A bit of background for those who do not know Thor. Thor is a 40 year-old guy going to every country in the world (193+2), plus some more, he decided on 203 countries. His gimmick is he is doing this without flying. Ever.
Why did I need to add that “ever”? Because there is already Graham Hughes who is on the Guinness World Records for travelling the world without flying. However, Thor argues Graham flew a couple of times, back home and back to the place he left off. Even though Guinness had no objections to that and approved Graham's record, Thor says that does not count.
Where is Thor now?
In Hong Kong.
Stuck in Hong Kong.
How far is he into this project?
You want to know time-wise, distance-wise or country-wise?
Well, he left in October 3, 2013. So that makes 6,5 years.
He is in country number 194. That is he has 9 countries left.
Seems sort of the end of the road is close. Not really. All those countries are islands and with this coronavirus outbreak, every gate is closed; be it the countries closing their doors or cargo ships, the only alternatives to flights, not accepting any passengers who are not essential for running of the operations on the ship.
Thor is also trying to promote the message. “Keep on keeping on” and that you'll get where you want to be if you never give up.
That is a good motto.
Unless of course you are stuck somewhere where you don't wish to be, when you've got better things to do. When life is going on without you, passing by in front of your eyes while you wait for things to change, biding your time... No, it's not so good.
Biding your time when you are mentally at the end of your limits, when you have been like that for such a long time. Nopes, not a good idea.
You see, Thor has been stuck in Hong Kong for two months plus.
He's been stuck in Lebanon and other places too before. Waiting for visas. Hoping to get some access to some hard-to-get-in country.
He has had to deal with bureaucrazy too many times. He has had to do turn arounds and retrace his steps for tens of thousands of kilometers because there was no overland access to the place he wanted to go from the place he was.
I wouldn't want to be in Thor's place now.
Well, even he doesn't want to be in his place either.
But isn't it funny?
He has put all these restrictions on himself. 24 hours in every country. It doesn't matter if he has to sleep like homeless people out in the cold on the street, twisting and turning.
Ah, and of course no going back before the trip is finished. Well, this one he has to keep because he wants to be unique. He wants to be above Graham. He wants the grandeur. He wants to bask in the glory of being the one and only. Well... Even if not one and only he will always be the first. That's what he is after.
At the end of one of his posts, Thor says he did a Skype call with students in Hong Kong and he got asked the question “Is the journey more about experiences or setting a record?”
Thor just says: “Brilliant!!”
Doesn't answer the question directly. But I suppose when he says “Brilliant” he implies that it is about experiences. After all, we all know that that is the “correct” answer!
However, I'd say, if Thor was honest to himself, he'd admit that it is more about the record or at least finishing up what he started rather than experiences at this point. As it is obvious he doesn't enjoy being out there and would much rather prefer to experience a different life after so much time on the road.
But he will not tell you such a thing.
Actually, he will tell you he is doing other things with this project. He is inspiring people, he is showing people that you'll reach your goal when you keep hanging on. Like he answered the person who labelled his saga as a vanity project.
Well... I'd ask him:
“Thor... You want to give the lesson that it is ok to torture yourself by self-impositions which aim at grandeur??”
You know what would be so cool and really shoot Thor up to respectable status for me (not that he'd care to be respected by me of course but still...) If he could just go to every country and skip the last one. Even find the boat or transportation to the last one and not go. Or go and not stay 24 hours.
Like the great sailor Bernard Moitessier did in the “1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, the first non-stop, singlehanded, round the world yacht race. With the fastest circumnavigation time towards the end of the race, Moitessier was the likely winner for the fastest voyage, but he elected to continue on to Tahiti and not return to the start line in England, rejecting the idea of the commercialization of long distance sailing.” (From Wikipedia)
“One of the world's most famous ocean sailors, Moitessier had sailed for more than a year from Plymouth, England to the Indian Ocean when he inexplicably abandoned the lead in the 1968-1969 Round-the-World single-handed race. He sailed to Tahiti, dropped anchor and dropped out.” BoatUS
Sailing Inland & Offshore writes:
“For Moitessier, the race finished in mid-Pacific after he had passed the three Capes and crossed his outward track, leading, and with the hardest sections behind him, he decided to forfeit the race and continue into the Pacific again, to anchor finally among friends in Tahiti. His actions were never explained by the news media; they could not have been, for the voyage had always been seen by Moitessier as something other than a sponsored, publicized, competitive event. It was on the ocean, alone with his boat, that Moitessier began to regard this as a voyage that could not end for him with the reward of those whose values were not his.”
