20 Things I've Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years

Gary Arndt is the man behind Everything Everywhere, one of the most popular travel blogs in the world, and one of Time Magazine’s “Top 25 Best Blogs of 2010.” Since March 2007, Gary has been traveling around the globe, having visited more than 70 countries and territories, and gaining worldly wisdom in the process.

Today, I’ve asked him to share some of that wisdom.

Enter Gary

On March 13, 2007, I handed over the keys to my house, put my possessions in storage and headed out to travel around the world with nothing but a backpack, my laptop and a camera.

Three and a half years and 70 countries later, I’ve gotten the equivalent of a Ph.D in general knowledge about the people and places of Planet Earth.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned…

1) People are generally good.

Many people are afraid of the world beyond their door, yet the vast majority of humans are not thieves, murderers or rapists. They are people just like you and me who are trying to get by, to help their families and go about living their lives. There is no race, religion or nationality that is exempt from this rule. How they go about living their lives might be different, but their general goals are the same.

2) The media lies.

If you only learned about other countries from the news, you’d think the world was a horrible place. The media will always sensationalize and simplify a story. I was in East Timor when the assassination attempts on President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão occurred in 2008. The stories in the news the next day were filed from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur, not Dili. It was all secondhand news. I was in Bangkok during the political protests this year, but you’d never have any idea they were happening if you were not in the immediate area where the protests were taking place. The media makes us scared of the rest of the world, and we shouldn’t be.

3) The world is boring.

If there isn’t a natural disaster or an armed conflict, most places will never even be mentioned in the news. When is the last time you’ve heard Laos or Oman mentioned in a news story? What makes for good news are exceptional events, not ordinary events. Most of the world, just like your neighborhood, is pretty boring. It can be amazingly interesting, but to the locals, they just go about living their lives.

4) People don’t hate Americans.

I haven’t encountered a single case of anti-Americanism in the last three-and-a-half years. Not one. (And no, I don’t tell people I am Canadian.) If anything, people are fascinated by Americans and want to know more about the US. This isn’t to say they love our government or our policies, but they do not have an issue with Americans as people. Even in places you’d think would be very anti-American, such as the Middle East, I was welcomed by friendly people.

5) Americans aren’t as ignorant as you might think.

There is a stereotype that Americans don’t know much about the rest of the world. There is some truth to that, but it isn’t as bad as you might believe. The reason this stereotype exists is because most other countries on Earth pay very close attention to American news and politics. Most people view our ignorance in terms of reciprocity: i.e. “I know about your country, why don’t you know about mine?” The truth is, if you quizzed people about third-party countries other than the US, they are equally as ignorant. I confronted one German man about this, asking him who the Prime Minister of Japan was. He had no clue. The problem with America is that we suffer from the same problem as the rest of the world: an obsession with American news. The quality of news I read in other parts of the world is on par with what you will hear on NPR.

6) Americans don’t travel.

This stereotype is true. Americans don’t travel overseas as much as Brits, Dutch, Germans, Canadians or Scandinavians. There are some good reasons for this (big country, short vacation time) and bad ones (fear and ignorance). We don’t have a gap year culture like they have in the UK and we don’t tend to take vacations longer than a week. I can’t think of a single place I visited where I met Americans in numbers anywhere close to our relative population.

7) The rest of the world isn’t full of germs.

Many people travel with their own supply of water and an industrial vat of hand sanitizer. I can say in full honestly that I have never used hand sanitizer or gone out of my way to avoid contact with germs during my travels. It is true that in many places you can get nasty illnesses from drinking untreated water, but I don’t think this means you have be a traveling Howard Hughes. Unless you have a particularly weak immune system or other illness, I wouldn’t worry too much about local bugs.

8) You don’t need a lot stuff.

Condensing my life down from a 3,000 sq/ft house to a backpack was a lesson in knowing what really matters. I found I could get by just fine without 97% of the things I had sitting around my home. Now, if I purchase something, I think long and hard about it because anything I buy I will have to physically carry around. Because I have fewer possessions, I am more likely to buy things of higher quality and durability.

9) Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.

Yes, if you insist on staying in five-star hotels and luxury resorts, travel can be very expensive. However, it is possible to visit many parts of the world and only spend $10-30 per day. In addition to traveling cheap, you can also earn money on the road teaching English or working on an organic farm. I’ve met many people who have been able to travel on a little more than $1,000/month. I met one man from the Ukraine who spent a month in Egypt on $300.

10) Culture matters.

Many of our ideas for rescuing other countries all depend on them having similar incentives, values and attitudes as people in the West. This is not always true. I am reminded of when I walked past a Burger King in Hong Kong that was full of flowers. It looked like someone was having a funeral at the restaurant. It turned out to be people sending flowers in celebration of their grand opening. Opening a business was a reason to celebrate. In Samoa, I had a discussion with a taxi driver about why there were so few businesses of any type on the island of Savai’i. He told me that 90% of what he made had to go to his village. He had no problem helping his village, but they took so much that there was little incentive to work. Today, the majority of the GDP of Samoa consists of remittances sent back from the US or New Zealand. It is hard to make aid policies work when the culture isn’t in harmony with the aid donors’ expectations.

11) Culture changes.

Many people go overseas expecting to have an “authentic” experience, which really means they want to confirm some stereotype they have in their mind of happy people living in huts and villages. They are often disappointed to find urban people with technology. Visiting a different place doesn’t mean visiting a different time. It’s the 21st Century, and most people live in it. They are as likely to wear traditional clothes as Americans are to wear stove top hats like Abraham Lincoln. Cultures have always changed as new ideas, religions, technologies sprang up and different cultures mingled and traded with each other. Today is no different.

12) Everyone is proud of where they are from.

When you meet someone local in another country, most people will be quick to tell you something about their city/province/country that they are proud of. Pride and patriotism seem to be universal values. I remember trying to cross the street once in Palau, one of the smallest countries in the world, and a high school kid came up to me and said, “This is how we cross the street in PALAU!” Even crossing the street became an act to tell me about his pride for his country. People involved in making foreign policy should be very aware of this.

13) America and Canada share a common culture.

This may irk Canadians, but we really do share a common North American culture. If you meet someone overseas, it is almost impossible to tell if they are American or Canadian unless they have a particularly strong accent, or they pronounce the letter “z.” It is easier to tell where in England someone is from than it is to tell if someone is from Denver or Toronto. We would probably be better off referring to a “North American” culture than an “American” culture. What differences do exist (Quebec being the exception) are more like differences between states and regions of a similar country.

14) Most people have a deep desire to travel around the world.

Not shocking, but every day I meet people who are fascinated by what I do and how I live. The desire to travel is there, but fears and excuses usually prevent people from doing it. I understand that few people can drop what they are doing and travel around the world for three years, but traveling overseas for even a few months is within the realm of possibility for many people at some point in their lives. Even on an island in the middle of the Pacific, people who would probably never leave their home island talked to me of wishing they could see New York or London for themselves one day. I think the desire to explore and see new things is fundamental to the human experience.

