1. Try to stay in one place for a few months, minimum. If you can stay a year or two, do that. Jumping from city to city every week seems exciting at first, but it quickly makes everywhere feel the same.
2. To quote Lao Tzu, when your work is done, forget it. If you work remotely, actively disconnect at the end of the day. It's too easy to be constantly plugged into the English-speaking media world and ignore what's right in front of you.
3. Try to blend in and adopt local clothing, culture, foods, etc. Read books by local authors, watch local films. A bit obvious, maybe, but I've met many people who insisted on only eating Western food, reading Harry Potter, and watching Netflix while abroad. At that point, why even bother traveling?
Depends on the purpose/intentions of the travel.
While I feel similarly about much of my own travel as you do, it's worth recognizing for many people, travel (or at least some of their travel) is not about having some sort of cultural experience or broadening their horizons.
For many people, travel is simply about getting to relax on vacation in a setting they like that they can't get at home.
Your average Brit on vacation in Spain is not there because they have any interest in Spanish culture or Spaniards. They're there because they wanted a warm beach and sun and couldn't get them in their home country.
I'm reluctant to criticize too heavily that not everyone traveling is always doing so out of a desire for cultural enrichment. I certainly am not traveling with any desire for that in mind when I go visit a beach in Florida or a ski area in Colorado as an American.
I'd add "tourists" as a third category, ranging from the one week family trip somewhere new to see the sights up to and including those racing city to city, hostel to hostel, site to site, collecting likes on instagram or whatever.
It can be just for work, or just to perform an errand for the family.
I second this. 2 months is the minimum amount of time per country, and 2 weeks per city if you expect to get anything more than a handful of good meals and a couple adventures out of a place. My better memories were all from places I stayed for over 2 months, and all have more to do with people I met than the place itself.
From that base, you can still do day trips and weekend trips.
This allows to alternate between excursion weekends and relaxing weekends.
I also agree with the "1-2 years" content above - I'd really like to see the seasons cycle through in any particular place I stop.
Until I started travelling with my wife (and now a child too), one main lesson I learned was "you aren't going to need it" - every time I went travelling it was lighter than the trip before!
I guess more accurately it takes a week to get settled in. Most of that time isn't about physically removing the stuff from the bags but more about where you need to put it and what stuff you might need to go rebuy and organize, in the new country.
How did you go about meeting people in the first place?
I know this is HN, but I do have to say: good luck! :-D
This is lower stress than trying to go to a random bar and strike up a conversation when I don't know the local language very well, and if you're staying long-term, it's a natural way to develop friendships with locals.
I highly recommend you give international travel a try!
Anyhow, good on you for living life :)
The first run through gives you a motivation to do something challenging and consider what you would think people want to do, even if its awks.
The second, you take the learnings and reward yourself
Another thing I've found is taking a class - in my case kickboxing classes led to quite a few new friends.
I don't have as much courage to do that in my home country.
It's much easier "somewhere else". Whatever stupid thing you do, you won't meet these people again. It's liberating.
Did you speak the local language?
That being said:
One of the most interesting people I met was in china, and I'd say complex ideas were 75% communicated in english. Google translate or wechat translate supplemented the conversations.
One of the other people I met was in Korea. His enlgish was probably closer to 50% and complex ideas almost certainly required a translation app. Great memories though.
I would probably have a conversation mediated entirely by google translate once every other week or so, and google translate was generally good enough to get an idea of menu's or communicate to people with absolutely no english ability at all. Nearly all conversations I had in china were translated via WeChat.
Traveling made me regret circumventing the language requirement in college so much.
I can feel this. I did the opposite. Instead of circumventing the requirement, I studied 5 different languages, and then continued 2 on to relative proficiency.
This has been, in my opinion, of tremendous benefit in living on and traveling to multiple continents.
I had an advisor whom I admired who was competent in some 12 or more languages. I was so jealous. I guess I probably still am.
I would like to point out if helpful that in China our education of the English language is much more geared towards reading rather than speaking. Students are generally equipped with enough to read and understand given adequate time but probably not speaking. However regional difference also may exist (first tier cities vs second, third etc). I used to feel ashamed about our english level in east asia in general. But then again now I think about people in the anglosphere where French and Spanish are largely taught but no one would expect a large proportion will be able to converse in them :)
Agreed; almost everywhere, you can find someone who knows some English. The other time I realized who a privilege it is was looking for a second language to learn. There isn't a clear answer if you already know English. The English privilege you might completely miss is that, outside of China, the internet is English-first.
I promise my use of it was entirely descriptive and not at all a judgement of the person speaking it. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can communicate an idea in another language at any level. I see my self as deficient for not being able to do so and think of myself as lesser and a poor citizen of the world for only speaking english.
As a native English speaker living in Russia, it really made me realize how difficult and nerve racking language learning and speaking is. I don't consider my Russian skills "broken", just very incomplete; a WIP.
There is nothing that is equal in this world
Whenever I have a guide (either professional or a local friend), this is often strangely a lot of work. Particularly the tour companies I've gone with in China insist on trying to get me a Western breakfast. If I wanted pancakes and sausage I would have just stayed at home and cooked my own! Give me the stuff you like. I may not end up liking it, but there's a pretty decent chance I will.
I also don't get people who won't at least try local customs like eating cooked fish on rice with green tea in the morning, but there are plenty of them. These people usually don't do well in really different countries and complain and whine and compare to home all the time instead of curious observing / understanding. Real travelling, which is about learning and immersing and broadening your mental horizon, and not about conquering some beach with your ass is just not for them.
Others have pointed out that lots of cultures have this problem: I read a Chinese newspaper article a few years ago about mainland Chinese bring suitcases full of instant noodles to eat when traveling abroad.
But while there are certainly Westerners like that, I don't think they were the cause of my problem. First of all, lunch and dinner on these tours was typically "Chinese" food, but something which was clearly targeted at a Western palate (which was perhaps even more frustrating). I think ironically, it was probably people who did want to try "authentic" cuisine -- or thought they did -- who were causing some of my problems. My guess is that they had people say they wanted "authentic cuisine", but when given actually authentic cuisine, didn't like it -- it didn't taste like the "authentic" cuisine in the Chinese restaurants at home.
Secondly, it probably does help people to deal with the new thing if they have something familiar. If you want to try something new but have never been outside the US, "three genuine Chinese meals a day for two weeks" is really throwing you in in the deep end. "Western breakfast and pseudo-Chinese lunch and dinner" probably is a much better way for those kinds of people to experience something new.
They stopped doing that after the Boston Marathon bombing cause of the airport security.
One of the highlights of their trip to France in 2002 was in Nice. Their hotel was near a Chinese Grocery and was able to get BBQ Pork and Soy Chicken.
Five years ago they went for a two week tour of Australia from China (after visiting relatives in China). Every meal on that tour was in a Chinese restaurant.
I think it's more likely that they want you to feel more at home. I was visiting an overseas team in Bangalore for a week and the team took me out to ... a steakhouse.
Most of the team didn't eat beef but they wanted to take me somewhere they thought I'd like. I was appreciative of their consideration but ended up ordering the chicken, felt weird otherwise.
Right, this is exactly the problem I was talking about! And to be fair, there probably are a lot of Americans who would prefer a steakhouse; and many more who want to try "real" Indian food but just aren't ready for how different cultural food tastes actually are.
But when you've eaten chicken feet a dozen times, and incorporated "century egg" into your own personal cooking repertoire, it's a bit frustrating to make your way to a third-tier city in China and be fed breaded deep-fried bits of chicken with a bland sweet-and-sour sauce!
There was a roaring trade in American coca-cola in Beijing because enough people wanted to avoid the local version. As a non-American, I couldn’t taste the difference, but the imported stuff was 3x the price.
Another phrase I heard often was an irate “This would never happen in America!”
And yes, the taste is different, even for Coca-Cola light.
I'm not sure if the corn syrup thing has changed in recent years or not.
Cornflakes are one of the easiest things to find in China. They're sold in local grocery stores from some German brand.
In many ways it made me realize just how good multiple cultures have combined to make my "home" food good.
It can take some doing in some places to convince people that you (in my case a Westerner) really are interested in their food, culture, etc.. Learning a bit of the language can help. I was happy to be able to memorize "ek paav bhaajee aur ek samosa aur chaay chaahie" and order for myself in Hindi, hoping that if there were any complications the server would speak English as that's as far as I could go. But people appreciate that a lot, even just learning "my name is, what's your name, how are you" etc.
When I said "my name is sequoia, what is your name" to a taxi driver they would sometimes say "You speak hindi?!" incredulously, to which I'd reply "well I wouldn't go that far..."
If you can pull that one off you will have got the best and mroe authentic experience.
I agree whole heartedly. I'd gone one further and add "become a regular". Get coffee/beer/food from the same place every day and consider enrolling in a language/art/something short course. It's amazing who you can meet over the course of a month or two - I met a bunch of interesting people including my wife.
