Korean Air’s new Airbus 380s are apparently outfitted with 3 bars. Two of the bars will be open (business class) and one attended (first class). From the pictures, these bars look pretty swanky, but I don’t think I’ll be shelling out the extra money for an open bar. I just don’t think I’d be able to drink enough to make it a break even type deal, even on a long-haul flight.
If you’re a world traveler, you’ll almost inevitably be asked “what is your favorite place?” when talking to people who don’t travel a lot. It’s a fair question for sure, but there are no easy answers. My answers are usually contextually based or tongue-in-cheek. That’s a tactic of mine which serves as a shortcut to really thinking about something in depth. If I had to think about my favorite place on earth, and answer honestly, I guess I haven’t been there yet. Maybe that’s what motivates me to keep exploring.
It’s not really about the places.
Travel is more about experiences and people. You meet the most interesting people while you’re traveling. Not that you don’t meet interesting people at home, but when you’re surrounded by the familiar, I believe you’re less likely to be open to the unfamiliar. My own story has become irreversibly entwined with the stories of others. Here’s a short list of some of the most interesting people I have met on the road.
- Bionic Russ
- Honorable mentions:
Airport and hotel bars are consistently good for meeting interesting people. A bar in a hotel that’s at the airport (I don’t always sleep in the terminal) is a veritable Petri dish full of interesting people. It was at the DFW Hyatt that I met a DEA agent named Guy.
At first, Guy sounded like a bit of a self-aggrandizing blowhard, someone who probably watched too many Mexican Narco films. Guy soon proved to be a wealth of knowledge on the drug trade in Mexico, how it works and what is being done. I couldn’t pull myself away from the conversation. My hunger for knowledge on a topic that seems so important, yet gets hardly any press coverage took over and I found myself asking questions, the answers to which prompted even more questions. It turned into a late night before an early flight, but was worth it for a free education on issues that matter.
The Big Bend region of Texas is full of characters. It’s worth a trip to Terlingua just to meet the eccentric people who seem to gravitate there. Bionic Russ is a character among characters. I met Russ in a motel in Alpine, Texas. He and his wife had moved there to escape the cold of Wyoming winters. See, Russ had had knee replacement surgery. The way Russ told the story, one cold morning he was out feeding his cattle and his new titanium knees froze from the cold. His knees locked up and he was unable to walk. He crawled through the snow for more than a 1/4 mile. When he got to the house, he knocked on the door only to have his wife open the door and look right over him. He told her to look down, and rather than immediately help him in out of the cold, she demanded an explanation of what the hell he was doing. Russ added quite a bit of animation to the story, so it was much better to hear first hand than to read about second hand, but you get the idea.
Jordan was a would-be bone smuggler, and taught me that slowing down and not being in any particular hurry can pay huge dividends in friendship and camaraderie. She was carrying some turtle shells she had collected on a beach in Ecuador. On her trip south, Peruvian customs hadn’t given her any grief at all about them so she figured Chile would be as easy. She figured wrong. I shared a combi with Jordan (and three other people) from Tacna, Peru across the Chilean border to Arica, Chile. When Chilean customs shook her down because of the turtle shells, our combi driver wanted to leave her. At that point, Jordan’s problem wasn’t my problem and I wasn’t keen on waiting out the customs ordeal in the hot Atacama desert sun. For a brief moment, I considered acquiescing to the driver’s demands to get in the car and go, but then I applied a little bit of compassion to the situation. Having had my fair share of customs shake-downs over the years, it was easy to take a stand for what was right. The driver was willing to give up one fare, but not two, so he waited for Jordan. Jordan and I instantly became great friends, and this encounter, however brief is one of my most fond travel memories.
Elyse – my favorite bar tender in all of Taiwan. Your smile and lively spirit will be with me, always.
Bily – Formerly a Cruise ship bar tender, now bar owner in Huanchaco – your story is an inspiration!
Choco – A passionate and entertaining tour guide. Book him for your tour of any of the archaeological sites in Northern Peru.
You may or may not know that I recently spent a year in Taiwan, living & working in Kaohsiung. I went there not really knowing much about the island nation, and had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and really fell in love with the place. Here are 10 things that I really loved about Taiwan:
- The People:
- The Public Transportation:
- The Haircuts:
- The Liquor Laws:
- Taroko Gorge:
- Love Hotels:
- The Low Crime Rate:
People in Taiwan are extremely helpful and friendly with no underlying agenda.
Taipei to Kaohsiung in an hour and a half! Love it! Cruising around the city in a CLEAN subway. Love it! Train ride along the scenic east coast. Love it!
