Sometimes it’s a good idea to look back and reflect, unless of course, you’re driving. When it comes to travel, those glances into the rear-view mirror can do more than show you where you’ve been, they can bring back the feelings you experienced while you were there. In this first installment of my Bite-Size Destination Throwback series, I’ll be spotlighting my epic trip to Zimbabwe and Southern Africa in the summer of 2014. In it, I will follow a simple formula: what brought me there, what I loved, and what I would do if I ever went back. So let’s get started.
What Brought Me There
The primary reason for my visit was to attend an international convention being held in the capital, Harare. But there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing one of the seven natural wonders of the world (Victoria Falls) while I was in the ‘neighborhood’. As my plans solidified, after a week in and around Harare for the convention, we were off to Victoria Falls with excursions into Zambia, Botswana, and even just barely into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.
What I Loved
Foremost among the things I loved were the people. Despite abject poverty, political insecurity and little prospect for improvement, the Zimbabweans I met were welcoming, courteous and even outright generous. I’d be willing to say that most were actually happier than your average person in a developed land, which is saying a lot in view of the obstacles they face on a daily basis.
I also loved the African landscape, with its abundant wildlife, rugged interior and breathtaking sunsets evening after evening. Africa has an entrancing effect on me, and memories of sipping a sundowner while the sun sinks in a blazing orange sky to a symphony of insects while the stately silhouettes of elephants graze in the distance is truly a mental ‘happy place’ for me.
What I Would Do If I Went Back
My limited timeframe forced me to fly directly to Victoria Falls from Harare. Given another visit to the country, I would rather take the rails down to the Motobo Hills to enjoy the unique landscape of stacked boulders that characterize this corner of the world. I would then make my way back toward Victoria Falls via Hwange National Park, with its healthy elephant populations in full display.
Have you been to Zimbabwe? Share your thoughts by commenting. And if you want a great Zimbabwe souvenir, check out the Zimbabwe Rugged Country Code Collection unisex t-shirt by clicking here.
The world is a crazy, unsafe place. At times I too wish I could just bury myself in a hole in the ground and shut out all the insanity and insecurity. But the inherent problem with holes in the ground – the Grand Canyon not withstanding – is that they usually don’t offer a very good view. For that, it requires the courage to get out there and explore. Below I’ve listed 8 steps on how to travel safely and still maintain relative peace of mind.
1) The World is Just as Crazy Where You Live
Crime, terrorism and natural disasters are not limited to those on vacation. Sadly, such risks are part of the global human experience. This goes for visiting popular tourist attractions and traveling by air just as much as going to and from your job or school. Yes, it is possible something bad might happen while traveling, but statistically it is far more likely that you’ll have a car accident on the way home from the store than experience a terrorist attack while traveling abroad. By gaining some perspective on the risks involved, you can ease your worries and take comfort in knowing that you’re likely not at any greater risk than you are in your own hometown. That is, unless you’re visiting Syria.
2) Be Shrewd, Dude
Taking practical precautions before embarking on your trip can do much to allay anxiety. Travel insurance is an increasingly good idea, not just for its practicality but also for the peace of mind. Thoroughly researching your intended destination can alert you to potential threats or dangers, both health and safety-wise, and buying a money belt or similar products can help lessen your odds of becoming a victim.
3) Here’s Looking At You, Punk
Imagine for a second that you’re a pickpocket or any other variation of street criminal. Would you rather target the oblivious tourist that’s so engrossed in looking at the sights that they don’t even notice you’re there, or the wary tourist with the shifty eyes that are constantly scanning their surroundings? If you didn’t choose the former, then maybe you’re just not cut out for a life of petty crime. Yes, criminals prey on the easiest targets, and nothing says “I see you, punk. Try someone else” better than being aware of those around you and making eye contact. Sure, you might come off as paranoid but at least your message won’t be missed.
4) You’ve Got A Brain. Use It.
What you wear, bring, do and say can all have a direct bearing on your safety. Wearing expensive jewelry in poor cities is an invitation to potential muggers. Flashing costly electronics and camera equipment at inappropriate places and times can have the same effect as well. Even traveling through relatively safe areas and neighborhoods after nightfall may increase your risk, as might talking loudly in your native tongue, as nothing screams “tourist!” more than asking for directions. This is not to say that you should stay in your hotel room and not speak to anyone. Just use your head and the risks will be much lower.
5) If You’ve Got It, Don’t Flaunt It
Standards of dress and conduct vary wildly worldwide and to keep things on the up and up with the local populous, it’s a good idea to learn what they are and then follow them. In many places in Latin America and India for example, women will at times draw unwanted male attention in direct proportion to the amount of skin they show. So ladies, be prepared to cover up if you don’t feel like being stared at by often not-too-subtle men. And don’t get me started on the Italians….
6) Make Friends, Not Mistakes
One of the best things about travel is the possibility of interacting with so many different people. While I heartily encourage all to mingle with the locals, this doesn’t mean drop your guard. Be mindful that some in bars and restaurants frequented by tourists may have their own agenda and be wary about what it is in – and how much – you drink. And sometimes that friendly local that just happens to strike up a conversation with you, will eventually reveal that they want to take you to a “friend’s” shop where you can get bargains unheard of elsewhere. Again, you’ve got a brain, and don’t be afraid to say no. Most of all, don’t let the few bad eggs ruin the joys of cultural exchange.
7) Don’t Forget What Your Mommy Told You
As it turns out, your mom was right about a lot of things. While traveling, many of her adages still hold true if you want to come home safely: Look both ways before crossing the street (especially in London), be careful after dark, don’t walk through the woods by yourself and many more I’m sure. About the only one I would openly contest is the prohibition on going swimming for at least an hour after eating (An hour. A good hour).
