Worst travellers


Is there anything worse than the Brits abroad? Well people working in the tourism industry seem to think so… 

It only takes a few visions of boozed-up stag parties laying siege to an Eastern European city in-between paintball and prostitutes to form an impression that British tourists are the worst in the world.

Then there are those who head to the Spanish costas to eat steak and chips every night, drinking solely in bars named after footballers. Or the hapless fools being pulled out of the sea in Bali or Sydney because they’ve failed to heed the warnings about the rip. Throw in the usual refusal to learn a single word of foreign languages, and it’s easy to understand why the British are regularly regarded as terrible travellers.

However, I’ve found that this reputation tends to be one held almost exclusively amongst British people. One of my bad habits when I’m abroad is asking tour guides or hotel workers which nationalities they find the most objectionable tourists. I know I shouldn’t and that there’s probably an equal ratios of horror shows from each nationality. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to hear the responses.

Sometimes you ask, and they um and ah about it – meaning that no nationality in particular stands out as especially bad. Other times they instantly launch into a rant about one nationality. What’s curious is that they never pick the British as the worst offenders. This may be because I’m British and they don’t want to offend me, but half the time they think I’m Australian and the British still never come top of the list.

This is a game that throws up some peculiar localised irregularities. Ask in Bali, and the Australians will come out on top by a long chalk. In Estonia, they’ll pick the Finns. In Hong Kong, it’ll be the mainland Chinese.

But, rightly or wrongly, three nationalities come up time and time again. The Russians, it seems, have developed a worldwide reputation for brash boorishness, taking over resorts, drunkenness and generally being rather unpleasant to everyone they encounter.

Israelis seem to do well on the obnoxiousometer too. Particularly young, male Israelis who have just finished military service.  Some guesthouses in Thailand operate a “no Israelis” policy after one too many tales of trashed rooms, leaving without paying and general looking down upon the world rudeness.

Then there are the Indians who, fairly or not, have a reputation for haggling unreasonably over the price of everything, turning up really late then expecting everyone to wait for them and refusing to walk anywhere. The latter can be partly attributed to a tendency to travel in large family groups – it can be about sparing grandmother’s legs as much as laziness or expecting to be chauffeured.

Not everyone from every country is the same, of course. But people from different countries do tend to have some fairly common foibles. Think the Germans with towels on the sunbeds and nudity, the Spanish turning up in the most bizarre places in summer because they’re relatively cold, the Canadians obsessively sporting maple leaf badges and Arabs requiring what we’d see as an unusual degree of privacy.

The British have such not-quite-across-the-board foibles too – drunkenness and appalling language skills being most prominent. But such British traits, from my experience, are rarely seen as the worst.


Cool cities



David Whitley tries to sift through all the hype to see what gives a city that genuine cool factor 

Travel magazines and newspapers like “cool”. Or “hip”. Preferably “cool” and “hip”. They’re always keen to let you know that they know all about the latest cool and hip destinations. Yet, beyond popularity, these qualities are quite hard to define. And when 90% of that popularity is created by magazines writing about these destinations, it becomes a bit of a meaningless circle.

With humans, coolness is a somewhat intangible factor. It’s hard to put your finger on why someone is cool and another person isn’t. Usain Bolt, for example, is undoubtedly cool in spite of doing just about everything in the anti-cool rulebook. He continually mugs for the camera, he comes up with signature poses and he’ll goon around for adverts. But he gets away with it through being brilliant at what he does and clearly not caring too much about what people think.

On the flipside, there are people who try and be cool by slavishly following what they are told is cool. The ones that flounce around in red skinny jeans and sport handlebar moustaches. They think they’re cool, when they’re really just ridiculous and rightfully laughed at by all they encounter.

One thing that is common to all genuinely cool people is that they’re comfortable in their own skin. They’re often confident individuals, but more importantly, they know who they are and they’re happy with it. They’re not out to impress anyone – they’re just themselves.

I think something similar applies to cities. The cool ones aren’t trying to prove a point to anyone – they’re just being themselves. Montreal, for example, is cool because it revels in its unique identity as a French Canadian city without a chip on its shoulder. Key West is cool because, despite being a blatant tourist trap, people can be whoever they want to be there and no-one cares.

Going to Berlin recently made me think about this. Berlin is regularly picked out as a cool city – partly due to its frenetic pace of change, partly due to its street art scene, partly due to its prominent and multiple subcultures.

