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Part 2
Designing Your Journey

7) Challenges and Limits

8) Resources for Planning and Traveling

9) The Route You Take

10) The Weeks Before you Leave

11) The Budget

12) The Stuff in Your Pack and Why

7—Challenges & Limits

What is your 'explorer's edge'?

"Obviously, your task in designing a trip is to select the areas you want to visit and figure out how to piece together an itinerary. Where should you go? Anywhere. Everywhere. Somewhere . . . Trust yourself to answer this one. Every one of the places I've traveled to had something to offer. ...

...Many factors will work to trim your wish list down--the biggest being the set of real limits that characterize you and constrain the challenges you are willing to take on. Some travelers will climb 8,000 meter peaks in Nepal. Some might walk the back roads of a Rwanda freshly decimated by genocide. Some may journey solo through rural China where no one speaks English and foreigners are suspect. Travelers can do anything--but that doesn't mean you can. (See Lesson 1)."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

In order to push your limits, you have to know what they are in the first place. Some are within you; some the world will shove in your face. To choose your destinations and activities wisely, take a long look at the challenges you're willing to face. The book takes a long look -- here's an overview:

The Challenges of Wealth and Poverty

"Hundreds of millions of people live in conditions similar to those which most Americans enjoy. Billions more do not. If you plan to follow a path that keeps you close to local reality in the countries you visit, consider what awaits you."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

How well will your personal needs and sensibilities meld with the economic realities around the globe? Can you eat food prepared by someone living in a country where 80% of the children have intestinal parasites? Will your senses rebel at the dust, grit, and grime of the unpaved, badly lit, poorly plumbed towns of the developing world? Can you walk by scores of destitute beggars without emptying your dwindling travel purse?

The nations of the planet and the many regions within function along a continuum of economic health that runs from embarrassingly rich to disastrously poor. When I walked the lanes of Bern, Switzerland, I felt underdressed and underfunded. On a similar lane in Guatemala City, I felt conspicuously rich and somewhat at risk. In a nameless border village in northeast Thailand, it was as though I was from another economic planet.

Budget travel services and accommodations tend to be a direct reflection of the economic context. Consider what you're interested in dealing with before you sign on for weeks in the more challenging destinations of the world.

The Challenges of Political Reality

What's going on politically in that country you're thinking of visiting? Will you have smooth sailing, face moderate inconvenience, or be in danger? I explore the issue in depth in The World Awaits, discussing the considerations you should give to the following 'categories of hassle':


Whether it's the civil bureaucracy, the postal system, customs, immigration -- whatever -- you're likely to encounter the hassles of inefficiency almost anywhere a system of government can be found. Rarely will this irritate travelers to the point that they would cancel a segment of a journey to go somewhere else, but you may want to build in extra margins of time and patience when visiting lands famous for ridiculous wastes of effort.


Here is the darker side of inefficient bureaucracy and its underpaid, poorly supervised participants. Are you intimidated at the prospect of having to pay a bribe, an extra 'fee', or otherwise grease some palms to smooth out the rough edges of a travel? Regardless of any high level corruption that may be going on, you may have to deal with the minor variety face to face in certain locales. Those who don't care to deal with real and bluffed threats of trouble should consider avoiding certain areas.

Police State

How do big guns visibly displayed by stone-faced officers make you feel? Some nations and regions are very actively ready for trouble and demonstrate it by having police maintain a high profile. If they're prepared and perhaps expecting to employ force to control a situation, will you be comfortable strolling through the market or exploring the back streets?

Sexism, Racism, and Religious Persecution

"Here's where it starts to get really ugly. In many countries, women and/or people of certain persuasions, races and/or religions are at least limited and sometimes persecuted just for being who they are. No surprise here; we taste that aplenty in Western democracies as well. It's just that in many places, such bigotry is grossly manifested in the law and culture of the land."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

In a number of destinations, you will get an in-your-face taste of lower human rights standards than you may be used to -- a taste you'll experience either as a witness or a victim. Does that sound like a challenge you want to face?


