Most of us travel so that we can see the world, get out of our “box” and explore another culture, or corner of the world. If we wanted everything to stay the same, we would just stay home! It boggles my mind when I see travelers who spend their entire time abroad trying to recreate home and, essentially, avoiding the local interactions they claim to want.
There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with staying at the Hilton, eating at McDonalds or shopping at the Dispensar Familiar (a box store that is owned by Walmart but is masquerading behind a “local” label) but don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re having a local experience, or contributing to the local economy when profits are funneled into big corporations “back home.” There are some simple ways to have a more “authentic” experience wherever you happen to be traveling and to make sure your dollar goes further within the local economy as well. Here are three of mine; perhaps you have some of your own to add:
1. Stay local
Sure, you might book that first night by the airport with your travel miles card, but after that, stay at a family run hotel or guesthouse. Go one step further, and stay somewhere not recommended in the guidebook. Those places are getting a big bump by virtue of their write up in Lonely Planet, but there are likely several other very good places run by families who have generations invested in a particular place that will stretch your buck and add depth to your journey. We’ve found, across the board, that these sorts of places yield “insider” information and recommendations if not personal invitations to explore with new found friends, the proprietors. You’ll also find a very interesting subset of traveler frequenting these places, they’re the people you want to meet, I promise you.
2. Eat where there’s no english menu
That is to say, eat where the local folks are eating. In Merida, Mexico, this might mean walking deep into the mercado, flipping over a five gallon pail and bellying up to the tile bar with the roadwork crew to eat the plata del dia. No need to know what you’re ordering, they only serve on thing per day. I guarantee your money isn’t padding the pocket of the big red clown with preternaturally large feet.
3. Hire a local
It’s possible that the slick looking “Green Travel” agency on the strip in Champasak is genuinely locally owned and operated, but I’m not betting my money on it, based on their advertising. If you have the time and the patience, track down a guy with a boat and book your own ride down the Mekong to the next town. I promise you’re paying extra through the agencies, and that money is probably not being invested the way you wish it was. Look for opportunities to hire local people to teach you things. Hire the Mayan woman who comes knocking to teach you to use a back-strap loom. Hire your cyclo driver in Hue, Vietnam to take you on his motorcycle out into the hills, he’ll bring two of his friends if you have as many people as we do, and it will be a cross-cultural party!
4. Send out your laundry
Okay, here’s a fourth, I couldn’t stop at three: Send out your laundry, and not through your hotel. The laundries that have hotel contracts are doing well, making lots of money. Take a walk, look for the hole in the wall that looks like it’s run by a mother-daughter team and give them your business.
How ‘bout you? What are your best tips for making sure your dollar stretches within a local economy and is spent to the betterment of the community you’re visiting?
Are rumors of horrible medical care abroad holding you back from heading out to see the world? Take heart – most of those rumors are unfounded. A while ago I read 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World by T. R. Reid and started thinking about our experiences with health care in the four corners of the globe – including the United States of America.
In Ethiopia, my husband’s heart went into arrhythmia and he was admitted into ICU at the local hospital. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, he had a team of doctors on his case and received the best care possible in the country. As it turned out, the Ethiopian doctors knew exactly what needed to be done, but they were not prepared to equip my husband with a pacemaker should it be required – so they arranged to have him evacuated to Israel.
In Israel, top-notch doctors treated him with the most current, innovative methods and did a massive barrage of tests to ascertain exactly what was going on. In the end, they managed to get his heart converted and he went home to Ethiopia a healthy man once again.
In Taiwan, my hip suddenly began to hurt. The very next day I had an appointment with a hip specialist who sent me for an MRI – in two hours! After dealing with the US system of waiting weeks to get an MRI approved and scheduled, I was pleasantly surprised.
In Mexico, doctors took care of my son’s badly sprained wrist and I got to see a knee specialist about my bum knee.
In Panama and Colombia, my son had ingrown toenails surgically removed.
Yes, I’ve dealt with the medical system in the USA and it is slow and cumbersome compared to the health care you will get at a much lower cost in most other countries. Doctors around the globe are highly trained and professional, good facilities can be found in nearly every country, and health care is generally much more affordable than in the USA.
If you are thinking of globetrotting around the world, medical issues should certainly not stop you!