It can also have a lot to do with nonverbal and body language–observe how close people stand to one another, how much eye contact if any, whether people greet strangers & if so how, how people queue, etc.. It took me a while when visiting India to learn that people don't stand on line the same as they do in the USA. I put my bag down in an airport line to get out a document, and as the line moved forward, people just started going around me, because I was not immediately moving forward with the line. In the USA this would be considered very rude, but in India (at least in my limited experience) it was considered typical–the line doesn't wait for you, move it or lose it. I got with the program quickly after I learned that.
And this should go without saying but don't display expensive or flashy things (jewelry, cameras, possibly fancy cell phone etc.) in an environment you're not familiar with.
I specifically wrote only in my comment.
Basically become an immigrant, even if it's only for a couple of months. Ideally don't plan your return, make your journeys open ended!
For that matter, I wouldn't get one here either, if I could earn the same as I do know as a sous chef I'd quit in a heartbeat...
What kind of jobs do you mean? Doesn't it look suspicious for a middle aged guy who looks from a different part of the world trying to get a job he clearly does not need?
To clarify, I don't feel above any job, when I first emigrated 12 years ago I was cleaning toilets and working construction, but I had no qualifications and I didnt meet anyone fun. I am also a TERRIBLE waiter.
I don’t think you need to worry about that, in more exotic locations you will be so out of place anyway and they will have no way to judge if you’re rich or poor. And in any case people generally don’t care that much about others.
And even when they do, just accept it, it’s pretty unlikely anyone will resent you.
Not at all. If you can find a company which needs or wants an employee like you, whether it's due to your language and cultural background, or because of other skills which you possess, generally they'll just be really happy that they found you.
In Europe, you also have many countries outside of the Schengen area, meaning that you can do three months in one then hop to another. E.g. spend 3 months in Berlin, then 3 months in Kyiv, then 3 months in Paris, then three months in Belgrade.
If you have a lot of money (hundreds of thousands up to millions), you can effectively buy residency in most countries around the world.
Other countries allow border-running to renew your visa, some countries issue longer visa's on arrival, etc, etc.
Mostly, this all depends on your financial means, which country you choose to spend a longer time in, your levels of determination, and the skill of the immigration lawyer you choose.
I've done three long trips quitting a job first (~20 months, ~12 months, ~6 months) and the first two had several month or more stops, and many week or more stops. A mix is good.
1. Go via land. You see everything in between all the places you should see as a tourist. You immerse yourself in how a place actually feels. You meet people who aren’t just trying to extract money from you. I cycled, because I like cycling, but any form of transport works.
2. My algorithm was something like “Go east. Stay somewhere if it’s interesting, until you get bored. Continue going east.” I didn’t have a fixed itinerary, but I did have some framework.
That was the basis of it, I think. I cycled from London to Italy, stopped for a while in Italy, cycled on to Greece, then fell in love (with the place and somebody in particular). I met some of my best friends, worked on side projects, volunteered for charities, and ended up staying there for several months. I skipped forward to India on a plane, cycled across India, then returned back to Greece.
My partner in Greece wanted to visit the Middle East and Central Asia, but she wasn’t quite as excited about cycling through the desert as I was, so we bought a van and drove — to Central Asia, and everything in between.
My framework worked extraordinarily well. If I have one regret, I think it was not making an effort to interact with more people. You do that a lot more naturally when travelling by land, but you still need to put in effort to make it happen.
For example, I was up late in a bar in an Italian village, and met one of the locals. It was a long cycle ride back to the place I was staying so he offered me his spare room. Turns out he lived with his parents and the next day his elderly Italian mother cooked us pasta for lunch. Possibly one of the best meals of my life.
I wish I had done more of that. Just hanging out in bars and making friends. And not tourist bars — real bars. Knowing the local language better would probably help.
Also going by land is cheaper, and lower impact for those who care about that. It does cut your options, requires more time, and at least in America there's an awful lot of nothing in between even the non-touristy places.
I hiked the Haute Route (Switzerland and France) with my father and his friends in 2019, and while it was only two weeks, it was such a wonderful experience.
I’m glad I did it on a bicycle rather than a motorbike. There’s something more human-scale and less intimidating about it.
Well, in relatively populated places like Europe and India at least. I imagine I might feel differently if I cycled through the empty bits of the US or Kazakhstan.
This man literally rode through Eurasia up to the UK, sleeping on the side of the road.
I stumbled upon it recently and found it quite endearing.
Airbnbs (the kind where you stay in somebody's spare room, not a whole place to yourself) are plentiful and cheap outside major cities, and mean you get to meet locals. I had so many good experiences doing that. More often than not I would book an Airbnb in the afternoon for that night, when I had figured out how far I would get that day.
Homestays are abundant and cheap in India and other parts of Asia. $10 for dinner/bed/breakfast. I didn't camp in India once because they were so cheap and abundant -- I'd rather eat delicious food and meet a local family.
Wild camping is much more of a normal thing outside of the US, even if it is technically not allowed. You just find somewhere discreet. In Europe, I was discreet but always welcomed if somebody found me. In Asia nobody gives a shit, you can just do what you like.
Most people are friendly and unafraid of strangers.
I'm thinking about doing this at some point, but I get nervous sometimes when I see the traffic in the cities there. Maybe its not as bad on the roads outside the cities?
I felt very safe in terms of crime. Subjectively I felt safe, but also objectively crime rates are low in India, I think. (Obviously hard to compare crime rates and I forget the exact metric I am basing this off.)
Even though my bike and laptop were probably a year's salary for somebody there, I never felt like it or myself were in danger.
Toward the end of the trip I remember being chased by a scooter honking at me and waving me down. He handed me my wallet. Turned out I had left the zipper on my bag open and my wallet had fallen out. He found it on the ground, saw me in the distance, and chased after me to hand it back. I had maybe $100 in cash in there (which is like $1000 adjusting for purchasing power) and of course it was all there.
Everyone in India is so kind and welcoming. There is no concept of personal space or privacy, but that also means everybody is your friend.
I had spent ~10 years working in tech so I had some savings. Contract work also helped.
Not sure what the total cost was exactly, but the cycling part was cheap. It's ridiculously cheap if you're in Asia or cheaper parts of Europe (Greece, eastern Europe, etc). It got more expensive when I bought a van...
Great stories btw also, it sounds like you really made the most of traveling and doing so much by bicycle is quite a feat!
similar to your story, one of my most memorable unplanned experiences was missing a train at christmas eve in poland, and then joining christmas dinner with a host i found on short notice.
Still doing it, but the pandemic forced me to stay in one country for just about a year now.
In that year I put down roots, got long term visas and maybe will spend another few years there while we see how things shape out this and next year.
But ya, 2-3 months minimum in a place is what you need, with just a small backpack.
Make local friends.
Don't hang around or go out with other tourists or expats. This is the kiss of death.
Make it a rule to eat only the food of the city or the country that you find yourself in.
Learn a few words of the language "hello", "thank you", "bathroom", "stop", etc.
Don't think people are less than you. They're not. They want the same things as you.
As an introvert, being forced to make friends with people who speak another language and look the opposite of me (black guy in Asia), was exactly the ticket.
Well recommended to do it.
The main thing I would say - is have a mission when you travel. Seeing the sights and drinking the bars and mingling with other tourists and shtupping the local girls is fun, but not a mission.
You will get bored after some time of doing that.
Have some particular work or meaning to each day to keep you grounded, and you can do the moving around for a super-long time.
You will find that you'll set some schedules for work, play and discoveries - regardless of where you are.
Just don't quit your job. Instead go remote (even if you have savings). Ok?
1. Not every job is suitable to do while traveling. Especially if it's kind of unstable like early stage startups. Putting of fires at work on a flaky internet connection while sweating from heat is not that fun and leaves you quite exhausted. It's also hard to plan for anything more serious, if you have to be available when anything breaks.
2. You really need to stay in one place much longer when having a job (2-3 months), as you will have much less free time to enjoy wherever you are.
3. If you work 5 days a week it will limit you excursions into less developed places (with really bad internet) to only 2 days. Quite often these places are what's the best about area you are in.
4. I think going out with expats is not a complete no, no. Just don't do that exclusively. You can get some great tips and avoid many stupid mistakes thanks to other fellow travelers. Especially when you are in a new place that's really different from what you already know.
5. Try to connect with people as much as possible. At the end of the day, that's what you'll remember and what will affect you the most.
On travel days I let people know I’m offline.
I stay in Airbnb’s a lot and find a coffee shop backup nearby usually.
I have local SIM card when generous data plan when I arrive at the airport. This is good tor sharing with my computer in a pinch.
Asia has great internet - better than Europe, Australia or North America so that is rarely a problem.
Transport is generally reliable and effective and on time so one rarely will be away and offline for a while.
Being unavailable is truly not something that comes up on the radar more than a couple times a year.
(Unless you woke up naked in a drug induced stupor in a ladyboy’s room in Pattaya 2 days after an all-nighter) hahaha.
What kind of mission can you suggest someone might have while traveling that will keep them grounded?
Example some people do YouTube channel.
Some do side projects.
