20 Things I've Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years

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Gary Arndt is the man behind Everything Everywhere, one of the most popular travel blogs in the world, and one of Time Magazine’s “Top 25 Best Blogs of 2010.” Since March 2007, Gary has been traveling around the globe, having visited more than 70 countries and territories, and gaining worldly wisdom in the process.

Today, I’ve asked him to share some of that wisdom.

Enter Gary

On March 13, 2007, I handed over the keys to my house, put my possessions in storage and headed out to travel around the world with nothing but a backpack, my laptop and a camera.

Three and a half years and 70 countries later, I’ve gotten the equivalent of a Ph.D in general knowledge about the people and places of Planet Earth.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned…

1) People are generally good.



Many people are afraid of the world beyond their door, yet the vast majority of humans are not thieves, murderers or rapists. They are people just like you and me who are trying to get by, to help their families and go about living their lives. There is no race, religion or nationality that is exempt from this rule. How they go about living their lives might be different, but their general goals are the same.

2) The media lies.



If you only learned about other countries from the news, you’d think the world was a horrible place. The media will always sensationalize and simplify a story. I was in East Timor when the assassination attempts on President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão occurred in 2008. The stories in the news the next day were filed from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur, not Dili. It was all secondhand news. I was in Bangkok during the political protests this year, but you’d never have any idea they were happening if you were not in the immediate area where the protests were taking place. The media makes us scared of the rest of the world, and we shouldn’t be.

3) The world is boring.



If there isn’t a natural disaster or an armed conflict, most places will never even be mentioned in the news. When is the last time you’ve heard Laos or Oman mentioned in a news story? What makes for good news are exceptional events, not ordinary events. Most of the world, just like your neighborhood, is pretty boring. It can be amazingly interesting, but to the locals, they just go about living their lives.

4) People don’t hate Americans.



I haven’t encountered a single case of anti-Americanism in the last three-and-a-half years. Not one. (And no, I don’t tell people I am Canadian.) If anything, people are fascinated by Americans and want to know more about the US. This isn’t to say they love our government or our policies, but they do not have an issue with Americans as people. Even in places you’d think would be very anti-American, such as the Middle East, I was welcomed by friendly people.

5) Americans aren’t as ignorant as you might think.



There is a stereotype that Americans don’t know much about the rest of the world. There is some truth to that, but it isn’t as bad as you might believe. The reason this stereotype exists is because most other countries on Earth pay very close attention to American news and politics. Most people view our ignorance in terms of reciprocity: i.e. “I know about your country, why don’t you know about mine?” The truth is, if you quizzed people about third-party countries other than the US, they are equally as ignorant. I confronted one German man about this, asking him who the Prime Minister of Japan was. He had no clue. The problem with America is that we suffer from the same problem as the rest of the world: an obsession with American news. The quality of news I read in other parts of the world is on par with what you will hear on NPR.

6) Americans don’t travel.



This stereotype is true. Americans don’t travel overseas as much as Brits, Dutch, Germans, Canadians or Scandinavians. There are some good reasons for this (big country, short vacation time) and bad ones (fear and ignorance). We don’t have a gap year culture like they have in the UK and we don’t tend to take vacations longer than a week. I can’t think of a single place I visited where I met Americans in numbers anywhere close to our relative population.

7) The rest of the world isn’t full of germs.



Many people travel with their own supply of water and an industrial vat of hand sanitizer. I can say in full honestly that I have never used hand sanitizer or gone out of my way to avoid contact with germs during my travels. It is true that in many places you can get nasty illnesses from drinking untreated water, but I don’t think this means you have be a traveling Howard Hughes. Unless you have a particularly weak immune system or other illness, I wouldn’t worry too much about local bugs.

8) You don’t need a lot stuff.



Condensing my life down from a 3,000 sq/ft house to a backpack was a lesson in knowing what really matters. I found I could get by just fine without 97% of the things I had sitting around my home. Now, if I purchase something, I think long and hard about it because anything I buy I will have to physically carry around. Because I have fewer possessions, I am more likely to buy things of higher quality and durability.

9) Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.



Yes, if you insist on staying in five-star hotels and luxury resorts, travel can be very expensive. However, it is possible to visit many parts of the world and only spend $10-30 per day. In addition to traveling cheap, you can also earn money on the road teaching English or working on an organic farm. I’ve met many people who have been able to travel on a little more than $1,000/month. I met one man from the Ukraine who spent a month in Egypt on $300.

10) Culture matters.



Many of our ideas for rescuing other countries all depend on them having similar incentives, values and attitudes as people in the West. This is not always true. I am reminded of when I walked past a Burger King in Hong Kong that was full of flowers. It looked like someone was having a funeral at the restaurant. It turned out to be people sending flowers in celebration of their grand opening. Opening a business was a reason to celebrate. In Samoa, I had a discussion with a taxi driver about why there were so few businesses of any type on the island of Savai’i. He told me that 90% of what he made had to go to his village. He had no problem helping his village, but they took so much that there was little incentive to work. Today, the majority of the GDP of Samoa consists of remittances sent back from the US or New Zealand. It is hard to make aid policies work when the culture isn’t in harmony with the aid donors’ expectations.

11) Culture changes.



Many people go overseas expecting to have an “authentic” experience, which really means they want to confirm some stereotype they have in their mind of happy people living in huts and villages. They are often disappointed to find urban people with technology. Visiting a different place doesn’t mean visiting a different time. It’s the 21st Century, and most people live in it. They are as likely to wear traditional clothes as Americans are to wear stove top hats like Abraham Lincoln. Cultures have always changed as new ideas, religions, technologies sprang up and different cultures mingled and traded with each other. Today is no different.

12) Everyone is proud of where they are from.



When you meet someone local in another country, most people will be quick to tell you something about their city/province/country that they are proud of. Pride and patriotism seem to be universal values. I remember trying to cross the street once in Palau, one of the smallest countries in the world, and a high school kid came up to me and said, “This is how we cross the street in PALAU!” Even crossing the street became an act to tell me about his pride for his country. People involved in making foreign policy should be very aware of this.

13) America and Canada share a common culture.



This may irk Canadians, but we really do share a common North American culture. If you meet someone overseas, it is almost impossible to tell if they are American or Canadian unless they have a particularly strong accent, or they pronounce the letter “z.” It is easier to tell where in England someone is from than it is to tell if someone is from Denver or Toronto. We would probably be better off referring to a “North American” culture than an “American” culture. What differences do exist (Quebec being the exception) are more like differences between states and regions of a similar country.

14) Most people have a deep desire to travel around the world.



Not shocking, but every day I meet people who are fascinated by what I do and how I live. The desire to travel is there, but fears and excuses usually prevent people from doing it. I understand that few people can drop what they are doing and travel around the world for three years, but traveling overseas for even a few months is within the realm of possibility for many people at some point in their lives. Even on an island in the middle of the Pacific, people who would probably never leave their home island talked to me of wishing they could see New York or London for themselves one day. I think the desire to explore and see new things is fundamental to the human experience.

15) You can find the internet almost everywhere.



I have been surprised at where I’ve found internet access. I’ve seen remote villages in the Solomon Islands with a packet radio link to another island for their internet access. I’ve been at an internet cafe in the Marshall Islands that accessed the web via a geosynchronous satellite. I’ve seen lodges in the rainforest of Borneo hooked up to the web. I once counted 27 open wifi signals in Taipei on a rooftop. We truly live in a wired world.

16) In developing countries, government is usually the problem.



I have been shocked at the level of corruption that exists in most developing countries. Even if it is technically a democracy, most nations are run by and for the benefit of the elites that control the institutions of power. Political killings, bribery, extortion and kickbacks are the norm in many places. There is little difference between the Mafia and the governments in some countries I’ve visited. The corruption in the Philippines was especially surprising. It isn’t just the people at the top who are corrupt. I’ve seen cops shake people down on the street for money, cigarettes or booze.

17) English is becoming universal.



I estimated that there were at least 35 native languages I would have had to have learned if I wanted to speak with locals in their own tongue. That does not include all the languages found in Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu or regional dialects. It is not possible for humans to learn that many languages. English has become the de facto second language for the world. We are almost to a point where there are only two languages you need to know: whatever your parents speak… and English. English has become so popular it has achieved an escape velocity outside of the control of the US and UK. Countries like Nigeria and India use it as a unifying language in their polyglot nations. Other countries in the Pacific do all their schooling in English because the market just isn’t there to translate textbooks into Samoan or Tongan.

18) Modernization is not Westernization.



Just because people use electricity and have running water doesn’t mean they are abandoning their culture to embrace western values. Technology and culture are totally different. Japan and South Korea are thoroughly modern countries, but are also thoroughly Asian. Modernization will certainly change a culture (see #11 above), but that doesn’t mean they are trying to mimic the West.

