Decisions, Decisions: What Dictates Yours?

Beeristan Flag
Official Flag of Beeristan, Graphic by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Sadly, we all know the great and glorious country of Beeristan (and related colonies and enclaves) does not exist. Quite a shame actually since it’s the home of free beer, happy peoples and Ninjas are welcomed too. It was an imaginary place created during the 2008 US Presidential election year. Everyone from everywhere, regardless of their nationality, gender, age or religion, were invited to settle in, discuss any topic and enjoy a frothy brew. I recently “revisited” Beeristan and it got me to thinking – hence the following question:

When not traveling for business-related reasons, how does your nationality, gender, age and religion affect your travel destination decisions?

Hannah Barth

Hannah in Motion

Last year I visited the Middle East for the first time. In actuality, I spent seven months in Turkey, which is sort of “Middle East light.” As an American and a female, the Middle East is not something those less-traveled would advise me on. Depending on the specifics, its not something those more traveled would advise me on.

But after seeing Turkey and spending seven months with the Turks; after fasting with them for Ramadan and seeing how they’ve pulled from the West and the East to create their own cultural appeal, the Middle East has jumped onto my radar and straight to the top as a place I feel compelled to explore more in depth.

I think the fact that I don’t follow any particular religion is pulling me to the Middle East even more. As I see more and more of the Turks’ quiet devotion to Islam, I want, more than ever, to understand this essential part of their culture.

Jasmine Stephenson

Jasmine Wanders

The biggest factor in choosing a travel destination is my finances; demographics play no part.

I don’t think my demographic info really affects my travel choices. As a 25-year-old, I certainly don’t like hostels where everyone is fresh out of high school, nor would I join a retirees’ cruise, but it doesn’t change the country I go to. As far as nationality, being an American can be difficult at times. However, I try to leave a favorable impression on the people I meet and remind them (if necessary) that I am not the same thing as the US government. Being a solo female traveler isn’t part of my decision making either; I still feel free to go where I please. I also don’t adhere to any particular religion, though I will partake in certain rituals/festivities if it appeals to me. The biggest factor in choosing a travel destination is my finances; demographics play no part.

Angelina Hart

The Little Travelers

Well, one of our trips was decided by my daughter’s turning nine years old. As a single mom raising two daughters I’m always very conscientious about our female sisters in whatever country they may be in currently. I knew that in Iran when a girl turns nine she is then considered a woman and must adopt the full Muslim dress code. So we began the process of applying for a visa to Iran. It took about 9 months, but in the end we did receive one for a total of 17 days. It was definitely interesting applying for the visa, having to wear a hejab for the photos in the application.

As Americans we were not allowed free travel throughout the country and had to be supervised by a registered tour guide at all times. We were registered with the police department in each location we visited and were not allowed to explore on our own. It was definitely different for me and took some adjusting. We absolutely adored our female tour guides but I definitely had my challenges with one elderly male guide that we had for a few days. I’m sure he meant well, but I don’t do so well being ordered around by a man in any culture. So being American definitely had a huge impact on our travel, but being a woman traveling with two young girls was a treat in that culture. We were looked after very well and felt extremely safe since security is so rigid there. Men and women are still fairly segregated in public so it was great. Men always have stronger BO than women do and are usually the perpetrators of crimes – so it was lovely that they were at the front of the bus while we sat in the back with other women and children.

Ant Stone

Trail of Ants

I’ve never considered nationality, gender, age or religion as factors, which could affect my travel destination decisions. I’m English, therefore usually well received throughout the world (I have David Beckham to thank for that). I also benefit from the lingua franca being English and being agnostic, I’m as neutral as it comes with regards religion.

Nellie Huang

Wild Junket

Personally, I think age plays the most important factor in affecting my travel destination decisions. I’m currently in my late-twenties and have transitioned from a dorm-bed backpacker to a flash-packer who travels with gadgets and opts for private rooms. Age affects the degree of adventure and comfort I look for, and thus affects the travel destinations I choose. Ten years ago, I would pick a beach-hopping trip in the Caribbean over a six-month overland tour of South America, now I’ll definitely choose the latter. Similarly, I’m not sure if I’ll make the same choice 10 years later.

Nationality plays a role too. Certain destinations are just not as exotic for certain travelers as they are for others. For example, my partner is from Spain and I’m originally from Singapore. One of my favorite countries in the world is Morocco: the energy, smells and sounds of its markets call out to me. But for him, it’s not nearly as exotic since it’s very close to home and it’s almost like San Francisco is to Los Angelenos. On the contrary, he’s a huge fan of Thailand – a destination that’s too familiar to me to be exotic.

