July 4th Fun Fact of the Day

I've been abroad the last four July 4ths.

2007: Italy

2008: Costa Rica

2009: Argentina

2010: Chile

Vigilance on the Travel Trails

A person traveling with me tells me that I am the most vigilant traveler she’s traveled with in terms of security precautions, preemptive battles against scams, etc.

Other than a passport issue in Switzerland four years ago but besides that nothing bad has happened to me. Never been robbed or mugged and nothing’s been stolen from a hotel room (even though I always hide my stuff under mattresses etc especially in lower end hotels).

I’m not sure whether this actually makes me MORE vigilant. Perhaps if something like this happened, I’d realize its big picture insignificance. Until then, it’s an “unknown.”

Either way, I think I have an optimal amount of vigilance – I do venture into dangerous hoods, countries, etc. just always try to be safe…

Hunger and Bathroom Needs

I’ve gone TEN hours with no food. I’ve gone entire days with just a sandwich and a cliff bar.

I’ve gone hours having to go to the bathroom and not being able to.

International travel – where you don’t have access to a kitchen, don’t know where the clean bathrooms are, don’t know where the cheap/quick food options are (e.g. a Subway equivalent) – builds these capacities pretty well.

Language Thoughts

– “Ideas” is one of the hardest words for non-native speakers to pronounce. Especially in French but in all European languages.

– “Make” as a verb is overused by non-native speakers. For example, “let’s make a picture” instead of “let’s take a picture.” I assume it’s like me using tener as a catch-all verb in Spanish.

– I like how the Brits say “indeed” as a superlative. E.g., “Thank you very much indeed for that speech.”

– I remain fascinated by how non-natives have a very hard time selecting “this” or “that” – they select but it’s usually not the right one. Grammatically makes no difference but how it sounds to the ear…. For example, “The boys were being very rude at the show by yelling out at the audience. I can’t believe they acted like this.” The last word should be “that” — at least this sounds best to my ear.

Quote of the Day

“From our hours spent in airports we know that most Americans, when presented with large chunks of free time and removed from demanding home entertainment systems, will still find almost any excuse — a cell phone, a laptop, another bag of chips — not to pick up a book. To travel is to be continually reminded of the growing homelessness of the written word.” – Thomas Swick

Stamps in Passports

It’s always fun to look through your passport and see the stamps from various airports. And to look at your friends’ passports and see where they’ve been.

But there seems to be no practical value to the stamps. All airports now scan your passport and the whole system is computerized. I’ve never seen a border official actually look at my stamps.

I suspect it’s tradition at this point.

Just as reading long letters of famous historical figures is good fun but will not be an option for future generations reading about us, I suspect stamps in passports will be a thing of the past soon enough as well….

Native English Speakers Don’t Say “Clever” Much

Always interesting to hear and analyze how non-natives speak the English language. What’s difficult? What do they mess up?

One random observation: the word “clever.” Most fluent English speakers I know don’t use the word “clever” very often, certainly not as a catch-all compliment for intelligence or savviness. If anything, “clever” can have a slightly negative connotation — like sneaky. Yet many folks in Latin America use “clever” very often and in broad contexts.

Second random observation: “this” and “that.” Neither is technically grammatically better than the other, but you can hear it when it doesn’t sound right.

Taxi Hounds at Third World Airports

Here’s a little thing third world countries could do which would vastly improve the travel experience for foreigners: create a formal taxi line and enforce it.

In every poor country I’ve been to the airport scene is always the same. You land, go through customs, and then take one step outside and are hounded by taxi drivers. Some legal, some illegal, all shouting "taxi! taxi! taxi!".

The most frustrating experience I’ve had was in Dalian, China. There the illegal taxis swarm and won’t leave you. I had to physically push one guy away and he nonetheless kept following my every step trying to get me to hire him.
In Liberia, Costa Rica, you step out of the airport and before you know it you’re inundated by "taxi! taxi!". When I waited to pick Laura up at the airport, I watched dozens of passengers exit the airport. Each time, without exception, they walk out with a smile on their face, and within seconds, at seeing the mob scene of taxi drivers, their smile turns to deer-in-headlights or general fear / nervousness.

Why would you want that to be the first impression visitors have of your country?

Travel Doctors are a Scam

I’ve never been to one, but I now know two people who went to American travel doctors before going to Latin America. Of course they give you every medicine they can think of and tell you to avoid everything and anything once in the region.

A particularly amusing fun fact was the travel doctor a friend visited before coming to Costa Rica had only been abroad once in her life, to London!

My approach is to follow the CDC / State Dept recommendations on malaria, avoid tap water, and be smart about other types of food. Get your shots, etc. But do your own research and take action that will keep you healthy and make you less nervous (sometimes people say you don’t need to take malaria medicine in certain places like Guanacaste in Costa Rica — but I’d rather assuage any nervousness when I get molested by mosquitoes which inevitably happens).

Just don’t outsource this process to a "travel doctor"!

People Making Out in Public

In Europe, since people live at home with their parents till later in life, there’s many more people making out / kissing in public. Ie, they don’t want to go back home, so they do it in public.