7 Things I Discovered While Traveling the World

Monday Aug 29 | BY |
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I’ve been an avid traveler for most of my adult life, and in 2009-2010 I took a 9-month trip around the world with my ex-wife.

I don’t count the countries I’ve been to like a badge of honor, because it doesn’t mean much. I spent more than two years total in Costa Rica, so that counts a bit more than the 2 days I spent in Tokyo!

As a traveler who’s been to both popular destinations and off-the-beaten track ones, I came up with a few realizations about traveling.

Most Places Are Not That Scary

A friendly Fijian was hiding under an old turtle shell and came bursting out to surprise us!

During all of my travels over the years, I’ve been warned that the world is a dangerous and scary place by friends and family who haven’t been anywhere at all really. Combined with the media attention on natural catastrophes and crime statistics, at one point I was even afraid to travel to certain places myself, having been warned that these places might not be safe.

Every place I have ever traveled to that I initially feared turned out to be perfectly safe once I got there, from Rio de Janeiro to Mexico. On this trip, I had some doubts about certain countries such as Egypt and the Philippines, but I found again that my concerns were unfounded.

I missed a few “catastrophes” by a few weeks or months. I was in Egypt just a few months before the revolution started. I arrived in Brisbane (Australia) a couple of weeks after the floods destroyed their city, and left Cairns just five days before a Cyclone was due to devastate the area. I arrived to Christchurch, in New Zealand, just two weeks after a giant earthquake devastated the city and killed more than 200 people. But as you know, the same types of unfortunate events can also occur at home.

It makes sense to look at government travel warnings before heading anywhere (such as https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html or https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories) but don’t put off a trip you really want to do just because of hearsay or an irrational fear that traveling is dangerous.

Overall, the world is a safe place!  Once you’ve traveled for a while, you develop a certain “street smart” way of keeping yourself out of trouble and knowing what to do if something goes wrong.

Everybody Eats a Crappy Diet

This deep fried treat can be found in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore

No matter where you go in the world, everybody eats an unhealthy. That was my conclusion after traveling extensively for eight months. The concept of “natural” and “traditional” diet does not exist anymore in most places, even remote islands. I don’t mean that everybody gorges on junk food all over the world, but most people’s diet is really poor and low in nutrients and high in refined packaged foods.

When Westerners travel, they are eager to try out the local “wholesome and healthy” cuisine. Don’t kid yourself anymore. Everybody is westernized, for the most part, and eats more fat and meat than their grandparents ever did. The restaurant food you will eat almost anywhere in the world will be unhealthy, nine times out of ten.

This is not to say that it’s impossible to eat healthy while traveling. You can find fresh produce and vegetarian restaurants in most countries, but almost every large population on the planet now eats an unhealthy diet. To eat healthy while traveling requires some thinking ahead of time, or the willingness to make compromises.

Most People Are Friendly and Honest

Sydney Paddy’s Market, even while snapping photos we got a smile and a wave from a vendor.

In eight months of traveling around the world to over 25 countries, and in years of prior traveling experience, I have never once been robbed or mugged. I once forgot a rather expensive camera at a restaurant in Bali, and only realized couple of days later! When I showed up at the restaurant again, the staff was waiting for me with the camera, having kept it in their bin of “lost items” behind the till.

The worst that happened to me while traveling was being overcharged because I was a tourist and didn’t know any better. A common tactic in the Philippines from taxi drivers was to avoid telling me the fare, instead asking me how much I wanted to pay for it, not knowing how far my hotel was or that the local rates for taxi fares were absolutely dirt cheap. I once had a hotel employee rip me off in Hong Kong, as he suggested to take a cab ride to the airport, telling me it would only cost around $25. The total fare cost over $80, and I suspect that he was working together with the taxi driver to extort such high prices (I read on the Internet from other people complaining about the same issue at the same hotel).

Being overcharged or ripped off by a few dollars happens everywhere, especially when you first get to a new country and don’t know any better. But I’ve never had anyone actually rob me, and found that most people, in most countries are honest. There are always bad apples, but in my experience it’s not generalized.

Vegetarianism Is Not a Worldwide Concept

Typical food stand dishes from the Central Market in Budapest, fresh produce below, meat served upstairs!

I did not realize until I started traveling that vegetarianism and veganism are truly an anglo-saxon concept. Outside of North America, Australia, maybe New Zealand and some parts of Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and a few other select countries, most people have absolutely no idea what a vegetarian actually eats, let alone a vegan or a raw foodist.

In most languages, there isn’t even a word to describe a vegan diet. In Thailand, the closest approximation is the word “Jay,” which defines a Buddhist tradition of avoiding all meat and flesh, as well as onion and garlic as a method of purification. The concept of eating a vegan diet for health reason is something that has been imported from the West, not a concept that exist in most cultures.

In most places, when you ask for a vegan meal and finally explain what you mean by that, many people are left totally confused that they will literally not know what to say. For example, if they have on their menu a chicken sandwich with a few leaves of lettuce, they might think that the vegetarian equivalent is to simply serve the exact same sandwich, while removing the chicken and having nothing else to replace it.

