January 03, 2004

Recap: stuff I learned along the way...


Below is my list of things this journey reminded me were self-evident truths and new discoveries I was lucky enough to make along the way. Before reading, please bear in mind that:

Now that that's out of the way...

Stuff our journey reinforced:

  1. My wife is the perfect travel companion
  2. Peoples' natures are, for the most part, good the world over
  3. That said, due to the nature of traveling (vs. 'vacationing', see list #2), you need to retain a healthy amount of skepticism and wariness to prepare yourself for the few bad seeds you encounter
  4. Sometimes you cannot completely lose yourself in a moment whilst looking through a lens
  5. That said, photography can hone the aesthetic
  6. Americans, at least the lower > upper middle class (and beyond) have it pretty damn good compared to the rest of the world
  7. That said, America is far from the be-all-end all most of its citizens think it is. We experienced many countries whose (general) mindset, quality of life and overall priorities were more akin with our own than the States.
  8. You can't travel with just anyone
  9. I love hangin' with kids, regardless of nationality, age, race, creed, etc. I usually get the sense they dig hanging w/ me too ;-)
  10. Prior to this trip I did not make self observation/reflection a high enough priority
  11. My digestive system is more sensitive than I'd like it to be
  12. Non-US peeps often know more about United States politics than Americans. I had a 19 year-old cab driver in Brazil ask how I thought Howard Dean stacked up against Kerry back in February, then proceed to share his insight on the matter!
  13. If I believed the media accurately depicted world events and issues (e.g. the avian flu), Janet and I would have never left this country
  14. Americans (especially of the non-obnoxious variety) need to travel more
  15. American business needs to help enable the above by providing more than two weeks of vacation and encouraging better personal/work balance
  16. There's nothing quite like the serenity one can find whilst diving
  17. I'd take a 95° F day over a 40° F day any day
  18. Prescription drugs are WAY too expensive in the U.S. and many of our drugs should be sold over-the-counter
  19. Too many Americans have bought into the myth that in order to have a "full life" one must be "successful" in the traditional sense: work hard, be loyal to your company, gain notoriety for both. A career should be a means to a more fulfilling and meaningful end, no more.
  20. Tan lines are hot
  21. I have a huge weak spot for desserts, no matter what the continent or content
  22. Americans are far too uptight (sexually speaking)
  23. English (for better of worse) fulfills Esperanto's promise
  24. We're on this rock for a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond. Egypt and Greece truly underscored this one!
  25. Smoking is disgusting (save the occasional hookah)
  26. Especially in developing nations, religion is often an impediment to realizing one's potential and appreciating one's heritage
  27. I may have been a fish in a past life
  28. Soccer AKA football bores me
  29. It does not have to be written before the first half of the 20th century to be worthy of the moniker of "literature." On this trip I read quite a bit of fiction from the last decade or so (one cannot be too choosy on the road!) and was pleasantly reminded of this by authors like Cormac McCarthy, Ben Elton, John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Phillips
  30. I have too much "stuff"
  31. Chances are it'll be there when you get back

Stuff I've learned on this journey:

1. First and foremost, I have learned the difference between vacationing and traveling, which deserves its own mini-treatise:



Stay for 1-2 weeks maximumJourney for a minimum of 2 months
Try to forget about their daily routineCreate an entirely new paradigm for routines
Often view time off as a means of escapeSee the journey as a means to enlightenment
Become familiar with tourist locales Meet locals
Spend time dwelling on the invariable email/work 'pile up' awaiting their returnLose track of time
Be grateful for sharing an extended period of uninterrupted time with their partnerGet to know their partner even better than they thought possible
Only able to stay in a given spot for a short whileCan become a nomad or a transplant, learning to feel when it's time to go and act on that feeling
Appreciate "getting away from it all"Appreciate living in the moment
Carve out free timeDiscover what freedom really means
Learn what the local language isLearn to communicate (at least on a basic level) with locals
Think 'I really should do this more often' during the tripRethink their priorities in life
Generally shun other touristsGenuinely look forward to meeting, engaging and learning from fellow travelers
Book months (years?) in advanceDecide as they go
Generally seek out / expect a little pampering now & thenLearn to get by with less and appreciate the simplicity less brings