Others attend short term language classes in the country they’re visiting.
Some start businesses.
Have a purpose - or you’ll end up drinking and partying every night.
This kind of life is not really compatible for younger children unless you have the funds to travel with them and can home school them as you go.
I try to maintain at least 3 permanent or semi-permanent bases in 3 countries but that’s now down to 2 because of the pandemic.
Yes, it’s good to have a few anchor cities where you put down some roots and make good local friends - they can help you settle in. A bunch of fellow tourists or expats are not deep in the culture and will not be of great help which is why I don’t pal around with them.
It’s quite easy to start a business in other countries if you have local friends to point you in the right directions and translate for you. Another reason not to hang around other tourists. And that will diversify your income - not every business needs to be online.
No one knows how the world will turn out in the next few years, so I believe in hedging my bets and having options both in income and second and tertiary places to potentially live if needs be.
Sort of like a prepper - but international.
Follow the Nomad Capitalist channel on YouTube. It’s a good resource and has great tips.
fyi your website in your profile is not resolving.
Granted, I didn't quit my job, but after graduate school I moved to Germany from the US and took a job consulting. For three years I lived in places like Berlin, Madrid, Split...etc for 3-9 months at a time. There were enjoyable things about it, sure, but I really underestimated how difficult it was to discard your entire social circle and start over. A few years ago I moved back to the US, in a city where a lot of my friends had moved to, and it was probably the most positive decision I've ever made in my life.
I also feel like my time abroad didn't "broaden my horizons" all that much, and I find myself skeptical about the claims that international travel makes you a better person. I think what you get out of travel is heavily based on how you decide to relate to places and people, and merely leaving your country does not guarantee this will change.
Negotiate this time with your extroverted traveling partners if necessary.
It is depressing but this is the cold hard truth.
Maybe it's just me; but the idea of going from one place to another for 2 weeks, to take pictures and get led around by locals tourist industry is the very definition of Western Consumerism. If you want to immersed into a culture, wouldn't you want to commit to learning the language and go to your local city's meetup for that language - instead of going to a foreign country with a phrasebook. If you want to dance, wouldn't you want take a class for salsa, shuffle, tango at your local club instead of a single experience at a beach bar at some exotic locale. If you want to meet new people and break out of your comfort zone, wouldn't you want to make friends locally where you can build up that friendship or relationship consistently by dinners, outings instead of a single chance encounter? Listening to live music at some exotic place vs. going to local musicians jams where you're up on the stage playing, take instagram pictures of Prague vs. urban sketching your local city streetscape… I could keep going.
Maybe I'm wrong. Please tell me know what you've personally gained from traveling the world!
> If you want to immersed into a culture, wouldn't you want to commit to learning the language and go to your local city's meetup for that language - instead of going to a foreign country with a phrasebook.
Meet-ups are not even remotely comparable to actually being there. This is especially true for non-Western countries that haven't been permeated by Starbucks/McDonalds global American culture. The idea that Google Street View and a Wikipedia article can replace real life is absolutely absurd.
Personally, it would take books to write about how living abroad has concretely impacted my life. I don't even know where to start. It has exposed me to ideas and places that I previously had zero knowledge of.
I'll summarize by saying the trajectory of my life has been shifted dramatically by traveling, and this is obvious when I compare myself to the people I grew up around.
Allow me to share my experience of being immersed in American culture for 25 years as a Chinese immigrant. It may seem off-topic but if you guys'll bear with me - I have also a lot of Chinese friends, some of whom are graduate students who even stay in US for several years. To them, experiencing America means going to an "American party", maybe go clubbing, going to the Yellowstone Nat'l park, the gun range or the Burning man, and most of all - making an American friend or the ultimate pinnacle getting an American boyfriend or girlfriend! I hope y'all agree with me that American spirit is not encapsulated in just getting an American boyfriend or going to Burning Man! But are my Chinese friends' self-centered efforts to (understandably) efforts to "become more confident", "self-reliant", get "exposed to ideas and places [they] had zero experiences in"; so that when they go back to China and compare themselves to Chinese compatriots, it's "obvious that [their] trajectory has changed compared to other [plebeian folks] back home".
Just my humble opinions, most human beings have remarkably similar values across different culture, we all want paradoxically to belong to the herd and also distinguish ourselves from the herd. And yet 25 years of living in America, I've been so self-centered at my own "culture refinement" all this time that I rarely and truly listened to others around me and their experiences.
It also let me see for myself some of the obvious shortcomings of countries usually held up as our betters. It was a shock. But, it also let me experience some of the things that really were better. It was both a reminder that home is doing some things right after all- but could do other things better.
(Depending on your politics, you normally tend to see your own country as either entirely behind or entirely the best)
It felt like civic education. Not unlike studying history and government.
We want to be normal but not common.
I grew up in a decayed industrial town in the Midwest. My parents didn’t go to college and I had very little interest in traveling or foreign cultures. If you were to predict my life based on my family and socioeconomic background, I’d be still living in the same empty town as everyone else I grew up with.
Instead, I was lucky enough to get a remote job as a customer service agent. At some point after that, I realized I could work from anywhere, so I used it as an opportunity to visit Japan and then Europe.
Now, I’ve lived in / visited over twenty countries, have a deep interest in foreign languages, and am in the process of getting foreign citizenship. It wasn’t a deliberate, “eureka!” moment, but a gradual exposure to new ideas and people. That’s how life works in general IMO.
The world is a big place and people have different values. Traveling is the single easiest way to understand this. It is really that simple.
As an American, I’ve noticed that this attitude of disinterest toward the outside world is common, even encouraged. It’s not a good thing and frankly it’s the source of a lot of problems with the country today.
As an American, I've noticed that self-flagellation of the kind exhibited in this comment is extremely common, as is fetishization of travel/other cultures. This difference in our perspectives may have to do with where we grew up "decayed industrial town in the Midwest" (you) vs. "bastion of liberal globalism" (me).
Anyway, the reason people are pushing back against your comments here is because they have a "I have attained enlightenment and you can too" vibe. I just don't associate enlightenment with hanging around on hackernews arguing about whether traveling has led you to enlightenment.
Anyway, I don't question that seeing the world up close and personal has been important part of your life. I only doubt that it is universalizable. I think your experiences have to do with your unique personality and circumstances and can't be generalized.
And yes, decaying industrial town is an exact description, not self-flagellation.
> As an American, I’ve noticed that this attitude of disinterest toward the outside world is common, even encouraged. It’s not a good thing and frankly it’s the source of a lot of problems with the country today.
Having a minor criticism of one’s country is a healthy, normal thing.
I don't question your experiences, I only pointed out that they are yours, and I doubt they can be universalized. The kind of meaning that you're talking about just isn't one-size-fits-all.
As I said, most people (including those that live in a city, or have friends in other countries, etc.) still view the world in their own local way. It has nothing to do with cities or civilization, as the inside of any college classroom would make clear. Actually living in another country and delving into their culture for a sustained period of time is not the same as reading about it in a book.
Perhaps you think you’re already enlightened and already know everything. If that’s the case, there isn’t much I can do.
But it's been asked for someone to describe the specific changes in their worldview that resulted from living abroad (and specifically the ones that could not have been garnered by other means).
If it's about gaining understanding, what specifically have you come to understand that has been really valuable to you?
Is it like "After seeing first-hand the way asian countries do urban planning and public transportation I have a much better foundation for forming opinions about the way things should be done in the USA"?
Or "After spending a month living and eating as the Italians do, I had an epiphany about how to live a healthy, meaningful life and when I got back to the states I completely rearranged my method going through life, converting to a diet of wine and fish and making lots of new kinds of social connections that I otherwise would not have"?
Those (pretend) experiences sound profound, meaningful, and worthwhile.
It's not totally clear though that the benefits couldn't be had without living abroad by a sufficiently imaginative person with the correct literary diet etc. Then again, it would be the height of arrogance to think oneself so imaginative as to be able to comprehend every important facet of human culture from afar.
I see observations like this one as being totally off (and I may have been guilty of having slightly similar, although way more nuanced, views years ago). Can someone playing volleyball and being sufficiently imaginative understand/feel playing football (the European one)? From a theoretical point of view, they may have a sorta intellectual understanding of it. Both sports involve a ball, they are both team sports, there is a referee etc. But until you do it, you have no real understanding of the differences in the practice of the sports. You don't get, in the sense that you don't feel, the positions, the dynamics, the different energetic systems that are taxed.
And it is the same for traveling as described here. Sure, you can have a sorta understanding of Cuba, the mix of poverty and ambition, the political ideas that motivated the revolution and the quite different reality of day-to-day living. Sounds like Detroit, does not it? Maybe. Or you may think, getting back to my previous example, that you don't need to go to Brazil to experience playing football, you can just go to a park in SF, play a pick-up game, and get the same football experience as you would get in Brazil. Intuitively and logically, the answer is no, you cannot. Because it is not just the action, it is the action in a particular context.