How about a place where entire segments of the population are actively repressed, forced to exist with a substantially smaller set of rights and freedoms? As a traveler, you will usually find yourself welcomed among the oppressors as a monied visitor, and will enjoy a full freedom of movement and access that thousands of citizens may not have. You may also find it more challenging to place you sympathies wisely when you get a firsthand look at a place. The certainties you feel reading the newspaper at home in your kitchen may not translate well on site.

Occupation & Rebellion

"Here is where you find government troops and cops on every corner, guarding every bridge, peering through ports in sandbag bunkers. Assembly is forbidden, “crackdowns” are frequent, and curfews are the rule. The tourists are gone, and the economy is stagnant. Frightened people with intense faces peer from doorways. Store shelves are empty of many goods. Cafés are closed and hotels have become barracks. At night, gunfire erupts in the distance . . . and close by. Accusations fly, and truth becomes elusive."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved


"One step beyond, as far as this threader is concerned. War, I've heard and believe, is hell. It's a time and place where you can no longer trust either people or luck to keep you safe. Some of the most amazing stories are collected by travelers who encounter wars--the kind of stories I love to listen to."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

The Challenges of Foreign Cultures

"The term “culture shock” owes its existence to a very real phenomenon. When you insert yourself into a situation where people are working with an entirely different set of habits and expectations regarding human behavior, it can be a jolt."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Will you "...do as the Romans do," or will you 'be yourself'? More importantly, how much differentness do you care to face -- different attitudes, tastes, looks, gestural meanings, social ordering, protocols, smells, etc.

"When you choose to challenge yourself with exotic cultures, you set yourself up for vivid experience and striking memories. We humans are so capable of being delighted, why miss an opportunity? If the couple at the next table seems disgusted that you are eating with your left hand, either stop it or don't, but delight in it as another glimpse of the wonder of the world. 'It's not a job, it's an adventure!'"
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Physical Challenges

This is no small concern! In The World Awaits, you'll find a comprehensive overview of the various physical challenges you may or may not be seeking or expecting.

Traveling often challenges your system. You may well find yourself exhausted, overheated, troubled by altitude, injured, lacking sleep, poorly nourished, dehydrated, or sick. While you can expect to "get in shape" if you're doing a lot of walking, it pays to be keenly aware of your body's status and needs.

Know your destinations as well. Choose your activities carefully in the many hot regions of the globe. Set reasonable goals and spend time acclimatizing before trekking in the high Himalaya or Andes. Never set your plans in stone so that you keep going when you should be stopping or turning back. Be wise -- travel well.

The Challenge of Companionship--Or Lack of It

Do you want a partner you don't have? Have you got a partner you don't want? It's a tougher issue than you might think.

"I'm an advocate of solo travel--either alone or with someone else. Every long-distance traveler must have a personal set of dreams and goals that carry them forward--the desires of one cannot carry another. Only those rare, two-peas-in-a-pod couples should think of themselves as a travel team. All others who choose to pair up should view the arrangement as two solo travelers traveling together."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Challenges of the Heart

"Travel can try your soul. You may find yourself wandering through the developing world, relentlessly bombarded by poverty and need, hounded by beggars and hustlers, with no escape in site. You may discover that exotic can be exhausting as you experience cities choked with masses, featureless urban sprawl, an endless gabble of voices with never a familiar syllable, and the struggle to meet the simplest needs. These things can wither a weak heart...

...For what do you have the heart? This is the one case where I recommend you shelve any doubts you may have and accept the challenge. You may know well enough that you have asthma and must avoid respiratory stress. You might be aware that your reconstructed knee can't handle long descents with a full pack. You may choose to avoid northern Mali due to political instability and banditry. What you don't know yet is whether you have the heart for many other challenges of the long road. It's best to find that out the hard way."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

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