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.
Traveling has quickly become a very developed industry over the past half century. Advances in technology and aviation have not only made it incredibly easy to see the world, they have also brought to light the reasons to travel – the fun you can have, the beautiful places you can see, and the wonderful experiences that can enrich your life in many ways.
But in all of this, traveling has also changed dramatically. As more and more people have decided to explore foreign lands, a billion dollar industry has developed in a very short amount of time. It is quite different to travel today, when you can rest assured you will be greeted with McDonald's and every other first world amenity you left at home, than it was 50 years ago.
Now, on one hand, it’s nice to have a safe haven while abroad. It’s nice to be able to occasionally taste good pizza, beer, or whatever else you have a hankering for from the motherland. It’s nice to be able to hide among friends who share your nationality and speak your native language. I will be the first to admit these truths.
However, when you hear people talking about the benefits of traveling, about how it made them stronger, how it opened their eyes, how it allowed them to grow as a person, let me assure you, they are NOT talking about the time they escaped the busy streets of Bangkok by running into a Starbucks. They are not talking about the time they saw the Eiffel Tower. They are not even talking about the time they haggled with a street vendor in Shang Hai and bought a watch for 4 dollars.
What they are talking about, is when they were invited to a local’s home for dinner. When they met school children and did volunteer work. They are talking about the times they had when no more than a few fellow travelers were within hundreds of miles.
The biggest favor you can do yourself while traveling is to get off the beaten path and really experience the country you are in. Now this can be a bit difficult, and is definitely intimidating at first, but exploring on your own will not only give you a new view of the country you are in, it will invigorate you with a renewed sense of yourself and the world around you. Stepping beyond the seemingly all-encompassing reach of the enterprising western world – nary a country is untouched – can be a very gratifying experience, especially if you choose to stay awhile and acclimate yourself.
The best way to do this is by working in a foreign country. Visiting a friend who lives in the area is also a good idea when and where it is possible. For those of us who don’t have good pals in every corner of the earth, there are options. One of the most popular methods is to become an English teacher. Contrary to popular belief, you can find paying work in many countries without even so much as a TEFL certificate, although they help. WWOOFing it is another good option, a term that has come to mean working on a farm in exchange for a room and 3 meals a day. Working at a hostel or as a guide for a travel company is also a good idea, but these options are less likely to lead you out into the ‘real’ part of the country.
The tourism industry, for all its merits, has bred a generation of travelers who don’t really know what they’re doing. Hopping from one tourist attraction to another, staying within the lovely confines of people who speak the same language and have the same skin tone, and rarely or possibly never interacting with a local beyond their taxi driver and doorman. Upon returning home these people bring little more than passport stamps and Facebook photo albums.
Venturing out into the unknown is scary. What if you get lost, what if you get hurt, what if, what if, what if. Well, guys, doing things that make you shake a little bit can be good for you, you might even find yourself becoming a better person for it, and realizing there really was nothing to be scared of after all. If you worry too much about the ‘what ifs,’ your life may just pass you by before you even know it. So next time you find yourself on the road, ask yourself ‘do I really want to eat a cheeseburger tonight, or should I explore the city until I find a restaurant whose owners eyes will pop when they see me walk in the front door?’ Trust me, there will be plenty of cheeseburgers waiting for you when you get home.
The Best (and Cheapest) Response to Traveler’s Diarrhea
You’re crouched over a squat toilet (if you’ve made it that far) and your Snicker’s bar suddenly looks like Hershey’s chocolate milk.
Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge… here in Varanasi we call it Banaras Belly. And to the casual traveler in India or on other off-beaten paths, it’s likely to happen. The good news: Your body probably won’t react to the same agent in the same way again. Yes, you’re getting stronger. But in the meantime, what to do?
If you said “drink more water” - you’d be mistaken.
The best response to a net loss of body fluid is three little letters:
O - R - S.
And they stand for Oral Rehydration Salts. (Alternatively: ORT, Oral Rehydration Treatment).
(It’s also, apparently, a good cure for a hangover and jet lag - read on.)
Recently I learned some interesting facts about this magic mixture, from the site www.rehydrate.org. In a diarrheal state, the healthy intestinal wall is impaired and water isn’t absorbed. So the result of just drinking more water is increased secretion of water. Diarrhea worsens.
And that’s not all. 98% of the body’s potassium, for instance, is held within cells, or is intra-cellular. But the body’s store of sodium is almost entirely extra-cellular - i.e., in body fluids and blood plasma.