15) You can find the internet almost everywhere.

I have been surprised at where I’ve found internet access. I’ve seen remote villages in the Solomon Islands with a packet radio link to another island for their internet access. I’ve been at an internet cafe in the Marshall Islands that accessed the web via a geosynchronous satellite. I’ve seen lodges in the rainforest of Borneo hooked up to the web. I once counted 27 open wifi signals in Taipei on a rooftop. We truly live in a wired world.

16) In developing countries, government is usually the problem.

I have been shocked at the level of corruption that exists in most developing countries. Even if it is technically a democracy, most nations are run by and for the benefit of the elites that control the institutions of power. Political killings, bribery, extortion and kickbacks are the norm in many places. There is little difference between the Mafia and the governments in some countries I’ve visited. The corruption in the Philippines was especially surprising. It isn’t just the people at the top who are corrupt. I’ve seen cops shake people down on the street for money, cigarettes or booze.

17) English is becoming universal.

I estimated that there were at least 35 native languages I would have had to have learned if I wanted to speak with locals in their own tongue. That does not include all the languages found in Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu or regional dialects. It is not possible for humans to learn that many languages. English has become the de facto second language for the world. We are almost to a point where there are only two languages you need to know: whatever your parents speak… and English. English has become so popular it has achieved an escape velocity outside of the control of the US and UK. Countries like Nigeria and India use it as a unifying language in their polyglot nations. Other countries in the Pacific do all their schooling in English because the market just isn’t there to translate textbooks into Samoan or Tongan.

18) Modernization is not Westernization.

Just because people use electricity and have running water doesn’t mean they are abandoning their culture to embrace western values. Technology and culture are totally different. Japan and South Korea are thoroughly modern countries, but are also thoroughly Asian. Modernization will certainly change a culture (see #11 above), but that doesn’t mean they are trying to mimic the West.

19) We view other nations by a different set of criteria than we view ourselves.

On the left, people who struggle the hardest for social change would decry changes in other countries that they view as a result of globalization. On the right, people who want to bring democracy to other countries would be up in arms at the suggestion that another country try to institute change in the US. In both cases, other nations are viewed by a different set of rules than we view ourselves. I don’t think most people around the world want the help or pity of the West. At best, they would like us to do no harm.

20) Everyone should travel.

At some point in your life, whether it is after college or when you retire, everyone should take an extended trip outside of their own country. The only way to really have a sense of how the world works is to see it yourself.

###

You can subscribe to Gary’s blog, or follow him on Facebook.

###

If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”


I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Odds and Ends:

Vegetarians vs. Meat-Eaters:

My recent guest post from Robb Wolf created something of a religious war between meat-eaters and vegetarians. The comments — 816 and counting — got ugly fast.

Whether you’re a die-hard meat-eater or plant-eater, I highly recommend watching the below video of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals. He is a brilliant writer, and we were actually in the same class at Princeton. Take some time or let it run in the background as audio — the following discussion is worth it:

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply to Vic Dorfman Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

463 Replies to “20 Things I've Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years”

  1. i had never heard of the term gap year, so i figured others might not have either. just the wikipedia entry. interesting side info too

    The practice of taking a gap year developed in the UK in the 1960s. During a gap year, a student might travel, engage in volunteer work overseas (Latitude Global Volunteering), or undertake a working holiday abroad.

    In 1978, the Prince of Wales and Colonel John Blashford-Snell began what is now known as Raleigh International by launching “Operation Drake,” a gap year expedition voyage around the world following Sir Francis Drake’s route. In the United States, the gap year idea was promoted by Cornelius H. Bull The Center for INTERIM Programs, in 1980.

    The gap year has grown very popular among students in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. A trend for gap years is to participate in international education programs that combine language study, homestays, cultural immersion, community service, and independent study. .

    Denmark has sought to limit the number of students who take a gap year, penalizing students who delay their education to traveling abroad or work full time.[1] In 2006, it was announced that fewer students than before had taken a gap year.[2] In April 2009, the government proposed a new law which gives a bonus to students who refrain from a gap year.[3]

    In Israel, gap years are customarily taken after the three-year compulsory army service.

    The employment practice known as Simultaneous Recruiting of New Graduates matches students with jobs before graduation, and the practice of a gap year is unusual in Japan as a result.

    In 2010, gap year travel has rocketed among school, college and university leavers, as this is seen as an attractive option for future career development.[4]

    In the United States, the practice of taking a “gap year” remains the exception.

  2. Hmm, Americans not ignorant? Debatable.

    People don’t hate Americans? This depends on when you travel.

    I have gone under false nationalities, though usually to confuse and avoid touts who want to build quick rapport. In some areas, I have gone under Canadian or Aussie nationality for safety – this was mostly when Bush was president.

    Not ignorant? Usually not American travelers, but so many Americans we meet in America are ignoramus when it comes to geography and foreign events. Although, I think we find some balance as we are generally very respectful of other cultures.

    I find most points agreeable, though I too felt a little mislead that the author of this post is from some guy other than Tim.

  3. Very passionate article about travelling. Made me inspired to get back on the road again. Obviously, a little differently now I have a wife and child.

  4. Great post and agree with most of what you are saying, been lucky enough to travel to the USA, Italy, Portugal and the Philippines and experienced much of what you say.

    Love travelling might have to start again after reading this post.

  5. Traveling the world gives us perspective. We learn that we all have so much in common. Most differences between us, including language, are minor.

  6. A nice post, but sad to know that you had to travel 70 countries to learn the fact that “People are generally good.”.

  7. I LOVED the Jonathan Foer video posted at the end. Thank you so much for sharing. I intended to just watch a short clip but ended up sitting around for the whole hour. Foer does a beautiful job of getting at the heart of the debate and recognizing that it’s more than statistics that drive human behavior. Forwarding it to all my friends!

  8. Right on Gary! Nothing has been more perspective and life changing that my year living, working and experiencing life in Sevilla, Spain. It’s the inspiration for most my Personal Freedom writing and coaching to this day. The best part of world travel is it ensures you’ll do a lot more of it!

    Welcome back,

    Scott

  9. Great post. I love to travel and this makes me want to get back out there. Thanks for putting up a picture of the Taiwan flag! It’s a small island but such an amazing place to visit. Also, the food is the best there.

  10. Overall I’d entirely agree with all the points here, and it’s great to see some validation from someone who has seen much more than I have outside the US. I’ve only been to Mexico, Canada(which, as he says, barely counts even tho it’s very nice there), China and Japan.

    However, as for #4, I disagree (partially). Overall, yes, there is not nearly the anti-American vibe that most of us think, BUT I did run into some in China. J can’t say for sure it was anti-American, as it may have been more anti-foreigner.

    A group of 4-6 of us in our mid-20’s were going around in a couple different cities in China, and more than once were directed away from certain areas or events. Once, a taxi refused to take us to a shopping area because it was “locals-only” from what we gathered. We talked to a couple other locals to verify it wasn’t just a safety thing, and ventured there another way. We were not exactly welcomed and didn’t stay especially long. Getting stared down by even 1-in-10 locals is a bit unnerving.

