The other day I was watching Jeopardy! When what I thought a very easy question about UNESCO came up. I watched dumbfounded as the three contestants each missed the question, showing they hadn’t heard of UNESCO before – something I probably talk about on a daily basis. I sat there confused, but I also started thinking that perhaps most people who don’t work in the travel industry have a need to know about UNESCO and that there are probably scores of other facts and tips that I consider basic information that the average person doesn’t need to know on a daily basis. So I decided to put together this post with travel information that may or may not be new to you, but which I think is important for all travelers to learn more about.
Since this inspired the post, I thought it best with a short explanation of UNESCO and why it’s important. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the near destruction of priceless Egyptian temples and artifacts that it truly came into its own. Rallying nations from around the world, they successfully moved temples out of the way of the New Aswan Dam, preserving priceless cultural treasures. Their goal is to protect important sites around the world that they consider vital in order to maintain the cultural and natural heritage we have all inherited. Adding to the list every year, there are now more than 1,000 around the world from the famous (Colosseum, Budapest, Great Wall of China) to the obscure (Rhaetian Railway, Brimstone and Albi). For some visiting them is an obsession and for others like me, it’s just a nice complement to a trip. I love exploring new UNESCO sites and you should try to visit as many as you can wherever you go; I guarantee you’ll discover something new and probably unexpected in the process.
Travel really is, in all honesty, healthy
This gets bandied around all the time by travel companies who want you to buy whatever it is they’re selling, but it’s actually true. Honest to goodness, real science has been used to determine that travel isn’t just nice for a tan or to buy cheap trinkets, it helps us in a physiological way. Travel does the following:
- After 1 or 2 days, stress drops dramatically
- Aids those suffering from depression
- Improves cognitive and problem solving abilities
- Makes us happy, which lowers blood pressure and increases our life span
You can realize these benefits from any trip, be it 3 hours away or oceans away, the distance doesn’t matter but what does is your ability to disconnect and relax.
Where you are on a map
I could write an entire post ranting about the lack of basic geographic knowledge in the world today, but I won’t. Instead, I will simply implore you to try to learn a little more about geography. A good traveler is a knowledgeable one, and a basic understanding of the geography and history of the places you visit will only make your trip more enjoyable. It’s also helpful from a practical point of view. Oftentimes airfares or rewards flights are too pricey flying through the major airports, and smaller ones nearby may have better deals. Look around your target destination and see if smaller, but easy to reach cities are better to travel through.
Animal rights issues are very important to me and sadly some of the worst offenders I see are fellow tourists. Around the world there are unfortunately hundreds if not thousands of activities that actually harm the animals they are meant to showcase. Riding dolphins in Mexico, going to tiger temples in Asia – these are bad, but the worst may be riding elephants. Contrary to popular opinion, riding elephants is harmful to them not just in the physicality of it, but what goes into ‘breaking’ them so that they’ll be docile for tourists. It’s especially bad in Thailand, but happens in many other countries around the world. Whatever you do, never take advantage of animals for your own vacation photos and never, ever ride an elephant. Spread the word.
If you’re slow, stay on the right
I live in Washington, DC and am proud to say that my city has one of the best metro systems in the world. Like any system though, there are certain unofficial rules that we all obey in order to keep order and maintain a little bit of sanity. Chief among them is that if you’re using the escalator, you stand on the right and walk on the left. This isn’t particular to Washington, from my experience it’s the rule of the road for any metro system in the world. By violating this rule you annoy people, lots of them. Metro systems are not amusement parks, they are how the citizens of a city get around town, usually to work and back. By standing on the left, you slow them down, making them late and usually very angry in the process. This extends well past the metro to most conveyances, especially driving. If you’re in a country where you drive on the right, then be sure to pass on the left and not stay in the lane, annoying the drivers behind you. Simple to follow be it in the metro or on the road, and yet so many people ignore the rule.
Airline terms and web sites
Even if you’re a casual traveler, it’s important to take a few minutes to learn more about airline terms. Open-jaw, nonstop, direct – these are all terms that will impact your trip so you should be able to speak at least basic airline parlance. You should also know that the prices you find on most airline booking sites are the same. Not only do the same companies mostly now own them, but the raw data from which they pull fares comes from the same place. So there’s no need to compare Expedia to Orbitz to Travelocity, you won’t find a deal. Airlines though are trying to woo customers away from these sites and aggregators and you might be able to sometimes find better fares by booking directly with them.
The U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday
I include this on the list for two reasons. First, it’s to help explain to the rest of the world why we Americans have slightly odd vacation habits. All the time I hear criticisms about how few Americans travel overseas, and frankly I’m a little tired of hearing about it. Unlike every other developed nation, we are not entitled to any time off whatsoever. Do nearly all employed people get vacation time? Yes, of course, but even then the majority don’t use all of the days allotted. I could go into our psyche as a nation, work ethic but I won’t. Suffice it to say though, working is indoctrinated into our soul and even our laws. Second, I want my fellow Americans to realize where we stand in terms of the rest of the world. No, we aren’t guaranteed any time off, but instead of letting this annoy you, use it as a motivator to get out there and see more of the world. Sure, the rest of the world is harder for us to visit than for most other countries, but don’t let an 8-hour flight deter you. Use that week or two of paid time off you have and do something different, something you never thought you’d experience. Believe me, you’ll be all the better for it in every way imaginable.
What are some other things you would add to this list?