A voyage that could not end for him with the reward of those whose values were not his.
Yes, this is the important point. What are your values?
Unfortunately, for Thor, the values are his too. That's the trouble; that's the dilemma.
I wish he could be strong enough to give up these values.
It really would be to his advantage/profit. As a person. Make him grow as a person.
Sunk Costs Fallacy- Escalated Commitment
I know Thor is never going to do that.
But apart from that, he should still be giving up the project. If only to cut his losses.
On one of Thor's posts, Ric Gazarian commented:
“Keep up the good fight! Your patience is amazing!”
"It's not patience, it's having no other choice!" I replied.
"Going back at this point after investing so much time and effort would be such a downer that it is not really an option. Plus, obviously, having the right to brag about being to every country without flying is such a big deal to Thor to pass up."
However, if Thor knew any better he'd give the sunk cost fallacy some deep thought. Sunk cost fallacy makes you act stupidly. There is something called Escalation of commitment related to that. Which is "a human behavior pattern in which an individual or group facing increasingly negative outcomes from a decision, action, or investment nevertheless continues the behavior instead of altering course. The actor maintains behaviors that are irrational, but align with previous decisions and actions."
One can never get back the time, nor the money spent on some dream to pursue. So people keep playing, they keep on keeping on to avoid the pain of loss. Negative impulses are greater than positive ones. It is so designed for our survival.
However, for Thor, he shouldn't feel it as a loss. As he has greatly benefited from the experience already. In fact, he has benefited enough. But now, it is just costing him, taking away from him. Without adding any more value.
On his “You Are Not So Smart” website, David McRaney writes about the sunk cost fallacy:
“It is a noble and exclusively human proclivity, the desire to persevere, the will to stay the course – studies show lower animals and small children do not commit this fallacy. Wasps and worms, rats and raccoons, toddlers and tikes, they do not care how much they’ve invested or how much goes to waste. They can only see immediate losses and gains. As an adult human being, you have the gift of reflection and regret. You can predict a future place where you must admit your efforts were in vain, your losses permanent, and when you accept the truth it is going to hurt.”
There is merit in giving up. When you realize that what you are after is not worth it. It's called cutting your losses.
IT IS OK TO QUIT!
I believe Thor is now at a point where whatever he does, he'll be regretting it later in life. He will always wonder what if he had taken the other road, done the other thing.
If he goes on, he'll regret it:
I suppose by now it is clear that this Covid-19 is not as innocent as Thor was claiming at the beginning. Someone in his family or his circle might get sick. He'll be feeling the guilt of not being there for them.
Or suppose he completes the project and returns, but they have trouble having a child. Thor will be blamed. “You and your stupid saga...” I can hear his now fiance, future wife if be, saying.
Perhaps I am too pessimistic. I am a doom's day scenarist.
I really hope he doesn't hear these words but if he does, they will definitely hurt. They'll hurt much more than a stranger calling his project vain.
He will wonder if he should have gone back. Gone back when he was stuck like this. Instead of trying to push it through, waiting a pandemic wave to pass.
He will wonder if it was worth giving up his personal life for the glory of that Guinness World Record he craved so much.
Upon return, he will realize most people do not care at all. Even the ones who followed him back then, that is those who are applauding him now... They'll be long gone too, gone after their own life, or following a new traveller guru after Thor has finished.
At that point Thor will realize the meaninglessness of it all, he'll find life empty once again. He will realize that all these “rewards” he was after were not worth. That they do not give satisfaction.
Yet I know... If he returns home now, he'll regret it too. He'll always wonder what would have happened if he had grit his teeth and endured, what opportunities he missed.
I, of course, wish none of this happens. That the road is cleared soon, even if a month or two, and he goes on to complete t/his project.
It means so much more to him, I know that very well. I wish he finishes his saga, returns and has a happy life, basking in the glory and reaping the rewards of his efforts and “patience”. Unfortunately, real life rarely works that way. It never runs smoothly or as we hope it to. The repercussions, the unintended consequences of our actions follow us.
Life never matches with our expectations.