19) We view other nations by a different set of criteria than we view ourselves.



On the left, people who struggle the hardest for social change would decry changes in other countries that they view as a result of globalization. On the right, people who want to bring democracy to other countries would be up in arms at the suggestion that another country try to institute change in the US. In both cases, other nations are viewed by a different set of rules than we view ourselves. I don’t think most people around the world want the help or pity of the West. At best, they would like us to do no harm.

20) Everyone should travel.



At some point in your life, whether it is after college or when you retire, everyone should take an extended trip outside of their own country. The only way to really have a sense of how the world works is to see it yourself.

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You can subscribe to Gary’s blog, or follow him on Facebook.

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If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”

I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Odds and Ends:

Vegetarians vs. Meat-Eaters:

My recent guest post from Robb Wolf created something of a religious war between meat-eaters and vegetarians. The comments — 816 and counting — got ugly fast.

Whether you’re a die-hard meat-eater or plant-eater, I highly recommend watching the below video of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals. He is a brilliant writer, and we were actually in the same class at Princeton. Take some time or let it run in the background as audio — the following discussion is worth it:

Posted on: October 30, 2010.

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439 comments on “20 Things I've Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years

  1. Awesome post, Gary. It’s great that you dispelled some of the “myths” about the world outside of the U.S. I was especially pleased to hear that you can find the internet almost everywhere. :)

    - Eric

    Like

    • I have to say…I’m usually skeptical about blogs in and tend to believe the majority of them are the innate ramblings of individuals who can’t write. With that said, I thoroughly appreciate you breaking this trend and posting interesting and cogent pieces. Much of what you wrote was incredibly helpful and insightful. I especially enjoyed your comment about there not being as much “Anti-American” sentiment as we’re led to believe. Granted, there are times when you will run into people who have a chip on their shoulder in regards to the U.S. (this was especially true when I was in Europe during the Bush years) but for the most part people are open minded and will take you as serious as anyone else, regardless of your nationality.

      Anyway, with all this said, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some advice on traveling alone outside of the U.S. and the advantages and disadvantages it affords an individual? I’m asking because I plan on embarking on a year long journey somewhere outside the country but have never traveled for length of time alone.

      Like

    • I’m sorry but I have to sgtrongly disagree about the world’s view of Americans.
      I have done alot of travelling and only on a few occassions have I met cultures and people who like Americans the first that comes to mind is Holland. Alot of countries/cultures like American money as you Americans are famous for being over generous with their cash.
      For example the last time I was in Morocco so many people asked me if I was American, when I said no they shout ‘good’ and spit inside their shirts! I have had people assume I was American and spit at me whilst walking down a street minding my own business.
      I could spend a long time reeling off countries that dislike Americans but that is not the point i’m trying to make here.
      Americans truly are largely an ignorant country and I suggest sir that you would like to believe people like American people but from a non-American the hatred I have seen all over the world towards your people and culture (and it seems behind your back and perhaps because you are ignorant to it) is huge and relatively universal.
      Sorry to have popped your ‘American bubble’ but I assume you do not believe a word I have said and thus proved the point I am trying to make!

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      • we are team america, world police…but I know most people outside the US are more intrigued by the actual person and can look past the fact that the country has done some wrongs in the past…people are generally good. That is still and will always be true. All is not lost for Americans abroad. The author knows this and is trying to help people get past the fear of anti-Americanism

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      • Danny i agree with you. Mostly people have this thiniking as they dont travel. They juust hear from people and start believing.
        Travelling is important think that people should do.

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      • While I can’t say much for the existence/non-existence of anti-American sentiments abroad, there is a point to be said about American ignorance. True, your German acquaintance couldn’t tell you who the prime minister of Japan is, but:
        a) neither could a lot of people (Americans just as much as anyone else)
        b) most of the issue with American ignorance is not their ignorance of facts like this.
        The problem most people see is in an ignorance of broad, basic common knowledge, international affairs in which they are directly related, current affairs in their own country … more or less, the “American news” that we are all apparently obsessed with.
        Granted this is not an America-specific phenomenon, but it undeniably is a frequent occurrence in America. And while most of the Americans I’ve met by no means even approach the ignorant, rude stereotype, all of the Americans I’ve met are travelling, which as stated opens your eyes to the bigger picture.

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      • I totally agree! I’ve been travelling for nearly 2 years now and I have to insist I am Australian and not American because people assume that I am some George Bush loving, war mongering, guantanamo torturing, child killer.

        Americans ARE by and large ignorant. I’m sorry but it’s true.

        Most of it is the fault of your education system, the majority of your population doesn’t know basic geography or world history.

        In Australia we even have a comedy tv show that goes around asking Americans basic information about world geography

        I have to say tho I have met some very educated and intelligent Californians in the hundreds of Americans I’ve met (tho they seem to be the only ones who have a clue?)

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      • Wow dude calm down. We get it you hate Americans. keep ranting no one cares. Oh and you are wrong. I was born here but have a Middle Eastern background (and have lived there), and no not everyone hates the U.S. it’s obvious that you felt the need to unload your pent up anger or something, but you really are wrong about the majority of what you’ve said. Americans are not ignorant, most people do not hate us, and thank god no one cares about what you have to say lol. chowda!!!!!!!!!

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      • Tim,

        Thanks for posting what you’ve experienced as far as other cultures’ response to your nationality. It’s encouraging in a way, whether or not people are being genuine. Bummer that people want to be rude in the comments section… Based on your post, I imagine that you have a respectful demeanor when you travel and hopefully the stereotypes people have learned can be seen merely as that.

        Thanks for the insight!

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      • I am not American and I can tell you now that I and everyone I know do not hate Americans themselves. We don’t like the government, the policies, the superiority with which they view other countries, but not the people. Everyone can tell you that they hated George Bush, but dont exactly blame all Americans for the invasion of Iraq.

        As for the ignorance of Americans, what was said in the blog is completely true. Do not forget that we speak English ( I speak English as a second language fluently) and when you learn a language, you are learning a culture. I watch American TV series, movies, read their magazines and so on. I can probably tell you more about America than Americans can. Ask me, however, about China, my knowledge won’t serve me beyond knowing that they have a great wall.

        Don’t completely disregard other peoples’ ideas, especially when they are speaking of greater experience, for that sir, is ignorance.

        Like

      • I don’t know what country you’re from, but I’m going to assume it’s Canada because you sound pretty butthurt =).

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      • To ZLB and the ones who live outside America but insult it anyway:

        America is not what you think. “But I’ve seen the news and heard the stories!”, you cry. Cool. I’ve seen news and heard stories about Mexico and Egypt and South Africa, etc. too. A lot of those places suck hard if they’re what I see on the news. …But they don’t. That’s what you get for being ridiculously gullible and relying too much on the news.

        The only acceptable criticism about a country is from people who make a logical, calm point (without trying to be condescending or superior) that are from a different country, or who live in the country themselves and know what it is like there. All others are just trying to blow their own horn. Badly.

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      • I agree wish her as well…

        Canadians have enough trouble with our own shaky cultural identity without having comments made about how we’re ubiquitous with the USA.

        It frustrates me to no end when im travelling abroad and have my own cultural identity presumptiously compared with that of the USA. In my mind there are some fundamental differences between our countries, often ones that are overlooked.

        While I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of the message of your post, this particular one bothers me…

        Thanks…

        Like

  2. Great article!

    As a combination of Point 1 and 12, I learned that people are very helpful and love to share the cluture and places they like.
    If you travel a lot you see that people have so much in common. Work, freetime and social life, kind of same problems and same pleasures.
    Live is short, but when it’s good, it’s last out.

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  3. I had the pleasure to meet Gary a few weeks ago. He’s a great guy with an excellent attitude to travel :)

    Disagree about the point about English (nearly everyone I meet in my travels doesn’t speak any English beyond “the book is on the table” and I’m glad about it :P ) – I think it depends on who you decide to gravitate towards. But everything else is spot on!

    People should definitely check out Gary’s blog to see his excellent photos!

    Everyone SHOULD travel and it really isn’t that expensive :)

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    • I’d have to agree that English is becoming increasingly universal, Benny. I have traveled to three continents outside my native North America and, believe it or not, I was surprised that the English language was approaching a ubiquitous status—especially countries like Japan and Finland. I do, however, find many of the citizens in these countries are almost embarrassed to speak the English language unless they absolutely need to do so. I guess that action is outside their comfort zone. Just my two cents.

      Like

      • As I said Garrett, it depends on who you gravitate towards. Most travellers I’ve met (I’ve been on the road for 8 years) don’t get out of their comfort zone, especially if they believe “almost everyone” speaks English.