    Overall the trip was fantastic, but I learned that there’s places that locals like to keep to themselves. Can’t say I entirely blame them though.

  11. Great post! I am in Germany right now studying on my own for a full year because all the programs in the States wanted me to wait to travel, but if I waited, who knows if I would still have been able to go. So many international students here don’t speak any English though, but it’s worth it to use a second language (German) to bridge the gap between students from all over the world.

  12. I stopped reading at number one, “people are generally good”, um…yeah if you have very low standards for what is good and don’t delve any deeper than the surface, then sure, people are generally good. But in reality, take into consideration that almost every one of us is responsible for many species going extinct and the destruction of Earth, then not only are we not good but ignorant too. Sorry for the negativity Tim and feel free reject the comment but it’s the truth.

  13. # 13 Of course this was written by an American. I won’t tell you there aren’t a lot of similarities however I believe 9/10 Canadians would disagree with this statement.

    I totally agree with the points Ben already raised “such as: views on the role of the military, an entirely different political system, very different views on healthcare and social safety nets in general, and of course sports.”

    I’d like to add:

    – we don’t make a huge deal and have a song, dance and parade over everything

    – we are patriotic but what I have witnessed in the US boarders on mouth frothing, obsessive fanaticism

    – very different views on foreign policy

    Don’t get me wrong, there is much I admire and respect out the US but at the end of the day I’m happy I’m from Canada.

  14. Very interesting, and I must admit I had the “people hate americans” thing incorrect in my head. I’ve been to 20 countries other than my own and must admit that no one has ever really been “hateful” towards americans. Now, toward our government and policies, yes, but to our people, no.

    Bryan Eastman

  15. Isn’t it true that Americans travel more than just about anybody, if you count it in terms of miles/km rather than countries visited? Going from New York to Oregon is more difficult than going from France to Germany.

    Tried to spend a few minutes finding data to speak to this, but could not find any either way.

  16. Thanks for sharing that Tim. I’ve been traveling for about 2 years now and definetely see the truth in a lot of what he pointed out!

  17. Great Stuff, I have thought of almost every one of your points at some time through my own travels. You put them in a great readable way. Keep traveling!

  18. If anyone wants to watch the video, you can skip the first SIX Minutes. The actual talk starts around 6:03. I found this incredibly annoying, and a huge waste of my time…

  19. Cool! In a few months I’m taking off on my first ever indefinite trip in THE WORLD…

    I don’t have many worries, exept one… I can’t really get my head around how to travel cheap in places where you don’t have a common language. How do you find cheap accommodation? How about work?? Maybe it’s possible to quickly learn just enough to achieve these two… I guess I’ll find out soon.

  20. Great post! I lived in Holland for three years when I was growing up, and it absolutely defined my world view. I hope we can open our son’s eyes in the same way. I think the world would be a much better place if we all would really visit at least one other country (3 months minimum, as another commenter suggested).

    It looks like the photo that accompanies #3 The World is Boring might have been taken in Holland. It may not be the most exciting country, but it has more than its share of charm, including that you can go anywhere you want by bike. 🙂

  21. droppped what i was doing and took the kids to madrid (there for worldcup, soy espanol, espanol, espanol!!!), malaga, gibraltar, barcelona, rome, venice, geneva, london. just said $%#^# it. per seneca’s imagine your are in sackcloth and ashes, is this the worst? type travel mantra.

    my question is, what’s the best “no check” luggage? i found soft shell bags to be best, backpack/duffle looks more euro so you fit in vs screaming tourist, I design eco bags from vinyl billboards and have a weekender, and a large messenger but was curious on your best design.

    my oldschool black patagonia velise lasted for years.

    please anyone comment. also tim if you are down to designing the TimFerris weekender, could be a fun project? (the ask)

    matt murray

  22. Great post — I agree wholeheartedly, even #13. (As a Canadian, meeting an American abroad is great when you’re homesick and want conversation with someone who shares most of our cultural touchstones…especially if they’re into hockey, eh! )

    Some other discoveries: culture shock is nothing if you keep an open mind. you can get to know someone fairly well even you can’t speak each others’ language. being respectful and polite gets you a long way in most places. spend most of your time in heavily touristed areas and you will probably NOT agree with #1, and that goes for foreigners and locals! I could go on. Travel really is a great education.

    This post makes me want to travel again. Thank you!

  23. This made me laugh out loud:

    We would probably be better off referring to a “North American” culture than an “American” culture. What differences do exist (Quebec being the exception) are more like differences between states and regions of a similar country.

    … because 3 years ago I moved from Ottawa, Ontario to Gatineau, Quebec. I literally simply moved across the river from one city to the next. However, I was totally unprepared for the culture shock. I cannot even begin to list the differences between living in Quebec versus Ontario. Okay, some not so good, but mostly amazing. I have zero intention of ever moving back to my home province. I work on the Ontario side, but every night I come home to a joie de vivre atmosphere that causes me a sigh of relief as I am driving over the bridge.

  24. It was refreshing to hear from you, Gary, that not all countries are anti-American, and that we are not as ignorant as we think. I grew up in Brazil, South America, and so I have some experience with cross cultural living. It’s true that every single culture tends to look at the world and others from it’s own point of view. But the cool thing is that we can also broaden our horizons. There is nothing more humbling than traveling to another country and learning how to communicate on some level. It makes you realize how little you know, and how many differences there are. Yet, at the same time, travel and time with other cultures and groups can help us develop appreciation for other points of view.

  25. I agree with your list, alot. Except the part where you put THE in front of Ukraine. Really adds that ignorance. :-/

  26. Numbers 12 and 13 are at odds. As a Canadian, my feathers ruffle every time someone tries to tell me that Canadians are the same as Americans. Everyone IS proud of where we are from, so why try to lump 35 million people into the same pot as their 300+million neighbours?

  27. Great list!! Having lived most of my life in the US I had to admit that I’d never really considered the premise of #5 but I can see it is likely true. The problem I have is with #13. Nothing in the comments was funnier than the fact that all those commenting on #13 were Canadian (No Mexicans so far). So what is my problem with this item? My problem is the commonly held belief that North America is comprised of two countries. I do see the reason you made an exception for Quebec since they, like those south of the Rio Grande, are Latin Americans. (Please do not respond in descension to the Latin American comment. If you come from America and your native tongue is Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, or Portuguese you may be properly called Latin American)

  28. Great to know that Gary have been to a lot of places and was able to study different culture and this will help us to better understand each stands and principles from different races. Respect…..

  29. Good post, not quite up to the normal level of Tim’s posts though. Obviously written by an American… sorry my American friends, the rest of the world disagrees with #5.

    Many Americans are as ignorant as you think.

    How many countries can you name that begin with a U?

  30. I agree with your points. but I just have to point out that the picture for #19 is a sign for a Buddhist temple.. its tantamount to showing a picture of a sign for a church in the US. just sayin..

