Being a Conservative Traveler

Politics is an issue from which I have promised to steer clear on this website and an issue I will continue to avoid on this website, as it is my travel website. Those of you that know me in real life, on twitter, or via other channels know that politics is one of the most important facets of my life, alongside my family, my friends, travel, Japanese language, and a few other interests. During my life in Japan and my travels through Asia over the past five months, I have met some interesting people both on and off the travel circuit. My fellow travelers are often cordial. They are often nice. Many times, we share great experiences and memories on the road and at home. There is, however, one thing that I notice what is often different when I am on the road and meeting people, choosing what I will do, where I will go, etc. during my trips: politics. 

Do not worry. I am not going to discuss my views on Obamacare, gun rights, or any other political issue on this website because it is my travel website. However, today I am going to discuss what it is like to be a (politically) conservative traveler and how my experiences may differ from liberals who travel or even from other people I meet on the road who do not disclose their political affiliation. I have not seen any other articles on this topic, so I hope it is interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking. 

Let’s start. 

During the last two weeks in Southeast Asia, a common theme of discussion in hostel common rooms, at the bar, or just with other random people has often risen: travel motivation. This discussion has often led to contentious discussions and is one of the issues I would like to discuss in this post. Many of the young backpackers I met on the road often had similar answers to the question: “Why are you traveling?”

The common theme amongst many of these answers had to do with a dislike of their home country (usually the United States), hatred of their country’s own culture and customs, a desire to leave home and their family forever, and a desire to see cultures that are “better” than their own culture. These answers were quite different than some of the standard answers I expected to hear on the road: “to take some time away from my life at home,” “to experience and immerse myself in another culture,” etc.

The latter, while I consider them liberal, are totally reasonable and acceptable. After all, I have done road trips in the United States and I am living (for the second time) in a country and culture that is very different than the United States. I have immersed myself in the Japanese language and culture, but there are some things I will not do. For example, Wearing a kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) is one of the cultural elements I do not feel comfortable embracing as a Westerner and choose not to do when I have the opportunity to do so.

It was extremely hard for me to bite my tongue when I heard the former answers to this question, but I did so because my trip was not about engaging in political arguments. It was about travel, photography, eating local fare, and meeting people along the way. 

When I travel, I do not travel out of dislike of my home country’s culture, a desire to never return home, or see “better” cultures than Western culture. As a matter of fact, when I travel, my motivations are completely different. I tell everyone that I am proud to be an American and that I am proud of Western values and do not subscribe to cultural relativism. I travel to see the sights of the world, see locals interact and live in their own environment, to try local food, and then recount and share these experiences with my family, friends, and others whom have never been to these locations. Not once have I considered another culture to be “better” than mine, nor have I wished never to return home while on the road. I would not know what to do without my family and friends back at home. 

Critiquing and criticizing one’s own country while on the road has never been high on my to-do list as I have traveled, but I ran into some in Malaysia who were eager to discuss nothing but how awful the United States is. It all started with a  discussion about how superior the Malaysian medical system is to the American system because of how cheap some prescriptions are. The discussion devolved into how they were a superior nation because their monarchy could suppress dissenters and force legislation through their government even if members did not want it to happen. Others quipped about how more taxes needed to be paid, yet either did not pay their own taxes or did not have an answer when I asked if they enjoyed paying taxes. 

I think these viewpoints also help determine where we go on the road, as well. Some of my fellow travelers had a field day talking about economic inequality out on the road and used their experiences living and backpacking in squalor in some corners as a great way to criticize capitalism and the free market.

I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I usually do not go out on the streets looking for a political agenda or trying to find and explain “economic inequality.” I would much rather walk down the back alley, say hello the the local merchant, and buy as much food as I can at his stand to help his family and his business! I never thought anything of those people with less except marvel about how hard they were working to better themselves and their family.