        If you keep meeting the fraction of the population who does speak English then your experiences will be tainted to believe they represent the majority. The lack of ability in the local language decides who you spend time with – you find who you are looking for; English speakers.

        Although I would imagine that in Finland the majority of people speak excellent English, I’m mostly referring to South America and Asia (although in Europe I have countless friends with no English abilities). I have never been to Japan, but I imagine outside of touristed parts of major cities you *will* find Japanese with poor to no English skills. If you happen to socialise with a demographic similar to yourself (young, interested in travel etc.) then of course you will see mostly amazing English speakers.

        And I think this lack of English truly universally is a good thing – travellers should attempt to learn the local language if they want to get more than a superficial glimpse of the culture, or just rely on the upper class to present the culture to them.

        It’s very easy. I find it ironic that the same people who argue that the whole world can speak a second language (i.e. English), insist that “not everyone” (i.e. themselves) have the natural talent to learn a second language. Surely if everyone can easily learn a second language, that’s an even better reason for travellers to do it too.

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  4. I love these points! Especially number 5, about American’s not being as ignorant as stereotyped. When I studied in Ireland for a semester, I was relieved to hear fellow students being just as lost as I was when class turned to current events in foreign countries. They knew Irish, US, and British events but generally little else.

    I think that anyone who wants to travel (and I realize that is most people) should print this out as a reminder. At a minimum, print out the headlines to.

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  5. I agree with a lot of points in this post.
    During my travels I usually trust people, and then they trust you back! There are also assholes everywhere, but you do not have to hang out with them.
    People do not hate Americans, but even in America there are some assholes, again, you do not have to hang out with them.
    I have not always been proud to be from Germany, but through traveling to other countries I developed a pride for my country.
    I lived and worked in Costa Rica as well as in the Yukon, Canada, and even had the internet in my wood cabin there, so agree to that point as well.
    Everyone should travel and you do not need a lot, besides the desire, the bravery, the naivety and the faith.
    I combined my traveling with working. I had the trust that I would meet the right people that guide me to my next step during my travels, so in Canada for example I ended up working as a horse wrangler in the Rocky Mountains, working on the oil fields and as a bus driver in Banff, Alberta and being a river guide on the Yukon River just by meeting the right people by chance.
    This post gives me the opportunity to talk about myself and agree with Gary and his points.
    Go travel and trust people!

    C.P.

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  6. This is a great post and makes me want to travel even more than I already do! You bring up a good point about the media scaring people, and that we feel scared of visiting other cultures because we worry they could be criminals (I’m sure the media has helped with that). It was nice to read that, and of course you are correct in saying, they’re just people like you and me.

    Thanks Gary!

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  7. Hey Tim,

    Have you flown a PPG? Powered Para-Glider?

    I’m learning how now and I’m excited about it, not just because I get to fly (do a video search on ppg glider or ppg fly) but also because everywhere you fly you can get great video of the scenery like nothing else that exists!

    I’m learning from Russell Stegemann and I can tell you its always been a dream of mine to fly. I used to want to learn to use a wingsuit, but now I’m all about learning how to fly a PPG, where I can take off from the ground.

    The crazy thing is that its actaully safer than parachuting, because in order to leave the ground, your chute has to be up, one of the biggest dangers to skydivers is that their chute won’t open or doesn’t open correctly.

    Safer than skydiving, but with more power to fly, isn’t that wild?

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  8. Hi Tim,

    Nice post, quick read and a good refresh of lessons everyone should take to heart.

    As a father with 6 month old twins I have been trying to keep in mind the lessons I want to pass on to my children. #8 has always been a big one for me and a big struggle as well.

    Have you ever been able to convince a friend or family member that they don’t need half the stuff they buy or already have? I have some people very close to me that think “stuff” will make them happy. Do you have any success stories about changing someone’s mind about filling the empty spots in their lives with “stuff”?

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  9. Once I met a probably 25 years old man in front of an atm in cologne, germany. I got into a conversation with him and he turned out to be from “Las Vegas”, staying here for an internship.

    He said “I am from Las Wayyygas” in a very proud way. He asked me: “What is special about Cologne”. I said: “Cologne is just a big city the same way Las Vegas is”.

    He replied: “But every city has it’s charme”. Well.

    But I know where he came from metaphorically speaking. He heard about the awesome cologne the same way we hear about the awesome Las Vegas, New York or Paris. And it’s proverbial charme.

    There is no such thing as charme a city could have. Living wherever you want, in the long run everything turns out to be boring. Average. Known.

    It is the people you meet who can have charming personalities. But a city is just this: a city.

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  10. Once I met a probably 25 years old man in front of an atm in cologne, germany. I got into a conversation with him and he turned out to be from “Las Vegas”, staying here for an internship.

    He said “I am from Las Wayyygas” in a very proud way. He asked me: “What is special about Cologne”. I said: “Cologne is just a big city the same way Las Vegas is”.

    He replied: “But every city has it’s charm”. Well.

    But I know where he came from metaphorically speaking. He heard about the awesome cologne the same way we hear about the awesome Las Vegas, New York or Paris. And it’s proverbial charm.

    There is no such thing as charm a city could have. Living wherever you want, in the long run everything turns out to be boring. Average. Known.

    It is the people you meet who can have charming personalities. But a city is just this: a city.

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  11. It’s refreshing to hear that traveling is not as expensive, dangerous or whatever the news is spewing that day. I recently started my “muse” with every intention to travel the world also. I can’t wait! Post like these really motivate me to get out of my comfort zone and plan my traveling trips.

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  12. Good post.

    Top 16:
    Yeah, the corruption in the Philippines is horrible. Ironically, Hagedorn (the mayor on your photo) seems to be one of the few respectable politicians in this country.

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    • When I visited Puerto Princessa his name was slapped on everything that was in any way touched by government money. Any civic project seemed like an opportunity to campaign. If that’s clean, it just shows how bad the Philippines has become. Most Filipinos I know seem to think I underestimate the problem.

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      • I’m from Manila, Philippines. David was quite right, Hagedorn was one of the good mayors here. However if the project posters with Govt officials’ names on it was one of your observations of corruption, therefore corruption is here, because THOSE TYPE OF POSTERS are EVERYWHERE.

        I just want to suggest a better picture on #16:

        http://tinyurl.com/35mwqqj

        That is one real public fund waster. Anyway thank you Gary for the honest notice.

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      • Hello Gary,

        I think that is corruption. I want you to know that here in the Philippines, it is illegal to use civic project as an opportunity to campaign. Yes, there is a law the prohibits it since people are made to believe that the money comes from these politicians.

        That law was trampled upon during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration. The former president use government’s money to bribe politicians. Her face was everywhere and almost every goverment program has the acronym PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo).

        The new president promises to curb corruption in the Philippines. It will take a long time before we Filipinos can clean our government. The former president made it difficult through midnight appointments.

        I hope you visit the Philippines again.

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      • …Oh, like Obama does in the dead of night, here in the U.S.?

        Gary thanks so much for your article. I appreciate a fine piece of work, especially when it motivates people to get outside their comfort zone and experience a true, full-fledged culture shock.

        I love the feeling of culture shock.. But I hate the feeling of reverse culture shock, once returning home… Home becomes all of a sudden, so depressing, compared to a ‘new’ world.

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    • It is so corrupt. I would agree 100% on what Gary mentioned. Philippines is beautiful, yet marred by too much ugly politics by the elites and oligarchs there! My God, what have we done to our country! People there still vote for the same crop of foolish politicians (like the current president and same banana senators).

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  13. Marvelous post, Gary, and the images are terrific as well.

    You’ve confirmed some of my observations as well as made me think about a few issues I hadn’t considered – in particular your points about the importance of culture, and how it morphs over time. Well done; thank you.

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  14. Wow Gary, my eyes have been opened! This is inspiring stuff and makes me (even more) want to get outside of the ‘States and get some countries under my belt!
    I also just signed up for, and am looking through your 50 Travel Photos pdf. So inspiring! Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading you more and getting to know you better!

    - JC

    P.S. – Tim, not sure if you knew this or not, but Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming is available for FREE online here: http://bibliotecapleyades.net/archivos_pdf/exploring_luciddreaming.pdf
    I’ve been going through your archives and have been 1-week into Lucid Dreaming training. POWERFUL stuff man! Thanks for sharing!

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  15. This is so true. I have traveled quite a bit in the military and for personal reasons. I would agree with all 20 of these observations. As an American the most important things that you can when traveling are the simplest.

    1. Realize they love their country the way that you love yours. Even if they do not let them make the disagreement not you. Most people are proud of where they are from. Your dead on.

    2. Try their language. Even if you do not have any clue or ever studied it. This shows that you are interested in their culture. I have found that even when you butcher it, it becomes a common ground that eases the conversation dramatically, after they laugh at you.