When I was in Cuba years ago, I understood much better than I could have imagined, through a mix of observation and participation, the dynamics emerging from the interaction between top-down politics and local (black) markets. I understood much better (through observation!) how romantic relationship develops when people are looking for a way out and have developed quite ingenious ways of tricking "whales". Would have been possible to get the same understanding in my hometown or in the town I have been living in for more than 15 years? I don't think so.
I went to Argentina for some time. I got to know better how different cultures (Italian, Spanish, Native) may get mixed together, but still maintain visible and distinguishable cultural roots. And now I can see the mix and the roots in other situations and in other contexts.
Experiencing different cultures made my life incredibly (with respect to my previous perspective) more profound, interesting, and adventurous.
It's a bit like asking someone what they've learned about life in the past 5 years. The answer is likely, a lot of things, more than one can conceivably verbalize at the drop of a hat or even verbalize at all. Language is a tool added on top of reality, not reality itself. As I explained above, it's about a much deeper expanding of one's perspectives, which has absolutely nothing to do with education or information. It's about realizing that different cultures have unique starting points as to what they consider valuable or admirable, then experiencing that for yourself.
This, I think, is something really relevant when it comes to the US. Most of us have a hard time divorcing the idea of wealth from excellence. Being rich alone is enough to earn you respect, no matter how vulgar or manipulative the source of wealth. Many other places (say, France or Japan) don't unify the two and the consequences are very observable.
I could say things like, "The public transportation system in Japan is amazing and makes me wish we had it in the US," or "the outdoor heaters in Paris make street culture much richer," but frankly these seem so insignificant that it's almost laughable to use them as a justification for traveling. It's akin to watching a deeply moving film and then suggesting others watch it because "the colors were nice." Not everything requires argumentative justification, nor should it.
It's ironic since what you said invalidates the 90% of "middle america" experience - where they never really leave hone/farm/city and country bumpkin life... doesn't mean it's wrong or write - but one can find enlightenment in travel that you take for granted.
However, I agree with OP that most travel stories (staying a few days to a month in the same place) sound very superficial and I also struggle to figure out why I should be travelling more often.
As a fellow Chinese who lived in Europe for a couple years and lived in several cities across Canada, each a couple years (so not 2 week travels):
1. It forced me to abandon my old friends and make new friends. Is this a good thing? not necessarily. An easy thing? absolutely not. A good thing? I think so. First of all, distance kills friendships. And I'm forced to make new friends when I feel lonely. When I have new friends, I learn about their cultures, about their hobbies. I spent 20+ years in China and never got drawn into bodybuilding, now I do it everyday because my new foreigner friends introduced me to it and it becomes an integrated part of my life and source of happyness. I still keep in touch with a few close close friends remotely, who lives all over the world now.
2. It forced me to do things I normally won't do/step out of my comfort zone. This is related to your comment:
>Which when I thought about it is super ridiculous, why can't I enjoy these things if I was going by myself??? Or put in another way, why can't we see our local city and people in our local community with the same freshness, open-ness and kindness as we'd if we were tourists or backpackers traveling in a distant land?
You certain can, but it's difficult. Human brain is designed to find patterns. We get used to things fast. There's no incentive for us to step out of our comfort zone in familiar environments. Once we know about a shortcut, we'll always take it. It's the not knowing of the shortcuts that forced me to be out of my comfort zone a lot (and back to 1, I wont force myself to make new friends if I dont have to). Things like, I public speak a lot more than before, I try actively making friends, and again I workout daily now.
3. By doing all 1 and 2, I gained new perspectives about myself. About what really makes me happy. If I didn't live abroad, I'll probably anchor my happiness a bit more on the traditional Chinese values such as having a big place in the tier 1 cities in China and having kid(s), and make sure the kid(s) excel in all the stuff, just like my high school classmates are doing right now. Now instead I saw so many different ways of living one's life. So many different ways of finding happyness, I incorpated those into how I define my happiness. I do things that truly make me happy rather than things my peers are doing. On the flip side, I dont give fucks to many things anymore, because I saw ppl who dont give fucks to those and they are fine. I wont know those people in my old city with my old circle, or at least not as many.
4. It satisfied my curiousity. You can know a lot about the world by means other than traveling and experiencing in person. But can you be sure the experience is the same? Different or not, I was curious to know.
5. Lastly, if I can change history about myself, I'd travel sooner in my life. This is probably related to 3. People say traveling broaden's one's perspectives. Concretely I think what that means is it makes you better at problem solving. With more perspectives, you either gain new approaches to solving problems, or some problems become too trivia you give little amount of fucks than you previously would, or some problems become irrelevant to you. One example I think is I'm not as easily influenced by commericals, marketing, or news as much. And many of those are intentionally stress inducing. When I see things that are utterly important in one culture are not important elsewhere, it helped me stop accepting messages that tell me what's important.
I dont have a foreigner partner btw lol.
China, a country that idolises Americanism.
America, a country that is Americanism.
Take this from a New Zealander (a country that has mass immigration from China and a fanciful view of America), if you were to go to South America and stand on the street of a town in say Colombia, you might wonder if we were the same species.
America, a country and a people that shits on China. Daily.
Just ask anyone here on HN or Reddit. And Twitter, especially Twitter.
I think most people aren't very articulate, they cant express their experiences well. Or maybe don't self reflect well. But anything you experience will leave an effect on you.
Food, locations and just getting dropped into to situations you wouldn't normally be in are the biggest things about traveling. There's a lot of little things that can leave an impact. Some things are just seeing how similar people around the world really are too. I've discovered a lot of new food and learned about food from traveling. A cookbook, youtube and imported ingredients aren't quite the same.(I saw in your other post your a chinese immigrant, do you think I could claim to know about chinese food without visting and eating in china?) I took one off cooking classes in kyoto, bali and morroco and learned a lot about the culture and what i learned left a lasting effect on me. I found I really like indonesian food, mie goreng is a regular weeknight dinner for me now.
There is a lot to write i think what I gained from travel,probabaly to much for a forum post. One other thing i want to mention is seeing nature is impactful. Going to the carribean and seeing dead coral reefs really drives home the damage humans are doing to this planet. You probably won't see that in your suburb, or realize it in a city.
That's awesome. You've inspired me to look up some recipes and try to attempt it (keyword: attempt).
> One other thing i want to mention is seeing nature is impactful. Going to the carribean and seeing dead coral reefs really drives home the damage humans are doing to this planet.
I hear what you're trying to communicate; sometimes experiences are more powerful than its equivalent wiki or statistical infographics format; somethings are meant to be experienced, not a pre-conceived notion transmitted and interpreted secondhand in a book or a documentary or online post.
1. I'd like to think it made me less intense and easier to work with at my (remote) job
2. I became more extroverted
3. I've embraced extreme uncertainty and became much more flexible and creative. Pivoting in life doesn't scare me. I thrive when things are in flux and I have to improvise.
4. It helped me discover my passion for street photography
5. I met amazing people and created a circle of friends
6. I met my wife
7. The pandemic has been a non-event for me
8. I have not experienced winter in 10 years
9. Amazing food. Nothing wrong with food in the US but it's not as good as most people think, especially if you are poor. Unless you live in NYC and you can afford it.
10. When I woke up pre-pandemic on Sat morning I had 100 postcard-worthy places to choose from that most people only dream about visiting in their lifetime. All within a one or two hour flight radius. When most people contemplate driving 4 hours up north to a state park, I was debating if Hong Kong or Bali are worth the extra hours of flight only for the weekend.
To sum it all up, if the thought of getting drunk with random non-English speaking people in a small bar in Tokyo you stumbled upon, or going astray and walking though a field in Myanmar to take you to a small village with no roads and interacting with the people there who are wearing traditional clothing doesn't excite you, than you won't get it. But that's ok, we all enjoy different things.
As someone who travels in order to get more winter, not less, I don't see this one as a benefit! But the rest makes sense.
> I have not experienced summer in 10 years
That sounds depressing though.
> The pandemic has been a non-event for me
> When I woke up pre-pandemic on Sat morning I had 100 postcard-worthy places to choose from
These statements appear contradictory.
You are right, they appear to be. Professionally, the only change is that now everybody is a little more like me and I'm less of a curiosity. On a personal level, we had a baby when the pandemic broke out last year so we've been more or less grounded because of that.
Walking around busy temples and stuff can be pretty hard because people don't want anyone else in their photo. It has to look like they just chanced upon this ancient temple in the jungle, rather than getting a minibus there with 20 other people.
Sometimes the more savvy local tour companies cotton on to this and market to "travellers", but I liked it when locals just called us all "tourists" because that's really what we are. Yes, it's another form of consumerism.
I spent a year backpacking and it was mostly seeing cool places. I don't think it really changed me, but then I have worked and studied abroad before (there I go, pointing out how I'm not like the others!!). Considering those experiences too, I think there are two main things you're missing:
1) People who genuinely find hostel slogans like "live at the edge of your existence" deeply inspirational are probably late teens/early 20s and so for them it's all wrapped up in being independent, moving out of their childhood home, experimenting etc. Possibly the first time they've been out of their home culture and so even standard, Western backpacker hostels is a big jump.