    1. @chris I know that. The point is that the swastika symbol has a totally different meaning in the west than it does in Asia.

  31. I’ve seen this post off and on, and I read it every time. I simply love the honest non-cynicism. Kudos Gary and kudos Tim for re-posting.

  32. hi, I am from Taiwan.

    It’s great to see our national flag in your blog. (#12)

    I will go travel with my husband for about 6 months to 1 year from this December.

    So it is so great to see your article.

  33. Even if I’m not fond of traveling and have traveled abroad only once (to Singapore from the Philippines), I agree with much of what has been said here. These experiences prove to you that, just because that’s all you know, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is.

    And on no. 16… must agree. 😉

  34. @ #2 Sad to say, most of my fellow countrymen in the Philippines fell to the lies coming out the country’s leading broadcasting corporation, ABS-CBN. 🙁

    @ #16 I hope this will all end someday here in my country……

  35. Reading this article on the US’s election day had given me a thought:

    I wish that our world’s political, religious, and military leaders could take a trip like this and learn these values as a precondition of them taking their office.

    I believe that having a common value system and agenda, i.e. “Everyone is just trying to get by..”, instead of pushing myoptic media trash with self serving rhetoric, would get us a lot further.

    “Can’t we all just get along?” – Rodney King

  36. I traveled with just a day pack in Asia and loved the freedom and flexibility it allowed me to go with the flow of my experiences.

  37. It’s every informative and I find it fun reading. I agree with your idea on no. 16, I’m from asia and I believe that we are now been modernized but that doesn’t mean that we always follow with the western countries. We still value and give importance to our culture.

  38. Thanks for the great post!

    As a US traveller, I agree that I don’t experience much prejudice (that I am aware of, anyway) just because I am an American. The exception to this rule is when I am visiting Canada. As you point out, most people there don’t realize that I am American upon meeting me. As the fact that I am American comes out, I estimate the average is once per day in the Vancouver area that I hear a demeaning comment of some kind about Americans. Putting down Americans seems to be so firmly entrenched and approved of a part of the Canadian culture, that it is not even considered rude to make such comments right in front of someone who has identified herself as being American. 🙂 Yikes! Perhaps the same kind of thing is happening elsewhere in the world in languages and in cultural nuances that I am not picking up on as easily as I can in Canada — but it is to my great surprise that in Canada, it is culturally acceptable to be quite rude about their judgement of Americans!

  39. Great post, I would love to be able to experience each topic myself. Thanks for introducing me to Gary’s blog…pretty cool stuff on there.

  40. great article Gary! and thanks for posting this Tim! i definitely agree with Gary’s last point that everyone should travel. this give people an opportunity to immerse themselves in other cultures and experiences apart from they are already enjoying in their homelands. plus the adventure that comes along with it is really FUN! 🙂

    also, this is a great read. having see someone’s discoveries and perspectives about the world and cultures is really insightful and refreshing. 🙂

    thanks again for the good read! 🙂

  41. Dear Gary,

    I agree with most of what you’ve stated although not the comment about Canadians. You refer to accent, and in that respect, I think you’re right.

    However, there are a number of fundamental differences between American and Canadian culture. Ask most Canadians, and they will tell you they cherish Universal Medicare, even if it means paying higher taxes. It’s the same with our public school system – in any given Canadian city, property taxes are redistributed equally to all neighbourhoods. So whether you live in a nice or not so nice area, your school gets the same access to funding.

    And, we tend to be a lot more liberal than many of our American neighbours…

    What I have noticed though – and it’s how I often explain Canada/US to foreigners – is that culture (an din many respects the economy) is more similar North-South than it is East-West, think Vancouver-Seattle & Calgary-Houston.

    Happy travels!

    Geneviève (yes, from the French part of Canada)

    35 countries, 5 languages & counting

  42. Mostly agree, except about the bugs. Every country/region with crappy hygeine that I’ve been to I’ve ended up being sick as hell for a few days of the trip. It won’t stop me traveling, and I’ve never brought my own soap, but cleanliness matters.

  43. Great article!!!!

    My fiance and I are hoping to explore Europe for 8 months beginning in April to experience some of what the rest of the world (outside the US) has to offer. I’m having trouble finding a straight answer to questions surrounding the Schengen Agreement and was hoping some of you fine people might be able to offer some assistance.

    I have an email out to the French Visa department, because some of what I’ve read instructs to obtain a Long Stay (Category D) Visa for your point of entry country and that this will allow you to stay longer than the 90 days the Schengen allows. Other things I have read state that the Long Stay Visa will only allow us to be in the country for which the Visa is issued for longer than 90 and that we will still only be allowed 90 days in 180 for the rest of the Schengen countries.

    I am of course awaiting official response from “the authority”, but am wondering if any of you have any experience with this? Help is appreciated!!!

    -Megan

  44. Great post! Even I am not traveling around the world it seems I am traveling already when I read this post. Since I am a kid I already have the dream to travel the world but the situation does not agree to my dream. Mostly I just love reading such an article or piece like these for me to just only be part of the world. Thanks Tim for sharing the world.

  45. Tim,

    I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say that I would LOVE to read a post from you about The Virtue of Measurement and Testing and how it has impacted your ability to keep taking things to the next level.

    Good Vibes!

    Vic

  46. Tim, I like the idea of encouraging everyone to travel. Even if you’re a homebody, it gives you the chance to learn about another culture firsthand instead of believe stereotypes that are out there. I visited Japan last year and it opened my eyes and made me appreciate both Japan and the US. Thanks for sharing your story.

  47. Very great list! Thumbs up for this post. Though i haven’t travel any places outside my country (Philippines), however I must say that I agree with the points in this article especially #9. Most people find travelling an expensive hobby. But if you know how to practical and wise, you can lessen your expenses and maximize your experience.

  48. Hello Gary and Tim and greetings from windy and rainy Helsinki.

    Because commenting on a blog is at least partly about participating in the conversation around the topic, I’d like to expand this article and bring my view on to the table.

    First of all, I’m from Finland. I think that we, as a society and citizens view travelling a bit differently than someone on the other side of the world. From a personal stand point I believe there’s ways of exploring the world: tourism and travelling. Tourism focuses on spending time on hotels, pools and going on the same sight-seeings as everybody else. Tourism is normally a package deal, where the person buys a package solution for spending holiday abroad.

    Travelling is different. It’s about leaving the familiar patterns of tourism behind and stepping on a road of exploration. It’s about learning about the local culture, food, language and people. Travel is always tailored and rarely a package solution. The good thing about travelling is that it can benefit more both the traveller and the locals and their economy at the destination.

    Having said that, lets move on to the lessons of Gary that caught my eye:

    2) The media lies.

    Yes it does. Unfortunately whatever a largish media house, a news channel, a newspaper says, seems to be an absolute truth in many peoples’ minds. The news industry feasts on same topics, recycling them all year around, which, sadly are mostly negative. This stuff sells. When you actually know the backstory, it’s easy to estimate, was the news story accurate. In many cases, it’s not.

