The most read, shared, and searched article from Traveling Ted has been a response to CNN on why Americans do not travel overseas. My article tried to persuade American readers to get a passport, adventure, and explore the world.
Usually, I travel alone, but earlier this year I flew with a buddy to Trinidad & Tobago to experience their Carnival, which is one of the world’s best parties. It was my friend Russ’ first travel experience abroad at the age of 33. Since only around 30% of the U.S. population owns a passport, I thought it would be an enlightening experience traveling with a first timer who only recently obtained his first passport.
You are 33 years old and it is your first international trip? Why has it taken you so long to travel overseas?
A few factors came into play. Money is always an issue. Like many people, hostels aren’t something I’d be comfortable staying in, so just staying in a hotel for a week could easily cost you more than a grand. Then airfare can be anywhere from a few hundred to even into the thousands. You’re out two grand and that’s not even including spending money.
Besides that, unlike much of Europe, we live in a vast, expansive country. From region to region, and sometimes city to city, it is so diverse, from the people and their regional accents, to the varying landscapes, as well as the weather, that traveling across America can be just as fulfilling as crossing the Atlantic or Pacific.
Finally, I have zero desire to learn a foreign language. At the same time, I have zero desire to be the “ugly American” who travels from country to country assuming everyone should know English just so I can properly order food and find the nearest restroom. This limits where I would go to those countries that have English as a main language.
Think about how we treat people when they ask us a question and they don’t know how to speak English. I’d say the initial internal reaction of a great majority is to think “learn English you idiot,” and then politely tell them “Sorry, I don’t speak XYZ language.” I’ve never wanted to put myself in that position where I’m in a country, and I’d need to depend on others because I can’t speak the native tongue.
What surprised you most about the trip?
The racial tolerance. For the first time in my life, I was the minority. I’m a short, white male in his 30s, with light hair and blue eyes. I don’t stand out in any way in the northwest suburbs of Illinois. But as soon as we got off the plane in Trinidad, we headed to St. James to party on their streets (literally, as you don’t go into bars during Carnival. You just stop in them, grab a beer, then go and dance on the streets/sidewalks).
In St. James, there were a total of three white people (me, Traveling Ted, and our buddy Todd). I immediately was picturing a scene from any movie where white people walk into a black neighborhood and the needle on the record comes to a screeching halt (think Animal House, Weird Science). Instead, no one batted an eye. We were just part of the crowd. No weird “what are THEY doing here looks,” no one trying to start a fight with us to mark their territory. In all honesty, I think it’s safe to say anytime you are the minority, there is always a sense of fear (justified or not), or that you don’t belong and everyone is looking at you.
For some reason, after about 5 minutes, that feeling had escaped me, and I felt no fear. It’s a sad indictment on our country to say that I felt safer thousands of miles away, being in the extreme minority, than if I was in the same situation in Chicago or Detroit.
Did the trip inspire you to see other countries? If yes, are there any in particular on your list?
I’ve always wanted to go to other countries, and due to the success of this trip, I will surely be going on more international vacations. Recall, I only want to hit up English speaking countries, so England and Amsterdam (editors note: Russ, the native tongue in Amsterdam is not English) are high on my list. And if my posterior can take sitting on a plane for what will feel like eternity, I’d hit up the land down under and visit Paul Hogan and his pet kangaroos.
This interview will continue at another time. Russ is unique in many ways, but as far as attitudes on travel, I would say he is average. It is interesting to get into the mind of someone who is inexperienced traveling because as travel bloggers, we are trying to convince people like Russ to become more adventurous.
I think what is interesting in this interview is the trip assuaged some of his fears, but did nothing to remove his language barrier fear as they speak English in Trinidad & Tobago. Russ had a blast in Trinidad, and I know he would enjoy other foreign countries as well.
It is my next goal to get Russ to a country where English is not the native language and show him it is an adventure to travel there and not a struggle. Thailand, Costa Rica, and certain countries in Europe (like Amsterdam) are very easy to travel in without knowledge of the native tongue.
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I really enjoyed this interview! I’m so glad that the outcome is him wanting to continue to travel internationally.
Andi recently posted..Andi’s Pick: East Hong Kong
I am glad you enjoyed. Part II will be coming up.
It was a pleasure meeting you guys indeed! And we could def tell Russ and Ted were first timers but their willingness to “learn” the dance styles and just take part in everything was refreshing. As a carnival veteran (self proclaimed) I was surprised at the way you guys were able to fit right in and enjoy the experience!Hope to see u guys maybe in Barbados or Brasil maybe 😉
It was great to have such beautiful ladies show us the ropes during our Carnival stay. Hope to see you again soon.
