What each Country taught me

Travel is more than vacation.  It is education.

Traveling has not only allowed me to learn new things about other countries, their culture, their food, etc.; it has allowed me to learn quite a bit about myself.

1. EGYPT

Egypt taught me to be open to trying new things and meeting new people.

On the second day in Egypt, we flew to Luxor to board the Luxury Sonesta Nile Cruise to cruise the Nile for five days.

At the lunch Meet and Greet, we learned that we would be sharing a table, for all of our meals, with two guys and a child.  And soon thereafter, we discovered we would be paired with them on most of our tours as well.

Having adult children, the last thing we wanted to do was to share our “luxury”  vacation with a 7-year-old, so when we returned to our room we had already decided if it got out of hand, we would ask to be paired up with a different group.

By day two, we were slowly but surely falling in love with the little one, who happened to be the only child on the ship.  His smile, his innocence, his curiosity and his childishness warmed your heart.

The festivities schedule for the last night on the Nile, was the Gallabia, an Egyptian Party.  We considered not going because the day’s events had exhausted us.

Every time our little traveler saw us throughout the day he asked if we were going to the party.  He was super excited about the Egyptian party.   But the day had exhausted him as well, so by dessert they had taken him back to the room to take a nap,  He never made it to the actual party, but fortunately, we all dressed for dinner so he at least got to wear his costume.

After buying outfits at the last-minute, on the ship, and pulling our looks together we were really happy that we had decided to participate. The Gallabia Party, the games, the food, the drinks and the people was a blast!

On our final day in Aswan, we had adopted him and he adopted us, so when his Dad and his dad’s best friend went to McDonald’s (because everyone has to go to McDonald’s in every country that you visit LOL) he made them bring us food back.

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2. CAPE TOWN

Cape Town taught me that you have to GO to really KNOW.

You can’t rely on the media and textbooks.  You have to go, to get the real tea and I’m not just talking about the Orange Rooibos that I fell in love with at The Alphen Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel).

Although Nelson Mandela made a huge difference after becoming the first black president of South Africa, the oppression is still a reality for most South Africans.

Many of the locals patronize La Bella, one of three restaurants at the Hotel and from what I understand most of them are wealthy, stay at home moms, who meet there for breakfast, brunch and lunch while their kids are at school or husbands are at work.

Every morning, the group I traveled with (from the U.S.A and U.K.)  met at the restaurant for breakfast before leaving for our excursions of the day.

While sipping tea, I overheard a local apologizing to her friend as she arrived, for all of the black people at the restaurant.  She said, “I had no idea they would be here” and something along the lines of  I wish they would just go home and stop coming here, I’m sick of them.  What she didn’t say, but what I heard, was I’m afraid that if the black people here keep seeing them, they will rise up and become them.

Although I was free to roam as an American and come and go anywhere I wanted to, I didn’t like the idea that this freedom only existed for me because I am American.  The Xhosa people of Langa Township may no longer need a pass to leave Langa, but they are still not welcome to dine in a restaurant in Constantia or a winery in Stellenbosch.

I want for my sister and brother what I want for myself, so I won’t rush back to patronize businesses that my brothers and sisters can’t sit in and have a cup of tea or a glass wine without putting their lives at risk.  Some would argue that it’s the same in the United States.  Not all is equal nor what it should be in the United States, but it pales in comparison to the oppression in South Africa.

I quickly got over the disappointment I felt when I approached the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Pyramids in Cairo and realized that the media, teachers and textbooks had misled me.  I’ve yet to get over how disheartened Cape Town left me.

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3. CUBA

Cuba taught me to LIVE in the moment!

If you’re addicted to your phone, the internet and/or social media, Cuba could easily serve as rehab.  With limited wifi throughout the country, unless you plan to spend most of your trip standing in front of a hotel or a designated wifi hotspot, you are forced to put your phone, computer or tablet down and live in the moment.

I only posted on social media every two or three days and that was primarily to let my family and friends know that I was okay, enjoying my birthday and living my best life.  All while cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, dancing and smoking Cohibas with the locals.

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4. Morocco

Morocco taught me to travel deeper.

Travel is more than the best Instagram shot.  It’s more than the tourist traps and the top ten things you should do when you’re in XX.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s room for all of the above, but I’m more interested in leaving with an understanding about the culture, their history, the people, the food, etc.

In Morocco, I spent a full day walking through the Berber’s neighborhoods in the Atlas Mountains and was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to cook in the home of one of the residents to learn how to make tagine and Moroccan tea.  It is there that I understood why I had fallen in love with moroccan tea.  I think every cup of tea had 4 ounces of water and 2 cups of sugar LOL.

On the way back to my Riad, my driver stopped at another family’s house and I had tea and watched cartoons with a bedridden 10-year-old boy, while the other children played outside.  He was in need of a medical procedure that would cost less than $5,000 in the United States, but his family couldn’t afford it so he stopped going to school by age 7, after he could no longer walk.

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5. Singapore

Although I’m a Solo Traveler at heart, Singapore taught me that you’re never alone.  Everywhere you go there’s someone waiting and/or willing to get to know you.

