The people you meet and the shenanigans you fall prey to are what make the journey the destination. Traveling is as much about whom you meet and how you interact as it is about what you see and eat.
But it’s also about generally weird situations and experiences. Here are a few travel themes that, despite being kooky, are surprisingly common. Even if some of them are annoying, they’re all just part of the fun.
Forget bad traffic in Atlanta — try getting a taxi in Haiti. Crashes are common, traffic signs are suggestions and breakdowns along the way are to be expected.
And then there are the taxis that aren’t even machines (e.g., the mules, camels, horses and horse-zebras of Tijuana). Whether they’re lugging you or your gear around, having them on hand can make the journey easier.
Well, unless they decide munching on grass is more important than listening to tourists (which they almost always do).
When you’re on the road, the culture of arranged marriages and paying for brides becomes very real when someone asks you how much you cost, like I was asked in Assam, India, or when you’re approached by someone in Uganda with the phrase “I have many cows.”
But I’ve also learned that the stories about love at first sight on trains, planes and in exotic locales that you watch in movies like “Before Sunset” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” are based, surprisingly, on reality.
Perhaps it’s the international romance hormones that kick in when you’re away from home, or the knowledge that you’ll never see them again, so they can be perfect forever.
Either way, falling in love on the road is one of the most romantic memories you’ll ever make, so soak it in.
Brave animals attacking
If you think the birds can be pests when you’re trying to eat at Panera, just head over to Tibet or India. The resident monkeys there have no problem stealing food or even your toothbrush (though you probably don’t need to brush your teeth outside anyway).
Displays of manhood
Just like in the U.S., the cultures of most countries dictate that men are the protectors of the communities.
In India, the “man kills spider” scenario becomes “man clubs python,” which I witnessed after a Lithuanian woman began screaming that an enormous python had entered the makeshift hostel she was staying in.
Half a dozen men sprang into silver-knight action, but instead of swords, they had sticks, which they used to beat the living tar out of the snake. The men felt accomplished; the woman did not feel any safer.
The totally unexpected
When you’re traveling, you should expect the unexpected, such as seeing a female peacock, which is native to Africa and Asia, while you’re walking around Icewater Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Apparently the peahen, which had earned the name Jasmine, had been dumped there by an irresponsible pet owner.