2) A lot of people really find scary and challenging things you might be more comfortable with. Lots of people live within a few miles of where they grew up. If they go abroad, it's a package holiday on a resort full of people from their home country. Maybe a city break to be adventurous. Even though backpacking in SE Asia etc is heavily commodified, it's still a pretty small fraction of people who would even consider it.
I wish that we could keep and activate this wanderlust, open-ness and spontaneity regardless of what context we're in (why I posed the question, what perspectives people gained from their travel?). I know I had this hold over me, like I'd only enjoy a certain "couples activities" like ice skating, trying out new restaurants or paint nite - based on the context of going on a date. Which when I thought about it is super ridiculous, why can't I enjoy these things if I was going by myself??? Or put in another way, why can't we see our local city and people in our local community with the same freshness, open-ness and kindness as we'd if we were tourists or backpackers traveling in a distant land?
Meetup.com is the closest I've got to what you describe, but not quite the same. It's a pity, I agree.
yes, travelers are tourists, but catering to this subset can be different and you can capitalize on it
they want certain kinds of cafes, they want less trafficked but still bustling areas, they want furnished rentals
These experiences are not for others, they are for yourself and they give you the capacity to understand stories and circumstances that otherwise would be foreign to you.
I travel for curiosity - so photography helps me capture it in a way that i can go back and study the history, find other photos, see how its changed, connect the dots, fill in timelines - learn more and discover more that i may not have been able to do with being consumed in being there in the moment.
The only selfie i ever took was me standing on top of a 14er... which was a huge accomplishment for me at the time but i never share that with anyone but my family - otherwise they'd never believe it :)
never understood the fascination with NOT taking photos but also i've never understood those who take photos to make them the center of attention either (the instagrammers)
I’ve gained perspective that there are a mixture of political systems in countries that have redeeming benefits and seem more advanced than my home country. This tells me that I don't have to subscribe to the limiting choices presented to me, by people in my home country. Or perhaps that there might be an opportunity to inspire the people in the future.
I’ve gained in depth knowledge of obscure regulations in obscure autonomous regions that I find useful.
I’ve gained perspective that I can be seen as more desirable in some places for dating, hook ups, I can be accepted by families readily as an individual. In my home country, the go-to is to make this as awkward as possible, and it has been nice and endearing to understand how and why this isn’t the experience everywhere.
It helps me really resonate with the concept of going where you are treated the best, and building a life where that is possible. This has been a overwriting of the indoctrination of tying my identity to my national, even its currency, which is now absurd to me.
>It helps me really resonate with the concept of going where you are treated the best, and building a life where that is possible.
Maybe it's me becoming institutionalized and just used to this by now in America lol; but I have a different perspective on this, oppression is universal (Puritans, Germans, Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews in 1700-1800's) and creativity is driven by constraints (blues/jazz was born on plantations, Cosa Nostras arose out of Italian Americans being shut of WASP society, the humor/hutzpah in spite of overt and covert anti-semitism is seen in Mel Brooks movies).
there are plenty of art forms and styles born from privilege
but are you an artist? Is this diamond forging pressure even beneficial to you?
to me, I am long past the idea of trying to proselytize or debate about how an advantage in another society could or couldn't work in a much larger less homogenous society, and can simply see how I can choose which one I want to be in when I want to be in it
Traveling the world can open your eyes to other ways of living a life. It can teach you something about yourself if you are open to it. It can teach you to be more confident and self-reliant.
You will likely dismiss this and if I wrote long explanations of what I learned myself you would come up with faster, better or more "local" ways to get the same outcome - and that is fine. You do you. Then I do me.
There are places (some national parks, certain hiking trails) where you need to make reservation well in advance.
It also allows being in countries in their cool, dry or bloom season.
Finally, it allows lower budget for the trip as you can reduce travel time..
Tens of thousands of Hindus come to die in Varanasi each year. If you die and are cremated there, you are freed from the cycle of rebirth and can attain salvation. I stood with an Indian friend on the edge of tears as I watched them burn the dead. He asked me why I was sad, and I told him I was sad for the dead. He said do not be sad, this is the way they wanted to die.
We were warned never to get a train ticket on Indian Railways below 2nd class. It wasn't safe. There were only enough 2nd class tickets for my friends, so I went to 3rd class alone, in the middle of the night, and went to sleep in a top bunk, the warnings echoing in my mind. When I awoke my 5 neighbors were speaking softly to each other. They shared food with me they had brought from their homes. We showed each other where we had come from and pictures of our families. I didn't speak the same language.
Cambodia had 25% of its people starved or murdered less than a decade before I was born: Year Zero. Anyone educated was the first to go. We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the temples around Siem Reap. He was the son of farmers. At one temple we came out the entrance and snuck up on him while he waited for us. In his lap he held open a book in English, and tucked into it a smaller book. It was a Khmer-English dictionary.
I had a lot of good times meeting people at hostels and going to bars with other travelers, a few of whom have become dear friends. You could easily stay with tour groups, never leave the westernized areas of anywhere you go, and take lots of selfies in incredible places. It brings money to the local economy.
It's up to you though. If that's not what you want, getting away from it is as simple as walking 2 blocks in any direction.
Maybe this is not to point of travel :-)
I'll admit that I do have quite a few good cocktail stories, but very few of them happened anywhere near a major city or tourist destination. Occasionally you may hear me telling an anecdote about briefly intersecting with the Tourist Industry as they were whisked past the interesting thing I was up to on their way to the next photo op, but for the most part the people on that ride are in fact having the experience you describe.
Mostly, the things you take away are experiences so you're also correct that they're not particularly tangible. But they're valuable.
But I suppose if we're forced to provide examples, I can report having collected a wife overseas. A girl I certainly wouldn't have met at a salsa class in the 'states, with a mindset similar to mine that had led her to also be halfway around the world from her home for enough months overlapping for me to wear her down and convince her to bring me home with her.
(I guess that technically makes me her concrete benefit, but close enough).
Give it a try some time (for real, no 2 week package holidays) and I hope you'll find it worthwhile!
Feels good to have "been there, done that" so I don't need to worry about what-ifs.
I've been lucky enough to travel internationally and domestically a fair bit and yeah it's pretty cool, but I truly enjoy being at home coding things, learning things and experimenting with stuff.
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.
I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
Obviously each city is a different experience. I visited San Francisco and it was kinda meh. I visited Tokyo and it was dope. You can't really know until you actually go over there. :)
Haha, my experience was the exact opposite of yours. The first time I visited NYC, I thought it felt dystopian and was glad to leave. Easily the least favorite city I have visited.
But my first time visiting the west coast was intoxicating. Growing up I lived in a few different states in the southeastern U.S. and even lived in Paris, France for three years. I traveled Europe extensively both as a child and in my late teens and thought some places were interesting and nice to visit, but the first time I arrived in the Bay Area I thought "What is this place?! I have to move here."
I had traveled there for a Hackathon in 2010, and the first place I visited after leaving the airport was Palo Alto. It just blew my mind to see sunny weather, blue skies, trees with leaves, and green grass in December. And once I saw San Francisco, I was hooked. The beautiful terrain just captivated me. There were giant cliffs, ocean views, rolling hills, and interesting plants everywhere. Plus, I really missed the walkable cities in Europe.
My wife and I just moved away from the Bay Area in October after living there for almost three years to be closer to family, but I miss it everyday and hope to go back at some point. I miss the food and tech scene (although I still have my same job, remotely now), but I think what really captivated me is the climate and terrain. It's just otherworldly compared to what I was used to in the southeast.
> I visited Tokyo and it was dope
Tokyo seems like somewhere that I would really enjoy living, culture-wise (although my impression is that the climate is pretty similar to where I grew up). Hoping to visit after the pandemic. Any tips on where to go? More interested in unique local experiences and maybe taking trains to some other cities than tourist attractions.
About destinations where life goes a bit slower, it's hard to not recommend the classic ones, especially if it's your first time in Japan. 2 days in Kyoto, 2 days in Osaka, 1 day trip in Nara, 1 day trip in Kamakura, 1 night in a onsen… This is the traditional Japan. Since those cities are smaller and all the attractions are listed on every traveling books/sites, you will definitely see a lot of tourists, but you can't go to Japan and not visit those places at least once!
-Seeing another societal system in practice and realizing that there are things from back home (CA, USA) which I took for granted which actually worked better than anywhere I went. The corollary is things I took for granted that were actually horribly broken and easily done better everywhere else.
-If you're gone long enough, coming back to your own culture can actually give you culture shock, which is about as unique an experience as I've had. It is somewhat related to the above. Hard to put this one in to words... kind of a "dancing about architecture" thing. It's a new set of eyes.
-Perspective broadening interactions around relative wealth, prosperity, historical inertia, and personal responsibility. It became much more clear to me and much less hypothetical how some poverty is legitimately just lazy people and some poverty is circumstantial.