In truth, though, none of these things made it cool. In the same way that a city with a big fashion scene isn’t cool because of the fashion, or a city with a rollicking nightlife isn’t cool because of the bars and clubs.

Berlin is cool because it cultivates an environment where such subcultures and scenes can exist without being badgered to conform to a certain view of how life should be conducted. For me, that’s why places like Miami will never be cool – it’s all about fitting a certain image there.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Berlin is that for three evenings out of four, we didn’t bother going back to the hotel to change in the evening. We rolled out in the morning, did the sightseeing thing, then ate and drank before rolling back in at 2am.

In many cities, we’d feel awkward doing that. We’d feel a bit of pressure to smarten up before going out again. In Berlin, we could smarten up if we wished to, but no-one was going to bat an eyelid if we went out in what we’d been wearing all day.

To me, that’s cool. It’s a city that lets you be who you want to be. It’s cool because it doesn’t mind if you don’t fit a particular prescription of what cool is – and that applies to people having a good time in shorts and a sweaty t-shirt as much as punks, goths and amateur filmmakers.



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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Hostels

 


 

For many travellers embarking on a round the world trip, budgetary requirements mean that spending every night in a luxury hotel is simply not an option. Keeping the costs down means that hostels are often the prime option – but quality varies greatly.

 

Some hostels can be filthy pits and others in less popular destinations are pretty much reserved for people on bail and idiots. At the other end of the scale, you end up with some that are ram-jammed with facilities and are kept in a far better condition than most hotels. Making a good hostel isn’t an exact science, but there are some key ingredients to look out for. Such as...

 

 

 

Cleanliness

 

This should be an absolute given. A good hostel keeps rooms, common areas and – most importantly – bathrooms cleaner than I keep my own.

 

 

 

Staff

 

This may seem silly, but a good hostel needs to have staff other than the owner/ manager. When it’s just one bloke (and it’s always a bloke) doing everything, things can start to get a little, um, eccentric. The one man band hostels are always the one with lengthy lists of laborious rules and the overwhelming feeling that the chap is doing you a massive favour by allowing ghastly, filthy backpackers to stay there. This said, a hands-on owner/ manager is a good thing. Someone who cares enough to be there and monitor how things are going tends to make for a better hostel.

 

 

 

Manageable size

 

Some hostels – particularly in Australia and New Zealand – are enormous 200 to 300 bed beasts. They may have great facilities inside, but you don’t half feel like you’re on a production line. Curiously, there more people there are in a hostel, the harder it is to meet anyone. It becomes a never-ending sea of faces, whereas in smaller joints you’ll end up bumping into and sitting next to the same people all the time. That tends to facilitate conversation. To me, around 30 to 70 inmates is about right for a hostel. Much more and you’re just a number, but dip below the 30 mark and you’re in danger of not having enough drinking buddies to choose from.

 

 

 

No bar

 

A lot of hostels have their own bars that host all manner of drinks promotions. Counterintuitively, these don’t to be the best ones for either socialising or drinking cheaply. For a start, these are the ones that won’t allow you to bring your own booze in and drink it in the common areas – and this is when friendships tend to be struck. If a hostel has its own bar, that tends to become the social focus – people go there instead of hanging around in the TV room. But the bar is less open, less communal and less inviting for idle chat – or planning who’s going out where later that evening.

 

 

 

Service focus

 

Really good hostels will provide wireless internet for free to anyone travelling with a laptop, while they’ll also tend to have little touches such as board games and bookshelves where guests can exchange books. There will also be lots of helpful info, such as updated notice boards letting people know what’s happening in town or booklets suggesting good places to go and eat or drink.

 

 

Other hostels go for a more corporate, profiteering approach – with surprisingly expensive on-site cafés, internet computers that cost a bomb and a never-ending urge to shunt you towards the tour desk. Type A recognises that guests have a choice and opt to do the best they can, Type B sees every guest as someone to maximise income from.

 

More from David on Living in hostels: Advice, tips and hints here and from Mark on 5* hostels here

 

 

What do you think makes for a good hostel? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

 

 

 

RTW - core skills learnt

 



David Whitley takes a look at the life skills that tend to be learned on the road 

People who go travelling to find themselves, then spend six months growing dreadlocks and strumming Jack Johnson songs on a Third World beach, are rightly regarded with utter contempt.

