For the past six months, I’ve been traveling around the world. I’ve also been an avid traveler before that. These are a few things I learned on this trip.
Most Places Are Not That Scary
During all of my travels over the years, I’ve been warned that the world is a dangerous and scary place by friends and family who haven’t been anywhere at all really. Combined with the media attention on natural catastrophes and crime statistics, at some point I was even afraid to travel to certain places myself, having been warned that these places might not be safe.
Every place I have ever traveled to that I initially feared, turned out to be perfectly safe once I got there, from Rio de Janeiro to Mexico. On this trip, I had some doubts about certain countries such as Egypt and the Philippines, but I found again that my concerns were unfounded. Cairo was different but not scary, and Cebu City in the Philippines was quite easy to get around.
On this trip we missed a few “catastrophes” by a few weeks or months. We were in Egypt just a few months before the revolution started. We arrived in Brisbane (Australia) a couple of weeks after the floods destroyed their city, and left Cairns just five days before a Cyclone was due to devastate the area. We arrived to Christchurch, in New Zealand, just two weeks after a giant earthquake devastated the city and killed more than 200 people.
I believe that even if we had been at the “wrong place at the wrong time,” I still think we would have been okay. Once you’ve travelled for a while, you develop a certain “street smart” way of keeping yourself out of trouble and knowing what to do if something goes wrong.
Often the media can make us think that it’s safer at home, but when we look at statistics we can find that many US cities are more dangerous than cities abroad, and that natural catastrophes are just as likely to strike New Orleans as Indonesia or Chile. Overall, the world has never been a safer place, so if you’ve put off traveling because of some irrational fears, you should take a look at the issue again and try to overcome these fears to start living your dreams. That’s what I found through my personal experience.
Everybody Eats a Crappy Diet
No matter where you go in the world, everybody eats crap. That’s my current conclusion after traveling extensively for eight months. The concept of “natural” and “traditional” diet does not exist anymore in most places and even remote islands. I don’t mean that everybody gorges on junk food all over the world, but most people’s diet is really poor and low in nutrients and high in refined packaged foods.
In Thailand, the locals eat a diet that is loaded with salt and fat, and would be more than happy if you took them out to Pizza Hut. The only reason why they don’t eat American fast food more often is because it’s too expensive and local street food is dirt cheap.
In Northern Europe, people eat cold meat, white bread and sausages for breakfast. In Costa Rica, the locals load up on fried chicken whenever they get a chance, and drink gallons of sugary cola drinks. In the Philippines, people eat mounds of cheap white rice and greasy meat, with almost no vegetables and pour ketchup on everything!
When Westerners travel, they are eager to try out the local “wholesome and healthy” cuisine. Don’t kid yourself anymore. Everybody is westernized, for the most part, and eats more fat and meat than their grandparents ever did. The restaurant food you will eat almost anywhere in the world will be unhealthy, nine times out of ten.
This is not to say that it’s impossible to eat healthy while traveling. You can find fresh produce and vegetarian restaurants in most countries, but almost every large population on the planet now eats an unhealthy diet, and to eat healthy while traveling requires a lot of preparation and hard work.
Your hardest challenge will be trying to get a salad or steamed vegetables that are not doused in oil.
There is a Commonwealth
Being from Canada, I used to laugh as a kid that we had a Queen on our bank notes and coins. When I learned that Canada indeed had a Queen, the same that ruled England and a dozen other nations (symbolically, for the most part), I scoffed at this antiquated idea of monarchy and refused to acknowledge the fact that we were part of what is referred to as a commonwealth of nations, a vestige of the old and vast British empire.
Many people don’t realize that the British empire was the most powerful and vast empire the world had ever known, and that it’s what spawned essentially what we refer to as modern Western civilization. Many young people today like to criticize these old colonialists for their bigotry and arrogance for wanting to take over the world, yet don’t realize that the freedom of speech and strong institutions they enjoy today is a direct result of over a thousand years of evolution in Britain (and to a lesser extent, France), that got exported all over the world.
When I travelled the world, I saw what is left of the British empire, from the tiny islands of the Seychelles, to the prosperous city state of Singapore, to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and many other places. You wouldn’t believe how many coins and foreign currencies Queen Elizabeth II appears on! I was blown away by the sheer size of the legacy left by the British Empire (not counting Canada, India and even the United States).
Sure, the colonialist British were motivated by greed and did some pretty nasty things. But they certainly weren’t the worst conquerors the world had ever seen, a fact that can be illustrated by the fact that most if not all former British colonies are proud of their British heritage. In the end, most if not all of these countries are much better off than other countries that were colonized by other people.
