Getting completely turned around in an unfamiliar country is one of the most important travel experiences one can have, but it gets old quickly. The last thing we want to do after disembarking from a 15-hour flight is:
Immediately get shaken down by taxi drivers and hustlers
This has happened to us on numerous occasions all over the globe. One particularly memorable experience was my first time arriving in Bangkok, when my friend and I were informed by our driver that his meter was broken and Khao San Road was "closed" -- despite our protests, he took us to a strip club under a bridge in an industrial area and when we refused to get out he drove us to a restaurant with $15 pad thai and $10 beers.
While we made our best attempt at finding humor and excitement in the above video, the truth is that the jungle guide featured in it jumped on us the minute we got out of the airport in Iquitos after 24 straight hours traveling. He followed us to our hotel and extracted a $200 deposit from us for his jungle tour even though we were both delirious and just wanted him to go away. The next three days in the jungle cost us $800 and were totally unbearable due mostly to his unpreparedness and distractedness- Read our Trip Advisor review if you want to know more.- Trip Advisor Review: A Dangerous Ripoff
Fight to ignore the "Cash Cow" sign that locals see floating over our heads
After essentially two days of plane, bus, taxi and boat transfers we were finally sitting on a postcard perfect beach at the northern tip of Zanzibar, enjoying our view of the Indian Ocean. A couple of counterfeit product merchants immediately set up shop at the foot of our beach chairs, adding an unexpected element of free market capitalism to the beach break away from it all.
Realize that virtually nothing we researched on the internet is true on the ground
Try telling a Bedouin on the outskirts of Riyadh that there's supposed to be a gym where his camel farm is
...and of course
Cram onto a crowded bus for another 4 hours to reach our final destination,
Being sleep deprived on public transport is a fantastic way to have your valuables relieved from your possession. An Australian guy I knew succumbed to jet lag on a Nicaraguan bus and woke up without his passport, laptop, and $4,000 cash. I never said he was bright.
All this tends to happen while you're paying inflated tourist prices for pretty much everything on your trip.
Enter the solution: Begin your trip at home, months or years before you even decide to undertake it. If you live in any kind of metropolitan area, there are literally thousands of people orbiting around you right now who would be extraordinarily grateful to forge ties with a local. Even if you're outside of the city, there are many ways to function as a citizen ambassador and foster international allegiances from the comfort of your home.
I have been involved in different capacities with the
San Diego Citizens Diplomacy Council (http://sandiegodiplomacy.org/)
Future Leaders Exchange (http://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/future-leaders-exchange)
Couchsurfing ( https://www.couchsurfing.com/)
and InterNations (https://www.internations.org/)
Engage, cultivate, and realize that human connection is the vanguard of travel.
The challenges presented in the beginning of this piece are universal, and the organizations listed above are effective solutions to the unscrupulousness of the world's scam artists. When travel and worldly experience has a human face with a family name attached to it, everyone benefits: The world gets smaller, and both parties expand their world view and knowledge of global culture at it's most fundamental level.