I figured I would write an editorial about my overall experiences in various countries… I leave for Easter Island on May 1, so check back next week for better updates…
First to clarify, the term “third-world” countries is being phased out and replaced with the more politically correct “developing countries”. My rudimentary criterion is if you can drink the tap water (without getting sick); so basically everywhere outside of Europe I traveled on this trip (with the exception of Singapore) was “developing”.
Ease of Traveling: Advantage Europe
After spending a decent amount of time in developing countries, getting around in Europe was a breeze. There are road signs identifying streets, and they have visitors centers that give out accurate maps (unlike the unreliable maps found in Lonely Planet guide books that routinely have the wrong scale, which obviously bugs me as a civil engineer and as someone who walks to places a lot…). On the rare occasion that I did need to ask for directions, I had forgotten how nice it was to have someone tell you the truth without expecting a tip. And Europe has public transportation! I dislike taking taxis (not just because of the expense, because anywhere I actually would/did take them they were cheap), but because that means that you are transported around in a little bubble and don’t get to see and experience a lot of what makes traveling worthwhile for me.
One of the biggest hindrances I encountered in developing counties was the aggravation of being constantly harassed. It’s amazing that people in Europe understand that they can go into stores, look around, and then buy stuff without the touts outside hassling everyone to come into their stores. And though I love getting good deals on things, which makes negotiation a necessary task, arguing over the price of toilet paper (because that wasn’t included in my $8 a night hotels) got to be an annoyance.
Overcoming a Challenge: Advantage Developing Countries
Going to Europe doesn’t offer the same culture shock as many other places. Though the languages are varied, the buildings are older, and the politics are different (though becoming more similar), Europe as a continent doesn’t seem very different than the US to me anymore. Going into countries that have completely different religious affiliations or that don’t use the Latin alphabet offer much more of a challenge and then a sense of accomplishment for making it through. The things that I learn being in uncomfortable situations are valuable lessons in my opinion. To quote a friend “these are character building opportunities”.
Cost: Advantage Developing Countries
Huge difference here… It’s not that my budget is that tight, but my general theory is that the cheaper I can get around/sleep, the more stuff I can see. My daily spending average in Greece and Spain was twice what I spent in the developing countries I visited. And France was nearly four times more expensive. I know this because I keep an extremely detailed spreadsheet tracking my spending in a variety of categories: basically I’m a super nerd (and pre-mba student, so it’s good homework). What it boils down to is simple: everything in Europe costs more. A great example is in Paris I paid $37 a night to share a room with 9 other people. In Morocco I spent about $8 to have my own room. This trickles down into everything: trains, buses, food, entertainment, etc. In Spain I paid $6 for a happy meal at McDonalds, in Egypt (with the necessary negotiation) $6 got me a three course meal plus desert. This is probably why my pants don’t fit anymore… So while I’m not willing to sleep on crack-house mattresses in roach infested hostels, I do like the idea of living frugally. And this habit in turn allows me to continue traveling far beyond the standard two weeks of vacation time in faraway, exotic locations.