Before setting out on a journey, it is always a good idea to take a few steps to prepare yourself for the road ahead. There are many things to do to prepare yourself for a trip, but I’ll spare you the details - hopefully you at least know that comfortable shoes and an extra roll of TP in the backpack are a necessity.
It is always a good idea to grab your travel book of choice, but it doesn’t end there. I like to get all my reading done beforehand, and once I’m on the road I ideally will never have to crack this bad boy for anything but a quick phone number or address. If you’re reading your guide book everyday, you’re not watching the world around you – keep it to a minimum by giving the book a read and getting a checklist going - even if it’s just mental – of the destinations you’d like to see.
The most important things I like to take from a guidebook are the best methods of traveling within your immediate surroundings, and I always take note of the scams that each area specializes in. The scam industry is quite advanced in most of the third world, and each place you go will have its own unique method of relocating those green backs from your wallet to theirs. It won’t take long to develop a 6th sense for scammers, but even then it helps to have an idea of what to expect before running out into the jungle with little more than swiss army knife and a fanny pack.
Also, while we’re on the subject, fanny packs! As most of you probably know, fanny packs are not exactly the trendiest of items. That’s why I recommend going big and getting the brightest, most obnoxious fanny pack you can possibly find. Rock it on the side of your hip, rock it without a shirt on, or even rock it front and center in every photo op, but make sure you rock it with a sense of pride and grandeur that boldly tells the world you know how to travel like you mean business. Secretly give the head nod to all fellow fanny packers you pass. You’re in the club now.
But, you know, in all honesty, fanny packs are the best way to protect yourself against forgetfulness and getting pick pocketed. It’ll make your mom happy! What’s not to like?
Most importantly, especially if you are going somewhere for any sort of extended period of time, brush up on the local lingo. Even simply learning hello and thank you will get you a long way in some places, even if you are butchering the pronunciation like a cranky 3 year old. In most places the natives will appreciate the attempt, so even if it makes you feel awkward just show them you’re trying. You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you get the ball rolling and make it your routine, and you might even find people take a special liking to you.
Once you’ve got this down, you should try asking one of the better English speakers you meet for a few more words or tips. Always a great way to make a new friend and learn a bit more. Offer to teach them some English in exchange – you can use little English lessons as currency if you play your cards right, everyone wants to learn it.
But seriously, most importantly do NOT forget the extra roll of TP.
That feeling - like a punch to your gut. You know it. When you think
you’re something, a big fish in a small pond - you can rest on your
laurels - and then you stumble on something that sucks out the air in
For those who think they’re well-traveled, the balloon is about to deflate.
The prick: an interesting website dedicated to the world‘s most
traveled people: www.MostTraveledPeople.com.
It is run by Charles A Veley, who currently holds the title as the
“World’s Most Traveled Man.”
According to its members the world is made up of 872 countries,
territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated
island groups, and major states and provinces.
Veley has visited 822, and has only 50 remaining places to visit.
Next on the list is a Bill Altaffer, who has visited 815 places, and
has a purported 57 remaining places to visit.
And so on.
Compared to my previously laudable 30 countries...
The previous holder of the Guiness Book of World Records’ “Most
Traveled Man” was John Clouse - who had 7 wives and visited 315 of the
world’s 316 countries, regions, and islands. (I know you’re wondering
- it was Bouvet Island near South Africa.)
Or is the most “traveled” man Fred Finn? Mr. Finn does not boast the
highest number of places visited but has logged 15 million miles on
airplanes. He’s crossed the Atlantic over 2,000 times and been to
Africa on 600 visits. He’s flown the Concorde three times in a day.
In my lifetime - assuming I have flown 500,000 miles - I have
accumulated at maximum, .03 percent of Mr. Finn's.
What does all this say about travel - when taken to the extreme?
For anyone else who’s suddenly feeling less accomplished, consider
this: Veley was a self-made millionaire in his thirties and retired at
35. Finn’s travel has been paid by the companies he’s worked for. Most
travelers make less and see the world on their own dime.
According to Pico Iyer, travel writer, and author of the
quintessential essay “Why We Travel” - we travel to lose ourselves and
find ourselves, to open our hearts and minds, and to become young
fools again. He reminds us that the most significant travel we do is
“Most traveled” - checking off destinations - going to a place to say
you've been there - does not equal meaningful travel. Unless you
strike up fascinating conversations each time, or there’s a stirring
documentary playing, sitting on an airplane doesn’t teach you much.
So the punch to the gut - only lasting a second - is gone. The air is back.
(If you haven’t read Pico Iyer’s stunning article - my favorite - you
can read it here:
Veley’s site makes an interesting claim: To visit all 872 places would
be “to go everywhere.” You can sign up on his site and check off the
places as you go.
Veley has an interesting life story, which you can read here:
Last week I wrote about getting off the beaten path when you travel, going to places that most tourists don’t go and doing things that most tourists don’t do. This is, after all, how you really get something out of traveling, and how you really experience something new and foreign.
That being said, getting out there and into the thick of the ‘real’ part of a country is easier said than done. So exactly how is someone supposed to finagle these sorts of adventures?