Even though, of course, it sometimes does surprise us and exceeds our expectations. Mind you, that usually happens when we listen to what it is telling us to do instead of persisting stubbornly on the path we are obsessed with.
I know you want to keep on keeping on but life has a way of letting us know when to stop. It guides us, if only we should listen.
We are human beings who should be capable of weighing situations and changing plans.
As in Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler”
"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run..."
Somebody has apparently called what Thor is doing “a vanity project” and he found it hurtful. I understand that very well. There is always someone who interprets what you are trying to do in a bad light and it is not nice. I've had my share of hurtful comments like I was waiting for applause etc.
Most “ordinary” people are not aware of what it is to be out travelling like Thor, they have never been out in the world like that. They do not know what it is to be away from your home for so long, to miss the familiar, to have to run after visas and arranging transportation day after day month after month year after year. They do not know what it is to not to be able to enjoy the small ordinary things of routine life. You cannot expect them to understand either. We all use guidelines based on our own experiences.
On the other hand, it is true that it is a vanity project. Every “every country chaser” is a vanity project especially those who do it publicly, publicizing, not privately.
Safe from mine of course ;)
Just joking... I mean I of course I keep my project out of the vanity travel projects but -apart from the likes of Anthony Asael, the Israeli guy who has been helping villages etc. or Sal Lavallo or perhaps a handful of other people's who do not center on themselves but their project- most world travel “expeditions” are vanity projects.
Thor says he replied saying:
““I have met with and promoted the humanitarian work of the Red Cross Red Crescent across 189 countries. In turn this has brought the movement more volunteers, more donations and more visibility. In addition to that I have shown thousands of people a world behind the cameras. A world where a mothers love to her child is no less across any border. The Saga also inspires many people to chase their dreams and motivates them not to give up when it gets hard. It is such a vanity project”.”
Well... Sorry but if you are after a Guinness World Record, that definitely goes under the category of a vanity project.
What's worse, there are now people going to every country twice; it is becoming a race towards vanity and stupidity.
Open Message to Thor
I had written this to Thor as a comment on his website last year. If he could do this, he could get out of the classification of a vanity project:
Keep on keeping on on your project. But please do NOT keep on keeping on the blind faith in the antiquated status quo of borders, people defined by the borders they are born into and their radius of movement on the earth defined by their nationalities and visas required from them.
Ahh... And I have a proposition for you. Would you like to take over my flag and burn your passports at the end of this trip? :)) I guess that would be too much to ask of you, I believe you cannot bring yourself to burn and destroy those passports which you have worked and suffered so much for. They are a testimony to your feat. Well, you can get the Guinness certification and burn them ;)
I know you won't be doing it, but if you did, I believe only then would you take your place in the records of humanity as a true pioneer. Just think of this... How would people who live in a borderless world and see this current state of the world like the way we see Apartheid or slavery today look at you and your project? How would those future generations look at you?
Someone in that distant future would be just travelling all the “countries” without the need to get any visas or cross any borders in no significant amount of time; s/he might even trace your exact steps, only without the visa and border hassles. How long would it take? Definitely less than a year.
What do you think they'd think of you? I'd say they'd think you a fool. So I'd beware if I were you, lest you go down history as a laughing stock while intending to be written as the biggest hero in history ;) Or of course there'd still be people who hail you as the greatest hero of your time because of your achievement. I believe those will be the minority though.
Homo sapiens is the most stuck-up name a species has bestowed upon itself. If there really will be a true homo sapiens in the future, I have no doubt they will look at us only as fools, hopefully they'd not only condescend us but feel pity for us too. Even though being pitied is not a nice thing either, under the circumstances, I suppose that should be a welcome judgement for us.
Prescript: This was a post I wrote for TripAdvisor which did not get published because it gets to greater social issues. It was my first post there and I had signed up only to help out Visit Mogadishu which arranged my trip there. I understand TripAdvisor's policy and not wanting to get into controversial issues, but for me, any post is meaningless if it does not discuss important topics. So here is my view on travel to Mogadishu, Somalia:
Going to Mogadishu should not be something to do light-heartedly. Or perhaps, on the contrary, you should only go there if you are or can be light-hearted. If you can take what comes, if you can do like the locals and live life with a certain degree of fatalism. Even though the security situation has improved and the country is reconstructing, there is always a risk as the recent deadly attack which took place three weeks after I was there shows.
