Updated: Feb 10
Travel, while it can be beautiful, fun, exhilarating and inspiring- it can also be a huge eye-opener for those not knowing what to expect. Most of our perceptions about traveling come from other peoples' experiences. Their pictures, their blogs, their stories. We also get a lot of our ideas about traveling from magazines, commercials, movies, TV shows and the media. We only see the gleaming background of an iconic city or the sparkling, crystal clear blue oceans with white sands when we picture ourselves traveling to a certain destination.
But the truth is many of the places we've come to admire and love aren't much different from many of the places we have right here at home. A lot of the world's famous attractions and monuments are "in the hood." What I mean by that is a lot of these attractions are in less desirable neighborhoods or you have to go through ghettos to get to them. What we see in movies and on TV shows are not entirely the truth. Of course seeing something on the set of a movie and seeing it in real life will be two different experiences, but if you're thinking that you're going to see your favorite monument with the picturesque background you saw in the movie, think again!
The Great Pyramids of Giza located in Cairo, Egypt for example- is in the ghetto. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with trash, camel and horse droppings, wild roaming dogs, poor homeless people and beggars. Lots of them! The buildings are worn down, the roads incomplete or patchy and the city looks like it was in a war. No disrespect to the city of Cairo or it's inhabitants-- I'm just letting people know what to expect when they get there.
Let's face it, when we think about the Pyramids, that's ALL we think about. We don't think about where in Cairo they're located or what the neighborhood around them looks like. It isn't until you get there that you realize it isn't as glamorous as you thought it would be. As with any attraction or famous monument comes the sellers and beggars. Hundreds of people crowded in the entry way of a touristy space selling items and asking for money. It comes with the territory and if you aren't used to being in that type of space, it can be overwhelming and a bit scary.
Another popular monument is the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. While it's not as bad in it's location as the Pyramids in Egypt, the surrounding area isn't the best either. Beggars, sellers, pickpockets and other criminal activity taking place right under the 1,063 foot steel structure that we've all come to admire. The city of love is a fascinating place to visit with so much to see and do to immerse yourself in the culture of the Parisians. Just keep in mind that if you're a tourist, be careful where you go. If you don't know the language, the currency or the correct social way of doing things, it can be an embarrassing and unpleasant experience. Don't get too caught up in what you've seen on TV- your experience will likely not be that way. After all, it's what you make of it.
To be honest and transparent, many of the most popular monuments I've visited were not what I expected them to be. They do such a good job in Hollywood with these movies that we never know the true scenery of a place until we actually get there. Another famous tourist attraction is the Great Wall of China. It is definitely a sight to behold in all its glory, but what they don't tell us is that the wall is practically in ruins. I mean if you lived to be 2,300 years old, you'd be a little broken down too.... but despite the fact that it was built in ancient times and is still (partially) standing, it too is located in a less desirable area of Beijing. The part of the wall I visited was called the Mutianyu. Since the wall is so massive and spans through different parts of China, it's nearly impossible to see it all; and if you did, it would take months, even years to walk the entire thing. Experts say it would take approximately 18 months to walk the Great Wall of China from end to end. And good luck with that. Again, it's crumbly, broken down and some parts are impossible to cross due to huge chunks missing from the foundation.
Another newly Great Wonder of the World located in the Yucatan peninsula, the famous Chichen Itza sits in a poverty stricken area nearly 125 miles away from the popular party city of Cancun. The scenery is a lot different too. Unlike the neighboring cities of Riviera Maya, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas- Yucatan is a jungle-like area surrounded by trees, shrubbery and underdeveloped towns. It is certainly off the beaten path and I would not venture there without a trusted guide. The beggars are still there, but so are thieves and vultures looking to prey on any unsuspecting tourist. They know that if you're there, you have some sort of money and they'll do all they can to get it from you. They'll send in small kids to offer you hand made trinkets, souvenirs and even alcohol! If you pull out your wallet, be careful. Someone will run up and snatch it while you're distracted by the kids; and good luck in finding them or reporting the crime to the police. No help will come. The truth of the matter is don't do there what you wouldn't do here. Regardless of where you go always be aware.
When you hear the word "third world" this is largely what it means. If you're venturing out of the tourist area and into any city across the world, you will likely find yourself among the true city folks and their lifestyles. Thailand is another country that holds it's reputation for being both beautiful and poor at the same time. In the tourist areas, you'll find just about everything you need. Food, ATM's, modern medicines and accommodations. Stray from that area and you'll find yourself deep in the throes of a neighborhood that look a lot like war zones.
As a solo traveler, I highly advise you never to leave your resort or the tourist area. Unless you have a guide or trusted partner who can show you around and won't leave you stranded in a bad place, stay on your resort. It's the surest chance you'll have at returning home safely and in one piece.
In closing- don't let any of what I'm sharing deter you from traveling the world. It is still a big, exciting place to see. Just be alert, be diligent and be proactive in your travels. Don't let the fear of the world keep you from seeing and doing what you want! Just don't be negligent in your travels. Don't do anything abroad that you wouldn't do at home. I mean, would you pull out your wallet or a handful of cash in a crowded area where people might rob you? If the answer is no, practice that when you travel as well and you'll be just fine.
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