Salt water isn’t absorbed well when you’re sick. O-R-S to the rescue! ORS contains sodium and glucose. The glucose molecules are absorbed into the intestines; the sodium in turn is carried through with the glucose. Then, the increased relative concentration of Na+ across the intestinal wall pulls the water through after it.
And, voila! Sip it slowly and your body will thank you for it.
An ORS packet is cheap (Unicef provides them to children in developing countries at a cost of 10 cents a pack) and is added to a liter of water.
They’re light and they’re packable, which makes us wonder, why aren’t they a part of every traveler’s tool kit?
Oh yeah - the mix to most tastes pretty gnarly.
But consider bringing these or picking some up for your travels. You may need it when you get a Hershey’s milk surprise.
Beep! Beep! That’s my alarm clock. It’s 5:30 am.
I’m a morning person.
Unfortunately most people I know seem to be night owls.
When the sun lowers my eyelids follow suit, and by 9 or 10 pm I’m ready to sleep. I’ve been called “lazy” and “lame.”
But there’s something about getting up with the sun, or before it, and watching the day and the neighborhood come to life, as the natural lighting gradually increases, as though someone is turning it up on a dimmer.
Yesterday I visited an ashram in Varnasi, India (an ashram is a place for worship and spiritual study) and had a chance to meet Baba-ji, the ashram’s guru. Asked to talk about his life, Baba-ji told us about his winding story, from a village in India to Berkeley, California, where he built a house that uses renewable energy. Despite his accomplishments, he still felt empty. When one day he met an enlightened man who had arrived from India, Baba-ji took the advice given and left his posessions and house behind. He meditated for years alone in the forest. He attracted pupils who wanted to learn meditation and yoga, and together they built an ashram in Sonoma. They have built another ashram in Varanasi, India.
His most important advice to us: Find time for stillness.
To our eager ears, Baba-ji talked about his former village and the stillness that reigns there. Yet with the introduction of the TV and the mobile phone in the past decade, village life has changed.
“Technology distances us from nature,” said Baba-ji.
“The more technology we have, the further away from nature we get. Animals are deeply in tune with the nature around them. Animals go to sleep with the sun. The birds. They awake early at 4:30 and sing their song, and then with the daylight they hunt their food and bring it back to their nests.”
His words gave me reassurance. The next time someone calls me “lame,” I’ll silently smile and think I’m attuned to nature.
But Baba-ji’s words give us something to think about as travelers.
How much technology should we bring with us when we travel?
One benefit of authentic travel is the opportunity to experience, not just see, another way of life. We can experience a new rhythm of life.
I see travelers fidgetting with their ipods, with their portable video games, and portable DVD players on long train rides.
Why not use that time to experience stillness?
Can you eschew the television in the hotel room? Un-stick your eyes from your computer screen? Pocket the i-pod, and let the clunk-clunk-clunk of the Indian train be your soundtrack. Hand-wash clothes in your bathroom, rather than toss them into a washing machine, and feel your soapy hands.
Giving up technology is a hard sell in our daily lives. It’s much more possible when we travel for a period of time. Do we want our travel to be just like our day-to-day, or do we want it know something different?
What if you set your “out of office reply” to “Traveling - out of contact. Embracing stillness!” You’d undoubtedly inspire someone else to do the same, if only for a moment.
Stillness is difficult. Help it out.
What would you do if you could do anything -- for a year?
Forsake something from your life, add something new? Resurrect a hero’s footsteps…create an adventure all your own?
And who would you be when it’s all over?
These adventurers can tell you. They temporarily committed to what might be for most of us a passing thought - and then they wrote about it.
For instance, would it be possible to eschew all forms of automobiles for a year? Adam Greenfield can tell you about it - a 29-year-old filmmaker born in England and now residing in San Francisco, decided that for an entire year, he would not get into any sort of automobile. (www.thegubbinsexperiment.blogspot.com)
Have you thought about living locally? As in, staying put? Check out Kurt Hoelting’s book, The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life. Based in the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest, Hoelting set out on an experiment to travel no further than 60 miles for a year.
What would happen if you actually took that good advice you heard – all of it? Actress and writer Robyn Okrant decided that for one full year she would follow the advice of Oprah Winfrey to see if it genuinely improved her life. The book: Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk.
A.J. Jacobs has now two year-long experiments under his belt. The Know-It-All tells us about his year of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica over the course of twelve months. He followed it with The Year of Living Biblically, in which Jacobs lived by all the rules of the Bible for one year – as literally as possible.
You’ve heard of One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller best known as Eat pray love. The author divided a year equally among three countries to write about culinary pleasure, ascetic rigor, and a love affair. You might not have heard of its irreverent off-shoot, Drink, Play, F@#k – the chronicle of Bob Sullivan’s similar stride to Ireland, Las Vegas and Thailand.