    How have you seen them respond when you butcher their language Tim, do they respond they same way I have experienced?

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    • 100% agreed on language. I ALWAYS try. At the very least, it’s comedic relief, totally breaks the ice, and you can all have a laugh when you ask someone to “rape you” instead of “wake you”, as I did in Japanese (okashite kudasai vs. okoshite kudasai).

      I find language to be the best way to connect. People are hugely forgiving, except perhaps the French in a few cities, and Americans and Brits in almost all cities.

      Great point.

      Like

      • My husband and I had a dream – do not freeze in the Russian winter. In late winter, we are basking in California and the Dominican Republic, beginning of autumn spent a month in the Bahamas, and now winter in the warm Florida!

        And before that I 39 years did not go out anywhere!

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      • Tim, I can think of nothing more gratifying when traveling than being able to speak at least a few words or phrases in someone else’s language. Recently I went to Colombia and met a gentleman from Malaysia on the same tour. Though I don’t speak Malay, he was tickled to death when I used the Malay phrase “rumusan bayi” (infant formula) which I learned through one of my earlier jobs!

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  16. hi gary,

    i was in bangkok during the protests this year as well. while much of the city operated as usual, grenades on the silom line (my station to work) and a rpg in my condo did actually cause a personal disruption.

    we never felt unsafe (minus the condo thing), but we also could not work. i had to move to singapore for several months to iron out things like work and cash flow.

    cg

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  17. This is really inspiring.

    I graduate from college at the end of December and I’ve set aside some time to try and live as a location-independent digital nomad for a while after that. If anything, this post is proof it’s really possible long-term, not just as a crazy kid without a “real” job.

    Btw Tim, I just started reading 4HWW and it’s awesome!

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  18. I agree with what’s been said about the rest of the world. The only thing that I’d add is that it’s fun and really gratifying to make friends in different countries. The Internet makes it much easier to keep in touch with these friends than it used to be when we relied on snail mail and making a phone call overseas was outrageously expensive.

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  19. 13) America and Canada share a common culture-

    I’m Canadian and couldn’t agree more. I think you’d find a lot of Canadians in larger cities that would be more open minded to this conclusion. We’re proud to be where we’re from but we understand the cultural goulash that has happened on this continent (except Quebec haha). Smaller town folks would bring up points that make a Canadian ‘different’ without seeing the similarities small towns across North America (I bet the world, too) share with small Canadian towns.

    I am a little fatigued at the many attempts to discuss a “Canadian identity” on our airwaves and national channels (CBC- please….). I feel as though everyone knows exactly what it is to be Canadian (America but smaller, more spread out, colder, more hockey, high awareness of which Canadians are famous, and how we are the fodder for sitcom writers, and probably some more blah blah blah etc). I mean, Americans are really nice. If someone’s a jerk, they are a jerk, not their country’s population.

    Anyway, watch out for Tim Hortons coffee chains. In a few years America will be peppered/inundated with them. Only purists and contrarians will have a problem with the coffee. Actually, I’m going to get one right now.

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      • Tim I hope you aren’t talking about Tim Horton’s coffee! omg its horrible! i even talked to some Canadians and they laughed that it was horrible and they still drink it! lol. the treats are delicious though

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      • Hiya Tim

        Thanks for a GREAT post. I’m a South African travel writer and editor and I travel as much as I possibly can. I cannot imagine doing anything else, nothing makes me happier than discovering new people and places. There are some draw-backs to this type of life however. I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town but even so, I find it hard to adapt when I come home. I collect memories and slices of life so relating to my friends who do “normal” jobs is very difficult. And there is a subtle modecum of envy as well – they feel stuck in jobs they dont really enjoy with husbands, wifes and kids that make them feel trapped so that can be tough as well. One question, about that North America culture thing – why DO you call yourselves “American”? Do the Americas not encompass North, South and Central? :) Why claim two continents? As an African, I’m reminded of a show of NYPD Blues I saw eons ago where the one cop asks his (black) partner: “why do u call yourselves African American? Why not Nigerian American or Somali American? How can you claim the entire continent?” Interesting…. Thanks again. Jo

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      • Jo,

        Thanks for your observations. I want to comment but didn’t see “reply” directly under your post (hope this is the right place).

        When you talk of others who envy your lifestyle, what they don’t seem to realize is that they have more power to alter their circumstances than they recognize or would care to admit. What they may be envying in reality is your ability to make the decision to travel while they choose to stay where they are out of fear.

        I’m not sure how we came to adopt the term “American” for ourselves. My friends from Latin America are quick to point out that America really refers to the entire Western Hemisphere (aka “The Americas”) and not just to the United States. There doesn’t seem to be a good term in English to differentiate residents of the United States from the rest of the countries in our hemisphere. The Spanish language has the term “estadounidense” (among others) and that is the term I personally prefer to refer to myself when speaking in that language.

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    • Actually, if you put aside the linguistics difference,we’re not that much different from the rest of Canada or the United-States. Almost all of our major radio stations broadcasts mainstream pop music in English.Also most of our television shows are either translated shows from the rest of Canada or the United-States with minor adaptation to the dialogue only to reflect francophone celebrities, or imitations with french-Canadians actors.We also eat the same dishes(since poutine is now spread from coasts to coasts… even to Belgium) and love the same sports(we’ll leave baseball to the States).

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    • Wow. Really? I agree that we (Canadians) have a lot in common with our neighbours to the south, but that list you prattled off clearly shows you’ve never listened to any discussion of Canadian identity past the introduction of stereotypical “best we can manage” answers.
      Where to begin? Quebec is not the exception to our cultural “goulash” – have you ever been to Montreal or any other centre that clearly exemplifies this? What you mean is that they try very hard to preserve the culture that has existed there for centuries; but that doesn’t mean quashing the attempts of immigrants to maintain their own culture within their new home. Yes, smaller towns are much more homogeneous, but that’s true almost anywhere you go. Furthermore, consider our Maritime and Atlantic Provinces (I mean, to say that Newfoundland is just like the rest of Canada, oh wait, North America, is ignorant) as well at the northern Territories, especially Nunavut which is a very unique place to explore (try it some time, or at least wiki it).
      Just the fact that we have such a territory, that we celebrate the many different cultural groups that make up our First Nations in a meaningful trans-national way, and that the enormous continuing social issues and prejudices many face continue to be a highly contentious and frequently tackled topic is a HUGE difference we have from not just the States, but a multitude of other countries. This appreciation for our colonial roots and the complexities that have followed is paramount in most Canadians’ understanding of our heritage.
      To wrap up this rant, clearly Canadians can be just as ignorant as Americans – it’s just a whole lot sadder when it’s about your own country.

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      • I think that the part about Canada being culturally indistinguishable is the most interesting thing in the article (note I’m American) And for me one of the most off-base. I have been to Canada a couple times but more importantly have worked with numerous Canadians in jobs at summer camps and teaching English. Several differences – Canada is much less impacted by the culture of Christianity, especially Evangelism, than the US. They just have fewer, and less vocal, Evangelists there. Canadians, as are most non-American citizens II have gotten to know, are less arrogant on the surface. I think that may be one stereotype of Americans that is unfortunately true. We are just more up front with our self confidence, opinions, and individualism. In my experience people from outside the US are more hesitant to brag or really argue for why they are right and you are wrong. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, we are a proud people, but many of the people I have met from
        The US talk more than they listen. people from other countries are often just as arrogant and opinionated, but just polite enough to hold it inside (Brits!!!!). . Also Canadians do have an accent, and like hockey a LOT more. And there are some unique foods like poutine and real maple syrup. Also some unique words and language from the US. In general the Canadian travelers are a little more laid back and a little less arrogant than the folks from the US. And less likely to be religious. And I am friends with a Newfie and they are flat out one of the most unique and awesome cultures I have met someone from. I think people from both countries are good, and I am proud to be from the US.

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  20. I would add a number 21 – traveling around the world can be a better education than spending your time languishing in a school/university.

    This would certainly apply to those students entering university because they are looking for “themselves” or “what they want to do with their lives”.

    Thanks for the great post – very inspiring!

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  21. I sort of feel cheated that the content of this post was someone else’s words and experiences entirely. You definitely make it clear that Gary Arndt is the author, but overall it just feels…odd that you posted this.

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    • Hi Eric,

      I’m really sorry you feel that way. I understand most readers are accustomed to reading my material, but I feel part of my job is to find examples outside of my own to showcase as models. Hope that helps somehow.