Am I really saying I love taxis? Absolutely! They’re inexpensive, metered, and almost everywhere. It was often more economical to take a taxi than to pay to park, and without the burden of a car while out on the town you’re free to drink!
Heavenly. Seems an odd thing to love, but seriously, if you haven’t had a haircut in Taiwan, get your ass on a plane NOW!
I love my gadgets and they were readily available in Taiwan. I also love to roll my own gadgets and there’s an entire district in Kaohsiung devoted to selling electronic components. It’s as if radio shack has a farm (but you don’t have to give your phone number to buy a resistor).
Eager to get out the door but don’t want to leave your beer? No worries, just take it with you. It’s like Las Vegas in that regard. Want a beer at 7AM on Sunday? No need to drive to the next county or state where the churchies haven’t ruined it for you yet – just go to the store, damn near any store and grab a cold one ANYTIME. Going home from a hard day’s work but don’t
want to go through the ordeal of finding parking so you can buy a beer? Just pull over to the betle nut girl stand and a negligee adorned beauty will RUN with a beer to your window. You can do this while stopped for a red light. Awesome!
This is Taiwan’s National Natural treasure. I’ll be writing about it at some point in the future with photos and the whole bit. For now, take my word for it. It’s GORGE-ous!
This was one of those things I figured I had to experience before I left Taiwan (by ‘I’, I do mean ‘we’ – I didn’t go to the love hotel by myself). Drive-thru check in, parking garage right by your door and ‘Batman’ themed room? How romantic is all of that! Really! I expected it to feel sleazy in that run down hotel on the interstate frontage road kind of way. The place was quite surprisingly classy.
Pay your parking (there are no meters in Taiwan – they use a different system), pay your utility bills, buy concert tickets, airline tickets, cassette tapes, scotch, wine, Bailey’s & beer, even get a tea egg or some salty squid bits. Taiwan 7-11 redefines convenience. And they’re everywhere.
Ever left something in a taxi? When it happens, you usually figure you didn’t need it that bad anyhow, or you figure that you’re never going to get it back so why bother. Lost cause right? I left an iPhone in a taxi in Taiwan. I got it back – took a couple of days of tracking it down, but I got it back. We had another phone – one of those $10 throw-away phones pretty much. It also got left in a cab. Got that one back too – from the bar where we had caught the taxi from.
Violent crime is almost unheard of in Taiwan.
So that’s the short list. There’s so much more to say about my life in Taiwan – Use one of the follow along buttons below to keep up with what’s new.
While traveling the globe and relating my stories to people unfamiliar with travel, some form of this question almost always comes up. Aren’t you scared? Won’t you get robbed?
It’s a common travel question and I certainly understand why people ask it, but at the same time, it’s doesn’t seem very well thought out to me. Seriously, I was traveling in New Zealand and was asked this question by a local: “Aren’t you scared?” In New Zealand of all places? I was stymied.
Where Does This Mentality Come From?
I can’t say for sure, but I think a few different factors feed in to the thinking that travel is somehow inherently dangerous.
- Media Sensationalism
- State Department Warnings
Imagine if the mainstream media reported on every traveler who didn’t get mugged or robbed. That wouldn’t make for very good headlines, but the fact is, plenty of people travel the world without incident and the incidents we hear are few and far between when compared to the shear number of people who travel.
Nobody reports their experiences with not getting robbed, mugged or scammed to their embassy. If nothing awful happens to a traveler, the embassy probably doesn’t even know they exist. State Department advisories and warnings have their place, and I’ll get to that later.
There’s a good chance that you could be robbed, mugged or scammed while in your home country or hometown. But it probably doesn’t happen because you know how things work there. You know which areas to avoid. You understand what situations to avoid. You hang out with familiar people who you know and trust.
Are You Saying Travel is Completely Safe Then?
No, of course not. There are many factors that make a place more or less dangerous than another. Local laws and law enforcement (or the lack of) will shape what kinds of crime exist and what sort of risks criminals will take. For instance, in Romania, violent crime is dealt with very harshly, while pick-pocketing is not, so of course, pickpocketing is very common but in the case of Romania, you’re not going to be targeted simply because you are a traveler. Criminals there are equal opportunists.
Local economics also play a huge role in the types of crimes and scams that might be common in the area. If people are poor, hungry, desperate and have no hope of earning an honest living they may very well resort to scams or crime. It isn’t personal but as a traveler, you could be targeted specifically because you are seen to have more.
All of that said, let’s not lose sight of the one common denominator here: People. People, no matter where you go in the world, want to live a peaceful existence. They want to raise their families. They want the same basic things that you or I want. People aren’t evil by nature, no matter where they live.
