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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: What I Don't Like about Travel

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I Don't Like about Travel

On the eve of me getting back on the road -- and being pretty damn excited about it -- thought it would be a good time to highlight some of the things that I find not-so-great out there on the road, since most of my friends seem to think most everything is wine and roses out there.

(1) Widow Makers. You don't run into these too often, but the name pretty much describes the experience. You are looking at a shower head in Central America. The warm water is provided by a basic electrical coil contained in the shower head. Yes -- electricity plus water. I think I got a C- in high school physics, but I feel pretty sure that this is not a combination that you should feel overly confident about.

(2) Visas -- Hell, just border agents in general. As an American, I should be the last person complaining about visas and border crossings, because frankly, entering my country is the worst. The worst. So every time I have a problem at a border or have to pay $100 to get into a country, I take a few deep breaths and say to myself, "it's worse for them to come into my country." Then I get pissed off anyway.

(3) Loud and rude people in dorm rooms. I wrote an entire blog about the hostel/dorm rules, so I won't go over them all again, save to highlight one of them: we are all sleeping in here. It is 3:30 a.m. I'm glad you had a great night out, but please try to show some respect when you crawl your drunk ass back into the dorm room.

(4) Know-it-All's. Happens at home also, but the road variation is the person that keeps one-upping your trip stories or craps on your future travel plans. "Well, if you want to go to Cuzco, that's fine, but if you want a real taste of Inca culture, instead of that touristic garbage, you should go to....."

(5) Abject poverty. Don't want to make this one controversial, so let me preface it by explaining one of my philosophies that I've come to have as a core belief because of travel: we are all (at least those reading this, most likely) just damn fricking lucky. Our souls just happened to pop out in the United States or Canada or Western Europe or Australia -- at least that is where almost all my readers are from. There wasn't anything to account for that other than dumb luck. Given the population disbursement around the world, we were all many times more likely to be born in a 3rd world country, in abject poverty, with a crappy government and infrastructure, poor schooling opportunities, and little chance of moving up the ladder. We all ought to wake up every morning and just thank the big He/She/It in the sky that we were all lucky enough to arrive where we did.

That being said, what gets to me on the road is how many people are born without those possibilities. How many Einsteins or Churchills or Hemingways or Hawkings have been born out there and just withered away, because they had no access to education, infrastructure, and resources to develop their talents?? The mental resources that we waste as a planet just depress me. As do the direct effects of poverty -- deforestation, environmental problems, short life spans, crime, mistreatment of women. Arrrrrggggggg.

To be clear -- and to hopefully avoid lots of negative comments -- I'm not saying that people in the 3rd world can't lead happy and productive lives. Some of the happiest people I've seen on the planet are poor as dirt. On many days, I wish I was as happy as the kid playing with the stick and the tire on the side of the road.... but I'd also like him/her to have the opportunity, if they want to take it, to get educated, acquire some basic necessities, and perhaps change the world for the better.

(6) Getting ripped off. On the opposite end of the scale, I can't stand getting ripped off, even it it is just for a couple bucks. It isn't the money -- clearly, paying $3 for something that locals pay $1 for isn't that big a deal (and might actually help issue #5 in a small way), but I think it is the attendant implication of my stupidity that bothers me. Yes, I realize that you are ripping me off, Mr. Shop Owner. Not all tourists are blissfully ignorant rubes, there for you to pluck like ripe fruit off a tree.

And what REALLY annoys me on this front is when I get quoted a price for something that is eight or ten times the proper price. Look -- I expect that you are going to quote me double. That's fine. When I'm in a patient mood, a little bargaining is part of the fun of travel. But don't jack up the price to ten times normal, and then when I laugh at you, cut the price down by 80% to get to what should have been your starting price. I refuse to even bargain with you, seeing as you just basically told me, via your price, that I'm the dumbest person you've ever seen. Piss off.

(7) Cab Drivers. A specialized subset of #6. I have a true hate/love relationship with cabbies. I despise 90% of them and want to line them all up against a wall and pull a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie on them, but then one of them completely and totally saves my ass and I mentally reprieve them all. Then the vicious cycle just starts up again.