      All the best,

      Tim

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      • Hi Tim,

        Must agree with “Use personal name”. I’m happy Tim Horton’s is such a hit and I have a certain pride that they’re Canadian but great coffee it is not. Almost everybody I know who drinks the stuff orders a “double, double” or some such thing…so much cream and sugar with the coffee one can hardly tell it’s coffee. There are tons of local coffee shops in Toronto and Montreal (probably Vancouver too but can’t speak for them) and who offer way better coffee and it’s often organic and/or fair trade which Timmy’s does not have…shame on them. Love the post though and keep on rockin’!

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    • I think it’s great! Sharing information is the way to go, especially when the message is one that inspires and resonates with others. Thanks to Tim, I discovered Gary’s blog and have since subscribed to it. Looking forward to reading his posts and viewing his videos/photos :-).

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    • Traveling can be an education away from the tourist way. Only with an open mind and having the courage to be honest can travel be an education. If you go to a country with the attitude to prove it the best ever! How are you learning anything. It is also about absorbing the simplest things that can be useless information to most.

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  22. Gary,
    Reading this made me smile, then I got chills and then tears came to my eyes. Thank you so much for dispelling the myth that people in other countries hate Americans. I always wondered about that theory. I don’t hate Iranians or North Koreans, I don’t like their governments and I think our media perpetuates that horrible myth. I am an avid watcher of Anthony Bordains No Reservations where he visits other countries and doesn’t just eat there food but interacts in their cultures. I have noticed on the show that people ARE good. Between you and Anthony you have given me renewed hope to venture!
    I hope to visit other countries but first I need to see New York and Yellowstone. Working on my passive income so I can do that.
    Thanks for making my Saturday!

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    • I live in small town in Iran, here nobody hates americans. Youths like your movies. They respect all foreign people with different cultures. Indeed, this post was really interesting. thank you

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  23. Hi Tim,

    Been a fan for a while, and I’ve recently been hearing more about you from a list of my good friends… Delmonte, and the owners of FBF and DSP (i’ll leave the owners names out).

    I think this is one of your best posts. I think everything is spot on, however #5 I’ve found to be a little more true than not, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think its simply born from the lack of travel experience and the obsession with american news you mentioned. That formula alone unfortunately makes it too easy to forget your travel rule #1.

    Without a real experienced awareness that there are other people and others places working hard to feed their families outside of the US, it leads to a lot of the extreme rhetoric we hear today.

    People fear what they do not know, and travel lesson #2 makes everything a million times worse.

    thanks for the thought and effort you put into this post.

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  24. Wow Tim! This just goes to show us what a lot of traveling can do for your self growth. I particularity like the first lesson and I find it to be the conclusion of most people who meet a wide range of other people: we are in general good.

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  25. Wow. I think this is one of the most honest and enlightening posts I’ve ever read about…anything.

    A lot of what I read is along the lines of, “Americans don’t travel. American’s suck. If you don’t travel you suck.”

    I clicked over to this article from a link in Twitter. I had no intentions of reading all the way through. But I couldn’t stop.

    It’s refreshing to read writing this good and objective.

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  26. Love this one, Gary.

    I was speaking with an Irish ex-pat currently on leave and doing a RTW trip. We were talking about the disparity in travel rates between USA and various European countries, and it’s true that while we here in the US don’t have a gap year culture (not gonna open THAT can of worms), it’s also true that the United States is huge compared to various western European countries. For some one here to live in, say, New York and travel to the American Southwest provides as different a topography and culture as does a German spending a holiday in Spain. Minus the language.

    So, yea, it’s a hard truth that North Americans don’t visit different countries as much as people in other countries, there’s more than one root cause for this.

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  27. We have been traveling as a family non-stop for the last 5 years and I agree with most of these points. I am reading this outside on a deck facing the most spectacular view of Cook’s Bay in Moorea in French Polynesia…we are couch surfing here with the most amazing folks.

    I just have to disagree with the English speaking part a bit. Many places DO speak English & almost always in expensive hotels or on the tourist circuit one can find English speakers since it is a major language. BUT there are MANY places where it is very hard to find anyone who speaks English..even in Europe.

    Just like many Americans learn other languages in school but can not speak any, even if they got A’s ( like I did), most people in larger countries like Spain, Germany ,France etc ( that have a major language themselves) do not speak English. They may have taken them in school, but can not carry on even a very simple conversation.

    As demographics change, English may very well become a much less important language. ( One of the reasons that we as monolinguals are raising a very fluent trilingual/triliterate in Spanish, Mandarin & English. ).

    We have been traveling the world luxuriously on 23 dollars a day per person( total costs for living and traveling) for the last 5 years ( and use many methods from hotels to RV) so are living examples that travel does not have to be expensive….even for families.

    Funny to find this post this morning as I just had a dream about you as I woke Tim! ;) Love any and all encouragement for world travel. The more we do it, the more we want to do it & I am thrilled that our child is already planning her very own RTW trip sans parents once she finishes her University. Travel truly is the best education and gives one more faith in humanity. Thanks for sharing Gary!

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  28. As a Canadian #13 doesn’t really irk me, but you’re confusing language / accent and general appearance with culture. And the two cultures are similar in some ways, but very different in others, such as: views on the role of the military, an entirely different political system, very different views on healthcare and social safety nets in general, and of course sports. Hardly the same culture. And anyway we say ‘eh’, how could you not spot that? :)

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    • I came here to make this point, but you beat me to it.

      A few other differentiators I’d highlight:

      1) The US is a melting pot, while Canada attempts to be multi-cultural. This is an aspect I miss this the most when travelling to other countries which are (typically) made up of homogeneous populations.
      2) Attitudes toward violence. US media glorifies violence more than any other society I’ve visited.
      3) Incarceration rates are very different.
      4) Attitudes toward sex. US media is far more prudish about sex than any other society I’ve visited.
      5) Religion. The US is more fundamentalist than Canada.
      6) Litigation. The US is more litigious than Canada.
      7) Imperial versus metric measurement (i.e. Canadians can conform to a standard that we didn’t establish).
      8) We (Canadians) like hatchback cars.
      9) Canadians would end dissenting comments with a smiley face to ensure people knew we meant no harm by them. :)

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    • yes yes, Canadians and Americans are very different. But we also have to remember that looking at it from the outside in, we do appear similar. The majority of us North American’s probably would have trouble distinguishing the difference between a person from:
      China-Japan
      England-Ireland-Scotland
      Australia-NewZealand
      Iran-Iraq
      Brazil-Argentina

      And its so funny because us Canadian’s get offended when we’re mistaken for American’s.

      In my travel experiences, I find the Americans to have the poorest knowledge of geography, and the French to be biggest jerks lol.

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      • It’s quite easy to distinguish between the cultures/groups you’ve listed. Accents, psysiology, and language are all direct indicators. Just becasue you cannot tell the difference doesn’t mean you should assume the majority cannot. Why people must be grouped in large associations such as North America is confusing, especially when there is such a stark contrast between people of the same country (a Quebecois is quite different from an east coaster or someone from the Yukon)

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  29. I’ve only been to 20 countries but I find that English is divided between the under and over 40 age groups. Young people everywhere speak english. also remember that sometimes the locals pretend to not speak english if they think you’re annoying.

    I find that my best experiences are asking locals to show me their area – people are very proud of whatever they have and the fun is all in the cultural differences.

    Peace.

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  30. Travelling has easily been the best thing I have ever done> i too have learned many of the same lessons. A lesson I learned, similar to the “you dont need lots of things” is that once you start travelling, all of your material possessions stop defining you (not that they have to at home, but they did for me). Now I have slowed down, I do not have the urge to buy stuff I once did. Great post.

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  31. The great thing is that most of these lessons can be learned from visiting just a handful of countries outside one’s own. I’ve only been to 12 countries outside North America and yet I absolutely and intuitively agreed with every point.

    Travel is like a free “Win at Life” card :D

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  32. Random coincidence, I just opened this up mid-way through reading Eating Animals and enjoyed seeing the unrelated video at the end of this post… Foer is an amazing writer and the book is awesome and terrifying.

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  33. Great list! Speaking as a Canadian that has lived overseas for the last couple years, I would tend to disagree with 4, 5, and 13 to a lesser degree. The Americans I meet in third-world countries do tend to be culturally sensitive – but that goes with the territory of visiting an impoverished nation.

    In first (and even second) world nations, spotting Americans is easy – they’re often (not always) the loud, ignorant, and rude ones. They’re the ones sitting in the Prague restaurant trying to communicate that they just want a grilled cheese sandwich. Or yelling at the Portuguese locals because they don’t speak English. Or starting most of the fights at Oktoberfest. Or being asked to leave the Taj Mahal for answering their cell phones while inside. I have lost count how many times a cab driver has asked me if I was American and on my denial has said something like, “good we don’t like Americans here”.

