Saturday, August 31, 2013

Things I Learned From Traveling The World

    I love to travel!  I have traveled throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean, Australia and around a good chunk of Asia.  All in All, I have been to over 40 countries around the globe.   So I kind of consider myself an expert when it comes to traveling.  I kept a journal of all of my travels and have posted short travelogues on this blog of my trips.  I will continue to post those. 

    I spent some time over these past few weeks looking over my travel writings and I decided to list some things that I learned while traveling around the world.

    1) For the most part,people are generally good.

    There are so many people who are afraid to travel due to terrorism, travel schemes and crime.  Many people believe that everyone who lives in another country are murderers, rapists and robbers.  I have to say that I have rarely come across bad people in my travels.  I have been the victim of a mugging and had my bag stolen a couple of times, but I have also been the victim of an assault here in the U.S. and have had my house broken into several times and my car burglarized and vandalized.  Crime happens everywhere.  There are bad people everywhere.  Luckily, there are way more Good People than bad people in the world.  Everywhere I have traveled, I have found many people who were ready to help me, offer me a place to stay, invite me to their homes for a meal, etc.  The majority of people in the world are just like you and me; they are trying to get by and make a living.  Have faith in Humanity!

    2) Just because You Don’t hear a Country in the News doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting.

    On the contrary, many of the countries that you never hear about are probably the safest and some of the most vibrant countries to visit.  I went to Turks and Caicos and also to Laos in my travels.  Each time, people said to me “Where is that?  Why would you want to go there since most people haven’t heard of it?”  My Reply “EXACTLY!”  The problem is that the media likes sensational stories.  Natural disasters, wars, crime, scandals, human rights abuses – they focus on these.  Therefore, many of the countries that are in the news are not necessarily the places one would want to visit.  Libya, Yemen, Chechnya, Egypt – Probably not the safest countries to visit but that is all you hear in the news. That doesn’t mean the other countries are boring, just normal.  

    3) People don’t hate Americans.

    I rarely have encountered any anti-Americanism in my travels.  Sure, there are a few jokes or “What the hell is up with your government?” but no outright aggressive attacks.  The only time I felt threatened was by a taxi driver in Mexico who happened to be drunk.  I truly believe there are more anti-American sentiment here in the United States than in other parts of the world.  Once again, the media plays a big part in this.  There might be a small demonstration with 100 people in Lahore, Pakistan and the media makes it sound like the whole country is pissed off at Americans.  And yes, I have traveled to some countries that the media say is full of anti-American sentiment.  I have been to Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela and Afghanistan and I never came across people who were openly anti-American.  Many of them are against what our government stands for, but they are not against the people

    4) Americans don’t like to travel outside of the U.S.

    Unfortunately, this stereotype seems to be true. Americans don’t travel overseas as much as Brits, Dutch, Germans, Canadians, Aussies or Scandinavians. In Asia and South America, I would go days without encountering another American, but I would meet 3 or 4 Aussies, Italians and Germans a day.  Canadians are out in force too.  I would say that Canadians, Aussies and Germans are the three countries that travel the most.  I understand that there are some reasons for this; Americans usually only have a week off for vacation, there is a lot to see in the USA, and fear and ignorance prevents them from traveling abroad. 

    5) Contrary to popular belief, the rest of the world isn’t full of deadly germs! 

    I have seen many people travel with their own supply of bottled water, brought from the states.  I have seen people pack a liter size bottle of hand sanitizer that they lug around everywhere they go.  I have never used hand sanitizer unless it happened to be in the bathroom where I was at and I don’t go out of my to avoid germs.  In foreign countries, I pretty much act the same way I do back home.  If I am in a place where people advise me to drink bottled water, I will do it, but I have drank the tap water in many places and been just fine.  Yes, I have gotten sick in many different countries but I also have gotten food poisoning several times here in the states.  I have gotten salmonella three times here and only twice while traveling.  I have gotten diarrhea many times on the road, but I also get it from time to time when I am home. 

