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What is your 'explorer's edge'?
In order to push your limits, you have to know what they are in the first place. Some are within you; some the world will shove in your face. To choose your destinations and activities wisely, take a long look at the challenges you're willing to face. The book takes a long look -- here's an overview:
The Challenges of Wealth and Poverty
How well will your personal needs and sensibilities meld with the economic realities around the globe? Can you eat food prepared by someone living in a country where 80% of the children have intestinal parasites? Will your senses rebel at the dust, grit, and grime of the unpaved, badly lit, poorly plumbed towns of the developing world? Can you walk by scores of destitute beggars without emptying your dwindling travel purse?
The nations of the planet and the many regions within function along a continuum of economic health that runs from embarrassingly rich to disastrously poor. When I walked the lanes of Bern, Switzerland, I felt underdressed and underfunded. On a similar lane in Guatemala City, I felt conspicuously rich and somewhat at risk. In a nameless border village in northeast Thailand, it was as though I was from another economic planet.
Budget travel services and accommodations tend to be a direct reflection of the economic context. Consider what you're interested in dealing with before you sign on for weeks in the more challenging destinations of the world.
The Challenges of Political Reality
What's going on politically in that country you're thinking of visiting? Will you have smooth sailing, face moderate inconvenience, or be in danger? I explore the issue in depth in The World Awaits, discussing the considerations you should give to the following 'categories of hassle':
Whether it's the civil bureaucracy, the postal system, customs, immigration -- whatever -- you're likely to encounter the hassles of inefficiency almost anywhere a system of government can be found. Rarely will this irritate travelers to the point that they would cancel a segment of a journey to go somewhere else, but you may want to build in extra margins of time and patience when visiting lands famous for ridiculous wastes of effort.
Here is the darker side of inefficient bureaucracy and its underpaid, poorly supervised participants. Are you intimidated at the prospect of having to pay a bribe, an extra 'fee', or otherwise grease some palms to smooth out the rough edges of a travel? Regardless of any high level corruption that may be going on, you may have to deal with the minor variety face to face in certain locales. Those who don't care to deal with real and bluffed threats of trouble should consider avoiding certain areas.
How do big guns visibly displayed by stone-faced officers make you feel? Some nations and regions are very actively ready for trouble and demonstrate it by having police maintain a high profile. If they're prepared and perhaps expecting to employ force to control a situation, will you be comfortable strolling through the market or exploring the back streets?
Sexism, Racism, and Religious Persecution
In a number of destinations, you will get an in-your-face taste of lower human rights standards than you may be used to -- a taste you'll experience either as a witness or a victim. Does that sound like a challenge you want to face?
How about a place where entire segments of the population are actively repressed, forced to exist with a substantially smaller set of rights and freedoms? As a traveler, you will usually find yourself welcomed among the oppressors as a monied visitor, and will enjoy a full freedom of movement and access that thousands of citizens may not have. You may also find it more challenging to place you sympathies wisely when you get a firsthand look at a place. The certainties you feel reading the newspaper at home in your kitchen may not translate well on site.
Occupation & Rebellion
The Challenges of Foreign Cultures
Will you "...do as the Romans do," or will you 'be yourself'? More importantly, how much differentness do you care to face -- different attitudes, tastes, looks, gestural meanings, social ordering, protocols, smells, etc.
This is no small concern! In The World Awaits, you'll find a comprehensive overview of the various physical challenges you may or may not be seeking or expecting.
Traveling often challenges your system. You may well find yourself exhausted, overheated, troubled by altitude, injured, lacking sleep, poorly nourished, dehydrated, or sick. While you can expect to "get in shape" if you're doing a lot of walking, it pays to be keenly aware of your body's status and needs.
Know your destinations as well. Choose your activities carefully in the many hot regions of the globe. Set reasonable goals and spend time acclimatizing before trekking in the high Himalaya or Andes. Never set your plans in stone so that you keep going when you should be stopping or turning back. Be wise -- travel well.
The Challenge of Companionship--Or Lack of It
Do you want a partner you don't have? Have you got a partner you don't want? It's a tougher issue than you might think.
Challenges of the Heart