“D.H. Lawrence, in a letter written early in the last century, complained, “I feel sometimes, I shall go mad, because there is no where to go, no ‘new world.’” In Tristes Tropiques (alternately—and tellingly—titled A World on the Wane), published in 1955, Claude Levi-Strauss wrote, “There was a time when traveling brought the traveler into contact with civilizations which were radically different from his own and impressed him in the first place by their strangeness. During the last few centuries such instances have become increasingly rare. Whether he is visiting India or America, the modern traveler is less surprised than he cares to admit.” Maybe every generation feels this way. Alexander the Great was said to have wept when he realized he had no more worlds to conquer, and Evelyn Waugh, in 1946, took the same tone when he wrote that he did not “expect to see many travel books in the near future,” adding that, “Never again, I suppose, shall we land on foreign soil with letter of credit and passport … and feel the world wide open before us.” Even the title of the book from which that passage is drawn, When the Going Was Good, puts joy in the past tense.”
–Malcolm Jones, Is Travel Writing Dead? The Daily Beast, Jun 5, 2011
There seems to be an interesting trend starting in the theatre world, one which has history lovers and travel addicts like me very, very intrigued.
Theatrical companies are facing declining audiences as many now flock to the more realistic experiences of the modern digitally-enhanced blockbuster, and they have been forced to get creative in their choice of staging. This has prompted some to do away with the stage altogether; catering to people’s interest in a more, shall we say, “immersive” theatre experience. As a result, some highly respected British drama companies are beginning to hold performances of historically-based plays on the very sites where those stories actually took place.
The latest—and largest—to follow this new trend is none other than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The revered drama company recently announced plans to spend its new season performing the Bard’s three Henry VI plays, which cover the tumultuous and violent reign of Henry VI and the medieval War of the Roses, on the sites where the plays’ historic battles took place. The drenched-in-history surroundings of Tewkesbury, St Albans, Barnet, and Towton (no, NOT Downton) will see productions of the classic works set where the fifteenth-century king and his knights duked it out with his rivals for the crown.
A similar performance was also held at the Bosworth battlefield in a production of Shakespeare’s epic Richard III, the main character of which has recently gained new fame after his remains were unearthed in a car park near the site of his death in combat. Across the Channel, a performance of Henry V—famous for his victory over the French and his “Band of Brothers” speech riling up his hopelessly outnumbered troops—will take place in Agincourt, the site of his unlikely triumph.
So, if you find yourself near any of these historic and serene locales this year, you might just be able to experience a world-class performance of a classic play—on the soil upon which it all happened.
Suddenly, a night at the theatre doesn’t sound so boring, does it?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
A monitor lizard!! I wasn’t even in the park. I was just walking down the road, and I almost tripped over it. It was HUGE and scared me to death. I have been in awe of all of the different types of animals in Yala Park, though. Sloth bears, peacocks, a leopard and her cubs, elephants, monkeys. It’s incredible.
If you travel with kids then you’re well familiar with the gear overload that is all too easy to find yourself saddled with. Of course there’s the clothes and the toys, but by the time you add a carseat, playpen, stroller and perhaps a portable feeding chair, it’s bordering on the ridiculous. No wonder so many people just stay home with little ones. It seems like far too much trouble to move the equipment alone, never mind the additional challenges that the actual child adds to the mix.
The good news is: it doesn’t have to be that bad! Here are five tips for reducing the amount of crap you have to pack (and carry) when traveling with a little child.
1. Rent it
Did you know that in most bigger cities you can rent baby gear? Yep. Google it for your destination and you may find that you can rent a porta-crib or playpen, a feeding chair and a stroller or whatever else you need when you arrive. Almost all car rental agencies have carseats as an optional ad-on and they are delivered strapped right into the vehicle when you arrive. It couldn’t be easier. Many hotels and resorts are now getting on the bandwagon and supplying more than a baby cot for rental at their resorts in hopes of drawing more family travel business. It can pay to ask around and shop around for a destination that will make it easy on you!
2. Choose Wisely
If you intend to travel with your little one then a few, well chosen, items are well worth investing in to make the travel easier. Carseat and stroller combos, slings instead of strollers, they even have luggage the doubles as a ride on toy for the toddler set. Where was THAT when I was traveling with a tiny tribe? Of course you can “make do” with just about anything you have in a pinch, but if you plan to make travel a regular part of child life, it’s worth investing in the items that will simplify the process. For our family, this meant a sling instead of strollers, a baby backpack that would carry through toddlerhood and doubled as a high-chair and a diaper bag, and travel clothes for the parents that were wipeable and nearly bulletproof… or at least baby proof!
3. Less is More
Seriously. Even with kids. If you pack three or four outfits for your toddler it will be more than enough. Kids clothes are very easy to hand wash in a hotel sink and hang to dry and most children would rather re-wear their favourites anyway. Pack less in terms of clothing and diapers and paraphernalia and you’ll have more room for the things that really matter with kids: like the blankie that is a comfort item.