The Bus Ride
The Bus Ride, Photo by Randy Martens


The Longest Way Home

Only when I can’t be bothered with it. Largely I find in places where things like race, religion, age or gender are issues; there are challenges to overcome and learn from. But, the challenge itself gets a bit old if repeated a lot, so, it’s good to mix it up.

The only one that I do avoid these days is age. I am simply not interested in sitting with a bunch of 20+ year olds in a hostel drinking beer until 4am. Been there, done that many a time. I avoid such places not because of age, but because of boredom.

As for race, gender and religious issues, every country has them. If I’ve just been in country whereby single men are seen as womanizers, then I’ll probably avoid traveling into a similar country next. Instead I would choose a country heavier on the “you must have money” stereotype instead. And. so the cycle continues.

Sure, some countries have a mix of everything negative or annoying, etc. But, by mixing up your destinations so that you don’t always travel to the same type of place, you won’t get so fed up or discouraged by a new destination’s “quirks”.

Daniel Roy

The Backpack Foodie

My gender plays a role because, traveling as a man, is easier pretty much anywhere, especially in countries with a traditional view of gender roles.

I travel to learn. As such, my nationality and (lack of) religion inspire me to experience people and places that are distant from them. As a white man from a first world country, it’s an eye-opening and humbling experience to travel outside these spheres and see the price others pay for my privilege. Likewise, I am by no means a religious person, but traveling to places of the world where religion is a fundamental facet of daily life – India, the Balkans, the Middle East – has taught me respect, tolerance and understanding.

My gender plays a role because, traveling as a man, is easier pretty much anywhere, especially in countries with a traditional view of gender roles. I’m happy to tag along with women who can benefit from my company to fend off unwanted attention; another aspect of my privileged birth.

Nora Dunn

The Professional Hobo

I think that criteria such as nationality, gender, age, and religion are inherent in many of our travel decisions without us realizing it. Nationality is an easy one; people with passports from developed countries can visit a wider range of places than others; as a Canadian I’m a lucky traveler. As for gender, I have little desire to travel as a solo woman through the Middle East and other places where women don’t have many rights, and/or safety is an issue. Age affects my destination choices less so than it influences my choice of accommodation and activities (I’m not into loud bars and party hostels so much any more). And religion choices are subjective; because I’m not religious, I don’t generally seek out destinations for religious devotees.

Jon Brandt

Travel Guy

I think I’ve always traveled with the mindset of “do this now while it’s still possible.” Maybe that’s why I’ve been in such a mad dash to see as much of the world as possible in the last few years since graduating college. I would say it stems from two reasons. First, I’m aware that I’m young and this allows me to get by without worrying about a long term career job, wife and kids, etc. I have little money but as a young guy can put up with many poor situations, and I say it will help me appreciate things throughout my life.

The second reason is my religion. I’m Jewish, and while I can currently travel to most parts of the world, history has taught me that from time to time it becomes unsafe for Jews in certain countries or regions of the world. Thus, I try to make the most of calmer situations now and travel to as many places as possible, because I keep in mind that maybe in 10 years it will be unsafe for me to do so.

Greg Wesson

Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe

Taking a decidedly non-philosophical approach to this question, nationality impacts where I choose to travel due to visa requirements. As I travel frequently for work, and often with little notice, I need to have my passport handy at all times. Having to send away my passport to a consulate to have some bureaucrat mull over whether or not I should have the privilege to visit their country as a tourist and then charge me $150 for the pleasure is both hard for me to stomach and potentially impacting on my work life. Due to visa requirements, I have never seen Brazil despite a desire to, and while I would like to go back to Russia again, I have avoided it due to the complex visa processing required to visit Russia. A note to any ministers for travel and tourism who might stumble upon this – make it easier for me to visit, and I’ll probably come and see you.

Lola Akinmade

Geotraveler’s Niche

The immigration officer at SEA-TAC flipped through my green passport, looking up at me, and then back down as he flipped each visa stamped page:
“You travel a lot,” he began.
“Yes?” I wasn’t sure I was following.
“Why?” he asked. Why? “Why shouldn’t I?” I retorted. He chuckled.

When I finally did travel on a paper-thin American passport with its crisp new scent, the immigration officer barely looked at it. At that moment, I longed for green once more.