There are a number of ways, but some are more feasible than others. There are a number of jobs that are common to find abroad, but many of these are either involved in the travel industry (which will keep you very much on the beaten path), or they don’t pay anything, like working on a self sustaining farm (known as wwoofing). However, there are still other options. One of the best, and my personal weapon of choice, is becoming an English teacher.
I taught in a small town in Thailand which was, by all means, very far off the beaten path – about 6 hours by bus off of it. I taught at a primary school, and my students were ages 10-12. I had 800 students, which was a very daunting task at times, but the expectations are not unreasonable (in fact at times I even wished they were higher). Many schools will help you learn the language as well, although I did this the old fashioned way – by just getting out there and mingling with people who don’t speak English.
Although it was not always easy being a teacher, getting to know my students was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and the skills I picked up as a teacher are invaluable. It’s good to remember that this is a job that is not only easy to get – if you have a college degree you’re pretty much in – it’s also an amazing experience, AND looks good on your resume.
Thailand is a very friendly place, and my friends and I were made to feel at home immediately. We got invited to other teachers’ homes for dinners and parties so frequently we had to turn down as many invitations as we accepted. Furthermore, it was almost impossible not to immediately make friends and have a fun time with the locals, which is important because most teachers are older, and this way we were able to make friends our own age. Believe me, sharing beer with ice cubes or whiskey and soda water with a group of people who are just happy to be alive is a liberating experience and can be far more fun than partying it up at a hostel with your cronies.
Many countries, Central and South America in particular, do not have the funds to pay very much, but the areas that don’t have as much money will provide you with the best cultural experiences. If you need to make money while abroad, look into Asian countries. Thailand pays well (about $900/month for your first semester), China, Japan and South Korea pay even more. Certain countries in the middle east pay up to $60,000 per year, including vacation time and they cover your flights to and from your home.
The best way to become an English teacher is to find a TESOL or a TEFL program, which have placements in almost every country the world over. www.teachabroad.com allows you to search for programs in the country you would like to teach in. The site even verifies the programs so that you know they are not scams (the ones that have green check marks have been verified).
Recently I’ve been visiting top 10 lists - and changing my views about countries. Taken from the websitewww.aneki.com/lists, here are things you may not know about that are going on borders - including your own.
The US is still the richest country in the world, if you go by a GDP of $14,580,000,000,000. Half that and you get China’s, half that again and you get Japan’s.
Swaziland is the country with the highest level of HIV infection (38.8% adult prevalence rate).
Yet France is the world’s most sexually active country: the average French person has sex 137 times per year. Greece follows with 133 days, Hungary with 131, then Macedonia and Bulgaria with 129 and 128, respectively.
Norway tops the list of countries with the “highest quality of life,” followed by Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Australia, and the US.
Andorrans live the longest - Andorra’s life expectancy is the highest with an average of 82.67 years.
Meanwhile Lithuania has the highest annual suicide rate per 100,000 people: 42. Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia come next on the list.
Venezuela and India share the honor of having most of the most beautiful women in the world -- if you go by the Miss World title. They have both had five Miss World each, followed by the UK with 4 Miss Worlds and Sweden, Jamaica and the Netherlands with 3 each.
The US dominates the number of Miss Universe titles at 7, leaving Venezuela and Puerto Rico behind with their respective 4 Miss Universes.
The US also boasts the most Nobel Prize Winners, its number of Laureates being 270. The UK (101), Germany (76) and France (49) are catching up.
The US has won a cumulative 2,112 Olympic medals, four times more than the UK.
Luxembourg and Singapore share the more recent title of being the top most googled countries, sharing a search volume index of 88. India, Mexico and Japan are typed next.
Malaysia, with its power distance index of 104, and Slovakia with the same number, are the countries with the most unequal societies. Also having high power distance indexes are Guatemala, Panama and the Philippines.
Ecuador is the country with the most endangered species (2,151) followed by the US (1,143), Malaysia (892), Indonesia (833) and China (773).
Australia, with its 11.06 tonnes of CO2 per capita, based on its national power sector emissions, is the world’s worst greenhouse country. The US is next, then Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.
Libya has the hottest place in the world: Al’Aziziyah, followed by United State’s Death Valley. In Libya extreme temperature (F) reaches 136.4 degrees; in Nevada, 134.
According to the Transparency International Corruption index (2006), Haiti, Myanmar and Iraq are the world’s most corrupt nations. The US was among the 20 least corrupt nations; Finland, Iceland and New Zealand lead the pack.
According to another list by Transparency International (2009), the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which measures “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians,” New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore and Sweden have the lowest perceived corruption; of the 180 countries polled, Somalia has the most.
Sweden is the country with the best gender equality.
United Arab Emirates is the fastest growing tourist destination in the world, with a growth rate of 30%, followed by South Africa with its growth rate of 10%.
And lastly, India has the world’s biggest readers; its citizens spend 10.7 weekly hours reading. It’s followed by Thailand, China, Philippines and Egypt. I suppose if you’re in these countries, you’re my most likely reader.
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