    Remember that reporters often cover a wide range of topics and subjects in their stories and necessarily don’t have the expertise or knowledge in the given subject.

    6) The rest of the world isn’t full of germs.

    No it isn’t. The whole world is full of germs. Chances are though, that at your destination many things are much cleaner than back home. You are just used to certain practices when it comes down the keeping things clean. That, necessarily, does not mean it’s the best one.

    However when travelling for example in India and Nepal, I suggest you have some antibacterial hand gel at your disposal and use it especially before eating. This minimizes drastically the possiblity of catching diarrhea, which. literally, while travelling in Far East, is pain in the ass.

    8) You don’t need a lot stuff.

    Actually, especially on short travelling (1-4 weeks) you don’t need any luggage. The bare essentials can go in your pockets and what you don’t have now, you can get from there. It’s amazing how litte of clothing we in reality need on travels and also amazing how much clothes people cram in their Samsonities.

    On a sidenote: your travel bag should as light as possible and small too. This way you bring it to the plane with you and you have less to carry and worry about.

    20) Everyone should travel.

    I’d like to step it up a notch: everyone must trust during their lifetime.

    Thanks for the good article!

  49. Great post!

    So much to see, so little time.

    I also agree with Liam’s reply about the bugs. You have to watch out for food/water, most of the time the locals have built up a tolerance for the germs floating around. And snacking on a piece of fruit etc from a street vendor is a sure way to make yourself ill.

  50. You know, if you connect the dots, a lot of the myths Tim mentions in the other items has a lot to do with no. 2… media feeds us with a lot of misconceptions. We should do better than to trust the daily news as is.

  51. Great post Tim,

    Traveling is an amazing opportunity that everyone doesn’t get a shot at. It’s great if you can do it. A big thank you to folks like you (and Nate) who share their experiences with the rest of us. I’m still pretty confident that I’ll get a chance some time in my future.

    Thanks,

    Tim

  52. Notice how most of the comments about Canada/USA come from Canadians. Well, guys, you’re confusing politics with culture. From what I’ve seen of Canada (a visit to Toronto) and occasionally meeting Canadians elsewhere, both countries do indeed share a culture.

    Truth is, Anglo North America has a wide range of “culture” across the whole continent. There’s more difference between Santa Fe and Boston, between Nashville and San Diego, and between NYC and Tulsa than there is between Toronto and Chicago. And yet, any native of one of those places can be dropped off in any of the others at random and do just fine after a few days of adjustment. Shared language, history, and geography. Nothing to do with perceived political differences.

    (Note: The media lies yet again – the USA is not at all uniform in political point of view. It’s very regional, and even that is an oversimplification.)

    If you doubt the common connection, just compare with the rest of the world…

    As an aside, it’d be fun to study the various “cultures” within the worldwide British-settled anglosphere. Look for similarities and differences. Good excuse to travel, right?

  53. I am calling you on the point about Canadian and American culture being common. Mainly due to the fact that you seem to consider how someone speaks or sounds speaking to be “culture”. I am Canadian and have travelled extensively in the States and can tell you that American culture is as alien to me as English culture or French or Tunisian or any where else I have travelled. I now live in England and yes I speak English but a common language is not evidence for a common culture. And I have also encountered a lot of passive hostlity due to my accent. They assume American and most times don’t even bother asking before they hate you.

    Apart from those two points I really liked the list and have found the same to be true where I have travelled. I would caution people about taking the point on there being no germs too literally. I have been places in Africa where the water can make you sick. Not necessarily because there are germs in it but because it is just different from the water you are used to. Humans being 70% water there are bound to be compatiblity issues.

  54. Point 4: People don’t hate Americans.

    You haven’t spent time in New Zealand then?

    We get bombarded my american news – which we’re not interested in. We like our friends in NZ who are American, but “generally” We don’t like Americans. Perhaps it’s because we empathise with Canada, as we have the Australia vs New Zealand thing going on 😉

    There’s nothing worse than a loud, fat, obnoctious american, when you’re dining at a Kiwi restaurant.whose come off some cruise boat.

  55. Tim forgot to mention that Mr Jonathan Foer has also won 30,000+ consecutive games of UNO, making him an immediate expert on any topic… or at least making the video worth listening to. The QnA section in the vid has to be my favorite part. The way he calmly approaches each question and can bring back the focus to the major concerns shows his prowess as a speaker.

    Mad gratitude for Gary. Love this post. As a traveler, this is candy for my spirit and I’ve shared in a lot of these same feelings. While I can tell a Californian apart from a Texan (and from a New Yorker), the differences are so much less than when crossing continents and countries.

    One great point that hit home with me was that modernization doesn’t mean Westernization. Technology is merely an amplifier; it can make the best traits in a person better and the worst traits even worse. The saying goes something like: “A bad worker blames his tools.” If I hear a person complain a few times about technology, I usually try and help. If I hear a person complain all the time about technology, my concerns are for them as a person and not the tech. But what I find with top performers is an embrace of technology… and that is something that crosses cultures. More tech doesn’t mean “more America”… it just means “more”. I hadn’t personally connected the dots until reading that.

  56. I’ve actually run into quite a bit of anti Americanism in my travels. I’ve been kicked out of restaurants and refused service in a variety of stores when my nationality was discovered. These things are the exception rather than the rule, but they do happen.

    For example. I was kicked out of a camera shop in Paris when I was only ten years old. When I asked why I was forced out the door, the clerk said “we don’t serve Americans here”.

    I have since then made many friends who are Frenchmen, leading me again to restate that these things are the exception rather than the rule.

    Since this IS the internet after all, and people tend to misunderstand the printed word almost religiously, I feel I have to say that this is absolutely not strictly a French phenomenon, and that I have nothing against any particular nationality or ethnic group.

  57. You’re right…as a Canadian the bit about Canadians/Americans does irk me.

    I’d have to argue that the surface facts that you’ve presented, such as accent, might lead one to believe that Canadians and Americans have a lot in common, but politically and socially we are quite different.

    I’ve lived in the US for three years total (2005-2006. 2008-2010) and plan to return in about three months for another half year and have been able to study the differences in culture and I agree: it is hard to spot the difference, at least up front.

    What I have noticed is that there are plenty of Americans that would fit in very well in Canada and quite a few Canadians that would be right at home in the United States. However, despite some overlap, statistics suggest that we do have some difference socially. Canadians have more sex, are less often overweight, much lower violent crime rates, few police per capita and we travel more frequently than our American counterparts.

    To the non-expert, it can be hard to spot the different between Japanese and Chinese culture, too. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t difference.

    To be fair, however, many of the Americans that I meet while living abroad in places like Japan, Vietnam, China, etc definitely fall into the “would fit in well in Canada” club.

    1. @Natsun It is extremely easy to spot differences between Japanese and Chinese.

      What you listed are differences in demographics. You will find almost no difference in crime rates or health between US states that border Canada and Canadian provinces that border the US. (the once exception being Detroit) I’m sure you can find differences in weight/crime/etc between Newfoundland and BC.