The way I see it now is: if Britain hadn’t conquered the world, we’d be in a much bigger mess today. Who knows, we might not even be talking on the Internet right now and shared these amazing ideas about health if that had happened.
Most People Are Friendly and Honest
In eight months of traveling around the world to over 25 countries, and in years of prior traveling experience, I have never once been robbed or mugged. On this trip, we lost many different items along the way, from a pair of sunglasses to underwear! It was all our fault, of course, but once we did forget a rather expensive camera at a restaurant in Bali, and only realized couple of days later! When we showed up at the restaurant again, the staff was waiting for us with the camera, having kept it in their bin of “lost items” behind the till.
The worst that happened to me while traveling was being overcharged because I was a tourist and didn’t know any better. A common tactic in the Philippines from taxi drivers was to avoid telling me the fare, instead asking me how much I wanted to pay for it, not knowing how far my hotel was or that the local rates for taxi fares were absolutely dirt cheap. I once had a hotel employee rip me off in Hong Kong, as he suggested to take a cab ride to the airport, telling me it would only cost around $25. The total fare cost over $80, and I suspect that he was working together with the taxi driver to extort such high prices (I read on the Internet from other people complaining about the same issue at the same hotel).
Being overcharged or ripped off by a few dollars happens everywhere, especially when you first get to a new country and don’t know any better. But I’ve never had anyone actually rob me and found that most people, in most countries are honest. There are always bad apples, but in my experience it’s not generalized.
Vegetarianism Is Not a Worldwide Concept
I did not realize until I started traveling that vegetarianism and veganism are truly an anglo-saxon concept. Outside of North America, Australia, maybe New Zealand and some parts of Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and a few other select countries, most people have absolutely no idea what a vegetarian actually eats, let alone a vegan or a raw foodist.
In most languages, there isn’t even a word to describe a vegan diet. In Thailand, the closest approximation is the word “Jay,” which defines a Buddhist tradition of avoiding all meat and flesh, as well as onion and garlic as a method of purification. The concept of eating a vegan diet for health reason is something that has been imported from the West, not a concept that exist in most cultures.
In most places, when you ask for a vegan meal and finally explain what you mean by that, many people are left totally confused that they will literally not know what to say. For example, if they have on their menu a chicken sandwich with a few leaves of lettuce, they might think that the vegetarian equivalent is to simply serve the exact same sandwich, while removing the chicken and having nothing else to replace it.
In Istanbul, Turkey we were asked to come inside a restaurant to check out the menu. When we asked if they had any vegetarian food the waiter pointed out the chicken section to us and said sure chicken is vegetarian, it’s a vegetable! I’m not kidding… I guess “meat” only means red meat.
In the Philippines, I once asked for a “Greek Salad” without the feta cheese. Of course, they had nothing to replace the feta cheese (not even more vegetables). It was simply the same small salad with a few tomatoes and cucumbers, sans feta cheese. Hardly a snack let alone a meal!
Once you’ve tried living as a vegan or raw foodist in some countries, you’ll realize how easy it is to eat that way in North America, Europe or Australia! People in those countries often complain about how hard or expensive it is to be a raw-vegan or even a vegetarian where they live. Get the same people to travel for a few months in the Philippines and they will come back in tears, kissing the sacred ground that their local Whole Foods is built upon!
Filapino cuisine contains a lot of oyster sauce, chicken stock and meat, so very few items could be prepared vegan for us, so we just ate as many “fruit plates” as we could get our hands on.
As a raw foodist, you pretty much have to go self-catering the whole way, which makes certain destinations absolutely out of reach unless you’re willing to live on dried fruits and nuts. As a low-fat vegan, you’ll find some countries havens, while others will be a complete nightmare.
On this trip, we’ve found some countries very easy, such as Thailand (for its abundance of fruit), Singapore and Hong Kong (with more vegetarian restaurants than any other city in the world!), Italy (for the produce), and Australia (where everybody understands what vegan food is).
The worst countries for vegan food were the Philippines (where they literally had no idea), Iceland (for obvious reasons), France (cheese and butter are in almost everything) and most remote tropical islands.
Cooked vegans will have a hard time in some places where the only thing to eat that’s vegan is fruit. Raw vegans will have a hard time in some places where there’s no fruit, but some vegan options. The best combination I’ve found for traveling is to try to eat a lot of raw food whenever possible, but fall back for cooked vegan options when that’s not possible.
Healthy Food in North America is Cheap!