How to Minimize Your Risk
I’ve been to some dodgy places. Kashmir comes to mind. Everybody there had a gun but me. I’ve been in parts of Mexico at the beginning of an uprising. I’ve been in some extremely safe places that are relatively crime-free. In Taiwan, for example, I once left my iPhone in a taxi cab. I actually got it back. I’m not sure that would have happened anywhere else in the world. I’ve only ever had something stolen once, and while that was a bummer, I think that considering the amount of time I’ve put in traveling, it’s pretty good odds.
Here are some handy tips for minimizing your risk:
- Common Sense
I know what “they” say. Common sense ain’t so common and that is evidenced by the fact that many people become victims by taking risks that they shouldn’t have.
- Moderation in Drinking
- Avoid areas that aren’t well lit.
- Try not to be alone
- Be aware
- Know the risks
The temptation to get caught up in having a good time with fellow travelers is strong. Go ahead, have a good time but don’t overdo it. You should know your own limits and you should stick to them. If you’re incapacitated by drinking your judgement will become diminished, your reaction time will be slowed. You will become more likely to make mistakes.
Especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t travel solo, but if you are alone, try to stick to areas where there are other people.
I call this “paying attention to my spidey-senses”. Be vigilant, pay attention to your surroundings. Listen to your own intuition, and if something doesn’t feel right, get out.
Having knowledge of what kinds of crimes are common in the area where you are traveling will help you spot a scam or a dangerous situation. That’s where State Department travel information comes in handy. Some scams or diversion tactics have the same elements worldwide, some are more regional or local. Know what you’re likely to encounter so that you can recognize it for what it is early.
So my answer to “Isn’t it dangerous?” is no, not really, at least not so much that I’m going to let that notion keep me from exploring the world around me.
My travel habit probably started when I was three or four years old. One of my earliest childhood memories was taking a cross-country trip to visit my grandmother for Christmas (or some other holiday). I spent a lot of time in my youth staring out the windshield of my mom’s truck going from horse show to horse show, I left the country for the first time when I was in high school. I joined the military after high school, and of course that led to even more overseas travel and working in foreign countries. In 2005 I took my first overseas contract job working in Antarctica. I started traveling for extended periods after that and haven’t looked back.
Even though, technically, I had lived in foreign countries during my time in the military I hadn’t really experienced life in a foreign country the way that the people from there do. Living on a military base shares many similarities with living in the U.S. The food is familiar, the products in the store are familiar and things work just like they do back home.
One year ago, I took a job overseas, working and living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The challenges of living in a foreign city turned out to be pretty grand. Things that I would take for granted in the U.S., e.g. trash removal, mail service, grocery shopping were done differently, and in a language I didn’t understand. The food smelled bad, and was unfamiliar. The products in the grocery store were strange and I damn sure couldn’t read the labels. I became overly self-conscious about my consumerism at trash time. It was the strangest thing. You see, there are no dumpsters in Taiwan, instead, the trash trucks circle the city playing ice-cream truck music and everyone rushes out to the street with their bag of garbage to throw in the truck. Every day when trash time would roll around, I would grab my massive bag of trash and share an elevator for 24 floors with my neighbors who barely appeared to consume anything. For every 40-gallon hefty I filled up, my neighbors filled up something that was equivalent in size to a sandwich bag.
When my job in Taiwan ended, my wife and I moved to Hunachaco, Peru. Huanchaco is a place that I had traveled to once before. The differences that I am noticing between traveling in Peru and living in Peru are pretty immense. Eating in Peru isn’t expensive, and if you’re o.k. with goat stew it can be downright cheap to eat in Peru. Hostels and hotels in Peru don’t tend to have kitchens because it is so easy and convenient to eat out. But, now that we live here, and saving money is a greater concern, I’ve had to explore shopping
for food at the local mercado. If the food had packaging, I could probably safely say that the packaging and labeling were different, but alas, it’s not packaged at all. Fruits, veggies and grains are all easy enough, but meat is something else, entirely. I don’t know how to ask for “rack of goat ribs” and I wouldn’t know what to do with a whole chicken, on full display with half-formed eggs still attached. What is the best cut of manta ray?
From a previous post about moving overseas:
I don’t know how to butcher a chicken. It’s not pre-packaged for me in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. I could very well starve to death, not for a lack of food, but for a lack of knowledge.
I will admit this, however, the lack of packaging on my food sure has cut down on my daily waste. Also, consider this interesting fact about Peru: You can’t flush toilet paper. The plumbing simply can’t deal with it. Now, if you’re traveling and staying in hostels or hotels and forget, or simply blow it off, no big deal, right? If somebody else’s plumbing gets clogged up, it’s not really your problem is it? But when you live here…I don’t even want to try to negotiate with a plumber.