    6) Don’t pack a lot of stuff

    Take the basics.  I see travelers with two huge suitcases for monthlong journeys.  WHY?  I always take 4 or 5 changes of clothes, one extra pair of shoes, a sweater or jacket, some extra undies and socks and that is about it.  You can do your laundry as you go.  It is cheap and sure makes traveling a lot easier.  I usually travel with one duffel bag or large backpack, that’s it.  And watch out what you buy cause you are either gonna have to carry it around with you or pay a ton of money to ship it back home.
    7) Traveling is not as expensive as you think it is.

    People always ask me “Where did you get the money to travel?”  If you stay in resorts and luxury hotels, you are going to spend up to or over $100 a day.  But if you stay at hostels and small hotels, travel can be cheap.  In Bolivia, I was living on about $15 per day (Including hotel, food and transportation.)  In India, I found a very nice hotel in Goa with a private bathroom for only $5 a night.  There are a lot of bargains out there, you just have to keep an eye out for them. I also earned money during some of my travels by teaching English. 

    8) Don’t Blow off a Culture.

    Part of the joy of traveling is to experience the other country’s culture.  That means eating their food, visiting their museums, getting to know the people, etc.  Unfortunately, I have seen way too many people whole up in a 5-star luxury hotel, eat in American Restaurants, take only group tours, etc.  These people are missing out!  Eat the local food, travel by bus with the locals, attend a festival, etc.  Why go to China to just eat McDonalds and go on tours with other foreigners?  Get immersed in the culture! 

    9)  America and Canada share a common culture.

    I am sure that this is going to piss off many Canadians, but we really do share a common North American culture. If you meet someone overseas, it is almost impossible to tell if they are American or Canadian unless they have a particularly strong accent (could be southern, New Yorkish, or French Canadian.)  Honestly, it is easier for me to tell what part of Great Britain someone is from rather than trying to figure out if a guy is from St. Louis or Edmonton.  That is why I like to use the term “North American” culture rather than just “American” culture. 

    10) You can find the internet almost everywhere.

    I don’t think I have ever been far from the internet during my travels.  Whether it is an internet cafĂ©, a restaurant, hotel or a public wifi spot, they are just about everywhere.  I have been to remote villages in the Amazon and they even had one building that had satellite internet.  I have been to remote parts of the Himalaya and found internet access in a town square (in fact, there were a total of 6 open wifi signals there!)  We truly live in a wired world.

    11) In developing countries, government is usually the problem.

    Unfortunately, corruption seems to be the norm in the majority of developing countries.  Why is that?  Most of these countries are democracies.  Think about it; most of the nations have an elected government of elite, wealthy power players in the country since they are the only ones that can afford to campaign.  They govern the country in order to keep themselves and their friends wealthy and in power.  Bribes, Political assassinations, extortion, and illegal arrests are the norm in these places as the balance of power is very tedious.  I liken the governments of many countries to the Mafia and organized crime.  They can get away with it since they have the power and control the police force and military.  I was shocked at the corruption I have seen in “Democratic” countries such as Paraguay, Bolivia, the Philippines and India.  And it starts at the top and works its way all the way down to the “Foot Soldiers.”  Many cops in these countries are corrupt and will stop you and demand a few dollars because they think you have jaywalked or something.  The problem is, many locals have learned to live with it.  Don’t let it get you down.  If you stand your ground, most times you will be on your way with only a slight time delay. 

    12) English is becoming universal.

    I am not sure that this is a good thing.  Almost everywhere I have traveled, I have found somebody that speaks English within minutes.  This is helpful for traveling but I fear that many languages are slowly being lost.  Many of the local dialects are disappearing forever.  Native groups in Mexico, Central and South America are learning Spanish and English, but not even bothering to learn their native tongue.

    13) Everyone should travel.

    You Must Travel!  At some point during your lifetime, whether it is a gap year after college, a month between jobs or when you retire, everybody should take a long trip outside of your native country and experience a foreign culture.  Experience the World and you will be glad you did! 
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