      People often list health care as a difference between US and Canadian culture, which would imply two things: 1) before the Canadian health care system was in place, there was not difference, and 2) if the US just changed its health care system there would be no difference.

      Laws and policy cannot define a culture because they come and go.

  58. dear tim, dear gary,

    thanx for the post, but i have to break a spear for germans/get back to the argument of american ignorance.

    that for sure is a stereotype and probably true in the fewest cases, the thing is, what i personally and the people i know mean by this, is not a question whether an american would know the name of the german chancelloress or could locate italy on a map (though i have seen an american on tv guessing it to be somewhere near australia), the point is: if you come to spend some time in an american family, as an au pair for example, it may happen that, while being shown around the house, you come to the kitchen, stop before the fridge, your host turns to you, looks you deep in the eye and says: “this is a…f r i d g e. have you heard about this machine in europe?”

    thats the type of ignorance we talk about.

    i promised to myself to put my jacket right into the freezer, next time someone asked me if i knew what this is.

    blessings,

    robert

  59. how i envy the person who travels and learns from his travels.

    this is one of the best commentaries that i’ve read… for all time.

    it’s a shame, however, seeing that corruption in the philippines is still at it’s worst. i’ve even witnessed a group of korean youngsters harassed by police officers to hand over at least $100 just to swim in the beaches of Subic Bay.

  60. “Culture matters” (#10 on the list) is brilliantly illustrated in the books of Lawrence Harrison, one of which is titled, of all things, CULTURE MATTERS: HOW VALUES SHAPE HUMAN PROGRESS. All Harrison’s books are very eye-opening, but the one I’d recommend reading first is: WHO PROSPERS: HOW CULTURAL VALUES SHAPE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SUCCESS.

  61. It is so true that the rest of the world has also cultural ignorance. I am tour guide for Germans in the U.S. Out of experience most Germans will not be able to answer me simple questions such as for example: Who was the first American President? Interestingly instead of telling me the correct answer of George Washington, the answer is a lot of times Abraham Lincoln. Or when I ask them about how many states the U.S actually has, most people will give me an incorrect answer as well.

    1. dear sascha,

      please see my post above for argument.

      your example is not cultural ignorance, but lack of information.

      what germans criticize about americans is not that these dont know every single politician or similar of all other countries of the world, but that they are ignorant that there exists civilized life without the u.s.

      blessings,

      robert

  62. Does no-one else feel the need to vomit reading this? I don’t know about where you are from (the author assumes its America, where else would you be), but here we are bleeding. I haven’t had the privilege of travel, but I’ve had the privilege of education. Which is more then I can say for 80% of the country. I don’t really know how to say this, but to me when I see a tourist I see a lifestyle I can never have. And I consider myself incredibly fortunate. To expect people to ‘dream of travel’ etc is so much naive bollocks. A large number of my friends are going to die within view of the shacks they were born in. Maybe I’m just reading above my class category, I don’t know. Bah, it sounds like I’m a depressing old whiner, but I’m not. I guess I’m just from one of those ‘developing’ countries you speak so fondly of. Hint, we aren’t developing, we are de-evolving (if that isn’t a word it is now.)

  63. yeah you wish people didnt hate americans of course they do at least the way the country is handled and the peolple who support those kind of indecent behaviors

  64. Nice post! Indeed there is an accent difference between Quebecois (French Canadian) and the rest of Canada and US. This place is really remarkable and strongly recommend everyone to visit it at least once in there lifetime.

  65. I am Canadian and I agree that you cannot really differentiate between Americans or Canadians, however, I have travelled many times to America and I have literally been everywhere. From five star hotels to some random hostel in the middle of no where and usually, I get treated…not so well…compared as I would in Canada. The obesity rate in Canada is MUCH MORE lower and Canadians are quite fit. Basically, the lifestyles of the American and Canadian are not alike. There is a difference and that should be acknowledged. The history is different since people who have commented about that obviously have not studied American history AND Canadian history at the same time and the similarities and differences. Since unfortunately I had to in school.

    About the statement “Everyone hates Americans” is not true. Everyone hates what America does or did. Example, the war in the middle east, which thankfully, has ceased to a milder level. No one blames the people, just the government and such. People do joke around about Americans, especially in Europe, but no one takes them seriously unless they are strong opinionated. Such as when I went to Germany with my family, we went to this restaurant and got talking about politics with the waiter. He asked us if we were American since our English was very good and we’re from China. He started to laugh once we said we were Canadian and say it was a good thing, obviously meant as a joke. These jokes probably, like said before, were exaggerated by the media.

    “Americans being ignorant” sadly is influenced by the media. What more is that the media is influenced by the government. It is as basic as ‘no streaking while on-air’ to saying ‘appropriate things to not get you fired while on-air’. USA right now is at the centre of the world, but maybe 50 years later, another country will be the centre and the people there will be called the ignorant people of the world. That is just how it is.

    Also, the part about culture changing is not true. It is always there, just hidden amongst the things added onto their lives to make it easier. Just look closer and you will find it.

    What irritates me about this is that it is obviously written by an American considering that it thinks so highly of them.

    However, the photos are beautiful, written nicely and thought very thoroughly. I enjoyed reading it and thinking about it. Made me actually use my brain after a few days of slumping.

  66. Awesome Article!

    But

    I have an issue with #13. And yes I am Canadian.

    Many Canadians would be irked but this! But so would MANY other countries if you said “yeah they think they’re different but they aren’t”

    With # 12 being ” Everyone is proud of where they are from. ” No one should be shocked that some Canadians are irked buy this!

    When I was in the UK most of the people I met could tell I was from canada and not the USA, and the one person who thought I was from the USA was very hostile.

    Canada DOES have a culture. And it is VERY different form “american culture” Ever hear of a poutine? Or tobogganing? Or a Double Double? Or the group of seven? Or “This Hour Has 22 Minutes”? (Or its quite popular in Canada “Talking to Americans” spin off) Culture has very little to do with an accent. It about art, food, traditions, customs and diffring social values!

    There are different accents across canada! If you got together people from Newfoundland, B.C., Ontario and Quebec there are differences between how they talk.

  67. People don’t hate Americans?

    Err, have you been to Mexico…or Europe…or Australia…or the rest of the world?

    It is an unfortunate fact that many people DO hate Americans, based purely on the premise (and I make a vast generalisation here) that many Americans who do travel present themselves as unwilling to ‘culturally compromise’. Americans can often come across as obnoxious by not having the slightest inclination to conform to a way of living that is foreign to them. Of course, this is a stereotype- but in my case, one that has been re-iterated and justified many a time.

    I am very fortunate to have just come back from a year of travel around Europe, the US, Central America and South East Asia- and based on that experience alone, I was exposed to alot of anti-American sentiments. Australians, Canadians and Brits have a much better reputation!