Regardless of where I went, carrying a Nigerian passport at the time meant being pulled aside for random checks and unnecessary interrogations. For me, my nationality always trumped gender or religion whenever I traveled. Too many visa stamps, or too little, always raised suspicions, mostly unwarranted. Traveling around Eastern Europe meant being questioned at every border crossing. While I’ve trekked quite a bit around the globe, there are still so many countries I would love to explore, especially the Middle East. The little taste I had of it via Egypt left me wanting more. Wanting to get to know a very warm and inviting people much more. Time really has been the only major factor affecting my destination decisions. More than anything, those constant interrogations build character and thicker skin.

Twenty minutes later, and I’d eased the tension with that SEA-TAC officer. He asked me when I was going to become a “citizen.” When I finally did travel on a paper-thin American passport with its crisp new scent, the immigration officer barely looked at it. At that moment, I longed for green once more.

Michael Schneider

OtherGuy’sDime Blog

Of all the physical, geographical, spiritual, and financial characteristics that affect our decisions about travel, it is age that has the greatest impact. My wife and I are both in our mid-60s, physically and mentally alert and healthy. I know this wonderful situation must someday come to an end—although I hope not for a while–but when the inevitable does happen and our bodies rebel against the strains of hiking, kayaking, climbing, and the other outdoor activities we enjoy, then and only then will it be time to take a closer look at cruises, beach resorts, and a quiet week at a lake cabin. For now, while we are still able, my wife and I want to enjoy adventure travel and experience exotic destinations that we are still able to handle. For example, our last three overseas visits were to Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan, and included camel safaris, mountain treks, and walking the Everest trail. Next year we plan to take a trip to Antarctica, a destination that will, all too soon, be well out of reach of our aging bodies.

Norbert Figueroa

GloboTreks: making travel an adventure

I don’t tend to let my nationality, age, gender, or religion be part of my decision making process when choosing for my next travel destination. My travel intentions are to explore and to learn about new and different cultures, which in certain cases might conflict with my personal religious beliefs. But, religious differences don’t put a stop on me wanting to experiment other wonderful culture and to possibly enrich myself with new perspectives, and a better understanding of life.

The only possible way my nationality might affect the decision when choosing my next travel destination is if the desired destination has a social conflict/unrest or terrorism that is specifically targeted to my nationality (American). That decision is based on personal security.

Religion, Photo by jeth v

Carl Beien

Two Stops Past Siberia

As a young white man, I’ve never felt deterred from visiting any country. As a Catholic, I found the churches Guatemala strangely comforting after years of only visiting Asia. Though, while in Asia, I found that those Eastern temples of past and present left my head swimming in sensory overload.

My country destinations are based mostly on costs, the season I’ll be traveling, and the general whims, and language abilities, of my traveling companions and myself.

While on the road, however, I once found myself more tolerate of endless Buddhist temples than my more passionately Catholic counterpart. I refrained once from illegally hitchhiking through
Southern Tibet because my female companion felt it’d be unsafe. I also got myself into a sticky situation once in northern Guatemala when my college roommate and I decided there was no risk in trying to find (and help) a deported car accident victim we’d read about in the NYT.

After getting off the plane, however, gender and safety, plus religion and interest seem to play a big role in the particular sites we see.

Julie Falconer

A Lady In London

My nationality and age generally don’t influence my travel destination decisions, but my gender does at times. If I am traveling alone or in an all-female group, I tend to seek out places that are known for being safe, particularly at night. I also gravitate towards places where solo female travelers or small groups do not attract a lot of attention, or are not an uncommon occurrence in local culture. These places tend to be located in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia, but aren’t limited to just those.

Jon Shapiro

Vagabonding at 60

As to age – would say that has little effect, although this may change in the next 5 to 10 years, depending on my health.

I tend to want to travel to places that many other people would not want to step foot in. Off the beaten track, in other words. However, because of the political situation in the Middle East, there are a number of countries that I would avoid, ie, Pakistan, as a result of traveling with an American passport. That is too bad as I always wanted to go trekking around K2 and the Baltoro Glacier, which is now off limits. My gender has no effect on where I go, but perhaps that is because I’m a man. As to age – would say that has little effect, although this may change in the next 5 to 10 years, depending on my health. If anything, I see this as my opportunity to go to more “difficult” destinations while I am still fit and have the energy to do so.

Wade Shepard

Vagabond Journey

It is not my impression that these factors have any play in where I decide to travel. I will go anywhere. But these factors do have an impact on how a traveler is received, what they do, and, ultimately, how much they enjoy a place. Except for extreme cases, I believe that nationality, age, or religion only have a minor impact in travel when weighed against gender.