    Of course, there are exceptions. I have met a number of culturally sensitive Americans while traveling who are equally appalled by their countrymen’s sense of self-entitlement That said, it seems like everyone I know who travels has a story about a rude American they saw while traveling. It’s rarely the rude Japanese man, or Argentinian woman, or British man, or Irish woman.

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      • Me, (the american) and a Scottish rugby team in Lapa RJ July 2009. No way I was the worst behaved man on the street. It was still a blast…

        Jason

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    • I am a proud American who attened uni in Scotland and then lived abroad for five years, in Edinburgh, London, and Greece. I traveled extensively throughout western and eastern europe, and sorry to burst any bubbles, but throughout the world, the worst tourist is the English tourist. Scots are a universal favorite: loud and brash, their kindness and generosity make them popular travel companions and visitors. The English, with their refusal to eat food that is not “British”, their inability to be able to drink without binging, and the fact that their drunken antics and refusal to wear sunscreen seem to result in more ER visits and arrests than any other nationality on holiday, mean that when I was asked where I was from, a sigh of relief was heard. “Oh, thank goodness you aren’t English.” This is not to say that I have not met many wonderful English people on my travels, I have, but as an American girl traveling alone, I can promise you, I don’t drink or yell about grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere. And while maybe you can say that people liked my American money, I was welcomed into homes and ate meals with families who were concerned that I was alone, and they never asked for anything in return. We cooked together and I played with their kids. No one spat at me or acted like I had ruined the world. Honestly, I think people often tell you what you want to hear, and if you acted anti-american, they will act anti-american too, because mostly, people want to get along with strangers. :)

      I did meet ONE American, in Romania, that had a lot of trouble fitting in and I am sure he will go back and report that the world hates Americans. He wore sweatpants to a fancy resturaunt with us, even when I tried to suggest that he dress up a bit, and liked to get into political arguments with people a lot of the time. I think he was generally a nice guy, but he certainly didn’t “blend” in anywhere. That’s life.

      And to address Canada: sorry guys. I am originally from upstate NY and I have a lot of friends from Toronto, and no, no one can tell the difference between us. And when I go visit my friends from the north, I see no difference, culturally, from my hometown. Except they have KFC/Taco Bells. Which are awesome. :)

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      • Hey Danielle, I’m planning on traveling alone as soon as I finish my college pursuits and I wanted to know if you had any tips seeming as you unlike many other bloggers or people who have shared their testimony on travel are a female who traveled alone. I must say that is my only concern, but will no not deter me from my dream!

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  34. I haven’t had the opportunity travel as extensively as you, but I have been blessed with the privilege to spend extended time in a good bit of the globe outside the U.S. My experience is that everything you wrote is true.

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  35. Great post,
    I agree in every point of list. Reading of this post was really amazing and took me to the other places on the world. Thank you.

    Peace

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  36. Great piece, now I want to read his book. The fotos are terrific. I like #18 the best because it is important to distinguish between modernization and westernization. The Ronald foto is hilarious too. Anyway, I love to travel and feel the itch. I never got any bad vibes from anyone about being American and never said I was Canadian either. Be cool, be American, set a good example. Even when Venezuelan cops shook me down, they just wanted some bread, not to mess with a gringo.

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  37. I full heartedly agree with #2 and #3 – I think one of the best things about world travel as an American is getting away from American media, and realizing just how boring the rest of the world is. I’ve always wanted to travel to Bhutan, and I just read another blog post about travelling there (http://www.krisking.org/blog/2010/10/29/the-incredible-lightness-of-being/) – I think this is a sign that I need to make it happen! Thanks for sharing your experience and encouragement to explore the world!

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  38. I recall one day in Greece years ago in the afternoon and I was “rushing” around trying to do some banking…Well the joke was on me because banks there close until early evening/late afternoon (this was early 80′s…) . So, I went and got a cold frappe and sat under a tree and chilled and relaxed. I remember that I had finally learned that, ” when in Rome….” although I was in Athens !!!

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  39. #14 is so true. As we’ve traveled extensively over the last few years, we have experienced the same curiosity in others. No matter where you are, you find that most people dream of seeing far off places.

    Also, #20 = Awesome!

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  40. I agree with single point – some more than others, but still. I’ve lived in Peru for going on seven years now and the fact is that my life is very much the same as any wife and mother in the US.

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    • Thanks for the interesting post. I agree with Barbara, we should be careful with the term “North American culture”. Mexico belongs to this region, and it certainly differs a lot from the United States and Canada.

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    • Mexico is still a lot more similar, by comparison, to the other countries talked about there though. But I agree, and my Mexican girlfriend always bugs me when I forget that I’m speaking about Mexico as well when I talk about “Americans” or North America, haha.

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  41. Thanks for the article Tim, I’m currently in a crisis of decision about moving to Western Canada from my home in Ontario and to be on the road as a musician more.

    This list was a great reminder of my desire for adventure and travel.

    Cheers

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  42. Nice post. I had the opportunity to visit Thailand during the Red Shirt demonstrations. I avoided the area and never would have known a thing about it if not for the sensationalism of the news media. I felt very safe and had one of the nicest trips. I took 3 days and went to Phuket and found the people and culture to be so enriching. I plan to take a year off and travel to South America to live and explore. Thinking of Ecuador. Everyone should reach out to do something like this. It’s better than a college degree for learning in my opinion!

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  43. Amazing post Gary,

    Its great to read an article like this from the perspective of a traveller, rather than the media or even someone who has never travelled (i have friends and family telling me how dangerous it can be and they have never left the country!)

    Yes the big one for also is internet connection almost anywhere! Thats awesome to know!

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  44. This post is great, but the linked talk about “Eating Animals” was pretty much a waste of time. Yes, factory farming is horrible, but vegetarianism is a completely naive answer. In answering the “hunting” question the author comes up with an incredibly silly answer that people hunt because of the joy of killing another animal.

    Whether or not this is true is completely moot. For any of us to live, many, many things have to die. Read “The Vegetarian Myth,” it’s much more annoyingly political but still a much more realistic view of our place in the world. It seems to be that hunting (assuming you’re not hunting things to extinction) is an incredibly responsible way of living like a human being, and physically taking the responsibility of killing other things for your own survival literally into your own hands.

    I like people speaking out about factory farming, but the author’s conclusions about this are counter-productive and obfuscating. Eating plants means species extinction. There is no way to live without blood on your hands. The idea that literally having blood on your hands is something to be avoided shows me that even writing a whole book about this, the author hasn’t thought much about it, not beyond some idealistic vegan imaginary utopia.

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  45. Great article. Agree on Canadian/American culture being essentially the same, although as Genny so eloquently demonstrated, another way to tell the difference between us is the use of the phrase “bang on” ;-p.

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  46. #6 and #11 were particular enlightening when I traveled in 2005-2006. It was rare to run into other “yanks”, hence, why #4 is probably true, if anything, people are interested in Americans. #11, I just like how you put it, it is the 21st century, it is a different place but not a different time. So the Buddhist monks in South East Asia with their I-Phones is not out of place :)

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  47. Great Post!! But just wanted to let you know:

    The photo used in #19 – the photo that looks like a Nazi Symbol on a Korean Sign is actually the symbol for Buddhism. In this regard, I feel that the photo may be a bit out of context.

    The ends on the Nazi symbol point to the right, but the ends on the Buddhist symbol point to the left, and this symbol can be seen on a lot of older temples, as well as many modern Buddhist venues/meeting spots.

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  48. Hey Tim,

    I think you confused the f**k out of everyone by posting that video, considering you’re doing Paleo 6 days a week.

    How do you reconcile the Paleo diet with this video? Buy your meat at Farmer’s markets only?

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  49. Sorry Tim,

    As much as a like your posts, I found this one by Gary way too ambiguous, than what I expected someone who traveled the world for 3.5 years have to say.

    I’m not saying that every traveler should or will become an instant philosopher (which does happen quit a bit on the road to some fellow travelers…) but i guess i expected different insights that most of this list.

    I personally been on the road on and off, for the last 10 years and on of these adventures was for 3 years as well. but it goes beyond ‘binge traveling’ to count the places we’ve been in and the time we’ve spent in each, rather the insights, the experience and the stuff we gathered from meeting different cultures, meeting, seeing things that are different to us and learn to accept them the way they are, trying to feel and experience the vibe in that certain city, province or country…

    I just think that this specific post lacked a bit of ‘juice’ and was a bit ‘grey’ as of content, because i’m convinced that Gary can come up with more than just ‘american’s are like this or like that’

    to be honest…it doesnt matter! the world goes beyond that. and most people don’t really fuss too much with that after the first 10 minutes into the conversation.

    I guess i expected something interesting and as good as Rolf Potts’ in going beyond the basics themselves.

    I do agree with Gary that there’s so much to learn from each other and from other cultures. And the reason that a certain country is not in the news doesnt mean that it’s nowhere, boring or bad ….

