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Fries and a Coke in China

May 25, 2010

I read this article yesterday and became irrationally upset/annoyed/ticked-off about it. To sum it up, John Rheinberger has visited 192 countries–just three more to go, by his count–which is a really cool accomplishment and something I aspire to.

What’s not so cool is his list of travel rules, among them:

  • Uses a taxi, sees the capital city and stays at a nice hotel.
  • Rarely stays in a country for more than three days.
  • Takes 27 photos in each country using a disposable camera.
  • Even that, I can forgive. I spent only three days in Prague and many people don’t have enough time to spend months traveling around a country, even though that’s an incredible experience, too.

    But then…

    Rheinberger doesn’t venture out to rural areas because of safety concerns and the greater chance of exposure to disease.

    I’ll just say that amidst all the craziness going on in Thailand right now, I just talked to two friends living south of Bangkok and they don’t have a care or worry in the world. There are lots of countries–and Thailand is one of them–where the city is the least desirable place to visit.

    And then we come to the part of the story that absolutely got my blood boiling:

    He sticks to standard American food and eats at his hotel or at McDonald’s: “I like hamburgers. I like bacon and eggs. Nothing cute. If they didn’t eat it in the ’50s, I’m not eating it,” he said.

    He also likes to think that he helped introduce french fries to North Korea. “I was in North Korea, and they said, ‘Well, here’s what we have for breakfast,’ and I’m going, ‘Oh, no, no, I don’t eat like that.’ … I said, ‘Well, look, here’s what I’d better have.’ I told them to take a potato and cut it like this — chop, chop — and cook it.”

    He drinks bottled water and Coca-Cola and, in Asia, rice beer. “You know it’s safe because it’s pasteurized,” he says.

    Frankly, it seems like Rheinberger is just looking to add stamps to his passport, not experience a new culture.

    How can you go to Thailand without eating a plate of green curry?

    Koh Samui, Thailand

    Travel in Korea without sitting down for a big bowl of bibimbap?

    Seoul, South Korea

    Trek through the jungle in Costa Rica and not crave a casado immediately afterward?

    Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

    Oh, that’s right, he wouldn’t be in the jungle. 😉

    And sometimes, you even have to try some termites.

    San Ignacio, Belize

    Because isn’t travel really about trying new things? What’s the point of leaving home if you’re not going to break out of the same old routine?

    Melbourne, Australia

    Is my frustration completely misplaced? Please, be honest! I would love the opportunity to have seen as much as he had–my 24 country roster can’t even begin to compete. And hey, at least Rheinberger took the initiative to get out there. Everyone has different ideas of who a traveler is and what is important on a trip. I can’t help but feel that Rheinberger has wasted the opportunity to experience some truly amazing moments, experiences and, yes, food.

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    30 Comments leave one →
    1. May 25, 2010 3:20 pm

      oh MY goodness. This man gets my blood boiling too! I’ve only been to 4 countries (your list of 29 is quite impressive!) and I cant even imagine not trying the food or setting limits to experiences (and number of pictures taken!) yeesh.

      • May 25, 2010 3:52 pm

        haha I know, there are some shots I’ve taken 27 times just to get the “perfect” one. Thank God for digital cameras. 😉

    2. May 25, 2010 3:26 pm

      Hamburgers and Fries.. wow that’s really sad and gross.

    3. May 25, 2010 3:26 pm

      uhh no, he’s quite ridiculous. how can you travel and not eat the food/experience the culture? ridiculoussssss

      typical “stupid” american

    4. May 25, 2010 3:43 pm

      I agree with you. He’s just out to say he’s been everywhere and nothing more as far as I’m concerned!

      • May 25, 2010 3:51 pm

        You summed up in one sentence what took me an entire post to say. Exactly!

        • May 30, 2010 9:20 pm

          A one sentence post wouldn’t be much of a post for you though would it? 🙂

    5. May 25, 2010 3:51 pm

      I’d be curious to know WHY he travels in the first place since the experiences he seems to crave are accessible right in the middle of Generica.

      I’ve traveled to perhaps 15-20 countries and still find excitement in the USA.

      I wonder if he’d eat chili in Texas, jerk chicken in the South, etc, fried conchs in Florida, steamers in New England, etc.

      • May 25, 2010 3:53 pm

        I was wondering that, too. There are some places in the US where it might look “dirty” (including plenty of big cities) but the food is not to be missed. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new.

    6. May 25, 2010 4:03 pm

      It kinda makes me sick. Why waste all that money to stay at some hotel and experience they same thing in ever single in every country? I’ve spent less than 24 hours in some cities and had more of an experience than some people do in a week. It’s crazy.