(8) The price of books. This literally amazed me. Books are ABSURDLY expensive throughout the world. I'm not talking the expense of buying and English language book in the middle of non-English speaking countries here -- I expected those prices would be high. I'm talking about the prices of English books in countries like Australia and New Zealand. Or of Spanish books in South America (not that I could read them anyway). Stunned me. Well, except for SE Asia, where you can buy illegally photocopied books at cheap prices. Then again, you can buy about any intellectual property there at pirate rates.

(9) Everyone speaks more languages than me. I'm an American, which basically means I speak English. That's it. I'm not banging on my country here -- there are some good reasons we don't speak foreign languages here -- the primary one being that the US is damn big and English is the language throughout. If I had clients in Texas and they spoke a different language there (like most Europeans find, when they go 300 miles to do business with someone), I'm sure I'd have a lot better language skills.

(10) The search for a good cup of coffee. You wouldn't think this would be that difficult a task, but 'o my, it can be. Even in some of the best coffee producing countries in the world (Panama and Colombia off the top of my head), it is tough to find a good cup of Joe. Most countries export their good coffee to.... the US, Japan and Western Europe. Pretty much around the world, you are going to be drinking instant coffee most mornings. I hate instant coffee.

Instant coffee verses cabbies. Now there is a battle that I might pay to see.

That being said, damn do I feel inferior when I'm traveling and run across pretty much anyone, seeing as most other travelers speak three or four languages. If I could wave a wand and have any knowledge immediately implanted in my head, it would be the full working knowledge of a couple of foreign languages.

Hmmmmmm. I know I've got a lot more of these small and large pet peeves, but can't think of any more off the top of my head. Then again, I'd love to hear your contributions -- what is not-so-great on the road in your eyes, fellow travelers?


At August 31, 2010 at 11:51 AM , Anonymous Kelsey said...

I will definitely be posting something similar!

At August 31, 2010 at 12:08 PM , Anonymous Ayngelina said...

I had a break down a few days ago and wrote a similar post that's coming soon although I didn't have your even temperament :)

All I've seen in Colombia so far are the widow makers, are you ready to welcome them back?

At August 31, 2010 at 12:47 PM , Anonymous Sally said...

Other travelers who don't seem the least bit interested in meeting new people -- to the point that they won't even make eye contact with you. I swear some days I feel like it's high school all over again! (Umm... not that I wasn't wildly popular in high school).
Oh, and I hate that I can't just take a couple days off from traveling and just go home & sit on my couch and recuperate a bit until I have the strength to start it all over again... (that is if I HAD a couch).
P.S. What's the deal? Your posts are so SHORT these days. I'm kicking out out of our Way Long Blog Club!

At August 31, 2010 at 12:56 PM , Blogger SoloTraveler said...

LOL -- trying this shorter post thing. I hear that people may actually READ them, if I make them a little less verbose ;)

At August 31, 2010 at 3:44 PM , Anonymous Rebecca said...

Ha! I definitely feel ya on #9 (especially in Europe) and #3 but I have to add my #1 to all of these - FLYING. :-)

At August 31, 2010 at 3:55 PM , Anonymous Adam said...

Hilarious and well done. I agree with all of yours, especially the language one. I feel like such a moron sometimes, and I urge all younger Americans to pay attention and actually care in high school Spanish classes. What I would give to fluently speak a few languages. Then you meet a Dutch person, who seems to speak all the languages, and it makes me feel even less inferior.

At August 31, 2010 at 3:56 PM , Blogger SoloTraveler said...

thanks Adam. But I'll say this for the Dutch -- have yet to meet one I don't like. Pretty much the same for the Kiwis and Ozzies. And they can all drink me under the table!

At August 31, 2010 at 3:58 PM , Blogger gregory.andres said...

Totally with you on #1. Every shower I've taken underneath one, I've stood half in and half out the entire time. Which is, of course, stupid, but it makes me feel (moderately) better.

At August 31, 2010 at 4:13 PM , Anonymous AdventureRob said...

I think you have covered most bases. I'd like to add illness when you experiment with dodgy food though!