8) Face Your Fears & Get Out There
With all the rampant insecurity in today’s society, it may be hard to overcome your fears to get out there and explore. But identifying your fears is a necessary step if you’re to experience peace of mind in travel or anything else. As I said in my 2015 humor/travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, “finding the root of your fears is like giving a prostate exam–uncomfortable even if you do manage to put your finger on it.” But once you do, and you’re willing to challenge yourself, enjoying the world – risks and all – will become a whole lot easier.
Of course, despite taking all these precautions you can still get hit by a bus, but hey, a meteor strike is a possibility as well. My point is that it is impossible to eliminate all risk in this world, so you’ll just have to do your best and relax. By taking practical steps you can lower your risk of danger while traveling, and I say that if you have to accept a level of risk, it might as well be on vacation.
Do you have any safety tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!
I’d like to start by apologizing to Mexico. I know it is a country with a rich cultural background, amazing natural scenery, and world-class architecture. It’s just that in the five times that I’ve been there, it was never my intended destination. I don’t mean that in a ‘kidnapped-and-left-for-dead-in-the-Sonoran-Desert’ sort of way. It’s just that my visits (3 times to Tijuana as a day trip from California + two stops in Cozumel via cruise ship where I literally spent 80% of my time underwater) were never about Mexico and I kind of feel bad about that. It also got me thinking about the other 13 countries where I’ve “visited” more than once and haven’t always given them the attention they deserve. So Mexico, and you other countries I’ve neglected, this one’s for you.
The first time I visited Germany it was for a few days on my whirlwind honeymoon road trip through Europe. Staying near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, my visit was certainly deliberate. My return however was a matter of chance. My Lufthansa flight on my way to Zimbabwe had a ten hour layover in Frankfurt, giving me just enough time to rent a car, overcome some terrible directions and taste the flavor of the stunning Rhine Valley (for more on this adventure see the post The Rhine Valley Has All You Need, Unless You Need Directions). I know I haven’t truly gotten to explore this beautiful country as much as it deserves but am open to someday doing so.
Few cultures are as dominant and distinct in Asia as Japan. My first trip there – a few day layover after a visit to China – got me to Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and of course, Disneyland. I happened to pass through a year to the day later, this time on my way to Thailand, but did little more than explore Narita Airport and try to get comfy on the floor while waiting for my continuing flight. My apologies to you as well, Nippon. I know you deserve better. Maybe next time…
This one-time seat of empire boasts far more World Heritage Sites than my own U.S.A. but other than a three day layover to explore the museums and plazas of Madrid on my first visit, my second visit was limited to traversing (with much grumbling I might add) the entire breadth of Barajas Airport for my connecting Iberian Airlines flight, which was inconveniently parked somewhere near the border with France. I know Spain deserves further time and exploration to it justice. Next time I just hope they park the plane a little closer.
My first visit to South Africa was a delightful week in 2009 where we explored the northeast’s animal reserves and traveled the awe-inspiring Panorama Route. My second time didn’t take me to any such places. Instead, I was connecting for my flight to Harare in Johannesburg’s massive airport, shopping at the same airport shops as I did 5 years earlier. Amazingly, it was all the same stuff. Next time Cape Town is calling, even if the souvenirs are the same.
While my trip of 2006 was exclusively to this Central American jewel, my return was for just one day when my cruise ship docked at the shady Pacific town of Puntarenas. At least this time I was able to see something else, taking our rental car down to Quepos and the idyllic Manuel Antonio National Park. It wasn’t the two weeks in the jungle I would love to do, but at least it was better than nothing.
My first trip to Jamaica was on a FAM (familiarization trip) trip through Sandals resorts. For $50 agents were flown down from a snowy NY to Montego Bay, so as to experience firsthand a Sandals Resort before being flown back home later that afternoon. I took the occasion to lose my group, sit at the bar, eat like a pig, drink like a fish and nap on the beach before it was time to go home. I’m proud to say that my second visit- this time via cruise ship – allowed me even more time to visit amazing Dunn’s River Falls and drift the White River before I was again compelled to leave the country after less than 24 hours. One of these days I’ll stay longer Jamaica – I promise.
As for you, Italy, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, Greece & Vatican City, I’ve had my reasons for coming and going and was not disappointed by my experiences there. Keep an eye out for me, as I just may return. And to you Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, get ready for my return in November 2016. I will try to do you justice, but just in case, I apologize to you in advance, as I have for these countries here.
Have you traveled to the same country more than once – perhaps just passing through? Share your thoughts by commenting below.
Well, another year has passed. Another chance to look back and see what we’ve done with the time available to us. Here at the Trip Accomplice blog, I’ve used that time to produce 32 posts dedicated to locations in 8 countries on four continents, along with quite a bit of information about various travel tips and philosophies. In case you’ve missed anything, here’s a recap of the year’s journeys….
The Book is Here!
For me, the highlight of the year was the release of my witty travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper. If you haven’t yet bought a copy, c’mon already…where else can you tour the world for under five bucks – and have some laughs along the way? It’s available on all major online book retailers. Click here for links.
So what can you expect to see on the Trip Accomplice blog in 2016? Beats me! I have no firm plans for the year to come, and that’s all part of the excitement. But you can be sure that I will continue sharing the wonders of world travel with you, my faithful followers (I mean that in the least cult-leader-like way) in a way to make you marvel and smile. See you next year!
Is there anything you want to see more of in the year ahead? Leave a comment and I’ll be glad to take it under consideration.