I had a great time in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Macau, and Singapore because these cities offered great historical lessons on a subject in which I have great interest (European influence in Asia as well as 19th Century history as a whole). Some other travelers did not know how I went to these cities because they were “too developed to gain a perspective” or because they were “ruined by European influence.” If anything, the European influence in these cities makes for an even more interesting and fascinating journey. The aforementioned cities have such an interesting array of architecture, street names, food, etc. because of their time as European colonies. I certainly recommend trying some of the Macanese food in Taipa, Macau. You will be in for a real treat with the Cantonese take on Portuguese food!

It was too bad to find out that some people were so jaded by their economic and political beliefs that they would not go to some of the “Asian Tiger” economies or couldn’t fully enjoy destinations because of British influence.

Travel motivations seem to be one of the main differences between conservative and liberal-minded backpackers I have met while out on the road over the past five months. 

Most of the conservative travelers I have met on the road also had a strong connection with their families and their homes as opposed to the more liberal travelers I have met. Answers ranging from “never wanting to come home again” to “at least five months so I can forget about home, return to renew a visa, and then get back on the road” to “I don’t know; I’ll go home when I run out of money,” were prevalent when I spoke with many of the liberal backpackers out there. The conservatives I met always had a goal of returning home once their trip was over, either to be with their family, to plan their next trip, or to enjoy being back in a familiar place even if for a short period of time. 

I don’t know how some of the backpackers are out on the road for months at a time without contacting their loved ones or longing for one of their mother’s home-cooked meals. I always send postcards to my family and friends when I am on the road to help share the experience with them and explain what it is like in a far off land. Even though I have been away from home for more than five months, I cannot wait to have the next home-cooked meal when I get home, and I look forward to seeing all of my family and friends at all times. Maybe we are just wired differently. 

A fellow traveler I met from Scotland said it well last week in Hong Kong when he basically said that we were able to separate our cultures from others while out on the road and see what parts of other cultures were good and which other elements were bad. Instead of coming with a completely open mind without a sense of norms and values, we come with a perspective- a perspective that has guided us through our lives and will continue to guide us until we die. I don’t think I could have said it much better than he did.

It is always hard for me to relate with other travelers on the road when they do not have a respect for their own culture and their own nation and when they lack a basis with their family and their homeland. Certainly, this is a conservative perspective. 

All hope for friendship out on the road is not lost, though. I made some truly amazing friends in Singapore last week as we discussed our previous travels and our desires for future travels. I met with these people in different locations later on in my trip and we had a great time sharing new experiences and making new memories. I do not know their political orientation, nor do I care what it is. 

Even though I vehemently disagree with some of the motives behind these travelers I met during my trip, I will continue to provoke discussion and find out why people travel. It always ends with interesting and fascinating answers. You never know which traveler will be fascinating and which traveler will take you on an amazing trip through a city they know like the back of their hand. 

At the end of the day, perspective makes a big difference when it comes to traveling. As you know from my previous posts, I bring a unique perspective to each city I visit, the people I meet, and the foods I try. I hope you appreciate my perspective and I look forward to sharing posts about my destinations this week as time allows. 

Look at my tagline, it tells the whole story: “Travel is the only expense that makes you richer.”

Have you ever met a conservative on the road? What is your travel perspective? Please share and add your comments in the box below:

The Amazing People I Met on My Journey in Asia

I have just returned home to Japan (as strange as that still sounds when I say it) from a grueling, non-stop trip through seven different countries in Asia that started at the end of December. When I travel, I always enjoy taking photos, sampling street food, and going to the famous places. On this trip, however, one thing stands out from everything else as to why I will remember this trip: the amazing people I met at all points during my journey. 

I have had my fair share of encounters with travelers back in the United States and Canada during a number of road trips and day trips I have taken over the past few years. My friend Andrew and I always had a knack for meeting interesting folks. During a 2000-mile foray into the Northeastern United States and Canada’s Maritime provinces, we met interesting characters at rest stops in New York, inside custard stands in the rolling hills of Vermont, at the dance club in Montreal, and at a nice cafe perched atop Quebec City on a rainy and blustery July morning.

