Where would you like to travel and why?
How did you decide where it is you absolutely had to go? I know, you saw a picture or someone told you a story of an exotic location and you’ve decided this is the place for you. Before you splurge on airfare and rent a place, take some time and conduct a bit of research. Yeah, it probably looks great in a postcard but most places do.
I remember when I lived overseas and a friend walked up and presented me with a postcard of Detroit. He said, Detroit is a beautiful city isn’t it? Now, it’s come quite a way since that postcard but I remarked, “Yes, from the Windsor side, at that angle, at night. Those professional photographers are miracle workers. Because, having been there many times I knew that within a short walk in any direction from where the camera was aimed was a totally different city. Rent by the hour hotels, people who have nothing better to do than separate you from everything you own? Heck, at the time the city was the murder capital of the world and held the title for quite some time.
My point it, just because you saw a picture doesn’t mean it’s all that. If you put a bit of effort into it you can come up with some useful information regarding the place you wish to visit and whether it’ll be worth the effort.
Also, you have to be a bit introspective here. What type of person are you? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Can you find your way to, from and around places in the U.S. you’ve never been to? Or, do you need a map to get to the grocery store? Does roughing it mean the restaurant ran out of ranch dressing? These and similar questions may appear funny or perhaps rude, but you need to consider them and more than a few others before you head off into the wild. Before I go any further I don’t want to convey the idea that people around the world are all bad or out to take advantage of tourists. I have absolutely loved every single place I’ve been and don’t intend to paint with a broad brush. The following information is just a glimpse of what you can potentially encounter and is intended to make you aware of some of the pitfalls.
There are many reasons people literally die to reach our shore and most of them we take for granted. I’ll give you some first-hand experience later, but here are a few of the areas you’ll notice are different as you travel:
In many areas of the world the police just aren’t compensated well and this has a direct impact on their willingness and desire to assist you. I’ve been many places where bribes are the only way to obtain anything remotely resembling help, unless you’re in the middle of an absolute emergency. Also, if you have some type of an altercation with a local even if it is their fault, who do you think the police are going to side with? A member of their own family (so to speak)? Or you? Again, unless it’s an actual crime and they either witnessed it or have unequivocal evidence all you have is a story. They may take your statement but don’t expect much else.
Real Life: When I was in Rome I was returning to my car after eating and I noticed a woman leaning on the driver’s side. I yelled at her to get off and she took off running. She was apparently part of a group that was stealing from parked cars and someone had thrown a rock through the window of my car, stole the contents and took off. I reported it to the police who took down my statement but not much else. I was a tourist, would be heading home soon and they probably figured why bother pursuing it.
No matter where you go there are invariably people who for whatever reason make a living preying on tourists.
Real Life: When I was in Skopje, Macedonia I was told to watch out for the Roma as they were relentless beggars and expert pickpockets. At the time I didn’t know what a Roma was and I certainly don’t want to denigrate an entire group of people, but what I was told turned out to be true. They were at many, many intersections where the Roma were cleaning the windshields of vehicles stopped at the light (or at least trying to), and then demanding payment. Or, waiting in parking lots to “help you park” and then holding out their hand for payment. Or children would walk up and one would push you from the front to draw your attention while another attempted to reach in your pockets and grab whatever they contained. All of these things happened to me but having been forewarned I had a great time.
More than once I’ve remarked how excessive food safety is here in the U.S. but having traveled quite a bit I see good reason for much of it. I agree it can be a bit much but I’ve been on the wrong end of seemingly good food on several occasions and paid the price. Watch what you eat when traveling. Outside of North America and Western Europe I have two primary rules.
If I didn’t unscrew the lid myself I don’t drink it and if my drink leaves my hand or is out of my sight … ever, I buy a new drink.
If it isn’t fried, cooked, baked, or heated to a sufficient level to kill the bacteria, I don’t eat it. I’ve even eaten insects in Southeast Asia BUT they were deep fried first.
Real Life: I was in Iraq (Yeah, I know what you’re about to say) and stopped at an open air place to grab bite to eat. There was a vertical spit with a piece of lamb being cooked along with pita bread, vegetables and sauces. I don’t know if anyone told you, but in Iraq it is a cultural norm to use the left hand for unclean activities (if you understand that) and use the other for eating. Well, this guy had the wiping hand on the meat sort of balancing it as it spun. For some reason I forgot about the left hand thing, bought a pita sandwich and ate it. Well, for about the next 10 days or so I thought I was going to die. The moral of the story is know the culture, watch how food is prepared, be safe.
Hygiene and cleanliness
We are a hyper-clean society with 24 hour access to soap and water. This just isn’t the case in large parts of the world. Believe it or not there are many places where having access to water is the difference between life and death so bathing with it is unthinkable. So, the people you encounter have probably been exposed to and survived diseases and plagues that would probably wipe out most of North America. Be aware of this when you interact with people and try to minimize the exchange of bodily fluids.
Here is another area warranting caution. We have access to high quality water and can drink right from the sink if we so choose. Again, this just isn’t the case in much of the world. Outside of North America and Western Europe be cautious.
Real life: When I was in Asia I was following my own advice and purchased a drink with a lid on it which I unscrewed myself. The problem was that I also ordered a salad (yep, they cleaned the vegetables with water from the tap). Well, I don’t need to tell you what happened next. The good news was that everything that in my digestive system came out. People pay good money for this I hear and I got it for next to nothing.
One thing I think many parts of the world have over us is a robust public transportation system. The countries with these top notch systems are smaller I agree and the population just isn’t interested or plain can’t afford a car. In the U.S. however, outside of our major cities we are generally stranded without a car. This is understandable in third world countries but it is the norm here. This isn’t the case especially in Western Europe where excellent public transportation is widely available and I’ve met many people who’ve never owned a car.
Real life: I lived in Germany for several years and in England for almost one year and except for a short drive to work due to an out of the way work location while in England I didn’t need a car.
Even in countries low on the GDP and per capita income scale there is something resembling a public transportation system. And even if it isn’t robust, the cost for a cab is cheap compared to what it costs in the U.S.
Tourist traps and prices
In many parts of the world, vendors and locals see westerners as rich and an easy source of income. And, compared to them we are somewhat wealthy. Some of the places I’ve been I see or hear of far too many people being under – unemployed or just scraping by in an attempt to make ends meet. From what I see the locals know where to purchase food and vendors sell locals the same fare at a lower price.
Generally, from what I’ve learned if you are in a restaurant and the clientele is primarily western or at least not native, you are paying too much. Get out and watch for places that are patronized by the locals, you’re probably going to get a better deal and the food will be more authentic.
Real life: When I was in Venice I spent some time with locals who informed me that there are two menus at many restaurants, one for the locals and one for the tourists. If you can’t speak the language you start out at a disadvantage. Not to say this is the practice all over or that it’s unique to Venice but be aware.
Hotel quality and room conditions
I’ve been in a few places in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia where a hotel will advertise they are up to western standards but generally I’ve found it to be a stretch. No doubt they try but unless you pay a premium it just isn’t the same … close … but. Now as far as I’m concerned it makes no difference because I try and experience a culture when I travel.
I generally don’t stay in a hotel if I’m going to be somewhere more than a day or two. Any duration longer than that and I’m using a service where I can rent a condo or apartment. I’ll identify some of them later but another thing to consider is that if you really want something resembling your own place one of these services is the way to go.
Real life: When I was in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia I noticed the bathrooms have a rather unique feature. The entire room is tiled and the shower area may have a small ridge forming a depression and there may or may not be a door or shower curtain. So, when you turn on the water, the whole room can potentially become wet.