    7. Katherine: What About Summer? permalink
      May 25, 2010 4:16 pm

      it sounds to me like he’s moving from place to place but missing out on the traveling experience. I like your mini rant about what he should be doing!

    8. May 25, 2010 4:17 pm

      Is this guy 80 years old? Who wants to live like it’s the 1950’s?! I’d be offended and annoyed too. He sounds like a dummy.

      I love traveling because I like seeing how other cultures live. I want to eat their food, experience their culture, see the sites.

    9. May 25, 2010 4:50 pm

      I could go either way with this post, looking at it positively or negatively. (Must be my anthropology degree speaking.) I could get upset because he’s acting ethnocentric and closed-minded. Or, I can think of Rheinberger as a man who’s fulfilling a life goal in a way that is more comfortable, and he’s probably more open-minded than he would be if he never left home. Plus, he’s more of a checking-off-countries kind of tourist, not a stay-and-get-to-know-the-people-and-culture traveler.

      • May 25, 2010 8:32 pm

        Great points. I totally agree with both sides of your argument.

    10. May 25, 2010 5:48 pm

      Oh, you are NOT misplaced. The whole point of travel is to experience something different. If you want the same, stay home. That type of travel sounds really really dull and boring. I would rather just save my cash instead of complain and not learn anything new and fun while in a different environment. To me one the best parts of travel is eating! I love to try new things. And, see new sites and people. And, experience new and exciting things.
      As you said, this dude just wants to say he “traveled” and get passport stamps. Probably also gain bragging rights but really, he hasn’t learned anything and probably never will. Strange.

    11. Kristen permalink
      May 25, 2010 5:55 pm

      This guy is ridiculous! He doesn’t deserve most of the stamps on his passport as far as I’m concerned 🙂

    12. Carolyn @ lovinlosing.com permalink
      May 25, 2010 7:53 pm

      What a waste. People like him shouldn’t be allowed to travel.

    13. May 25, 2010 8:00 pm

      Ah, I see… he’s one of those… “self-important types.” Look at me! Look at me! I’ve been to more countries than you. Someone needs to drop kick him in a pile of dung.

    14. May 25, 2010 8:21 pm

      That is not traveling. He is basically going to different states in the US. He is eating the same food and not really experiencing the culture. I have traveled to thirty different countries and loved every minute of it. Why did I love it so much?? Because I go to experience different cultures food. I ate spaghetti in Italy, Roast Duck in France, and Belgian Waffles in Belgium!!

      • May 25, 2010 8:33 pm

        I was wondering whether he eats the local food at “safe” countries aka European ones. Could someone honestly go to Italy and NOT eat pasta?

    15. May 25, 2010 8:41 pm

      I’m not upset by that, I actually feel sad for him. I mean, he may be going to every country but what is he REALLY experiencing? Not true culture, that’s for sure.

      He’s wasting his time, really and that’s the sad part.

    16. May 26, 2010 5:20 am

      GAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! I feel so sad for people like him. What’s the point of travelling through world and wasting the amazing opportunity by only eating the food from his own country, never going out of the city! I’m so angry that someone has the opportunity to travel all around world and he’s wasting it like that!

    17. May 26, 2010 7:20 am

      I think a lot how long you stay in a place definitely depends on funds, but what’s the fun in traveling to different countries if you don’t try their food?

      I mean even when I travel in the US I try to give the local delicacy a try. Key Lime pie in Key West, Maryland crabs in MD, etc. etc.

      I think the food of a place is a huge part of a culture and if you don’t experience that, well you don’t experience much.

      As far as getting out of cities and into other areas, I think that’s a personal preference thing and you could probably have a fulfilling vacation either way you go there.

      • May 26, 2010 10:41 am

        Really good point about it being a personal preference. Some people would hate hiking, versus others who hate busy cities.

    18. May 26, 2010 10:51 am

      Wow. He spends all this money to travel to all these cool places…and never really travels!!! what a WASTE! I actually wrote a post (my finale on my HK trip) about what it really means to travel, too…and posh hotels and McD’s NOT included (though, some countries sell really cool stuff in their McD’s)

    19. May 26, 2010 5:04 pm

      Ha. This guy seems like an arrogant, IGNORANT fool. Traveling like that is NOT traveling.

    20. Sean permalink
      May 28, 2010 3:57 pm

      I love fast food more than the average American, but I just can’t understand his aversion to breaking out of his shell. For most people, getting on the airplane and simply going is the most difficult part of the journey.

      He does that easily enough, so why not partake in some of the local culture?

      Love this post.

      @seanabryan from your followers

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