Tag Archives: travel

Tourist or Traveler?

This week I pose a question, a travelers conundrum. It seems that many people who go from the U.S. to foreign lands want an experience that is unlike anything they have witnessed at home. People want to see spears and loin cloths, hear unusual tongues and eat strange animals, let’s call these people tourists. Tourists want photos and souvenirs, and because of this they are also usually willing to spend money. Money is what everyone in the world wants, and if tourists have it, then many places will give them what they want. In many countries this is not a huge deal, pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, pizza and wine from an Italian restaurant. Sometimes however the desires of the tourist can have devastating effects on local people. I like to say that tourism can “freeze” a population of people and prevent them from growing in the direction they want. Take Ghana for example, tourist want to see raw nature and mans struggle against the wild. There are people who cater to this desire, offering tourists glimpses into the lives of “real” Ghanians, their ceremonies and their customs. What the tourists want however is not Ghana today, they want to see Ghana 200 years ago, when it was a more “pure” culture, and the business people capitalizing on this desire and not showing the true Ghana, but a caricature of its past, freezing it in a bygone era. This is true of many places around the globe, where tourism is a major source of income, and the tourist is happy because they got the pictures they wanted and can tell the stories they dreamed of telling. I ask you this, why be a tourist? Why not be a traveler, be a person who wants to visit new places to see what they are actually like. There is no more “pure” culture, don’t look for it and be weary if you come across it. Everyone has been influenced by everyone and we all share aspects of our culture. Go into places where locals shop, eat and drink.

A local market in Accra, Ghana

A local market – Accra, Ghana

Don’t walk down the street with all the trinkets, but go to the place where real citizens shop. Visiting a foreign place is not about getting the perfect picture or the shot glass to put on your shelf, it’s about learning and expanding your understanding of the world around you. Now go out and explore.


Fast Food Around the World

I could never have expected the insane quantity of KFCs around the globe, I saw the Colonel more then I saw Ronald McDonald.

KFC sign

KFC – Guangxi, China

I have often traveled with people who don’t want to eat at a fast food chain because they “want to experience what local people eat.” Well, the restaurant is there because local people eat there.  The next time you’re in a foreign location, go into a chain that you know and look around, I would bet that most of the people in there are not tourists, and it may be the most genuinely “local” meal you ever eat. International chain restaurants are just another result of globalization, and an indicator that there is no “pure culture” anymore; everyone has been impacted by everyone else. I agree that while traveling one should try to get traditional foods or local specialties, food is a great way to get immersed in a culture. I just want you to keep an open mind while you travel and think about what the location really is like, and McDonalds and KFC may really are a part of that culture, whether you want it to be, or not. While in Japan Adam, Emily and I stopped at a McDonald’s in a train station. Below is a link to our experience. It was interesting to see the differences in their menu, not unlike the discussion of the Quarter Pounder with cheese being called a “Royale with Cheese” in France in the film Pulp Fiction.

What are your thoughts on fast food in other countries? Would you ever eat at one?


Prepare to be a tourist

The picture below was taken on the steps of the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.  This is one of the most sacred Hindu rivers and the people in the picture are partaking in spiritual cleansing.

Spiritual bathing on the steps of the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Spiritual bathing on the steps of the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Sunrise is the most holy part of the day and you would expect to see something like this if you have never been to the steps of the Ganges, at least that was my understanding.

Sunrise on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Sunrise on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

In reality it was like this.

Tourist boats floating down the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Tourist boats floating down the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

I was able to get all of the classic photos of the Ganges but the third photo is closest to what it was really like. The others were taken as one tourist boat left the frame and just before another came into it.

When anyone dreams of traveling or visiting exotic locations rarely do people visualize thousands of tourists, lines and photo-op areas, but this is the reality in many of the places that are popular to visit in any country.  I have traveled with people that are taken aback by this fact and they tend to stop enjoying the experience because they are forced to share it with so many people.  But if you want to go to famous site, then you have to be ready to be one of many.  Being one of many tourists can also make you feel a little odd being there.  Along the Ganges for example we were watching people go about their daily lives, and very personal spiritual moments, almost as if they were on display, but that is the topic of a future post.

Moral of the story, if you are ready to accept that fact that you will not be the only one enjoying the sights and sounds around you then you will have a much more enjoyable and eye opening experience.  Just because other people are there with you, don’t let that take away from a life changing moment.


Travel Gear: Camera Bag / Backpack

Bringing a DSLR camera while traveling can take up a lot of space and add a fair amount of weight. When I first started looking for a bag to carry my camera equipment in I looked mainly at backpacks specially made for DSLRs. Then I found this smaller bag that easily holds my camera and a second lens, and fits into other bags I already own:
My goto daypack when traveling is a beat up old backpack I got in the 7th grade:
It fits the camera bag, a water bottle, and a packable rain jacket (you can sometimes find these on sale for about 40% off, so shop around) with extra room if I end up buying anything throughout the day:
Plus, it doesn’t scream “THIS BACKPACK HAS A NICE CAMERA IN IT SO YOU SHOULD PROBABLY STEAL IT” like some bags made specifically for DSLRs.


The Art of Bargaining


One of the first things you learn when traveling outside of the U.S. is that many places expect bargaining for goods and services. The first time I encountered this system was in Ghana, and even though I had been warned not to take anything for the asking price, I found it awkward and uncomfortable to offer a price of my own. Even so, I had to remember that bargaining is just a part of the sell, so I tried it out. It didn’t go very well the first few times because I was not very confident. But as I became used to offering a lower price throughout my travels, I began to feel more comfortable and I had some fun with it.

Here are some tips:

  • Offer a price way lower than what you want for the item. That seems obvious, but you could find yourself paying way too much for something because you like it so much.
  • Try offering a half, or even a third, of the price the vendor tells you.
  • Be confident; it’s expected that you bargain, so don’t feel bad.
  • Make sure you know the countries standard practices. In Ghana, for example, you should bargain down to below half the asking price, but in Vietnam 20% off is a good deal.
  • Even if you are happy paying full price you should bargain down a little. If you don’t, the vendor will expect other travelers to pay full price as well and you hurt future travelers.
  • If none of the above get you the price you want, walk away. One of two things will happen: you’ll find the same item from another vendor who will give it to you for a lower price, or the vendor will follow you and make the sale.
  • You almost never bargain on the cost of food, and usually reserve bargaining to street vendors and not large established stores.

In the end the price of a souvenir is up to you, if you are comfortable with the price you paid then it doesn’t matter if you were over charged because you are happy with the purchase.  So go out there and bargain.