It is also true that risks are everywhere in the world. One should always keep in mind that anything can happen anywhere given all the news around the world. One is never safe from mass shootings or other attacks be it in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Turkey or any other place.
As for me, I took this chance even as a mother of an 8 year-old and my husband supported me as I am on a big project to go to every country to protest against global apartheid and categorizing people according to the imaginary lines they happen to be born in, lines that were drawn by either a bloody war or by bloody politics.
For me, Somalia always had a special fascination as a land of anarchy. I believe that most of the trouble there originates from outside forces interfering with the local structure and trying to impose their way of ruling. For anybody interested, “The Law of the Somalis” by Michael van Notten is a good place to start.
I could have just gone to Hargeissa, Somaliland and consider it as having visited Somalia but for me, going to every country is not about counting countries or checking out a list. I fell in love with the photo of the Lighthouse on the cover of Andrew Harding's book “The Mayor of Mogadishu- A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia” and since that day I've been wanting to go to Mogadishu. It's so romantic to imagine the glorious days of the city recounted in the book, times when people used to go to open-air movies, then take a stroll by the Lighthouse. Being there and seeing the beauty of the setting with my own eyes was very rewarding. Of course, I'd have loved to stay there for hours sitting on a rock and gazing at the ocean, the horizon, the people and the buildings. Even though battered and full of bullet holes, their grandeur is still there, just like an elegant lady who has aged, with whites in her hair, wrinkles in her face but her posture and the way she carries herself tells a captivating story. I wish to see the day that Somalia is peaceful, the ruins in Mogadishu are renovated and I return with my family to the same places I have been.
Lido Beach is still lively and for some reason safer I suppose as we got to walk the beach, be among the locals without too much rush and have lunch there.
The fish market was also a very special experience. I've been to many fish markets but the one in Mogadishu really stands out with the volume and variety of the big fish that is pulled out of the ocean, carried on people's backs, loaded and downloaded from trucks by huge men.
Somalia has such great potential. Like Diyarbakır in the Southeast of Turkey which has the longest city walls in the world. Unfortunately, it is mostly off-limits to tourists due to the Kurdish issue. Visiting places like Dubrovnik and paying to walk the city walls I cannot help but think that there should be toll-booths in Diyarbakır as well with people walking around and enjoying the good food and the culture there. Similarly, it is such a shame that places like Mogadishu which have so much to give to the world are mostly off-limits.
“Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis” by Gerald Hanley is an account of a British soldier working with Somalis during war time and gives an idea of Somalis, their way of life, their outlook and values. Even though you don't need to share their sentiments or even agree with their views, it is so enriching to learn about them.
I believe Somalia deserves much more than what it gets on the news as the place of car bombs and gun attacks. The Somalian people seem very friendly and smart. Most of all, they are resilient. Even though I detest security measures and being so heavily searched, the air there, or should I say the general impression I got was not one of fear, but of life. Living life with a certain degree of resignation, accepting what life throws at you, surviving and enjoying life in spite of the circumstances.
I am Turkish by birth, Italian by marriage and I don't like classifying people according to their nationalities, I believe people are people, there are all kinds of people among every nationality, but it is also true that people carry some special characteristics depending where they come from, our environments shape us. Anyway, I am not a nationalistic person at all. In spite of that, I must admit that whatever criticism people may hurl at Erdoğan, I am “proud” that “my” country is supporting and investing in Somalia.
I wish all the outside help could be done without self-interest or imposition of certain values, without interfering in the internal dynamics of a place and everybody could rule themselves the way it suits their society.
One day Somalia will be attracting many tourists to its many beautiful beaches with its lovely people. Hopefully just not too many to ruin its essence.
For now, Visit Mogadishu is your way into the country. You need to go in with an agency, with armed guards. It is not cheap but I believe it is worth because they take a lot of responsibility, plus, it is a way to help the economy of the country. Visit Mogadishu has been very precise and attentive when arranging the trip. I've been wanting to go there for a long time but could not arrange it due to personal constraints. Omar kept up informing me so that we finally made it a reality in the end. So a big thanks to them.
At the end of our family trip to Madagascar, we had a very bad experience, we were swindled at the airport. We had hired a local guide for the trip, Jean-Claude. And I had even asked “Jean-Claude, is this a scam?” He answered “I don't know” and went on checking his phone.
