the first place.  
  8. Any excess rice whiskey we purchase will not go to waste.  
  9. I need rice whiskey. 

I think that’s pretty reasonable.  

In Laos, the rice whiskey was about $.50 a bottle; here in Thailand, it is about $3, which is pricey, but for non-smelling Toms that don’t have smelly fecal bacteria permeating their wonderful canvas lining, it’s $3 well spent.  

And that, my friends, is a travel hack.  


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