People always ask me how I’m treated in other countries and for the most part my answer is the same.  Oftentimes you contribute greatly to how you are received, so I’ve never had a bad experience while traveling.

If you travel outside of the United States expecting the food, the people, the accommodations, the lifestyle, the entertainment, etc. to mimic the United States, you’re typically better off staying in the United States.  But if you travel with an open mind, wanting and willing to learn about another country and the people in it, people are anxious to tell you their story and ready to listen to yours.

6. Greece

You have a right to travel however you want to and do whatever it is your heart desires… JUST NOT WITH ME.

Travel and vacation means different things to different people and there is no right or wrong way to do it; however, before you decide to travel with a group you should have a clear understanding of the nature or purpose of the trip and most important the type of travelers you will be traveling with and/OR be okay with separating from the group for the things that you’re not interested in.

Everything is not for everyone and if we’re not family or really good friends and we’re not forced to travel together, if we like very different things there’s no reason we have to travel together.  It’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m a solo traveler at heart, but I’ve manage to find a select group of people whose travel style match mine.

Find yours.

7. Costa Rica

Costa Rica taught me that time is money and you should value both equally.

I originally booked a travel deal to Vancouver for the week that I ended up in Costa Rica. It was my very first glitch (error fare).

I was excited about the trip for all of 2 days; which was one day too long.  I could’ve cancelled and got my money back, had I cancelled 24 hours after booking the flight.

A week or so later, I put my vacation request in, booked an Airbnb and for weeks I attempted to put an itinerary together.  I could NOT get excited about this trip.  All I could think about was how terrible it would be to waste seven vacation days in an apartment, potentially in the snow, in Vancouver.

One week before the trip, I cancelled the flight with no refund and booked a flight to Costa Rica for the same price I paid for Vancouver.  Fortunately, it was a refundable Airbnb, but I probably would’ve cancelled regardless.

Costa Rica did not disappoint.  It was one of my best solo trips.

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8. TOKYO

Traveling will teach you to communicate, even if you don’t speak the language.

It was every bit of 97 degrees outside when our Uber said we should probably get out and walk, after traffic came to a halt as the parade ahead of us turned the corner.

After 10 minutes of trying to walk through the crowd and only traveling one block, we decided to turnaround and skip this Temple altogher.

We knew the only way to get another Uber was to walk away from traffic, so we walked until we found a 7-Eleven.  When we tried to Uber, the app couldn’t pinpoint our location.  None of the buildings had addresses written in English and there are 10,000 7-Eleven’s in Tokyo LOL.  After a process of elimination, we selected the location we thought we were at, and as sweat ran down our backs, arms, legs and face, we waited patiently for our car to arrive.

The beauty of Uber is you should never have an issue communicating your location or destination with the driver because the App is suppose to do the work. IF you select the correct information the driver should have everything they need to get you from point A to point B.

Fifteen minutes and two tan shades later, the driver calls and says he’s waiting. We look everywhere and there’s no driver in sight.  After five minutes of frustration, the driver cancels and we start this process all over again.

At this point, I decide to walk into a business to ask them to put their address in for me, but they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, so they have no idea what I’m saying and it’s obvious they’ve never heard of Uber.

I found myself in a similar situation in Switzerland, but once I showed the salesrep in the coffee shop the Uber app, she knew immediately what I was trying to do.

But even with the language barrier, this young man was determined to help.  Simultaneously, we opened Google and went to google translate and after a few typed messages back and forth, he put the address in the Uber App and five minutes later the same driver who dropped us off an hour before, picked us up.  He obviously knew more than we did and knew that it wouldn’t be long before we needed a ride back to our hotel, so he stayed nearby.

9. France

Don’t rely on technology.  Always have a back up plan.

Having traveled to Paris more than once and using my cell phone without fail, it never occurred to me that this would prove to be a problem in Vetraz-Monthoux, Rhône-Alpes, France.

I rented a pool house in a rural residential area, 10 minutes from the border of Geneva, Switzerland.   I advised the owner that the wi-fi wasn’t working, he said he’d fix it while I was gone, so I left and headed into Switzerland for the day.  When I returned later that night, the wifi was still not working and the owner was gone.  I didn’t think much of it because my cell phone was working so made a few phone calls and crashed.

The next morning, I continuously received network errors when I tried dialing out.

This was the first time I had ever rented a car for a trip and with no cellphone service or wi-fi, GPS wasn’t working.

Fortunately, I’ve traveled enough to always have a back up plan, but even this back up plan could have failed.  I travel with two cell phones, with two different carriers.

Although my second phone worked just fine, the real lesson learned was to never stay in an apartment, in a rural area, traveling solo.

I checked out a day early and checked into a hotel in Switzerland because when and if all else fails, I can always walk down to the main lobby or to concierge and get assistance.

10. Bali

Bali taught me…

If we experienced life through the eyes of a child, everything would be magical and extraordinary. Let our curiosity, and wonder of life never end. ~ A. Kramarik

Don’t just tell your children about the world.  Show them!

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