  68. “Condensing my life down from a 3,000 sq/ft house to a backpack was a lesson in knowing what really matters. I found I could get by just fine without 97% of the things I had sitting around my home. Now, if I purchase something, I think long and hard about it because anything I buy I will have to physically carry around. Because I have fewer possessions, I am more likely to buy things of higher quality and durability.”

    This is one of the most profound comments I’ve ever heard and something worthy of serious consideration.

    We all came into this world with exactly nothing and we’ll all leave with exactly the same. Life itself is worth more than material gain.

  69. This is a really great post, very frank and honest opinions expressed by a world-wise chap. one thing i have to say though is that there a certain places where there are people who want to get something out of the traveling westerner. these people just have a harder life and that’s the reason, its just the way that the cookie crumbles for a lot of the world. then again this fact is made up for by the fact refered to in point 1

  70. Interesting observations, most seem sound. One however, is glaringly not so, and perhaps it is simply you mis-stated your point (American and Canada share a common culture). The US and Canada share some common heritage, but have chosen to do very different things with that heritage. We are officially bilingual – this has had a profoundly different impact on how multilingualism and multiculturalism has developed.

    We operate on fundamentally different notions of representative democracy – and this is not a window dressing matter, but rather one that reflects different assumptions on how governing for the public good cashes out. We have a dramatically different notion of what the public contract is all about (see schools, health care, division of powers between the federal and provincial levels of government, justice).

    Our defining motto is not ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, but instead ‘peace, order, and good government’. The fabric of Canadian society may share a few threads with yours, but we have woven a completely different cloth.

    Finally, as with Mexico, we believe your country to be called the United States of America, not America. There is a South America, a Central America, and a North America. On North America there are three countries – Mexico, the US, and Canada.

    You might want to spend a bit more time in Canada, it seems in whatever time you’ve spent here, you have only scratched the surface of its culture, and in doing so, missed a very rich experience.

    p.s. Brits might get irked, we just get annoyed and roll our eyes at how little y’all understand about us.

    http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-7111005509913775935#

  71. Great post.

    I just wanted to add my opinion on ignorance of Americans, or anti-American attitude,

    I ve had the chance to travel a bit and meet a lot of Americans both in my country and on other countries. I also met a lot of people from different countries and I m sad to say that Americans seemed to be the ones that were most likely to be oblivious to what is outside of their country.

    The questions about third world countries, i can safely say that it s the American person in a group of people, who has seriously never heard of the country someone mentions in a conversation. Rest might have just an idea or might ve heard it somewhere in passing, or might have deep knowledge about it.. But on average, Americans are the most likely to go “Where is that? Never heard of it..”. Thats what i have observed. I dont want to come off as anti-American, since some of those people were really good friends to me but where most people from other countries would find this list “very obvious facts that dont even need mentioning”, Americans alone need to be told that people in other countries dont live in huts or you can find internet almost everywhere or that culture matters…

    1. In defense of Americans, I’ll say this:

      – The US is landlocked. Plenty of Americans have been to Canada or Mexico, but calling the average American lazy or stupid is lazy in itself. How many Europeans would travel if it required $800-1,000 in airfare alone? Many Americans have to commute for longer per day than it takes to cross the countries of those who criticize them.

      – We only consume American media. If you’re in a non-US city like Prague, you have to know local news, get BBC, and American news. More exposure to more news = more global perspective.

      I just think collectively labeling people is a bad idea, and the realities manifest for many reasons outside of free will or personal decisions.

      Easy guys,

      Tim

  72. The reason Gary says that Canada and the US has a common culture is because he never takes time to embed himself within the culture, he never writes about cultural dynamics, mostly just posts pictures. And, it seems like he never attempts to stay in private homes.

    His dead forum should tell you something about “under the hood”.

    @ Stephen Browne, vomit is correct, Gary travels very blindly.

    Most people hate the American Government which is tied with Israel, but I can say most people likes the American people, for the most part, but not always.

  73. Heya Tim, i’m not sure if you have a tech support team that handles your site, but wanted to mention a broken image link on the following:

    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/10/30/20-things-ive-learned-from-traveling-around-the-world-for-three-years/

    13) America and Canada share a common culture.

    Derby-Line (image link broken)

    By the time the team reads this it will probably already be fixed but I thought i’d be pro-active and mention it anyways.

    Thanks again for the great posts, you are one of my greatest hero’s of all time, right up there with batman and iron man!

  74. My question to Gary is, when is the last time he bumped into a native Thai tourist? Or a native Egyptian tourist? Or a native Mali tourist? Or a native tourist from Namibia? Or a native tourist from the Congo?

    I believe everyone should have the experience of traveling to foreign lands. But when when you identify the make-up of today’s travelers, there’s a definite geographical bias given the economic breakdown of our world today.

  75. The whole US/Canada divide is always a flash point (for Canadians), so it’s not surprising to see the comments on number 13.

    My take is that Canada and US have quite different histories and that has resulted in some very different cultural tendancies. For example, universal health care on its own does is not culturally distinguishing, however it does demonstrate the fact that Canadians tend to be more concerned with social/economic equity than Americans. Similarly, gay rights laws by themself are not neccessarily culturally significant, but it does demonstrate the fact that Canadians tend to be more socially liberal than Americans. The percentage of people that are religious in Canada, compared to America is another example.

    These are just two examples, but I think it’s fair to say there a significant differences in cultura, such that one really does notice the difference when crossing the border, whether from Windsor into Detroit, or from Vancouver into Washington State.

    On a personal level, as a Vancouverite, I have to say I often find myself having more in common with people I meet from the Netherlands, than those I meet from the US.

    Of course, we share a lot of culture with the US and Canadians and Americans tend to get along great. I’m glad we have different cultures because it makes traveling to each others country all the more interesting.

  76. Really nice post. I’ve been living in Holland for the last seven months and traveling to different places in Europe. It is really hard to explain to people back home in the US who’ve never left the country (not including Canada 😉 ) what it’s really like. They usually can’t believe what you are telling them and how things can possibly be different than in the US.

  77. Hello Tim,

    A very well written blog of course!! Being a part time traveller and doing it as a hobby, I must say that I agree with almost all the points above. Well done! keep it coming!!

    Also, in my opinion, the desire to travel among the people doesnt just stop because of fear or job alone. In some cases, it is also the restrictions imposed on issuing visas and the time taken for it etc.. Mostly, people from developed nations are able to travel to other countries with just a passport and obtain a visa there/in other cases being able to get one easily in case it is needed before entering a country, there are exceptions to this though!

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and keep it coming!!!

  78. Great post.

    Being Canadian, of course I take issue with some of your thoughts 😉 It’s not unusual for Americans to find our cultures as virtually identical. While I think differences are predominantly regional (east, west coast; etc) there are certainly some on a national level; in many cases it is in fact how we view our context in the world and other countries that differs.

    I also have found that many Americans cannot detect a Canadian ‘accent’ – but Canadians can detect an American accent. Because our media is so heavy with American content, and the opposite does not happen – it’s to be expected.

