Continuation of last week’s post! Here are 10 more lessons I’ve learned from traveling to 20 countries!
Everyone Pays Attention to American Politics
When I was traveling in Asia during late 2015 and early 2016, there was only one thing people wanted to talk to me about: the presidential primaries. I had innumerable conversations with foreigners who were more informed than a lot of people I knew back home. And this wasn’t even the general election—these were party primaries. Who’s running in Britain’s next election? What about France? I’d wager that most people—and certainly most Americans—couldn’t tell you.
But everyone knows America’s business. Because our business has an outsized effect on the rest of the world.
Although for how much longer that will remain true, I don’t know.
People Speak English (Almost) Everywhere
The number one question I get when talking to people back home is “How do you deal with the language barrier?”
It’s a fair question, especially from a U.S. point of view, where most people only speak one language.
What I tell them is this: people speak English almost everywhere. Certainly, there are some regions where this isn’t true. But as a general rule of thumb: English is the language of travel. Airlines are run in English, tours are run in English, and the primary language of hostels is almost always English.
My friend went backpacking through South America for four months with the goal of improving his Spanish. “It kind of sucked,” he said, “ because everyone always spoke English in the hostel! I didn’t get much chance to practice.”
Now that’s partially on him—he could have left the backpacker bubble and found locals to talk to—but the point is, English is usually available if you need it.
Around the world, there’s a huge push to teach English in schools, so the younger generation can be more connected to the global community, culture, and opportunities. This is why it’s so easy to teach English abroad. It’s also why, if you are looking to speak English, look to the young people. In Taiwan, for example, the older generation mostly only speaks Chinese. To deal with these people, you’ll have to resort to gesturing and pointing. But a good portion of the younger generation learned English in school—and they’re happy for the chance to practice it.
Backpackers are Alcoholics
When you’ve walked around town all day, what else is there to do but take a well-earned rest and drink an ice-cold beer? (Unless you’re in Britain, where they serve their beer warm… yuck).
When your whole day is free, and dedicated to relaxation, alcohol enters the picture prettttty often. It doesn’t help that in a lot of popular travel destinations, beer can be cheaper than water.
And there’s almost always a group of people getting drunk in the hostel common room, whether the hostel’s equipped with a bar or not.
Which brings us to our next point:
Hostels Are Better Than Hotels
For the young traveler, anyways. I could see hotels being preferable for families or couples looking for a certain type of vacation.
As far as meeting people, staying for cheap, and having interesting experiences though? Hostels are great for all of that. Because they are shared spaces, hostels force social interaction. This is great when you’re solo traveling, or if you’re naturally a bit introverted. It’s pretty hard to spend an extended period of time in a hostel without making some friends.
Don’t get me wrong, you can do it—but it’s pretty hard.
AirBNB isn’t as cheap as its reputation seems to suggest.
A lot of people ask if I use AirBNB while traveling. They seem to think it’s a really cheap option. While this may have been true three or four years ago, when the platform was new, today, AirBNB prices tend to be quite inflated—especially for a solo traveler.
For instance, renting a flat in Budapest will cost you about $700 a month if you do it via AirBNB. I’m a member of a few Facebook groups where people offer up flats for rent, and on there, the prices are usually $350-$450 a month—about HALF what AirBNB renters are asking.
If you’re traveling in a big group, AirBNB can be economical. And I’ve certainly stayed in some cool AirBNBs. But if you have the time, searching out local renters and businesses that don’t have a big online presence will usually yield significant savings.
Chinese Tourists Are Worse Than American Tourists
For many years, there was the stereotype of the American Abroad: fat, loud, patronizing, and obnoxious. While some of these prejudices still exist, I’ve found that they’ve largely disappeared—at least if you’re respectful, people don’t tend to rag you too much about it.
That’s because Chinese tourists, as a rule, are far worse. And they’re quickly becoming far more plentiful than the Americans.
There’s a lot more which could be said here, but I’m not in the business of ranting about and/or judging billions of people in a paragraph on the Internet. I’ll just let you experience it for yourself.
People are Generally Good
This is one of the most powerful lessons travel can teach us. When you’re totally lost wandering down an alley in Taipei, a person is a lot more likely to stop and help you than to try and take advantage of you.
The goodwill, honest curiosity, and hospitality will be extended to you by total strangers is one of the most amazing things.
Obama Repaired America’s Image Abroad
When I came back from Asia, I told my 99-year-old grandmother that I was going back abroad. “Be careful,” she said “There are lots of places in the world where they’ll kill you for being American.”
“Not really,” I told her. “Maybe just a few countries. And I won’t go there.”
“They all hate our president though,” she said. “He’s really messed things up.”
“Nah,” I said. “They actually love Obama.”
This struck her speechless.
Without getting too deep into politics, let me just say that I lost track of the amount of times that foreigners told me “You have a very good president” while Obama was in charge. From my experience, people tended to respect him, and thought he had done a lot to restore America after the Bush years and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
By contrast, everyone has been apprehensive about Trump. But, as I tell them, we’ll have to wait and see.
Everyone Has a Phone
Cell phones have taken over the world, and smartphones aren’t far behind.
While you should still think twice about flashing a brand-new iPhone 7 in many parts of the world, a mid-tier android phone is pretty unnoticeable these days. Phones are ubiquitous, for better or worse. Even in places like Nepal, the young people want to own the latest and greatest phones—it’s a status symbol, and they’re willing to pay dearly to achieve it.
An added bonus of this cellular explosion: there’s pretty good cell coverage in most places, which you can easily use by buying a local SIM card.
Travel is all I Want to Do
“The travel bug,” they call it. Wanderlust. Fernweh.
Whatever term you choose to use, the fact is pretty simple: once you hit the road, it can be tough to do anything else but travel. This is why so many travelers are struck by post-travel depression when they return home. Everything’s the same, but you’ve changed.
The only solution? Buy another plane ticket ASAP. Anywhere.
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