The nice things about these chats with fellow travelers is that they were short, sweet, and fleeting. It brought a breath of fresh air to our travels, and even revitalized our travel spirits. One of these encounters actually saved one of our trips in its entirety. We were actually planning our swift (and earlier-than-planned) return to the United States in the face of sleep deprivation and unprecedented tropical moisture in Quebec City this past summer.  We were seeking out a cafe with WiFi to plan our return trip home until met a couple and their daughter from New Brunswick that inspired us to keep going and make it the whole way to the coast. From that point onward, I’ve made a point to chat with people I meet along the road or in the airport. 

Almost from the beginning of this journey in Asia, I had some fascinating encounters with other travelers and even ended up making some new friends along the way. They were good omens for what was to transpire on this trip. 

The encounters all started during my flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok early last week when a gentleman sat down in the middle seat next to my window seat. I thought he seemed a bit rushed and in a hurry so I contemplated not saying hello and turning on my iPhone for the duration of the flight. Fortunately I trusted my instinct to say hello and strike up a conversation. After a few minutes of casual chatting, he ended up giving me the best travel advice for Bangkok and the surrounding areas. As it turned out, he had made many trips to Thailand and his advice helped me make the most of my stay in the Southeast Asian nation.  Add to that the talk we had about international business, marketing, politics, and the beers we enjoyed at 10,000 feet, and it was a flight I won’t soon forget. He gave me his business card and I am sure we will remain in touch and keep up with our future travels as we o across Asia and the globe. 

This conversation was just the beginning. During my second night in Bangkok, I had just finished up a day tour which included riding elephants. I was quite exhausted but decided to head out into the city instead of taking a nap at my hotel. After a few hours of walking, I ended up winding through some of the red light district and settling down at an outdoor bar to enjoy a drink in the warm evening and do some people watching.  A middle-aged Westerner was sitting at the seat next to me, so I decided to say hello. After a few Jack and Cokes, we had ended up discussing his military service, my life in Japan, his current life in another, very different, Asian country. We ended up making our way to another eating establishment in the city and shared stories like we had known each other for quite a long time. At the end of the night, we exchanged e-mails and I am sure we will continue to be in touch. Just a few kind words made for quite an interesting and memorable evening. 

The following night in Bangkok was by far the most unlikely of all. In an earlier post, I remarked on how I made friends with two Japanese-speaking girls in Hong Kong in the most unlikely of circumstances. The new friendship I made in Bangkok was even more unlikely! While waiting for some famous street noodles, I sat down across from a middle-aged couple that was just finishing up their noodles. As fate would have it, they were Japanese. Just before they got up to leave, I asked, in Japanese, 「それはどうでしたか。」(How was it?). With a  look of befuddlement, they sat back down and we had an engaging conversation about my life in Japan, their life in Japan, and what it was like to be in Bangkok. We never used any English because they could only speak Japanese. After teaching me some of the Hiroshima dialect, the gentleman’s wife retired to the hotel and her husband and I continued on for some more drinks and food at various different establishments. He used to live in Bangkok several years ago, so I had another unlikely tour guide for what to see in my final day in the city. As it turns out, he works as a schoolteacher for the same age group of children that I teach. We had talks about Japanese school life and really had a good time. We plan to meet in Japan in the near future to continue our discussions.  

Things went rather well in Bangkok, but I could not have expected how well they would go in Singapore when it came to making new travel friends. 

When I arrived in Singapore, I was excited to tackle the city about which I studied so much in college for one of my final papers. Seeing British landmarks, examining the skyline, and going to the top of the Marina Bay Sands were at the top of my list. After quickly checking in at my hostel, I was on my way to the Sands to take in the tourist-only view of the city and had zero intentions of getting to the pool and bar which only awaits hotel guests. 

While I was taking a photo of the view of the city from the photo deck, a woman bumped into me and ruined the scene I had tried to capture using my miniature tripod. She was very apologetic and I was eventually into a discussion with her and her husband about traveling in Asia and my life in Japan. This was our first night in Singapore. They were at the Sands and I was at a hostel in Clarke Quay. They graciously asked if I wanted to join them in going to the pool. How could I say no to the chance to see somewhere I had always wanted to see and would never get to see unless I could afford a room at the hotel? 