Is this year-long zaniness mixing experimentation (and oftentimes travel) a new trend? Not if we consider the example of Henry David Thoreau (who extended his experiment to two years). In a patch of woodland owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, he built himself a log cabin and lived simply and self-sufficiently – in hopes that isolating himself from society he would gain a more objective understanding of it, and of life. Walden or Life in the Woods set the example back in 1854.
So what if you want to “suck the marrow out of life” but you don’t have a full year? Go for it anyway. You’ve probably heard of the documentary, Supersize Me, in which Morgan Spurlock subjects himself to a steady diet of McDonald's cuisine for 30 days just to see what happens.
There’s no limit to the list of social experiments when ignited by imagination.
What is the point of these specialized sojourns? For one thing, to prove that we can do it – to ourselves and to others. For another, to see what we might learn from the experience. And perhaps we enter into them with the hopes that others might be able to follow our lead, in ways big and small.
What would YOU take a year off to do?
What great experiment is lurking behind the folds of your brain, hoping for the chance to be explored?
What is it really like to be a trip leader? And how do you become one?
It should be clear by now that trip leading is an active, exciting
lifestyle that is the antithesis to an office job. However there are
give-and-takes and tensions inherent - it is certainly not for
- You're not in it for the money! Your stipend varies greatly
depending on experience, education and time spent with the same
company. Veteran trip leaders will see their salaries capped
eventually. Tour leaders of adults can expect tips; trip leaders of
students should not. Your expenses will be covered - accommodations,
food, transportation, and activities - such as retreats, language
classes, homestays, adventure activities, and weekend excursions. Your
flight to the country and back home is typically covered as well.
Health insurance is another matter: it’s more likely you will receive
some form of travel insurance, or a type of health insurance that is
only good for treatment outside of the U.S.
- You’ll be independent… sort of. While shredding your material
possessions can be a relief, you will need something to do and
somewhere to go on off-periods. This is a plus as well as a challenge
that comes with being a trip leader. Think ahead as to where you can
hang your hat between trips.
- You’re at peace with being ´juggled.´ Trips may or may not run at
the last minute depending on student enrollment. Matching up
leadership teams can be a long process that leaves you out of the know
for long stretches.
For me, these are slight obstacles when I consider the many, many
positives associated with this job. Liberation from an office!
Exciting activities! An opportunity to mentor youth! Seeing the world!
Sharing my day with a co-leader! Having fun! Every day becomes a new
Before you apply, make sure you have these qualities that most tour
companies are looking for.
* Experience with this age group. Good leaders establish an intimate
but responsible rapport with students.
* Experience abroad. The more intimately you know a place, the better
the case for you to lead a trip there.
* Language skills. Most trips to Latin America demand a decent command
of the Spanish language. To places like India, where English is a
common medium, Hindi may not be a requirement.
* A minimum age. Advertised minimum ages may be around 21 for high
school programs and 25 for college-aged programs. For gap semester
companies, the average age advertised is typically 26 to 29.
* Flexibility. A lot can change in the field. In an interview and on
an application, be sure to talk up any job in which you have had to be
* Maturity and responsibility, especially in emergencies. If you have
first aid, CPR, or wilderness first aid training, they are a plus and
for most companies a requirement after being hired.
* References. Up to three people who will be called to vouch for the
If you don’t have these things, or if you’re not yet 21, there are
many things you can do that will push your eventual application to the
front of the line:
…Become a camp counselor, RA, teacher. Think positions with
responsibility. A simple internet search will reveal many summer camps
that take counselors who are under 21.
…Volunteer abroad. Picking a region where many programs lead trips
will give you an opportunity to talk up your experience in the region
…Learn a language. Language skills are a plus and sometimes mandatory
- enroll in a language school abroad and practice by staying with a
host family. Take advantage of any semester study abroad programs your
high school or college offers.
…Save a life. First Aid and CPR certification and Wilderness First Aid
are looked upon favorably, as is trekking and outdoor experience.
…Apply anyway! Some companies will accept younger applicants who are
otherwise qualified as “Trip Leader Interns,” “Assistant Trip
Leaders,“ or “Staffs-In-Training” (S.I.T.s). You may be unpaid or you
may be paid less, though your expenses will still be covered. This
gentle foot-in-the-door will help you learn the ropes and build
confidence in a leadership role. Lifeworks, for instance, advertises
it takes staff-in-training as young as 19.
Happy Trip Leading!
You can contact the author at NateMarcus [at] gmail.com
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