In Istanbul, Turkey we were asked to come inside a restaurant to check out the menu. When we asked if they had any vegetarian food the waiter pointed out the chicken section to us and said sure chicken is vegetarian, it’s a vegetable! I’m not kidding… I guess “meat” only means red meat.

Once you’ve tried living as a vegan or raw foodist in some countries, you’ll realize how easy it is to eat that way in North America, Europe, or Australia! People in those countries often complain about how hard or expensive it is to be a raw-vegan or even a vegetarian where they live. Get the same people to travel for a few months in the Philippines and they will come back in tears, kissing the sacred ground that their local Whole Foods is built upon!

Poverty Has a New Face in 2016

Dumaguete, Philippines produce market, the more fruit you buy the more cola you get!

We often think of poor people as people living in absolute slums, under the worst conditions possible, without running water and unable to feed themselves.

While traveling around the world, I saw a new face to poverty — the modern “Coca-Cola” poor.

Many poor countries in the world can afford running water and have enough food to feed their population. But it doesn’t mean that people are thriving. In Bali, the average monthly salary is less than $100 a month. At that level, people have enough to eat and live, but they can’t possibly indulge in the same luxuries us rich Westerners take for granted.

Health and Fitness Is a Foreign Concept in Many Countries

Kuala Lumpur, “Fruitti Waffle” comes with canned fruit, fruit glaze and icecream for breakfast!

When I attempted to go out for a jog in Bali, the locals were very perplexed. As I was running, some people asked me where I was going to or if I needed any help. When I told them I was just running for the “health benefits” they looked totally confused, as if I told them I was cleaning up garbage as a recreational activity. My friend Andrew Perlot got a similar reaction when he went for a jog in Bali, they asked him if he was running away from something or to something and needed a ride!

When I went running on a tourist beach in the Philippines I had hawkers trying to chase me down and sell me goods and other people laughing at me trying to keep up while they tried to imitate me. Most Filipino men are fairly slim and don’t overeat in general, so to them it’s pretty ridiculous to go for a run every morning especially on a tourist beach.

The concept of health and fitness is a foreign concept in many countries. Most people in many countries have no idea why anyone would not want to eat meat every chance they could, avoid dairy products, run for health or lift weights!

People only see what they want to see, and when countries want to emulate the West, they only see it as a positive thing and are unaware of the negative side effects.

You Can Still Hide From Mass Tourism

Virgin Island, Philippines near Panglao, Bohol

Some people don’t like to travel these days because they don’t like the concept of “mass tourism” and the fact that there are very few unspoiled places left on the planet.

What I noticed while traveling around the world is that the world is changing at a very fast pace. Cultures are eroding and people are no longer eating their traditional diets. Immigration patterns are mixing all cultures together and many people are losing their sense of cultural identity. Places that used to be unknown and pristine now have resorts on them.

In spite of these, it’s still possible to find places unspoiled by mass tourism.

  • Over 8 million people visit Hawaii every year (2014 statistics)
  • At the same time, French Polynesia only gets around 180,000 visitors, most of them only venturing to 2-3 of the dozens of islands that can be accessed! Many of these islands only get 5000-8000 visitors a year! Yet, they’re accessible to anyone willing to make the trip, at a price lower than that of a week at a resort in Hawaii!

The world is changing, and it’s changing at a very fast pace. If you’ve put off traveling until now, you may want to change your mind before it’s too late!

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. As an avid traveler myself, I agree with Frederic. Having just returned from Budapest and having my last morning run past the Central Market and the Green Bridge there, it reminded me to tell people that just a few blocks from there is Vega City, an all vegan, bright, clean place to eat with a wide selection of dishes. And so inexpensive, too! Two of us ate dinner there for about US$10 and enjoyed every bite!

  2. Nadia Harper says:

    Great article Frederic!! I travelled as a single female for almost 15 years all over Asia including India, Tibet, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand and more.

    Travelling, by far, has been THE best education I have gotten in this lifetime. I have learned things on so many levels that I never came close to learning in a classroom!

    I can relate to so much you write in this article. Just like you, I have felt the kindnesses from many all over the world and felt the joy and pleasure of being in places that the media warns against going to. Unlike you, I have had some crimes committed against me, being mugged once and having spent time in the hospital as a result … but even through this I was shown HUGE love, help and connection from so many that I was truly overwhelmed and left with an even more open heart.

    Leaving Canada and travelling was among the best decisions I have ever made and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

    If anyone is interested in reading more about why I travel and just how much I love it, I wrote a short article not long ago that you can find here… thanks so much Frederic for always sharing so openly and authentically with us all – keep shining that beautiful light of yours! ( http://www.making-healthy-choices.com/I-travel-because.html )

  3. Rald says:

    As a retirement gift for myself, I chose to go to India for 10 weeks and had a great time. Such a geographically and culturally diverse, complex country with such huge amounts of history. Of course it was easy to get great vegan (and vegetarian) food as it is such an essential part of the traditional food and religious culture. It was from India that the concept of vegetarianism migrated to the West, so if you want to eat vegan while traveling consider going to India.

  4. Rald says:

    P.S. I also wanted to say that I really enjoyed your article and its message of not letting fear deny you of the great pleasures and benefits of foreign travel. I would also add that generally speaking the cheaper I travel, i.e. guesthouse or hostel vice Hilton, the more I enjoy and get out of it.

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