But that doesn’t mean to say that travel is an essentially worthless process. There’s an awful lot to be learned away from home - and much of it will stand you in good stead for the future.

Problem-solving

Go travelling around the world, and you’ll continually find yourself in awkward and unfamiliar situations. There’s no mum and dad to deal with them for you, you’ve got a work out a way of doing it yourself. Day to day actions – finding a cash machine, working out the public transport network, using a map to find where you’re staying – require decision-making processes. You’re continually put in situations where chickening out and doing nothing, or waiting for someone else to do it for you, is not an option.

Over time, this changes your thinking processes. You start becoming accustomed to dealing with things and taking responsibility.

Communication

Most painfully shy people who go travelling don’t tend to stay that way for long. It’s pretty hard to skulk around the world not talking to anyone. You soon come to realise the importance of shared experience – seeing something great and having someone to discuss it with enhances the feelings.

It helps, of course, that other travellers tend to be more outgoing and open to strangers than people in your home town may be. People in your home town already have a set of friends – they don’t really need to open up to new people. On the road, such companionship is much rarer.

And when you see others starting conversations with you, you’re much more likely to start conversations with others. It only takes a few goes to realise that it’s not nearly as terrifying as you first thought.

It’s a rare traveller that doesn’t come back with their communication skills enhanced. This is partly due to the problem solving thing, but mainly through the realisation that being sociable will make their time more enjoyable.

Understanding

Different cultures do things in different ways. Things that may seem strange at first will start to look logical when you look at it from the local perspective. When you take into account the situation, the climate and the history of a place, certain character traits stop being weird and start being understandable. Different cultures put greater emphasis on different aspects of personality.

When you’re exposed to a global soup of different approaches and cultures, you start to learn why things are done in ways that you’re not used to. Understanding another person’s perspective is a hugely important skill – for both work and life in general. You might not agree with it, but it certainly helps overcome any hurdles to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

You’ll also find that sometimes you do agree with the other perspective, and you start forming a world view that plucks the best from various cultures and ideas. And that’s never going to be a bad thing.

 

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Educating RTWs



David Whitley looks at the main subjects you can choose from at the university of Round The World travel

 
 
Geography
The looking at maps part of geography is obvious, but the crushing disappointment of geography classes has always been the concentration on things like oxbow lakes and igneous rock formation rather than looking at maps. When you actually see what effects such geographical phenomena have, it’s a lot more interesting. Mountain ranges create weather patterns and define natural boundaries. Removing vegetation reduces soil quality and makes places hard to live in. Things that happen to a river upstream affect the land downstream. When you start to understand such aspects of cause and effert, you being to get why things are as they are – and how the local human populations are affected.

History
Learning why things are the way they are is the point of learning history. Forget lists of kings and queens – history is about context. You pick up so many snippets of information by reading guide books, looking at information in museums, talking to people and listening to tour guides. And, together, these form a historical context. Australia, for example, is so much more rewarding once you understand how its modern era began with convict shipments. Cambodia means more when you understand how it was crippled by other people’s wars. Singapore surprises you when you know it was at the same economic level as many African countries during the 1950s.
 

Economics
There’s something very humbling about being around people who earn the equivalent of a couple of quid a day. Look further into why they’re only earning a couple of quid a day, however, and it starts to get interesting. The old economic law of supply and demand always applies – the cost of living is often substantially lower.

Head to traditional villages and you may find that people in them have hardly any money – but they do have land and food which allows them to maintain a relatively comfortable lifestyle. They may not have the western trappings, they may be poor by any standards, but that doesn’t mean they are struggling to live on what they have.

Then in some countries, you’ll see a hand-out culture. Children clad in clothing sent from abroad may seem like a good thing, but it’s not if so much free clothing is sent from abroad that there’s no point setting up a local clothing manufacturer.

Similarly, the merits of free trade and protectionism become apparent. Western powers are very keen to promote free trade when it’s things they do well. They’re not so keen when it’s things the Third World countries could do better and far cheaper. Food is the prime one here – gigantic subsidies for farmers in the US and Europe prevent poorer countries from competing on a level playing field with their greatest natural resource.

The economics of rich and poor aren’t quite as clear cut as you may imagine before you set off…

Languages
Well, you expected that, didn’t you?


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Giraffe photo courtesy of the lovely folks from the Tanzania Tourist Board