At August 31, 2010 at 4:24 PM , Blogger Dustin said...

I gotta agree with most of them, though I haven't run into these 'widow makers' quite yet. I've also been fortunate enough to steer clear of the type of dorms where people come in @ 3:30am all noisy, so far...

I don't drink coffee so no biggie for me!

At September 1, 2010 at 9:46 AM , Anonymous Nomadic Chick said...

Good thing I don't hanker for coffee, otherwise that would annoy me. There's a misconception that travel is hunky dory all the time, but I will say this - there's a freedom to it that you will never find in any office. :)

At September 1, 2010 at 9:48 AM , Anonymous Christine said...

Agreed--I don't know about "widow makers" but showers in Europe never have the showerhead attached to the wall. So annoying.

And can I add absurdly long layovers to the list? And train delays?

At September 1, 2010 at 10:20 AM , Anonymous Everywhereist said...

This might fall in the know-it-all category, but I hate the haters. People who say, "I hate America!" or "I hate France!" or something equally ridiculous. Doubly so when I find out they've never been to the country they supposedly hate.

With all the nuances and magic a nation can have, how can someone POSSIBLY hate the entire place? It infuriates me. Grrrrr!

At September 1, 2010 at 10:57 AM , Blogger SoloTraveler said...

thanks everyone -- again -- for all the comments.

Christine, agree on the delays. Haven't flown in about 2 years, so not sure about layovers, but since I'm getting on a plane in a few days -- am sure you just jinxed me. ;)

And the haters.... yes, they can all go to... well, that ain't nice, is it??

At September 1, 2010 at 11:52 PM , Anonymous Candice said...

I hate how everyone in the world is a polygot too. Damn lack of education.

At September 3, 2010 at 7:06 PM , Anonymous Jasmine said...

Funny! I too am irritated by the know-it-all travelers. I love hearing travel stories, but please don´t pretend like you have seen and done it all.

re: #3, I had to leave a hostel in Bogota because I thought I might actually fight with a group of biotches that came in the room late making all kinds of noise with the lights on.

#8 - yessss!!!

And the instant coffee, yes I think it´s criminal to drink nescafe in a coffee-producing region, it makes me want to cry!

Great list!

At September 4, 2010 at 12:07 PM , Anonymous Suzy said...

I am glad I have never encountered a widow maker just yet. Not sure I could handle showering with death looming over. Seeing as I just got back from three months in Italy, I would say the lack of comfortable beds while you travel is something I can't stand. I also the towels that feel like sandpaper.

At September 4, 2010 at 2:15 PM , Anonymous Shane said...

It's that one in a hundred honest taxi driver that spoils things. If it weren't for him we could just shoot the lot of them and start over.

At September 4, 2010 at 3:01 PM , Anonymous Earl said...

Good stuff and wise idea to get the rant out of your system before your trip begins!

The only thing that comes to mind in addition is early morning throat-clearing. While I understand that sometimes you just need to clear your throat, it seems to be a common hobby in many parts of the world to do so as loudly as possible as soon as the sun breaks above the horizon. I can't even begin to count the hours of precious sleep I've lost over the years as result!

At September 7, 2010 at 8:15 AM , Blogger Global Butterfly said...

Haha, but you know what despite all this we still travel!!! The positive always outweighs the negative. BEST WISHES!!!!!!!

At September 7, 2010 at 4:51 PM , Blogger Kristiang85 said...

I thought I was the only person who thought that about books... I'm glad its not so!

At September 11, 2010 at 8:20 PM , Blogger Daniel N. said...

Nice list!

Just to add about books, yes they are expensive around the world. It was insanely expensive when I lived in Dubai too. But here in Thailand, I love that you have tons of used books shops. No photocopies, no shady books.. Just good old used books for so cheap, I LOVE it!

At September 13, 2010 at 9:34 AM , Anonymous Nancie said...

I had this happen a lot in China this summer...
Restaurant staff treating you like they have never seen a white face before, and scared to death to serve me. Thankfully, there was always a restaurant somewhere that had staff who didn't do that.


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