We were so upset when we found out it in fact was a scam; we faced Jean-Claude, but he denied any responsibility. As Jean-Claude worked for ToursByLocals, we took it up with them. Unfortunately, their response was disappointing as they said they could not do anything for people who did not book through them. Upon which I wrote a piece on ToursByLocals and Integrity and I tweeted it. I at least wish to warn people. The following conversation ensued:
When they said “We do care about our guides, hence our reaching out to you again”, I actually felt like rebuffing with “I would have appreciated it more if you had taken the issue more seriously when I first contacted you.” But realizing that, even if late, they were caring and trying to do something about it, I wrote to them in private in the direct messages and added “Thanks for reaching out, I appreciate it a lot.” After all, most companies do not even bother to answer; if they do, it just stays with one move and then forwarded to the backdoor out of public sight. Booking did not bother at all, Turkish Airlines used the backdoor tactic. So even though ToursByLocals seemed like doing a similar thing suggesting DM instead, I wanted to see if they'd do anything differently. Then they said something that struck me:
“We are all just trying to do our best.”
“We are all just trying to do our best.”... It echoed in my mind. Yes, they probably were. And perhaps I was unfair to them with my criticism. Perhaps it is too much to expect so much care and attention from that level of Customer Care. And the management level is generally not interested, doesn't get involved. Perhaps that's the doom of companies or the unluck of us customers. Nobody hears us who has authority.
Something extraordinary happened with ToursByLocals. They wrote “We've brought this issue to the attention of our Quality Experience Manager. He would very much like to get in touch with you to hear even more.” This was new. Someone at a manager level wanting to understand the issue. In fact, he wrote a very nice, detailed and courteous letter saying he was made aware of my blog post by someone in their social media team, he read it, and completely agreed with everything I had said. He also went and located my original mails to ToursbyLocals from back in September 2018 to have full grasp of the situation.
“Wooow!” I thought to myself. That's exactly what I would have done. And someone going into detail and trying to understand a situation was amazing.
The Quality Experience Manager Gavin also agreed that that correspondence was not dealt with correctly. “But I would now like to do what I can to respond appropriately to your feedback. I found your account of your experience with Jean-Claude balanced and insightful,” he wrote. Then he advertised a bit about his company and how they strive for 5-stars.
“We always endeavour to conduct our business in the most honest and ethical manner, and when something does go wrong, we take this seriously. This is why I really appreciated your detailed feedback, as I see this as a valuable learning opportunity, and I assure you I will now personally follow up with our guide partner Jean-Claude to ensure that this feedback is taken on board.”
This was really something. Seriously? Someone taking a customer complaint so seriously and responding in such a decent manner? Interesting...
I had stressed that this wasn't about money, I wanted Jean-Claude to understand that his behavior was wrong. Still, Gavin offered us a 100 USD promo code to be used as a discount for any ToursByLocals tour worldwide, valid for 2 years. He wrote “I do realize that you did not request any compensation; however, I would still love for you to consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you the next time you travel - we do have full confidence in our process and our guide-partners’ abilities to deliver 5-Star tours.”
Of course I thanked him for the promo gesture even though we probably would not be using it because we have stopped travelling for some time. I wrote back saying I was already impressed. Impressed by his detailed and caring response. I confessed “I never expected to hear from ToursByLocals after one answer to my tweet, especially not after time passed.” The rest of my email:
“I understand that at the basic level your customer service agents cannot take up responsibility for someone who has not booked through you, it's not a part of their job or at least not a standard procedure. And the people in higher positions generally do not deal with customers and do not get back to them personally. So I am totally aware that this mail of yours to reach out to me is very out of the ordinary and worthy of praise/respect.
On the other hand, to be any meaningful, I would like to know the end result with Jean-Claude. I would like to see that he has really understood that the way to do gas is going full tank and leaving full tank. And that letting guests to be swarmed by unsolicited attention of locals is unacceptable and is failing of his duty.
The fuel cost was not the issue. Even if I would not have liked it, I would have accepted it if he charged us properly. After all, he said it, that that fuel was not included. What upsets me is the way he did it, getting 30-50 USD more out of us, charging a premeditated amount of 200 USD instead of what was actually consumed.”
Then I wrote something about money. I don't know exactly why, but to me this is very important. I don't want money myself, but I don't want people whom I believe did not deserve the money they got, to keep that money...