4. You can buy it
There is no need to pack jars and jars of baby food, formula, diapers, wipes, disposable bibs, soaps, lotions, or anything else. Anywhere in the world that you’re visiting where people have children (which is everywhere) these items will be available. Unless you’re tied to a specific brand because of an allergy, there’s no need to bring much from home. Bring what you’ll need for the first 24 hours and then plan to hit a store when you’ve settled in.
The take home message: Simplify your packing list. Make use of what’s already there from friends or rentals. Wash, rinse, repeat. Purchase a few key items that will make the whole process go more smoothly. Go with what’s locally available.
“I was recently in Kenya, in the Masai-Mara game reserve in southwestern Kenya, and every so often saw a Masai moran, or warrior, with a cell phone in one hand and a spear in the other. Rickshaw wallahs in India carry cell phones, and there is electronic media available in the unlikeliest places. While I was paddling around the Pacific in the early ’90s for my Happy Isles of Oceania, the elders in some islands confided to me their lament that, for the first time ever, their people were seeing pornographic movies and the Rambo films on TVs with battery-operated video systems. The Internet has now reached the Solomon Islands and the Cooks and the Marquesas, and it’s everywhere else, dispensing information, corrupting some, informing others, putting people in touch, creating a deafening global buzz of confusion, mingled opinion and prejudice and fact.”
–Paul Theroux, “Dispatch From a Shrinking Planet,” Newsweek, May 15, 2011
I sat down and tried to calculate how much money I spent visiting India last year, my way: the balance is ridiculously low. India is a cheap country, yes, but this would not have been possible without a few tricks.
Here is a lowdown on how I managed to spend 110$ for 6 weeks travelling from Kolkata to Delhi in North India, taking it slow, and doing a lot side trips. Hopefully the following suggestions may be useful for someone else!
You are in India, PAY like and Indian
This is a basic rule that applies to all of my trips: I do not want to pay more. If my skin is white, it does not mean I am rich, or stupid. If an Indian pays 10, why do I have to pay 100? A tourist in India has to bear enough of this double-tier pricing when visiting all Indian main sites (more on this next), but seriously, why should I pay 20 rupees when the guy next to me pays 5 for the same auto-rickshaw ride? It is a game, and a damn funny one. Learn the local lingo: pach rupee is five, das is ten. Surprise them. Talk to them in other languages than English as they keep on talking to a clueless you in Hindi. See how much fun it is. Send five, ten, twenty drivers away before you find a honest man, because they do exist, although very rare.
Avoid the inflated tourist attractions’ entry fees
India is the most unfair country in the world when it comes to double tier pricing. A Taj Mahal ticket which costs you a whooping 750 rupees, costs an Indian 20. Yes, 20 only. It is just a little over 300% more. Because they think we are rich, and we deserve to pay. Fine, let’s pay more. But do not pay for everything, be wise. The Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, for example: just walk around it. It will not give you the perfect visual, but it would save the 200 rupees entry fee. And you will see it even better from the outer enclosure. And whenever they ask you to pay to be able to take pictures, please hide your camera and snatch away as much as you can. (more…)
Cost/day (for a family of five):
Strangest thing we’ve seen lately:
Before his wish to die, but well after 40 degree fever and horrifying nightmares, the kindly villagers performed ritual healing ceremonies on my husband Kobi. They picked two of this leaf, four of that one, this root, that berry and cooked them over a banana-leaf-sealed open-fired vat. Then, with ritual prayer chanting, candles, and incense burning, he was stuffed under a dozen thick blankets to breath the steam, drank a cup o it, and bathed in the waters. Their love and earnest determination to cure him were touching. Two days later, he was hospitalized.
“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”
I’ve become a Rebecca Solnit fan. I admit it. It started with the opening lines of her beautiful book, Wanderlust, which is a history of walking, it’s spilled over into everything else I can lay eyes on that she’s written.
This particular passage captivates me. Perhaps because it is only in the past couple of years that I have come to appreciate the depth of loss, and the deep importance of embracing the moment of getting lost, towards self discovery, healing, understanding of others and the world around me. I love the imagery: the material peeling away like the molting of a snake, the view from the rear of a rushing train. I was on a train last week, pouring out of the highlands of central Otago and down onto the plain surrounding Dunedin, New Zealand. I stood on the back and watched the world recede, time travel in action. The intersection of loss and lost.
Are these things you think about? Or is it just me?