  79. I definitely plan on traveling the world when im out of college. Especially since Im a photography major, I really want to do this, and it could help in my career. I want to experience different cultures and learn what the world is like first hand. I wish I could really talk with someone who has done this after college and explain to me how they did it while paying off their student loans!

  80. Canadian culture is insanely different than American culture. Just because we’re close in proximity does NOT mean we are the same. Do you think the French and Spanish have the same culture? This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard heard an American claim; complete and total ignorance…which goes exactly against your point that Americans aren’t as uncultured as they seem to be…Canada and the US have distinctly different cultures due to the fact that they have distinctly different histories. I also have traveled all over the world and everywhere I have gone, people have known I was Canadian by my accent and have treated me warmly. Unlike my American traveling companions, they do tend to be treated with hostility, I can’t believe you are even trying to deny that. Sorry for the harsh words, but maybe if you hadn’t have tried to make Canadians seem like bland, wannabe Americans…I wouldn’t have felt the need to correct you.

    Sincerely,

    I am Canadian.

    1. I have never been met by any hostility and I am a traveler and American, but Gary never writes about culture.

      But I can say I think Canadians are the most hostile and Jealous toward Americans. I find it quite strange.

    2. I’m a Canadian and I live in Barbados. I have traveled throughout the Caribbean and spent a little time in Miami and New York. I don’t feel any jealously or hostility towards Americans and I have never met anyone who felt that way. If you put an American and Canadian side by side (well depending on which city they’re from) it is hard for someone outside of North America to tell the difference.

    3. Hey Mary, I think you’re cute. I was just having this same discussion tonight with a well-traveled German… we agree that Canadians are hard to distinguish from Americans (especially coastal Americans). Easiest way is to ask which comes first: Halloween or Thanksgiving. Works every time!

      As Gary said, the differences between Quebec is larger which is very cool.

  81. I found this article upsetting and ethnocentric.

    I’m sorry, I know you’ve been ‘travelling the world’, but a lot of your posts were about America, and there were facts here that would get you into fights with a lot of anthropologists.

    This article made me uncomfortable!

  82. As an American I am incredibly insulted that you would imply that I could be mistaken for a Canadian. How dare you! This has never once happened to me in all my travels and if it did I would be sure to quickly correct the offender!

    Haha, Jokes! 😉

    Seriously, Tim, Gary, all the Americans posting here my self included. We must be the scourge of the Earth. Haha!

    One Love Everybody,

    Jason

  83. This post is totally informative. I guess I am guilty of wanting to travel and have so many excuses, haha. But it’s sad that the corruption is what you got away with my country :/

    I wish you more awesomeness! Take care 🙂

  84. Hey Tim and Gary,

    Here is a non enthusiastic response. I find it not that big a deal, the 20 most important points of general knowledge Gary has learned those three and a half years. To think that he could have gotten a real Phd in those years.

    The media will indeed only tell highlights of political, social, economic,.. events and it’s normal that they simplify things for an half hour TV-journal or a daily 20 page newspaper (point 2). I you want to learn more, read the specialized literature on the subject. Most of the people in the world go indeed about living their lives (point 3), what did Gary expect before he started the journey?

    So here is my main critic on the article: Why should “everyone” have to travel (point 20)? Why do so many globetrotters have the missionary urge to convert other people to their philosophy of ‘around the world traveling’. I don’t want to criticize travelers but I’m saying that you can live a world conscious life without visiting 70 countries. I’ll give three remarks:

    1.Sometimes a thousands words can say more than one picture. The reality is often more complex than can be learned by a foreigner visiting a certain amount of time and therefore there is a real danger of making wrong opinions. I’m a first world citizen living in Rwanda now for two months and it’s amazing how little I see or know about the ethnic tensions that probably exist here after the genocide in this country in 1994.

    2.on the same level: there’s one human race on this world and I belief the same variety in personalities of people can be found around your home village. I mean the general human characteristics (for example: being generous, easy jealous, easy mad,..). And those people you can get to wow over years instead of the one day encounters as a backpacker. A lot of voyage friendships would probably turn out differently if you met the same people at home, where you meet frequently.

    3.I think that you can’t visit a culture without influencing it. Like the uncertainty principle in physics where you can’t measure a quantum’s speed without changing it’s direction. So in this last two decades where global traveling has become accessible to the broad public of first world countries. The cultural colors of the world become blended faster and the different colors get a shade of the same gray. And I think that’s not something to be proud about.

    So to all the applauding responders, let’s not overexaggerate ‘global traveling’. It’s not better and more life fulfilling than another ‘non geographic’ hobby. It’s not really doing something, it’s just shifting places. The places are already discovered, so if you begin your extended trip have the modesty to admit what you are: a tourist and a sightseer.

    All the best,

    Bram -fellow tourist

  85. Lots of good points here that anyone would also learn studying anthropological traditions of many sorts. Another nice anthropological insight is that just because there are similar cultural elements between X and Y – doesn’t mean X and Y are the same culture. To infer such may actually be offensive (just ask Austrians vis a vis Germany, or Guatemalans vis a vis Mexicans – and yes, Canada vs. the U.S. – I’ve lived in both countries and as a Canadian I can say it’s a different cultural system (politics, relationships, ideals, assumptions, habits, preferences). Same language and land mass, some of the same values, but please don’t claim my culture for your own. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s ignorant and rude and colonial.

  86. I notice only Americans seem to say “YEAH, WE’RE TOTALLY ALIKE, BRA.” When we’re really not. We’ll admit, there are similarities, but the same? No. I’m comfortable enough with my Canadian identity, actually, to say that I’m not even upset about the confusion.

    Regardless, it was a good article. Maybe for your next stop, you should actually visit the great white north :p.

  87. Regarding Canada, I can’t speak with any authority because my only contact with Canada was a short trip to Montreal. However, I am a fan of the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and one of Gould’s biographers, an American named Otto Friedrich, says about his own knowledge of Canada: “On the general subject of Canada, I have done my best to rise from a characteristically American state of abysmal ignorance to one of merely woeful ignorance.” I would definitely put myself in the “abysmal ignorance” category.

    In all fairness, I have to add something positive regarding the United States. I was a recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to Colombia in 1980-81, which would not have been possible for myself and countless others had it not been for the passage of the Fulbright-Hays Act in 1961, which established “Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange” and whose preamble reads as follows:

    “The purpose of this chapter is to enable the Government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange; to strengthen the ties which unite us with other nations by demonstrating the educational and cultural interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world; to promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement; and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.”

    I never served in the military, but representing my country and trying to build bridges of understanding were my way of providing service. I can’t begin to mention how many doors were opened for me as a result of that experience. When I returned to the US, I did go through a period of “reverse culture shock.” Over time, though, I have become gentler when confronted with ignorance on the part of my fellow Americans who never had the opportunity I had. I am still bothered by examples of uncouth behavior or arrogance on the part of some of my compatriots overseas, but fortunately these people, from my experience, are most definitely in the minority.

  88. Good stuff. But…Toronto is not Canada..Quebec is not the only unique culture in Canada nor North America. Have you never been to Newfoundland?