March 28th, 2006

Cost of Living: Part 1

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Backpacking should be offered as a major at any worthwhile institute of higher education. This may surprise you as you used to think backpackers were grungy drifters who became backpackers because they couldn’t figure out exactly what major to declare in the first place.

The skill set required for successful backpack-traveling (defined as traveling in no set direction for no particular amount of time, although usually as long as possible, while carrying everything you need on your back) is very similar to the already well defined liberal arts major (Integrated Life Studies at UW Madison). One might also compare the skill set to that needed by James Bond type super spies.

Just the math skills alone for figuring out how far your money is going to go, or more specifically how far you are going to go with your money, are calculator-watch worthy, and then you actually have to buy stuff. You are going to have to convert money in your head within seconds to see if you are getting a good deal on that nondescript meat-on-a-stick you are bargaining for. “How much is 35 baht? Oh, that’s only like 82 cents.” That would have only been four Renmenbi in Beijing, 12 Rubles in Siberia and a deal in Ulaan-Baatar at 850 Togogs.

You have to be a bit of a dietitian too. “What kind of meat is on that stick exactly? Hm, looks like Chicken. What exactly happens to you if you eat rat? How long can I go without eating meat?” Did you know that 33% of all meat-on-sticks in Shanghai is actually cat instead of what they claim it is. They never claim it is cat. Just being honest would fix this statistical anomaly. “Can cats get bird flu if they eat a bird? Is it worse to have bird flu or (using my math again here) worse to have eaten 33% cat over two weeks time?”

Let’s not forget about psychology and sociology. You’re not even going to get a chance to eat anything, mystery food or not, if you aren’t able to adapt to the cultural subtleties around you. While staring a Chinese yam seller in the eyes might get you a better deal because he respects your integrity, it might get your throat slit in Siberia. And since you can’t actually speak any foreign languages fluently (you’re a flunky backpacker remember?), you will need to learn some key words, a few numbers and some universal sign language. Even the up-down is yes and sideways is no head gestures are not carved in cultural stone. Putting this animated mime-babble to use will be what makes the difference between you going to the bathroom or not. I don’t mean finding a bathroom, I mean going to the bathroom. Think about explaining how Milk of Magnesia works to a Russian pharmacist with only hand gestures.

Some other useful psudo-expertise one enjoys while being a backpacker are:

Veterinary/Animal Husbandry such as hotel pest control, stray animal wrangling and possibly pet hypnosis.

Cartography/Orienteering (not applicable to Germany who’s system of direction is based on previous species that inhabited Earth a long, long time ago).

Note: If a backpacker eats at McDonalds (negating above mentioned math and dietary expertise) and watches MTV (ditto to the cultural stuff), he needs not be academically capable in any way to travel around the world. And I mean around the whole entire world, as McDonalds and MTV can be found in every last frontier on Earth.

Tune in next time for the second part of this distance learning course: Cost of Living: Part 2

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