-I'm not ashamed to admit this one even a little: If you managed to extend your comfort zone while traveling, you win dinner party conversations when you return. I climbed big dangerous mountains and traveled to unique place. Nobody cares about the algorithm I worked out on a Thai beach, but everybody wants to know about North Korea.
-You develop the skill of being comfortable inside your own skull. Assuming you are traveling alone, there will be lots of time without a stranger to talk to. That's a lot of down time to spend with yourself and really examine your own thoughts.
-You develop a self reliance related to not needing a lot. Once you realize you are fine just fine with a book and an afternoon and maybe spending the night sleeping in a park (that the locals say is safe!), the world is less menacing.
EDIT: i see I'm supposed to say how traveling changed my life personally. pretty simple if you are me because studying language is my favourite hobby, and, as an amateur linguist, it is essential for my life satisfaction to immerse in something new every couple of years.
Traveling involves a lot of hedonism, and one day while traveling you suddenly realize you are on a hedonic treadmill. The first amazing meal you eat is life changing. The second one is about 50% as novel and good as that. Then you're comparing the next meal to 2 others, and the meal after that to 3 others... The cycle continues until you have consumed the earth and achieved emptiness. What remains is yourself. Once there is nothing left to consume to satisfy yourself you really have to ask whats next. The answer is building, and probably building yourself.
The lessons I learned about myself were some of the most hard:
- I understood escapism is not the answer
- I got a realistic set of priorities for my life
- I challenged and surprised myself socially
- I learned what really matters and what doesn't
- Someone broke down to me why china is the way it is from an informed and educated position in a way I found mostly compelling
- Visiting Shenzhen made me afraid for America
- I experienced Hong Kong before china destroyed it.
- I watched history in real time (NK trump, HK, covid)
- I saw a Chinese person shrink to 1/4 their size when a conversation got political
- I see video of foreign countries and I see streets I have literally walked on
- I experienced being a guest in multiple different cultures and was culture shocked to my core.
- I saw the insides of homes and buildings in different cultures as well as the different ways things were constructed
- I experienced the inhumanity that poverty causes
- I experienced real life poverty and actual real happening today slavery
- I have seen the costs of not having rule of law
- I have seen pollution on the scale you cannot even imagine until you experience it
- I experienced my own privilege in very visceral ways
- I have experienced cultures without workers rights and its effects
- I have experienced multiple civil protests in other countries
- I have seen what its like to be in a functioning democracy
- I have been in a country where the voting system makes sense
- I have been around police officers that made me feel more safe instead of less safe
- I have made multiple friends I still talk to
- I almost fell in love
- I visited a major holy site and saw religion being practiced in a way I never had before.
- I have seen cultures in decline and cultures on the rise and how the people in them act and function
- I experienced being in cities older than my country
- I met people from parts of the world I wasn't aware of, with histories I'd never heard of
- I saw foreign propaganda first hand
- I found ways of life I liked better (and not) than what I grew up in
- I saw both how good things can be and how bad things can be
- I experienced pro-diversity cultures and anti-diversity cultures and their effects
- I was exposed to multiple different non conventional ways of life
- I have several outstanding invites and opportunities to visit people I have met who were also traveling.
- I saved one person's life with some first aid
- I learned several new skills
The standout paradigm shift for me was the statement "we want to democratize, but we cannot because our public is uneducated, you cannot have democracy without education." After seeing Hong Kong, I decide that I don't really believe china wants to democratize and this was likely a lie the person I talked to believed themselves, but I believe in the second half of the statement. Growing up in America you never really analyze democracy or its properties, you just understand that it's good and the correct way of life as any good indoctrination will do. Live free or die. A pretty important property of democracy to consider is that it will function as well as the half of its most poorly educated people. It doesn't take much observation of how bad faith republicans are to see the consequences of a society dominated by its least educated people. There is a clear tradeoff between individual sacrifices of rights and the well being of society overall that I think can be argued for successfully here even if I disagree with it personally. Not being the dominant culture ups the stakes on loose controls.
The overall idea of protectionism being necessary but unideal was compelling to me. The overall idea of hard limitations on how society can operate based on the properties of that society was compelling to me. There was a mental shift from right and wrong, to pros and cons and tradeoffs, which is much more healthy discussion to be having.
Another key concept that was explained was the idea of planned vs actual corruption. It was explained that there is a planned acceptable level of corruption in China, and that this is mostly seen as lubrication, a guarantee, or a bounty to get stuff done. Unfortunately, rather than corruption growing linearly in a planned way, it was growing exponentially in an unplanned way and this was causing problems.
The IP theft was somewhat of a "your country was built on it, too" thing. There was a bit of "you have so much, you should share." Somewhat similar with the "we were colonized, now we want to colonize" idea. I think there was a bit of "you wield power or it gets wielded against you." I don't agree at all, but returning abuse you've received onto the world is an unfortunately human thing to do.
I would not utter the words Taiwan, Uighur, Tibet, or Falun Gong while in China, because that seems foolish, so I didn't get any kind of satisfying explanation for those, and there probably isn't one that would be acceptable or satisfying. I suspect at best the explanation would be "look what America did to native Americans," or other justification by precedent.
China knows it benefits from outside experts and it has 1000 talents and other things to get Chinese people, especially, back in the country, but with english being nil, and a culture that is fairly anti-foreigner that is an uphill battle, so there was significant worry about the pace of innovation.
There was a bit of reference to the term "locusts" (not by me) and the reputation Chinese tourists have. There was a fair amount of acknowledgement but also explanation of sudden wealth growth and historic lack of education resulting in low class behavior.
Some of the more high profile IP theft cases (vials in bags) were explained by the idea that that behavior had been consistently happening and it was understood by all parties involved that it was happening, until one day feds showed up. I didn't buy that so much.
There was also a fair amount of "we're nobodies, so we're not at risk" talk when it comes to speech, but I can't operate in a society like that because it's far too much exposure to vulnerability.
I got a mild run down of some of the mechanics of corruption, good faith corruption, and bad faith corruption.
I definitely started to get a lot of the understanding that dealing with the incredible amounts of poverty, dealing with large amounts of systemic corruption, dealing with entrenched power structures, and balancing that against hostile foreign super powers that would almost certainly exploit you was a pretty incredible task. As evil as I think china (the government) is for what it is doing, when you look at its struggles it paints a picture you have to respect, it gives a lot of empathy to the struggles of a Chinese well edcuated person, it makes you feel empathy for the average ignorant person.
I think of all the takeaways I had it was just how significant fear was as a primary policy motivator. Generally, unethical behavior is understood to be a product of unchecked ambition and therefore comically evil, but the idea that most of the unethical behavior is motivated out of fear was fairly compelling.
I've just got to inject some skepticism on this point. This is such a knee-jerk opinion that's popular to parrot, because it feels right to say.
Maybe some small degree of it is true -- but you were able to come to this sweeping conclusion for all of Hong Kong, all of its people, based on your visit? I would question how in day to day life of people there (in working, living, buying, commuting, socializing), you came to this opinion. You saw something objectively changed? People upending their lives? How were you able to visit the city then?
Or were you just reading and regurgitating the news and stories told by the headline-grabbing people who thought this?
This is like if someone from Europe visited the US, and made the bold claim of feeling sorry for Americans because life had been fundamentally destroyed by the Trump presidency years.
I just don't buy these dramatic pronouncements. Not that I don't think China has damaged Hong Kong in some respects, but I just am skeptical that a short visit by some tourist can conclude some deep, fundamental change to a city's persona.
Your point about Shenzhen, I do believe though.
I'll answer you, but first I want you to give me a good faith explanation of what I mean when I say "hong kong was destroyed" and a guess of why I might say that or believe it, one that doesn't assume I'm a sheep or manipulated by media.
I want you to explain what "Hong Kong destroyed" might mean when I say it because if we're not speaking the same language then we can't hope to see eye to eye. Clearly the city is still standing filled with people who aren't dead. Clearly it's not "destroyed" in that way.
I want you to guess why I would say it, which means brainstorming potential ideas. In good faith means taking those potential ideas and evaluating them yourself, if you don't find them remotely compelling, chances are I won't either. To say or think I believe something that isn't at the very least plausible to you is bad faith.
You accused me of potentially "parroting knee jerk opinions," which I interpret as meaning you cannot imagine why a functioning person capable of critical thinking might believe it or say it.
I will start by explaining why I think someone might find the statement "Hong Kong has been destroyed" spurious: Hong Kong is clearly still standing and the day to day life of a person in Hong Kong probably isn't significantly different than it was 2-4 years ago, businesses still function, people can still feed themselves, I doubt there is military in the streets, the average person can probably still say what they want. If the day to day life of a person isn't really that different, then it's kind of hard to argue that there has been a fundamental change, much less a "destruction."
Well, you might mean "destroyed" from the point of view of someone who wants to advocate for Hong Kong independence from China.
Or destroyed from the point of view of someone wanting to publish certain news articles criticizing China. Or whether your university/school teachers are allowed to even mention Hong Kong independence.
Or from the point of view of investors worried about the independence of the financial system from interference / controls in the longer term. Or that they might be extradited to China for financial crimes (or even political reasons) that previously weren't a concern.