2. My fingernails and hair seem to grown faster in warm climates
3. The safari experience makes going to zoos all the more difficult
4. The grass is always greener across the border / continent / ocean. Two examples: one a Mozambiquean who had good balance in his life, a decent job, home and great family being fascinated by the thought of transplanting everything to America, while I looked at his relative simplicity and happiness with envy. Also, in Asia most peeps do their utmost to avoid exposure to sunlight as a tan is associated with the lower/working class.
5. Prejudice knows no boundaries
6. Sometimes it's worth spending a bit more (sleeper trains, the occasional flight, the restaurant that is an experience unto itself)
7. Sometimes the more you spend the less memorable the experience. We met far more likeminded and interesting people at hostels and backpackers for instance.
8. Even I was surprised by the universal and deep seeded hatred of Dubya. We saw t-shirts in South Africa with George in guns sights, art exhibits decrying him in Barcelona, were beguiled in Greece and Spain, lectured in Brazil and cautiously felt out in Thailand and Laos.
9. A safari guide/driver can make all the difference
10. Divemasters are only truly memorable when they're incompetent
11. I'm too old for Carnivale :-)
12. My wife and I can hack pretty tough travel
13. I'm a poor girl substitute (as my wife informed me on numerous occasions!)
14. It's nearly impossible to have an authentic travel experience, one in which you make a real connection with a local, unless you occasionally let your 'travel guard' down
15. Just because you're keeping to a budget, aren't sitting in front of a PC all day and carry 45 lbs. on your back every other day does not guarantee that you'll lose weight
16. Our children will travel
17. It's exceptionally healthy to live without an alarm clock for an extended period of time in your adult life
18. If you're reasonably intelligent, a bit flexible and generally treat people well things will work out
19. My wife's presence is more effective at mosquito bite prevention than deet
20. Joy is easiest to come by when things are simple
21. Canon is an analog company feigning competence in a digital age
22. The world is much smaller than I once perceived
23. I don't miss Television (ok, maybe the Simpons and the occasional Sports center but that's about it!)
24. There's a morning person inside me. He may only reveal himself when vacationing/traveling but he's there
25. Natural remedies can be just as effective, and far more beneficial, than pill-popping
26. Baboons are nasty, ill-tempered creatures
27. Democracy isn't always better
28. I cannot reconcile the mentality and consequences of the veil in Muslim society
29. There's something liberating about carrying all of your (immediate) possessions on your back
30. Respect your limits when diving
31. Beer is simply too filling for me to consume regularly and copiously
32. Everyone should experience traveling at least once
33. Long hair is harder to maintain and manage than I thought
34. I am a digital convert. The immediate gratification and extensibility of digital photography and the possibilities afforded by digital music players like the i-Pod are simply too compelling to go back to 35mm or CDs.
35. A little effort to learn some phrases and words in the local language goes a long way
36. Everyone should (must??) see wildlife in an unadulterated, natural setting - whether it be below the water, on land or in a tree - at least once in their lifetime
37. A moleskin is essential travel gear
38. When traveling you will invariably leave a country with some amount of local currency on you that you hadn't intended leaving with
39. Write it down when it occurs to you, take the shot when it strikes you
40. Travel agents - for the most part - blow
41. There's nothing worse in a hostel than sharing a dorm with a snorer
42. When traveling I crave news even more than I thought I would
43. Smooth Jazz is the international tourist soundtrack
44. My food and beverage snobbery now extends to coffee (Nestle, the makers of Nescafe, are to blame as it was all that was available through most of Asia and nearly all of Africa)
45. "British English" amuses me immensely, with phrases like 'swimming costume' (bathing suit, which is funny too if you think about it), 'properly trollied' (wasted), 'knackered' (wiped out), 'bollocks' (balls, expressing disbelief or disappointment), 'pissed' (another form of trollied), extensive use of 'proper' (proper tea, proper toast, etc.), 'bugger off' (translated to 'piss off' in American lingo), "taking the piss" (F'ing with someone) and the substitution of a soft 'er' for any word ending in a vowel (e.g. "Canad(er)"
46. Antihistamine is a necessity on any dive safari (week-long live aboard)
47. You rarely keep in touch with people you meet while traveling, no matter how cool they are or how deeply you bonded with them. It's not that you didn't / don't feel a connection, merely that the improbability of reconnecting and the details of the workaday world decrease the likelihood.
48. The smaller and more rural the town, the greater the chance of having a meaningful experience with a local
49. Governments the world over have rightly earned their citizen's scorn: the Bush regime in not unique in this regard
50. The kind of person who would best serve local, national and global interests in a governmental leadership role is least likely to be interested in politics
51. There would be more 'morning people' in the world if more folks arose for themselves instead of a paycheck
52. Methloquine (Malaria medicine) really does effect my dreams
53. Hotel rating conversion for U.S resident traveling abroad: take 1 * off Asian ratings, 1/1.5 * off of South America and 2 * off of Africa's hotel ratings
54. More often than not, it's worth the effort
