We visited 22 countries last year in Australasia, South America, Europe and the Middle East and came to some realizations during our international travels. Do any of these resonate with you?
1. English was spoken pretty much everywhere we went.
With a few exceptions, enough English was spoken in areas where foreigners visit to make our travels very easy. We certainly weren't expecting this and made an effort to learn the language in non-English speaking regions if we were going to be there for more than a couple of weeks. But the spread of English language education has really made visiting foreign countries much easier. Some places surprised us more than others: while many people seem to speak English in Santiago, for example, very few speak it in the rural areas. The language barrier will be an issue for visitors to Buenos Aires who don't speak any Spanish as well.
2. We rarely needed to book in advance.
Aside from festivals, major holidays and small towns during high season, we found no reason to make reservations far in advance. We visited New Zealand during summer and, though this year could have been an anomaly because of the Rugby World Cup being held later in the year, we could have easily found a place to stay when we arrived in each town. We did save money on booking buses there in advance because of their particular system, but otherwise we regret not leaving our schedule more flexible. Elsewhere the only places that required advance reservations were Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, Oktoberfest and El Chalten, Argentina.
3. The world is indeed flat.
I'm referring to the popular book by Thomas Friedman about globalization, which postulates that the histories and geographical distances between countries no longer matter or serve as points of vast differentiation. We noticed very little differences between towns and cities of similar size to each other as we moved from continent to continent. People's cultural differences stood out in some instances but we mostly felt like the environment was the same whether we were in Lima or Berlin. This further enforces the theory that human beings are the same everywhere, sharing common desires and traits. And now that commerce is so globalized, it's possible to find practically the same goods and services from one region to the next. There's plenty of other apt stuff in that book too, but this was the major point for me.
4. If we don't like a place, we leave.
Some might say that's not giving a place a fair chance, but if we're not having a good time after a few days, we're out of there. Given the situation outlined in item three above, we find little reason to linger in a location with unfriendly people or nothing of appeal for us.
5. Long-term travel is becoming less of an "alternative" lifestyle.
After meeting so many people on the road and discovering so many other blogs of long-term travellers, I'm convinced that chucking it all in and taking off on an international adventure is becoming much more mainstream. While some people thought we were a bit crazy at first, we received more positive responses when we told people what we were doing and get fewer strange looks than a year ago. I think the recent economic crisis has helped this, causing people to realize that previously solid notions of "stability" are tenuous.
6. We prefer to be expats or to stay in one place for a long time.
This year was the first time either of us has travelled to so many places in such a short amount of time. We got sick of packing and unpacking bags and constantly moving from place to place. We did take a week or more in several places but since we're used to being expats or travelling more slowly, the rest of it took its toll. I'm still glad we did what we did because of the sheer amount of places we were able to see without taking a separate long-distance trip, but I think we'll stick to being expats and taking shorter journeys throughout the year.
7. Mastering the art of choosing the right place to stay
This is one part Trip Advisor, one part search strategy, one part cross-referencing and two parts self-awareness. And something every traveller must be able to do to enjoy themselves. I am now confident we will not be making accommodation mistakes in the future, though it has meant that the list of acceptable brands for us is considerably diminished (see item nine).
8. People make it for us.
Whether it's spending time with old or new friends on the road or the friendliness of the locals, we're always more interested in who is around than what is around.
9. If something isn't right, complain.
I want to remind every traveller that if you've paid good money for something, be it accommodation, a meal, a tour or an activity, and what you receive is not to the standard advertised, be sure to speak up about it. Do this at the time of service, to the highest level of staff you can locate and keep your comments specific and non-personal. Find the CEO if you have to. Tell the manager what you expect to receive in return, be persistent, and take it to a governing body if they still refuse to comply. Not letting senior management know about the problem means that the next traveller has to put up with the same unacceptable service. Often poor behaviour or quality is happening without the knowledge of the people at the top of the company. If you paid good money for something, be sure you get what was offered. What travel lessons did you learn last year?