With an enthusiastic “yes,” I accepted their offer. We shared a drink at one of the bars overlooking the harbor and we took photos of each other atop the building at the pool. They retired to their room and I remained on the roof at the pool until it closed. Yet another unlikely encounter with other amazing travelers that took me to the most unlikely of places. 

I had met a new, exciting, traveler on each night of my trip and knew this would have to come to an end at some point, but I was mistaken. The new encounters just kept coming. 

The following evening after my day trip to Indonesia, I returned to the hostel looking to experience some of Singapore’s nightlife and hoped another solo traveler would be looking for the same thing. A lonely looking girl was sitting in the lobby so I struck up a conversation with her. As it turned out, she already had plans for the evening with another person she had met at the hostel, but would be in Kuala Lumpur the same time I would be in Malaysia. We exchanged e-mails and decided to meet there for some street food since we were both solo travelers and were looking for other interesting people to meet along the way. 

Shortly after she left the relaxed lounge, another person arrived and sat down next to me. He seemed eager to speak, so we started chatting about our stay in Singapore (it was also his first time)- the sights we had seen and what we planned to do over the next two days. After a while, we decided to head out into the balmy Singapore night. It was a great decision and we had a good time at one of the most famous nightclubs in the city. The following morning, we headed out to Merlion Park and some other sites around the city before returning to the hostel later that afternoon. 

As we sat in the lobby killing time before our checkout and departure, another fascinating person walked into the room. This person was not a backpacker at our hotel, but rather a Singapore native who was there to meet up with a friend and give a tour of her hometown. After a brief conversation, the three of us found out that we would be in Hong Kong for New Years’ and made separate plans to rendezvous in the city if time allowed. Nothing like this had ever happened for me during previous hostel stays.  

Not only did I meet some awesome people in Singapore, we would meet yet again in different cities in the future. 

I rendezvoused with the first girl form the hostel in Kuala Lumpur and we enjoyed an evening of sampling the interesting street food all across the city after going to SkyBar and checking out the amazing Twin Towers. As it started to rain, we split ways and were on to our next destinations the following day. I couldn’t get over how we had just met in Singapore the previous day and then toured and ate our way through Kuala Lumpur the next day. We may meet again in Seoul when I go to Korea later this year to visit friends from college. 

More of the same transpired in Hong Kong as I met up with the other girl from Singapore on New Years Eve after the fireworks. A group of us went out into the city and enjoyed some of the post-fireworks festivities after having only met a few days earlier in Singapore. It was a great time and yet another completely unlikely scenario. 

How often do you meet someone from a totally different country in one city and then meet them again in a totally different country mere days later? It always pays to be open and talkative at hostels or at other places when you are on the road. You never know anyone’s story or what they may be doing next. 

My last night in Hong Kong was just as interesting as the previous five nights. Two Scottish guys rolled into the dorm room at the hostel as I was preparing for an evening of sightseeing and photography in Hong Kong. They were very interesting fellows who had just arrived in Hong Kong after a few days in Vietnam. We were telling our stories of travel in Asia and I decided to join them on their trip to the night market in Kowloon and then head back to Hong Kong Island to watch a soccer game with them at one of the British expat bars in the area. After a few drinks and a few other stops along the way, I returned to the hostel for a few hours of shuteye before heading to the airport and returning home. These engineers were some of the most interesting and intriguing people I met on this while journey. 

When it is all said and done, the things I will remember most from my most recent adventure will not be the food or the sights, but the people I met and the friendships I made in all stops along the way. Whether they were a fellow American Expat, an American businessman, a Japanese teacher, a Korean university student, a Hong Konger living in Canada, a Singaporean local, Australians on vacation, or Scottish engineers, it was great sharing conversations and stories with them along the way. Unlike other people I have encountered on the road in the past, I have a distinct feeling I will cross paths with more than one of these folks again during our travels. 

Speak to people as you travel. You never know which person will lead you to an unforgettable adventure or the place off the beaten path in your next destination. Hostels and planes are invitations to meet some of the most interesting people on the planet. I met some amazing people on my journey through Southeast Asia.