I am a man, and I travel in a world where people of my sex often dominate the social and political spheres of their country, and when interacting with other men I do not often feel myself struggling for respect. I am treated as a man, and the terms of the engagement are pretty much the same throughout the world. My social battles are not if I am respected or not, but are based on if I prove myself to be more dominant, the alpha-male. This is a bone-head, animal game — easy to play, especially if you are just traveling through a place and only want passing rights.

Though I have noticed that women traveling alone through more male dominant cultures often times have to struggle to achieve the respect that is simply granted to me on the basis of my sex. I have traveled with enough women to know that the places we go are very different if they are with me or if they are alone. In many places, if a woman has a male with them they will be treated with respect – as disrespecting a women in this context is actually disrespecting the man – but without a masculine connection they seem to be fair game: Ass grabs, whistling, cat-calls, propositions galore. An “unescorted” woman seems to provoke a slew of unsolicited male escorts.

This stuff does not happen when I am around, and it is my impression that women may travel in a very different world than I. I am surely missing something. If I walk down the street in countries of the Middle East, the less touristy parts of Latin America, China, North Africa, I am rarely assaulted, jested at, cooed, or provoked, but if my wife goes out alone these same streets seem to change, the terms of engagement are definitely altered: the men treat her as an unclaimed prize ripe for the taking, or as not being as worthy of the same level of respect.

As far as my gender affecting my travel plans, I would say that the impact is minimal, but I do see how a person’s gender could affect their travels — who wants to be harassed? My wife, Chaya, wrote an interesting piece about the difference of traveling with a man or as a single female here: A Guide for Women Traveling Abroad.

Editors Note: I would like to thank all of the contributors who have participated in this panel discussion. I have found the replies interesting and thought-provoking. I hope the readers will too.

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Discussion »

  • #1Expat in Germany

    I love nature, and am driven to places where I can see nature and places that advocate for environmental protection. This summer we choose Palau for our diving holiday, since they created the first (and only) shark sanctuary in the world and I wanted to show support for this with my travel dollar. Costa Rica is known for it’s eco-tourism and I visited it for similar reasons. I love the idea of making a statement with your travel dollar, since this preserves the environment and helps the local economy.

  • #2Nuno Moreiras

    Its great being from a small country (Portugal in my case) because the chances of causing prejudice are dramatically diminished. I guess its easier to travel being a man in easier cultures, but in the end I guess it’s a matter of willpower, willpower is not gender related. I’am 25 which means that I get along with everyone and as for religion, anyone who evaluates anyone for their religion doesn’t make for a great company, I guess. Truth is love takes you farther than your feet ever could, right?

  • #3Derek Casanares

    Well I being an American have its advantages and disadvantages since we are the 12,000 pound gorilla on this earth.

    I love people – we are the same – we all want the same things in life but for some strange reason people look at the little differences and draw lines of divisions.

    The world is vibrant – go out and seek, greet and enjoy life before we force to visit our next journey outside of this life.

  • #4CarrieAndJonathan

    It’s amazing how many people in our travels tell us we shouldn’t go somewhere because it’s dangerous or shouldn’t go somewhere because “the food is awful there” or blah, blah, blah.

    The funny thing is that the most vocal of these people have never left their hometowns, and if they have, it was to experience 1 week at an all-inclusive in Cancun, which, while in a different place, isn’t really travel at all.

    We don’t go somewhere to let a place experience us, we go somewhere to experience a place. To do that requires an open mind and an open heart.

    I think we’re willing to go anywhere. The fact that we come from one of the wealthiest countries on the planet makes traveling to places more difficult and easier…

    Easier because we rarely have problems at border crossings or with security people…

    More difficult because we are frequently looked at as giant dollar signs just waiting to be taken for a ride in their taxi, tuk-tuk, etc.

    I think the key to where we (as humans) travel has more to do with our personal philosophy than our race, religion, gender, etc.


  • #5הסעות

    I love this post.I also gravitate towards places where solo female travelers or small groups do not attract a lot of attention, or are not an uncommon occurrence in local culture. These places tend to be located in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia, but aren’t limited to just those

  • #6Natalie

    Great interviews with various bloggers. I agree with the ones that say Age is a determining factor. That and outside influences. At one time, I never dreamed to travel Turkey and then when a friend mentioned how much fun they had, it promoted me to book the ticket.

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