Traveling Wide-eyed Around the World

around the world travel

Is it still something special to travel all the way around the world?

Oldies like me might not think so since “back in the day” there weren’t 10,000 bloggers doing just that and writing about it, posting selfies every day on Instagram. You didn’t hear about jaunts to all the seven wonders by private jet. You had to call someone on the phone to work out a round-the-world airline ticket and they sent you paper. There weren’t a dozen round-the-world cruise options you could search by price or duration in less than 10 seconds on a web page.

There wasn’t such thing as a “web page” at all when I first started backpacking around the world. There were still 10,000 people doing it any given month, however. They just didn’t all have blogs and Instagram accounts. So it was a novelty, something strange people did. Well, strange if you were American anyway.

Just because it’s easier now doesn’t mean it’s not special though. If it’s your trip around the world, like it is for our contributor Skye right now, it’s a really big deal.

The advice can be overwhelming though. It can be like having 48 kinds of toothpaste to choose from in the supermarket, so you just grab one at random after standing there paralyzed for a while. Here’s how to do it as a Perceptive Traveler in order to end up with a more memorable trip. Instead of just replaying someone else’s life you’ve seen already, you’ll make your own unique story.

circle the globe

Where Else Can You Go?

There was already a well-defined backpacker circuit long before the internet came along. On my first trip around the world in ancient 1994, we ran into some of the same people over and over again in multiple countries. We’d see them in Bangkok, then in Luang Prabang, then in Yogyakarta two months later. Everybody was going to the same places and staying in the same cheap hotels.

If anything, it has gotten worse. The backpacker enclaves like Khao San Road keep getting more overbuilt and getting even uglier. Destinations like Bali and Ko Phi Phi may have passed the point of no return when it comes to environmental damage and draining the aquifers.

At the same time, there are hundreds of worthwhile places around the world that only get a trickle of travelers in comparison. Take the road less traveled and head to Ushguli, Thanjavur, Prizren, or the Alentejo region of Portugal–all places our writers have profiled. You won’t have to get there early to beat the crowds. You’ll be the crowd.

empty square in Alentejo Portugal

Guidebook writers are forced by their editors to cover the most popular sites. Travel magazines must do the same because of advertising pressure. Since most travel bloggers also end up going to the same places, even what you read on most travel blogs doesn’t take you off the beaten path very much.

What if you just break from the pack and take a different fork in the road? You don’t likely have to get very far off that standard circuit to see things that are not standard at all.

This is a mindset more than anything. It just takes a curious willingness to explore, plus the courage to let things happen instead of dictating the whole schedule every day.

Sure, hit the major sites and say you’ve been there—it would be a real shame to skip Petra or Machu Picchu—but spend some quality time going beyond the obvious.

A to B Another Way

traveling by train

As circling the globe has gotten more routine, those looking for a quest have tried to do it by sailboat, by bike, by motorcycle, or other means. You don’t have to go that crazy, but you will get off the well-work backpacker trail if you take another form of transportation now and then.

How about hopping on a repositioning cruise across an ocean instead of a quick flight? You might actually spend about the same if you find a good deal. Or perhaps a freighter cruise, or a series of ferries? You can still go pretty darn far by train on some continents. When I’m in a bus station where I live sometimes in central Mexico, I could buy tickets not just to Texas, but to Chicago or Atlanta if I wanted. (I haven’t wanted, but I like that the option exists…)

Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada may not be as extensive as we’d like, but they do still collectively cover a lot of areas, especially on the coasts. Check the Rail Europe site and you’ll find that trains will get you to most of where you want to go in Europe. Sure, the plane is often faster and can even be cheaper, but you feel a lot more like a traveler when you pass through the landscape instead of over it. Maybe make some random stops along the way too. After all, you can’t believe people when they say, “There’s nothing to see there.”

Interact With People Who Have Nothing to Sell

meet the locals

Forget what any well-meaning adult told you as you were growing up. The most interesting things happen when you do talk to strangers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you’ve been fighting off aggressive touts all day in a country like India, Egypt, or Morocco. But I’ve met some lovely people from all those countries and gotten a lot of insight into their lives while having conversations at a cafe or on a train. It can be really illuminating, even if you just have five minutes to get answers to your most burning questions (like “Why do ____ people like to _____?”).

The key is, you have to interact with people who aren’t trying to make money from you. They’ve got nothing to sell, no cousin’s shop to take you to, and no tip to procure at the end. In developed countries, this is almost everyone, but when there’s a huge income disparity and you’re seen as a walking wallet, it’s tougher. Often the best strategy then is to go up the income scale and mix with the middle class. This may mean putting on some decent clothes and upgrading your train ride or what bars you visit. Hey, think of it as a cultural education expense.

In my experience, if you have a child along, it’s much easier. Then you’re just fellow parents at the playground or the pizza place with a slide.

Other options are joining a volunteer program. Or staying with a local family instead of at a hotel or rental apartment. You can join a pickup football or basketball game maybe, or go to a local festival and be approachable.

No matter how you do all this, you alone will determine if your trip around the world is something special or not.

And hey, if your rich aunt wants to spend $60,000 each for you to go on a 125-day cruise around the world, by all means say yes. Just be sure to ditch the crowd now and then and do something different.

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