Obviously, I'm not unaware of those points of view and situations.
On the other hand, for someone running a business in Hong Kong, working a 9-to-5 job, or even at a typical multinational corporation, or growing up going to school, or settling in for retirement, or traveling to/from the city, life shows no hour-by-hour or day-to-day difference for the vast majority of people.
Whether on balance, these factors would lead someone to declare that a city (or the idea of a city) has been "destroyed" overall is I guess what we're debating.
I take the point of view that jumping without further clarification to say that Hong Kong has been destroyed, is just a bit of a fashionable hyperbolic opinion to put out there -- an opinion that heavily overweights the concerns (even legitimate concerns) of a, let's call it 1%, special subset of the population. Are you one of that group / are you from Hong Kong? If not, how did you join the concerns of the group for whom the city appears to have been destroyed, rather than the rest of the city for whom it continues with no perceptible change in daily life?
So when I say “Hong Kong was destroyed,” the meaning is that there was a destruction of its culture. The word destruction is emotionally charged because a Chinese person probably doesn’t see what is fundamentally a replacement of Hong Kong culture (pretty western) with Chinese culture as destruction. So what you picked up on and dislike (the difference between explicit reality, and my coloring of it) probably has its heart in this interpretation. If you were a Chinese (nationality) person you might, somewhat rightly, feel insulted or wronged by this interpretation of events. I definitely agree it is somewhat hyperbolic, not because it is "fashionable," but because it's an emotional reaction to an atrocious appearing saga.
My first hand experience in Hong Kong is that it was one of the most open and diversity friendly places in Asia. It felt free. I had political conversations people felt safe having. People were fairly vibrant. It was filled with money and ambitious people. I met more rich people in Hong Kong than anywhere else by far. English was better in Hong Kong than anywhere else in Asia by several orders of magnitude. It was, apparently, a bastion of rule of law, rather than rule by law. It certainly seemed well run. I could use the internet.
My experience in China is that it was the least diversity friendly place in Asia. It's the only place I traveled I experienced direct racism (at me and at others). It did not feel remotely free. I experienced people scared to have political conversations. Some areas felt vibrant, and some areas did not. I have never gotten the sense that china was a place with rule of law. I have heard first hand from one American English teacher arrested for saying the wrong thing, and another who was threatened with it. The internet is restricted and free thought is denied. When I said the wrong thing it was “corrected,” like I can’t have my own opinion or at the very least it's dangerous to.
I talked with a fair number of Hong Kong people while in Hong Kong. China was very much seen as an enemy. They certainly had the opinion that china conducted itself as an oppressing force, forcibly migrating people in, forcibly redistributing resources, forcing political change via edict, gutting of the legal system, corrupting the rule of law, and imposing cultural changes. Hong Kong people I met in other countries shifted from vibrant to discouraged over time. I have not heard any Hong Kong person praise China once.
Add in the very good marketing/propaganda by the protestors and there is a very compelling case to me that china’s goal is not to integrate Hong Kong, but to dominate or extinguish Hong Kong culture entirely, which in my estimation has been successful.
How much grassroots pro china press was there? None, because they had no moral or just claim to do what they did. It was all about power, and china executed its power. I could not imagine myself as a Chinese person at all, but when I was in Hong Kong I felt like a Hong Kong person. I can empathize with the videos I saw. I can empathize with the statements I read. I can empathize with the people I talked to. I can empathize with the outrage that made it to the internet. I cannot see how a good person would find ruling of another people without their consent palatable, much less with their explicit protest.
A free people have been turned into an oppressed people and, to me, that is the destruction of a free culture, a culture tied directly to the city.
> how did you join the concerns of the group for whom the city appears to have been destroyed?
Those are the people I talked to. Those are the stories that made it to media I read. I have never seen, heard, or experienced anything that contradicts my interpretation of the situation except by people exerting power (Chinese government) in a way that made me feel it was bad faith propaganda.
The Hong Kong protests were to some degree freedom porn to Americans. Our indoctrination from birth glorifies exactly what the protestors were doing to the highest most patriotic thing one can do. From the revolution to the civil rights movement, the protests resonate with our curriculum on multiple levels. When comparing our history to what we see, Hong Kong protestors are clearly and unequivocally the good guys.
On related points: The framing that this is a fight that only matters to the 1% is a framing I personally consider to be mostly Chinese propaganda, but I can see why a reasonable person would find it compelling. The framing that this is an American plot to mess with the Chinese government is something I guess there is historical precedent for and certainly alignment for, but it's hard to excuse the authoritarian response. I don't find it even remotely compelling personally.
After working as a tour guide, I realized I hated to be seen as a tourist, because it felt so superficial. Showing people around places I lived in, they missed the most important parts: the people.
Then I realized something very important, travel with another person bonds you together in a unique way.
Sharing a meal with someone builds a little bit of trust between you, it links you together. Travel with another person is that, but 100x stronger. This is why many people break up while traveling, they get to a new level of intimacy very quickly and realize they can't stand each other, they just didn't really know each other before, but it took travel to actually let them see the other person.
Similarly, I met my wife while working as a tour guide. She was a trainee guide, and I was the trainer. Being the only two who spoke the language, we had to rely on each other in very unique ways. When the the whole tour group got sick except for us, we had to take care of them. I got to know this woman in very close proximity and intimacy. We quickly learned that we matched very well together, and 15 years later we still agree getting married was the best decision of our lives.
So travel in my mind is much less about seeing new things, but it's all about seeing new things with another person, and bonding with them, either romantically or platonically. Many of my strongest friends were made traveling, because we shared something together.
People everywhere, regardless of their race, religion, politics, or wealth are generally decent and primarily interested in making a better living for themselves and their family.
Some may see this as an obvious fact about human nature. However, for someone like me who grew up viewing the world through the lens of the US media, I used to think otherwise. Travel fundamentally changed my views in this regard.
People actually treat you differently if your travelling in their country. They are a lot nicer to you, and want to show you around, and include the unique parts of their culture.
Then the adulthood arrived - a successful one so far. But during the adulthood, days started to went by noticeably faster. I couldn't tell what I had for lunch two days before, how I spent last Monday or how I felt two months ago. And I started to understand why old people say that life unfolds slowly when you're young and then years pass like weeks. I think this happens to many people once they no longer (or rarely) meet the unexpected, try new things, get kissed/hurt/deceived/smiled at/laughed at/gifted/fed/etc/etc in previously unknown ways in different settings. They start making far fewer memories compared to when they were kids.
When I started traveling to different countries and cultures, I realised that - at least for me - this is bringing back my childhood wonder and the slow passing of time. I can sit a whole day on a pavement in Cambodia and watch the street, or watch the day in life of a Cuban fisherman, or eat fruit or insect that I have never heard of before, feel and hear the morning around a Buddhist temple, then Hindu temple, Confucian temple, learn scuba-diving and see on my own eyes what we've done to the marine world, or spend a night with my wife on a train station in the middle of nowhere, and it all has a profound impact on who I am as a person, a friend, a partner. I cannot tell exactly who I would be if I have spent these days in the small Czech town where I grew up, of course. After having done some 3 years of traveling (backpacking mostly) I am very likely less bored, less scared of the unknown, more curious and definitely feeling very much more alive and appreciative of what the world and especially the natural world really is. This personal experience cannot be substituted by literature, documentaries or local meetup groups. But I understand that for some people these may be enough. I would rather never come back to live in one place than stop traveling entirely.
> what you guys who traveled actually gained from traveling the world?
* I worked and rented in another country. So I had to work out how to do that, and work in a different type of business environment.
* Developed key life skills: organising things, budgeting extremely tightly, Coped with emergencies abroad.
* Building confidence. For example, driving all kinds of vehicle, learning to speak to and bond with anyone at all from a cold start.
* Staying with families in different countries and seeing how they lived, how they treated their kids, and their priorities. This was very formative in deciding how to live my life.
* Understanding the politics of the world better. I spent time with a guy from the Economist who had just spent months sleeping rough in India. I still think about his insights into the way the world works. I played cards with a relative of the president of fiji. Etc.
* Understanding the history of the world better - for example, the origins of the industrial revolution in the USA, or the Ho Chi Minh tunnels, or the fate of aboriginal people in Australia.
* Physical fitness. Learnt to scuba dive, climbed mountains, rock climbed, hiked a gazillion miles, hell just carrying 25kg for the year was a good workout. Some of this could have been done in my own country, but it would have been very different.
* Removing stress and having space. After a while the stresses of travelling become fairly routine and you have a lot of time to relax on journeys and think about what you want to do with your life. That really shaped how I've lived since. Just sitting in a bus on a long road in a very different country you can watch how people live and it gets you thinking. How close are their families? Do I want to live like that? How do informal networks replace more structured western timetables etc.
* Gratitude. Live with a cold bucket of water for a shower for a while. Sleep in a hut full of rats. You'll soon learn to appreciate that hot shower in your bathroom and the comfy bed. Honestly, even now there are few days I forget to appreciate that shower when I step into it. And this trip was over 10 years ago.