55. Come back a different way than how you got there, even if it risks getting a bit lost
56. You can get by in 90% of the world with just three electrical adapters
57. I have learned the value of a good pen
58. I find that I'm now pretty fascinated by flags: identifying them, learning the story behind them, etc
59. Americans are far too loud
60. You're never really alone while traveling
61. The Euro is quickly usurping the dollar as the king of currency
62. React appropriately when a piece of artwork tugs harder on your heart strings than your purse strings
63. It really is a small world and it gets smaller with the passage of time
64. Given this, it's imperative that Americans develop a global conscience and think of themselves as world citizens first, U.S citizens second
65. The waist strap is the most crucial element to a backpack
66. Deserts are cool. Fascinating even.
67. It's only a matter of time until the world's most impressive sites are marred by the unabashed advertising of multi-nationals
68. We've learned to say hello/goodbye/thank you in 12 additional languages
69. When doing the 'round the world thing, it's usually better to buy airline tickets as you go
70. Coke Light (sold everywhere outside the U.S.) is infinitely better than Diet Coke (or any diet cola for that matter)
71. Due to the nature of traveling (spending time off the beaten path, being on the road for months at a time), you will get ripped of at least a handful of times
72. When it happens, be forceful in railing against it when possible, and if that fails chalk it up as a learning experience and move on instead of stewing on it. It's bad enough you got ripped off :-) 73. People's 'mobile phone voices' are too loud the world over
74. Reading good and bad energy is an invaluable skill, especially when traveling in unfamiliar territory
75. Generally speaking, I'd prefer a slightly shabby hostel filled with like-minded peeps than a 3 or 4* hotel
76. I'd rather spend my $ (or Euros, or Kip, or Rand, or Shillings or Lira) on an experience than a place to lay my head
77. That said, if the mattress one lays his head on is horribly uncomfortable....
78. All tourists are annoying, but some are worse than others. Not including Americans (who we rarely encountered on our journey), the nationalities we found most annoying were: 1) Italians (tell an Italian not to touch, go below a certain depth, be respectful of local customs, etc. and more likely than not he'll do the opposite) 2) Japanese (tend to be more self-centered than most and their quirkiness (i.e. wearing life jackets in two feet of water, fur coats in 93° weather) gets under my skin and 3) Frenchies (an easy target but they tend to be loud and a bit on the arrogant side)
79. If it's around dinner time (locally) and a restaurant has no or very few patrons, there's probably a good reason. It's best not to discover the reason for yourself
80. Restaurants with a view are typically overpriced and under deliver
81. Be skeptical of a restaurant displaying pictures of its entrees
82. Be wary of the combo Minimart/Tourist Agency/Internet café. The more a small business tries to be, the less likely it provides a good service in any category
83. Seek out restaurants serving local cuisine with local ingredients
84. Look harder for spots responsible for their own local ingredients
85. Language barriers are never insurmountable. One can always fall back on the universal languages of pointing or charades.
86. Pace yourself
87. Bread + Appetizer + Salad + Entrée + Dessert is a ridiculous and unhealthy amount of food for one sitting
88. Humor is a universal diffuser of tension
89. Sarcasm does not translate
90. Use a source for travel advisories other than the U.S. state department (i.e. New Zealand, Australia, England)
91. Sometimes you can't take it all in without taking your time
92. Traveling costs less than you think
93. With some modifications, most notably pace, one can travel well into his 50's (and beyond)
94. Bucket showers aren't as bad as they sound
95. We waste too much water
96. The mullet is back and it scares the hell out me
97. Respect most local customs but don't always follow them
98. A reasonably skilled driver with experience negotiating the traffic of NYC, Chicago, Boston, LA, etc. can do just fine road-wise anywhere in the world
99. Memories of an experience become more positive over time
100. Don't underestimate the novelty of writing and receiving postcards
101. If you're reasonably observant and creative you will come away from travel with a couple of halfway viable business ideas
102. After nine months of sun chasing, the characteristics of our "perfect beach", in order of importance, are as follows: 1) sand (fine, powdery white = best), 2) water (clear, cool (not cold)), 3) surrounding scenery (impressive and varied landscape), 4) cleanliness (litter free!), 5) sunbathers per square meter (isolated, but not empty), 6) 'swimmability' (no coral or rocks underfoot), 7) attire of inhabitants (clothing optional scores highest), 8) accompanying soundtrack (none preferred, but cheesy thumbing dance music abhorred).
103. Try a nude beach at least once
104. Stuff that pretty much blows, regardless of locale: bus drivers (generally surly, unhelpful, overly aggressive), tour operators (far more interested in their bottom line than your return business), street vendors/peddlers (impossibly annoying and persistent in pushing crappy merchandise), tourists (see above)
105. When on the road for months, there is an undeniable comfort in the occasional fast food meal
106. The hardest part about traveling is putting yourself in a position to do so (e.g. taking the leap of faith and leaving the security of an income, trusting you will find something when you return)

107. Always best to learn this kind of stuff on your own!

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