I was confused about Jamestown but soon realized you meant St. James. Glad you had a grand time.
Thank you for reminding me of the correct name of the neighborhood and sorry to confuse.
Very interesting interview. I’ve been traveling for so long it’s interesting to get the perspective of someone who is doing it for the first time, especially in his 30s. I don’t think Russ needs to be afraid to travel to a place where English isn’t spoken. However, glad he doesn’t want to be the ugly American.
Jeremy Branham recently posted..5 reasons why the Olympics are the greatest sporting event in the world
I agree Jeremy. Next trip need to show him that traveling to a country where English is not spoken is not that daunting.
The catch-22 of not wanting to learn another language and also not wanting to be the guy in a foreign country who can’t speak a single word of the local language is interesting. I’ve never thought about that, since Ive been to so many countries where I couldn’t speak a word and it just became normal.
Maybe a trip to Amsterdam would be a perfect introduction for Ross, as you’d be hard pressed to find a Dutch person who doesn’t speak English and in many cases speak it better than many Americans.
Very true Daniel. Amsterdam would be a great next trip for Russ.
Like Jeremy said, it was interesting to get the perspective of someone not accustomed to traveling. Ted – hopefully you’ll get your friend to travel to a non-speaking country (and beyond Amsterdam). It’s a start and travel is addictive.
Pola recently posted..Photo(s) of the Week: Mountains in Boulder, Colorado
Amsterdam might be a good next trip to indoctrinate him slowly, but I agree though that there is so much more out there.
May I recommend that if and when Russ goes to a non-English speaking country, that he goes with someone who does speak the local language? That could be a bridge. I’d recommend Poland with Pola!
I do wonder if Russ means learning a language well or even just learning some phrases? The latter is easier to do and goes a long way to making folks in other countries forgive that you don’t speak their language. Could be a compromise. He looks like he enjoyed the cross-cultural experience and I’d hate for him to miss out on experiences he likely would enjoy!
Also we bloggers may need to do more on showing that travel can be more affordable than people think without giving up a nice enough place to stay!
Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..The Land of Re-Born Churches and Monasteries
Good suggestions Raul and Poland with Pola would be awesome.
Looks like Russ had a great first time experience. I like the idea of interviewing these first time travelers and hearing their perspective. Here’s to Russ and his next trip abroad!
Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..Chasing our fortunes at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory [video]
Russ definitely had a great time, and I know he is now loving the attention.
Russ picked a hell of a place (and event) for his first time abroad. I love T-n-T (especially Tobago), so I have not doubt that having a great first-time experience will lead him to future travels abroad. Great interview, Ted.
Leah Travels recently posted..Lufthansa’s A380 is Texas Sized
Wow. What a great interview. I personally find it hard to believe that someone could be 30+ and not have travelled abroad. But who am I to judge? I think we should all do what makes us comfortable.
I think what you did, Ted was amazing and hope you have inspired Russ to really go somewhere else. On the other hand, was very refreshing that Russ was very honest – most people would come up with all sorts of excuses.
PS. Take him to Scotland. Technically they speak English, he may not understand it so easily!
@mrsoaroundworld recently posted..Photos of the Week – Treats
T&T looks like loads of fun. i do think traveling outside your comfort zone can be intimidating but it can also give you such a sense of accomplishment. i think if you smile & try to be gracious you will never be seen as an ugly American.
lola recently posted..Bon chance a Paris: temptations for lola!
great idea to include this! sometimes it’s easy to pass judgement on others who don’t travel/don’t enjoy traveling, but it’s great that russ stretched himself and even better that he had a positive experience.
the lazy travelers recently posted..laws to travel by – #21
Ted, way to be an ambassador of travel to the non-traveling American. Also, great to see your buddy learn about the world…..it seems he went home with a great lesson too.
I am also wondering what he is spending his money on if its not travel… that would be a good question for the next round. I am curious about that one.
stay adventurous, Craig
Craig Zabransky recently posted..Sunset Sunday – Kota Kinbalu, Malaysia on the island of Borneo
Okay . . . I am way to late in reading this article but strongly suggest you guys take a visit to Kathmandu, Nepal . . . in the next 18 months. You’ll have a great place to stay. As you know, there’s a layover in Thailand where you guys could hang for 3 or 4 days prior to hitting Nepal . . . think about hitting Bhutan as well.