* A very Hacker News point for me: I found I really missed computers. I didn't think I'd be a geek for the rest of my life but after that trip I realised how much I just like machines. Being in a different environment brought that into sharp focus, being deprived of it then (as a real example) coming across a Linux box in a hut somewhere. They're so neat and tidy and orderly and enabling, you can be endlessly creative. I only had a burner phone (and that was only for a part of the year) and this was the era of internet cafes, so no nerding for a year.
* Spending quite a while in one place, indeed learning a bit of the language, reading about the culture, and then through local contacts really experiencing ceremonies that were pretty out there by western standards. It helped me understand the diversity of the world, where different cultures were at, and the size of cultural boundaries.
* Friends. Met a lot of travellers. I did hardly any of the "party" backpacking thing but I met people on the way, and one couple I met have become life long friends.
* Seeing the extent of human suffering in the world. I'm not sure I want to say too much about this, but it really hammers home the message - we have a long way to go, and there are many problems to devote your life to.
* Understanding a lot about the universality of the human condition by seeing the same patterns in different places. For example, social drug taking.
* Finding "paradise" in several places, which shall remain nameless, and having that experience of dozing in a hammock on a beautiful beach that isn't on a tourist brochure. It was a beautiful experience but it also made it clear to me that just enjoying life was not enough for me. Have to build something.
>After a while the stresses of travelling become fairly routine and you have a lot of time to relax on journeys and think about what you want to do with your life. That really shaped how I've lived since. Just sitting in a bus on a long road in a very different country you can watch how people live and it gets you thinking. How close are their families? Do I want to live like that? How do informal networks replace more structured western timetables etc.
(In contrast to how everyday we just go through life pre-programmed on a commute or an errand out in public, lost in some tape loop of rumination and internal anxieties… or doom-scrolling on our phones… completely filtering out the environment, our fellow human beings around us, and ourselves really; to take time to just think, even just notice your surrounding, acknowledge other people and be grateful… that is already a richer life!)
It's great that you've made friends and stayed in touch after the trip and became life-long friends - it's a testament to you and your friend… I wish I could've the same experience, it's easy to party but very hard to make a friend, I'm very jealous!
Haha, this was by no means exhaustive :-) just what popped into my head over breakfast. I'd have to go through my travel journals to write properly about it.
> it's easy to party but very hard to make a friend, I'm very jealous!
Shared experience. Hike or travel for an extended time with people and some of them at least will become friends.
> Staying with families in different countries and seeing how they lived, how they treated their kids, and their priorities. This was very formative in deciding how to live my life.
Also, sometimes I stayed in hostels that were small, family-run, more like a home than a hostel. So you saw the family life there too.
And some families rented out spare rooms. You used to meet people at a train station or other travel hub and size them up (does this happen now?). Sometimes get recommendations from other travellers going in the other direction. Important to note I wouldn't recommend this in general, particularly if you're female or travelling alone. And it requires a good deal of careful judgement and experience. I don't think I'd do this alone.
Maybe Airbnb makes this easier and safer nowadays. I've stayed in a lot of spare rooms in the US via Airbnb and had similar experiences.
Why do we need huge houses and big cars and shiny new things? I see people in other countries that are just as happy and their kids are playing with a soccer ball made from old plastic bags. Westerners have so much and yet, really, we're no better off.
If you're travelling like this, you're doing it wrong. Stay much longer, not with foreigners, learn the language, get a basic job. Live like an immigrant, not a tourist, and definitely not like an American tourist.
There are many mannerisms of speech that cultures use and you can learn a lot about them by the time/place it is used at.
Food: Ceremonies in preparing food + eating (slurping in Asian cultures normal vs western countries its rude). How many cultures share food for example or the type of food they eat can tell you a lot about the history of the place (ie a place that was a hub of trade back in the day that got exposure to tons of cultures (Philippines) vs western food of meat and potatoes).
I still go do the top 10 touristy things in a city/country but then always try to find what are the normal breakfast/lunch/dinners in the city/country and try them. Sitting down and observing people at a café or restaurant for example how the Greeks have tables looking towards the street, or how literally the country is all out at night.
What we've found is going to a bar and trying to strike some conversations with individuals.
Cultural exchange is not a one time thing, but an ongoing process. Perhaps someone goes to Europe for utterly superficial reasons a couple of times and enjoys it. But maybe the next time they do it, they seek to actually set roots in and assimilate into the culture. Nobody really knows when or where the conversion point is; it's somewhat unique and up to the individual. I'll give you an example from my personal experience -- I didn't really get the hubbub and the point of "traveling to Europe" and had skeptically discarded it as something that Americans do in order to pass off a feeling of vague superiority and worldliness.
Even so, it was very challenging for my gruff preconceptions to last very long when I spent a few weeks in Lisbon. My friend and I met some amazing local folks who showed us the Portugal we wouldn't see on the tourist path. I was hooked. My eyes were opened to a "third path" between the grind and hustle of American culture, and the low key daze of bucolic village life. Hitting the dancefloors until 4am paired with spending beautiful afternoons on the waterfront, eating delicious seafood and walking until our feet hurt. It's true that we could do all of this in America, too. But it was just a lot more fun in Lisbon. My eyes were opened to the deep, rich history of cultural exchange with the Moors, and I never got tired of the architecture, the cuisine, and so on.
Had I "really" assimilated into the city? Well, not really. I didn't quite have the guts to go all in, but my friend did, and went on to spend the next 6 months there. And then we visited again next year. And maybe we'll buy property there at some point.
My point is that it's a little reductionist to reduce an extremely broad human interaction (traveling) into a fixed point. It's a beginning, not an end. Just because so many people never get past the beginning doesn't change the fact that much exists beyond it. Almost every major civilization and empire was born from trade routes that existed to serve this exact kind of exchange. Consider the greater Silk Road for one.
It's easy to become cynical about rampant consumerization and the dull, lifeless, almost suburban collapse of what could be such a rich experience into two dimensions and an instagram filter. But that is a loss on the part of the person who lives life that way. It doesn't reduce the potential of the experience itself.
We ended up starting a startup together in Morocco, applied to YC from Luxor in Egypt, got accepted, moved to Mountain View and spent the next three years running a startup before getting acquired.
It kind of ruined the honeymoon!
Natalie wrote up the full story here: https://blog.natbat.net/post/61658401806/lanyrd-from-idea-to...
What worked well for me was quiting mixing backpacker circus with less known destination. It was fun to sleep at hostels, party with fellow travelers and have fun, but it gets old after while. I split my trips into 3 to 6 months chunks after which I just come back to one of my bases, recharge for a bit and then went to somewhere else. I usually mix things us so after 6 months in SE Asia, I went to Balkans, then Japan and then somewhere more popular with backpackers like Argentina.
It is great experience to have, but I would not put much hope in being truly transformative. Now, almost, 10 years later it just feel like it never happen, memories are fading fast as I went with settled life.
People are often scared about their career outlook or other long term consequences, but I didn't experience any of those.
I also don't regret my travels but didn't find any of that.
At first I just found that line funny, but the more I've traveled, the truer I've found it to be. A change in scenery can be immensely helpful in many ways, but you'll still relate to the world in fundamentally the same way once you're somewhere else.
I do think we underestimate how much impact travel and exposure to other cultures can have, we don't feel "transformed", I like to think of it a bit like having a child, before you do so, it's possible to be completely clueless about a whole bunch of stuff, afterwards, you're still the same person, but there are hundreds of ideas and topics that you are aware of and understand to some level that you didn't before. What's more, you can tell quickly whether another person has similar knowledge. Something like growing older and (hopefully) wiser, but accelerated and pushed in new directions.
And I guess we all need to learn that lesson eventually. I just wish I learned that in, say, Los Angeles or Denver or something, and not in a place that gave me bedbugs.
If you go looking for things to leave an impression on you, it probably wont happen.
You’re in the company of people that comfortably go to Croatia Yacht Week, Ibiza opening parties, Cannes Film Festival etc. Not just wage workers taking an aimless break to say they travelled, or college students on their gap year.
Dang. As a nerd in his late 20s thinking the same, you make it sound pretty bleak, tbh. I guess it's just time for me to settle down, then go explore the world with my partner because that's what matters EOD.
I went to a spanish speaking country for eight months, learned Spanish, now still speak Spanish. And also came to know the country well. Still have friends from that time.
That’s absolutely transformative. The further you get from it the less it is relevant to your daily life, but it definitely has an impact.
But it also is no miracle. If you’re an (unhappy?) nerd at home you’ll be the same person abroad. As others mentioned “wherever you go, there you are” is just about the truest line there is relating to travel.
Pretty interesting stuff.
I still found that by immersing yourself in other cultures and ways of living you can gain more perspective about your own goals in life and your personal choices.
At that time I was also seeing new generation of wine makers back at my home that started to do things I always wanted to do and I felt that should be me. So I pack my bag, book a ticket and get my hands dirty (literally) by tending vines and making wine.