Most people in North America often complain about the cost of organic food, or that the selection at their local health food stores or supermarket is scarce. They will often complain that certain stores like Whole Foods are too capitalist and overpriced, and voice their complaints about the prices. Whole Foods has even been labeled “Whole Paycheck” as it tends to be very expensive there.
At some points during our trip, it would literally have been a Godsend to find a place like “Whole Paycheck”! In many countries, your options for healthy organic foods are non-existent. When you manage to find some organic products, they are often imported from other countries and two or three times the price you’d pay in North America.
Americans are just spoiled. They don’t realize how good they have it. They think they have the worst selection of fruits because they can’t get mangoes or tropical fruits year round, yet they don’t realize that in most tropical countries only a few types of fruits are available at any one time of the year. In the Philippines, we had access to mangoes, apples, bananas, watermelon, papaya, and that’s pretty much it. Fresh vegetables are hard to grow in the tropics, and in some places greens like kale or spinach are just not available.
Thank Heaven for the Indians and Asians
In many places, we were saved by Indian or Asian stores and restaurants.
In the Seychelles, we would not have survived without the supermarkets owned by Indian people that had a wider selection of vegan items and produce. In French Polynesia, without the Chinese people there would be no green vegetables. Thank heaven for the Indians and Asians who use more vegetables and legumes in their cuisines than the Western world. Don’t forget the Italian and Middle Eastern markets you find scattered all over the globe are a haven for vegans as well.
We also find amazing tropical fruits at ethnic markets like the Indian/Pakistani honey mango, lychees and durian in countries all over the world. Without these places, there would be far less fruit available for local people in general since they tend to buy in bulk together and distribute them among their family owned stores, which means better deals for you and me!
Poverty Has a New Face in 2011
We often think of poor people as people living in absolute slums, under the worst conditions possible, without running water and unable to feed themselves.
While traveling around the world, I saw a new face to poverty — the modern “Coca-Cola” poor.
Many poor countries in the world can afford running water and have enough food to feed their population. But it doesn’t mean that people are thriving. In Bali, the average monthly salary is less than $100 a month. At that level, people have enough to eat and live, but they can’t possibly indulge in the same luxuries us rich Westerners take for granted.
The face of poverty in 2011 seems different to me. It’s as much intellectual poverty as it is other types of poverty. I remember some of these islands in the Philippines where people had plenty of food and coca-cola, but spent all day doing nothing, being out of work and preferring to spend their time watching games of chickens fighting and killing themselves. I see entire communities of well fed people in Palermo, Sicily, going about their days sitting on street corners but without much else to look forward to for the rest of their lives.
Health and Fitness Is a Foreign Concept in Many Countries
Kuala Lumpur, “Fruitti Waffle” comes with canned fruit, fruit glaze and icecream for breakfast!When I attempted to go out for a jog in Bali, the locals were very preoccupied. As I was running, some people asked me where I was going to or if I needed any help. When I told them I was just running for the “health benefits” they looked totally confused, as if I told them I was cleaning up garbage as a recreational activity. My friend Andrew Perlot got a similar reaction when he went for a jog in Bali, they asked him if he was running away from something or to something and needed a ride!
When I went running on a tourist beach in the Philippines I had hawkers trying to chase me down and sell me goods and other people laughing at me trying to keep up while they tried to imitate me. Most Filipino men are fairly slim and don’t overeat in general, so to them it’s pretty ridiculous to go for a run every morning especially on a tourist beach.
The concept of health and fitness is a foreign concept in many countries. Most people in many countries have no idea why anyone would not want to eat meat every chance they could, avoid dairy products, run for health or lift weights!
People only see what they want to see, and when countries want to emulate the West, they only see it as a positive thing and are unaware of the negative side effects.
The World Is About to Change
Some people don’t like to travel these days because they don’t like the concept of “mass tourism” and the fact that there are very few unspoiled places left on the planet.
What I noticed while traveling around the world is that the world is changing at a very fast pace. Cultures are eroding and people are no longer eating their traditional diets. Immigration patterns are mixing all cultures together and many people are losing their sense of cultural identity. Places that used to be unknown and pristine now have resorts on them.
It led me to think that one day, maybe 20 or 30 years down the road, we’ll look fondly at those days we have now where it’s still possible to travel the world for relatively cheap, experience new cultures (even though this tends to be diluted) and still find a few spots that are relatively untouched and unspoiled.
The world is changing, and it’s changing at a very fast pace. If you’ve put off traveling until now, you may want to change your mind before it’s too late!