“I said money is not the issue, and it really isn't. I don't want money, what I want is to see that Jean-Claude has understood the above. On the other hand, I don't want Jean-Claude to keep the money we gave him, because I believe he definitely did not deserve it. So I don't know... In such cases I offer the person to pay a charity, somebody else. I think it's the best way to solve a money dispute. That neither party gets it, but it is given to a third party. My choice would be ihfonline.org , a place I've found after long research and feel I can trust. But of course Jean-Claude can give that money to someplace in Madagascar to help the country. I know he'll be spending the money in Madagascar and it will be going to the economy there, but I wouldn't want him to make use of it for himself. I'm sure you have the authority to make him do it, or the creativity to come up with a different solution to satisfy both ends.”
Gavin wrote back saying he was going to talk with Jean Claude during the week and would get back to me.
The week passed. I didn't bother. It is travel season, people might be busy. Two weeks passed. I still didn't bother much. These things take time. Then three weeks passed. I felt like dropping a line. Gavin got back to me saying he was following up with Jean Claude. He had the phone call, and then gave Jean-Claude time to absorb the feedback. Okay.
However, the rest was disillusionment. I try to understand their perspective. I understand that they are a business, that Gavin is doing things on behalf of a company. Still... I suppose that's where I have an issue. It was once again all about ToursByLocals, how great they were and what standards they expected for their customers and not about the right way to do things, a general moral and ethic code to follow in interactions with any tourist/guest.
Also, he got to the main point of his interest in taking up this issue. My removal/retracting or updating of my post! I understand, it is normal for him to expect that, but it makes the whole thing a big disappointment for me. My shoulders sank. Because I am not after interests, I am after integrity!
Here is Gavin's email, emphasis is mine, and my comments to him in parenthesis:
“I am happy to say that I have been able to reach a consensus and that Jean Claude has accepted the learning opportunities presented by the feedback you provided to us. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to connect with Jean Claude and to reinforce the expectations of ToursByLocals and our customers."
(To me, this should have been “to reinforce the right way to do things with tourists/guests.” Any tourist, any guest. Not only your customers.)
"I have advised Jean Claude that we would of course always expect him to include fuel costs (and any other such expenses) in the overall tour cost for any ToursByLocals tour; this is in fact part of ToursByLocals model. ToursByLocals customers would always expect all expenses to be included and/or disclosed on their booking form and we would never expect any of OUR customers to be overcharged or blind-sided by extraneous costs in the way that you described."
(Again... The only emphasis is on ToursByLocals customers. No guest likes unexpected expenses. Besides, Jean-Claude includes the fuel cost in your tours anyway. I was expecting you to tell, to instruct him the right way to charge fuel if it's not included. Come full tank to the airport, fill up the tank while leaving. It's simple.)
"I have also discussed the incident at the airport car park in detail with Jean Claude and have made it very clear that it is our expectation that he will always do everything in his power to warn and protect our customers against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties."
(I'm sorry, this disillusions me so much. Why is it always about the person involved and not in general? It's ethics, it's morals, these are universal values. Guides are there to protect guests, it's an integral part of their job. Jean Claude has to always do everything in his power to warn and protect anybody who is visiting his country, not only his customers either, against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties.
When I worked as a guide, I mean even when I wasn't working, even as any simple local, we interfere if we feel a tourist is being cheated upon by some local. It's just basics. Basics of being a host.
Plus, he was our guide. What's more, I asked if it was a scam. I mean, think about it. Imagine, you are in your country, there is a tourist family next to you and they ask you “Is this a scam?” It is only natural you'd say “What's going on?” and ask those people. Jean-Claude, let alone doing that, just brushed it off with an “I don't know,” and went on checking his phone! It's INEXCUSABLE!
And may I say, writing now and thinking about it again, it seriously makes one question if he was in on this scam.)
"This was a very important matter for us to clarify with Jean Claude as we would always expect our guide partners to utilize their local knowledge to enhance our customers' trip and to avoid any such unpleasant experiences. Jean Claude has assured me that going forward he will be vigilant to ensure that ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations."
(Again... To ensure ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations! What about other people? You just seem to say it's fine if others find themselves in such situations. This is what I call integrity, what I've been trying to say. That you are fine with your guide putting other people in such situations as long as your name is not involved.
Of course you cannot surveil him for his private customers but you could definitely tell him that he be vigilant with all his customers, all guests in his country not to find themselves in such situations.)