    I truly hope most people reading this post will have a chance to discover traveling themselves not just as a getaway from the 9-17 rather as a mind opening experience and educating not to mention life changing.

    well, at least that’s my personal opinion.

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    • Yonatan,

      Your point is well taken, but maybe the post is designed for people for whom Gary’s comments would be a revelation – perhaps those who have not traveled much and rely on what they see and hear from the news media. (Gary says “the media lies,” and a former teacher of mine said “the media’s purpose is not to educate.”) Gary’s post is inspiring me to come up with a list of my own that takes into account things I’ve learned from my own travel experiences.

      Mike

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  50. No surprise for spending not more than 300 $ for month , most people in egypt are pure and i am sure that they spend less.
    For example in Moldova , many people work on several works to survive , 1000$ a month are big money there. And yes big corruption there also ..

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  51. Very enjoyable article. I had my first experience traveling the world this month when I took 2 weeks to explore all of Sicily. I will never forget that experience: the people, the food, the culture, the language, the way of life, the smell, everything.

    Tim you need to make a post about warning people about what happens after you start traveling – you never stop. The urge only increases more and more until you satisfy it.

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    • The swastika is originally an Indian sun symbol which spread widely in East Asia (the picture is from Korea) as a part of Buddhist symbols… because of the supposed link to the Aryan race as coming from Northern India/the Himalayas, the Nazis took over that symbol.
      It’s always jarring, and always a good reminder to keep your mind open to potentially different meanings of symbols you just know to mean one thing alone: a Japanese temple adorned with swastikas does not mean they have anything to do with fascism….

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    • @aharon If you look closely, you will see that the Swastika is backwards from the Nazi symbol. It was used in Buddhism before the Nazis ever got a ahold of it and corrupted it. The reason I used the photo is because we are so conditioned to react in a certain way when we see that symbol. Culturally, we are not used to seeing it in another context.

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    • It’s an ancient symbol, first recorded in neolithic times and still in use in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism (where it can be left facing or right facing depending on meaning). I guess that the Hindu use pre-dates the Buddhist use.

      It has been popular in many cultures over the centuries sometimes just for the design impact rather than meaning – it was once a popular quilt pattern element for example and appears in many weaving designs around the world.

      But you don’t need to travel to learn stuff like this – you could just crack open a book now and then.

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  52. Good article! Two minor points:

    First – “In developing countries, government is usually the problem.” Strike the “In developing countries” part. Corruption and meddling are universal, though the actual amount varies.

    Second – about English being the world’s second language. You’re right, but it helps to understand what being a second language means. I’ll admit that my non-English country experience is limited to 2 weeks in Japan. From what I saw, Japan speaks English in exactly the same way that the USA speaks Spanish. Everyone studies it. Then they gradually forget all except for a small amount of vocabulary. Unless they personally deal with foreigners all the time.

    You can enjoy Japan without knowing any Japanese, just as many Spanish monolinguals get by for decades in the USA. But don’t count on having the most ideal experience. Knowing any of the local language helps a LOT. Even if it’s just at the level of “please, thank you, goodbye.” There were many times when I wished I could read more Kanji…

    As for the rest of the world, I assume you’d know more than I do. Thanks for sharing what you learned!

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  53. I really liked this post except I would have worded “English is Becoming Universal” differently. To me, it implies that one has a good chance of getting by on English alone.

    There’s a myth that everyone outside the U.S. is dying to learn English and would “love to practice their English” with you. That’s hardly been true in my travels. Even in Delhi, India — unless I was in a tourist specific spot, I had a very difficult time communicating in English.

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  54. wow that was such a great read………nice and punchy. I totally agree with language and how it breaks down barriers. I’m Australian and married my Indian wife ( who speaks Tamil ) in Brunei, where she grew up. Everyone in Brunei speaks Malay.
    Tamil is astoundingly difficult to learn, however my wife teaches me words that are related to food. In Asian cultures, especially South Asian, food is about love, family and togetherness. Just by trying to speak some Tamil food words, my wife’s family and friends have embraced me as their own…………which is an AMAZING feeling. And when I try to speak Malay ( which is relatively easy to learn ) to the local Bruneian’s, they open up to you, purtely because you are TRYING and you are making an EFFORT…………this applies to everything in life. Trying and effort is all that is needed to earn respect, love and gratitude.
    Thanks for this awesome post Tim!

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  55. Gary . . . .

    I love it!

    #11 resonated with me a lot.

    There’s this whole “myth” of authenticity thing that is *totally whack*!

    I live in San Fran and work in a touristy area and you see a breakfast place with a “World Famous Waffles” sign and think, “seriously?” You have to come to SF to gnosh on world-class waffles? Puh-leeaase.

    @john – Quaffed some Tim Horton’s on Vancouver Island and it was off the hoOok!

    Good Vibes~
    Vic Dorfman

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  56. As someone who has spent the better part of the last 2+ years overseas (primarily in Germany, with a current stop in Afghanistan and a previous stop in Iraq for, uh, work related reasons ;) ), I agree with a lot of this post.

    Going around Germany, I have noticed that not just Germans, but all people (regardless of where they come from) love to share their pride with (but not just) Americans.

    I see so many other Americans who go out and visit the German countryside but don’t actually care about the culture or the people.

    Though I could never afford it myself, I am glad my job sent me overseas, so I could actually experience firsthand a part of the world I had never been (I had never left the country prior to 2008).

    As an aside, the only people who ever showed an anger for Americans were random Turkish youth I ran into in train stations and on the streets.

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  57. One question – Has Gary been stereotyped in other countries due to his race? And how did he deal with it?

    I’m on this issue not to be rude, but because I’m black and all examples of world travel (outside of Africa) I can find are of Caucasians.

    Caucasians in Africa tend to be treated poorly compared to black travelers, and outside of Africa (the rest of the world) they tend to be treated better than black travelers (vice versa for Africans). And sometimes everyone’s treated poorly.

    Does Gary offer a solution for this?

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  58. Great points and facts, that’s exactly why travelling is so great.

    By the way, #13 is really true hahaha and I’m a Quebecer. It was kinda hard explaining the differences between our culture, the RoC’s one and the USA. I might have felt kinda irritated sometimes, but I totally understand that as a North American, people will have a tendency to generalize.

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  59. Well said, Tim, this should be required reading! I’ve done some traveling myself, mostly “off the beaten path”, and in my experience everything you’ve said is more or less generally true. And with regards to point #4, not only do most people *not* hate Americans, but in some countries we are treated like rock stars. AND I LOVE IT!!!

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  60. Awesome, awesome, awesome post. My family and I loved overseas for a few years and even attempted a short stint as nomads in Europe. Your comments are well articulated. These are many of the same observations we had though your words describe them well.

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  61. Hey Tim, great post on travel! I’ve been traveling the globe the last 3 years and teaching English as my means of income. One of my good friends (Emil) has been traveling for the past 7 years and compiled some amazing videos as a hobbie/education instrument. He doesn’t get the online recognition he deserves, but the amount of countries he’s been to and videos he’s created are really awesome to watch. I hope you and fellow travellers take some time to check out his youtube page and enjoy all his shenanigans around the world!
    (sorry I initially commented on the wrong post)

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  62. Tim,

    Thank you for sharing Gary’s fantastic traveling insight. Along similar lines as #1 (People are generally good.), I have found this to be true. As a current English teacher in South Korea, I’ve noticed that people will go out of their way to help. In Peru, one of the locals warned me about a potentially shady situation, and I am forever grateful to him.

    Another great tip: Ask questions! As mentioned, people are more than willing to help you, even if you can only communicate through sign language. I tried a new Korean stew last night by asking the people next to me (in hand gestures) what they were eating. They even offered me some and offered to order for me. This was all in Korean, and I was still able to understand, even though I speak at a very very basic level.

    -Alexa

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  63. Tim,

    It’s not just that this isn’t your own material but the fact that this entire post has been posted multiple times all over the internet and attributed to various authors. Just take any sentence in Gary’s post and Google it. You will see it come up over and over again.

    For instance, I took the sentence “Many people are afraid of the world beyond their door, yet the vast majority of humans are not thieves, murderers or rapists.” You can find this exact post on the following sites:

    http://everything-everywhere.com/2010/08/23/read-my-first-article-for-the-huffington-post/

    http://berimbauone.tumblr.com/post/1009341899/20-things-ive-learned-from-traveling-around-the-world

    I remember reading this same post several weeks ago which is why I bothered looking it up.

    Bill

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    • Thanks, Bill. Gary has absolutely posted this before, but I felt it was good enough to introduce to those who might not have seen it elsewhere. Still experimenting with this guest poster stuff, but we learn as we go.

      Best,

      Tim

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      • I’d never seen this post before and had only briefly seen Gary’s name mentioned somewhere else. I think posting this was great. Not all of us have a long list of blogs on our RSS reader.

        Thanks for the post!

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  64. Great summary of what you learn when you travel Gary. I’ve learnt similar in my (almost) 2 years so far traveling. Point 1 & 2 are the most important for people to consider if in doubt. Murderers and other bad people are in a huge minority worldwide, you couldn’t even fill a small country with people at that level really.

    I wouldn’t say English is universal just yet, but it is definitely the most handy to have worldwide. It can be a struggle here in Japan to get by in English despite it being so developed (and that’s one reason why it isn’t so popular – they don’t need your money here and therefore your language) but that can be a plus if you’re keen to learn languages. Even one odd sentence can make locals warm to you. For Japan I use ‘conban beerlu o nomimas ka’ Which means ‘will you come for a beer with me this evening?’ It shows off my humour, an effort to learn their language, is a genuine social question and usually makes them laugh if its the example I give for what Japanese I’ve learnt.

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    • @Rob my point is not that everyone speaks English (they don’t) but that it has become the default second language in most parts of the world. If you are to learn another language (and not everyone does) English has become that language for most people. Many multilingual countries are using English as a working language as so not to favor one local language or another.

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      • Gary, I enjoyed your post. Regarding English speaking worldwide, what speaking English does for me is give me a language I can fall back on in case my attempts to speak the native language fall short, which has its pros and cons: pros because I can communicate effectively, cons because it may make me lazy and not make as much of an effort to learn the other language. I find that Spanish does the same thing in Latin America, as I’ve met people from non-Spanish speaking countries traveling there who do not necessarily speak English, and Spanish enables us to communicate with each other.

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  65. Seeing Tim’s comments on this post was slightly confusing to start with seeing as I subscribe to both your and Gary’s RSS feeds.

    Particularly liked #6 – the phot you have to go with it is priceless. You missed Australians from the list of travelers. I think per capita its either us or the New Zealanders that travel the most. The reason as I see it is that in the US travel is seen as somewhat socially unacceptable – if you front up to a job and tell the prospective employer you’ve been traveling for a year, they’d probably look at you suspiciously. In Australia its almost expected that you travel for a long period some time in your 20′s.

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  66. Hi Tim
    Really fabulous article. Point 11 resonated with me,
    We all are in the 21st Century. I have to remember that I am looking for that ‘authentic’ experience. I love the way you articulated, “we are travelling to a different place, not a different time”, so true.
    Cheri

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  67. Great insights! Yes, everybody likes to travel. Until we get out and start travelling short to start with, we would never be able to remove the block in our mind. I live in India and I haven’t even seen some of many great places here itself. I think its time to start. Thanks for the post!

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  68. Alastair Humphreys spent 4 years cycling around the world, he’s a fantastic speaker if you ever get the chance to hear him. The thing is, in total, the whole trip including flights, accommodation, food and everything only cost him £7000 (that’s $11,000). $1000 a month seems a little expensive but I suppose that it depends on your level of luxury.

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  69. Hi Tim, thanks for the great post! I also travel a lot and I’m always inspire by you/your readings! I am from Taiwan, the R.O.C. so when I saw the photo # 12, I was so touched! Why? Again because of political issues between Taiwan and China, I am not sure if Gary is aware of this, however, it’s usally a taboo to show our national(Taiwan’s) flag somwhere, sometimes even in our own lands! This post is not to stir anything political, just to repond to Gary’s wonderful discovery that: YES, I am proud of where I am from, that’s Taiwan : )!!

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  70. So true, all that’s written! For that, thank you Tim for giving Gary’s wonderful experiences a space here. Suffice it to say that when one spread the good ideas that others have, more people learn from it. To you both, my warmest salute.

    Now back to the 20 things… there’s just one thing I have to say about it all. There’s a real world outside the TV set. LOL! While I’ve learned a whole lot from TV, and yes, the news, magazines, internet and all other sources, there’s no exchange for ACTUALLY being in that place. More importantly, there’s so much to love about people and how they live life when we’ve ACTUALLY spent time with them.

    There’s thousands of languages, many more mores, customs, religions, art, governments and all that. I may be powerless and limited to change the unpleasant ones, and totally just one too little soul to contain joys we get from the experience. But in the end, the immersion in a new culture and place ALWAYS leave me wiser. And more appreciative of life.

    Again, thanks Tim for sharing Gary’s work! All the best to both of you.

    ~Arina~

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  71. Tim and Gary,

    This article came out with a great timing (my departure day is just around the corner) and thank you for sharing your insights.

    Although I agree with most of the points, I have to disagree with 17) English is becoming universal. It might apply with younger people, yet when you show your willingness to communicate with their language, you’ll be surprised by their hospitality (“Pivo, prosim” worked miraculously in Czech Republic).

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  72. About English becoming universal…. certainly true, although I had the shock of my life when I went to china outside of the 4 cities generally known to westerners, (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guongzhou) and discovered that I had to learn a completely new language and moreover, completely new body language, even to tell a taxi driver to turn right. If anyone thinks that English is becoming universal, china is the greatest challenge to that!

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  73. Totally agree with #2. As someone that has lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles I have seen the cause, effect and aftermath first hand. However, I was shocked to see how this was portrayed on foreign (Canadian actually) media while I was travelling at the time. It would have totally put me off visiting Northern Ireland as it implied the entire country was in uproar which was not the case at the time. In reality any trouble is usually isolated to very small localities which with common sense can be avoided.

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  74. Your points are great and well spoken, but as someone who has been to France a few times, I would wholeheartedly disagree on 4.

    Yes, the rest of the world likes us as people and are interested in us, but a large majority of encounters I’ve had in France have ended poorly (and I’m not the disruptive or argumentative type at all). I will not go back after my 3rd week-long visit, merely trying to soak up as much of the rich culture as I could.

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  75. I just started a year-long sabbatical traveling through Central and South America. In less than 48 hours in Quito, my first destination, I got robbed. I am trying very hard to remember #1 right now.

    Another item I would add to the list is that things can be replaced, and you should not be attached to anything you carry with you. If it is something you cannot replace, you shouldn’t bring it.

    To read about my thoughts on the incident, go to my website.

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  76. Currently traveling around the world, and can agree with all points. I love how Gary started with “People are generally good”. I would also say “Most places are not scary.” Most cities of the world are surprisingly modern and friendly (except Cairo!), and generally not the image we make of it through what we’ve heard.

    I’ve studied over 10 languages so far on this trip, even if we’re somewhere for just 2 days. Like Tim said, it’s amazing to break the ice, and in some countries like Thailand, unless you want to be reduced to speaking English like a three-year old child all day, learning the language is a priority. It’s true however that English is the universal language. If the locals are going to speak a second language, it’s going to be English! I was amazed at the tour guides in Cairo. They all specialize in one language, and create themselves a “niche” as a tour guide with that language. I was very impressed when I saw an Egyptian tour guide speak fluent Mandarin to his group!

    I would also add as a French Canadian that we share a common North American culture too. A recent trip to France reaffirmed that as Quebecers, we have very little in common with France culturally speaking, besides the language. In France, I feel like a foreigner. In the USA and Canada, I feel at home.

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    • @Frederic Just for the record, I am not against learning other languages. My observation about the rise of english as a de facto second language shouldn’t be construed as me being against learning other languages. I’ve picked up words in a bunch of different languages and I think it is something everyone should do wherever they go.

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  77. Awesome travel reflections of yours. We agree to many of them, though when it comes to the part “Americans don’t travel overseas as much as Brits, Dutch, Germans, Canadians or Scandinavians” – we think that the cold climate has importance too :-)

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  78. Though I loved this post, I think it should’ve been written as a countdown from #20 to #1 to make it more exciting.

    I wish “#7 The rest of the world isn’t full of germs” really gets across.

    (some) people think that anything they touch/eat will make them sick. Not true and honestly….I’ve gotten sick by eating food in the US as well. So we’re even :)

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  79. Tim,
    Married now for 3yrs and a father now for just 1yr, your book and strategic philosophy for life (along with ramit sehti’s financial advice) have revolutionized my families life over the course of the last six month’s. While i have not yet developed a muse, i have instituted dreamlines, streamlining (80/20) and the general approach you take of cutting out what is unnecessary and implementing change in a short, no-allowance-for-hesitation method.

    Since then i have taken my first international trip (Germany, Czech Rep.) with my daughter and wife and have began making travel an absolute part of our future. It has been truly inspirational to see the case studies involving families making the same leaps that people assume that only individuals (or couples w/o children) make.

    this post is right on. people abroad are nearly always positively responsive to people who take interest in their culture!

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