"I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident - I have full confidence in his ability deliver 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals in future."
(Again... The 5-Stars service only reserved for ToursByLocals customers! Jean-Claude delivers 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals anyway. The problem is he should be delivering the same 5-Star for anyone, even without any authority over him. Perhaps I am expecting too much. But that's my goal. To have people behave the right way even if it's not in their interest. That's why, as you might have seen on my website, I am campaigning for freedom of movement even though I have nothing to gain from it myself as a holder of a European and a Muslim passport. It's about doing the right and just thing.)
"I did advise him that I believed it would be appropriate to make a financial gesture to apologize for the lack of clarity regarding the fuel costs; however, to be honest, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to pressure him or instruct him to take certain action with funds that are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. But I did advise him of the promo code gesture we had already provided to you and he was happy that we had done so."
(To be honest, I do think it is appropriate for anybody who has the power to pressure anybody who has done wrong. My child may be an adult; if I believe she has done wrong, I will be pressuring her to correct herself, to make up for it. I won't say “She is an adult, I cannot interfere.” I won't try to wash my hands off, I will take a stand. The stand on the right side, the just side. Of course, if it was something disputable, if Jean-Claude had denied the issue, if you had any doubts regarding my claims, then it would have been unfair to expect you to pressure him. But it's not the case here.
Plus, it's not the “lack of clarity of the fuel costs”! It's the sneaky way it was done. What's more, the more important financial gesture to apologize for is not the gas money, it was his lack of service, falling behind/failing miserably in his duties, the nonchalant way he answered and let us be swindled.
As for your advising him of your promo code gesture code.... Why would you do that? This gives the signal that you have already covered up for his mistake and he doesn't need to do anything more about it. I'm sorry to say that that is NOT the case. I had told you it was highly unlikely that we'd be using that code as we stopped travelling for some time. Under these conditions, we will definitely not be using the promo code, you may cancel it. Promotional gestures are exactly what they are called, they are for promoting your company, not really compensating the customer.
I understand you are partners with Jean-Claude. You work together. You make him money, he makes you money. We are just someone who might be a potential for you but he is your main partner, the person you need to look after. And I understand very well that the reason you are interested in this issue is the negative post about you, that as a 5-star company you don't want any negative thing on your name.)
"I trust this concludes this matter, and I am glad that you have given us the opportunity to fully address these issues. I am so happy that this has changed your perception of ToursByLocals and that you would consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you in the future too."
Ah, he trusts this concludes the matter; he is the one to judge if the matter is concluded, not us, not the party who suffered the damage. He has done his part, so let's get to what I have to do in return!
"I would also be very interested to know if you are considering updating or retracting any of your comments regarding ToursByLocals on your blog. As I do appreciate and agree with your statements regarding integrity - I am in fact very grateful to be part of ToursByLocals as I can confidently say from my experience that we are a company that truly values integrity and honesty, and that we live and conduct our business by this philosophy. I would appreciate it if you could let me know your feelings on this matter and if you agree it would be appropriate to clarify the comments on your blog in anyway?
As always, I am at your disposal - please let me know if there is anything more I can do."
So he had done all this only in the self-interest of the company!
I said I'd certainly be updating my blog. But the issue was not concluded for me. I wrote:
For it to be concluded, I need two things:
You say you are satisfied that Jean Claude has taken your feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident. I take your word for it, yet I have to see that this is the case for myself as well. I was looking for something concrete from Jean-Claude himself instead of you. I was expecting some evidence, something in writing, either from your exchanges or better yet, a message to us from Jean-Claude to see that he really got the points I was trying to make.
And the second... As I said, he doesn't need to refund us necessarily, but he certainly needs to refund that money. Given his responsibility and unacceptable responses it should be more like all the money he earned but he should refund at least a 100 Euros. Or more appropriately 150 Euros. That's how we feel.
And we don't feel this is unfair the least bit, given that we are not asking him to give back much considering he got paid very handsomely for his services which involved two gross faults. There is no compensating for all the trouble we went through and all the time I wasted writing all these emails to you and the posts. As I said, it's not as if we are asking him to pay something he has not already received a lot of. Just to give back a small bit of it which he has not deserved. Only then, will he have showed that he has taken responsibility for his “shortfall” let's say.
This was Gavin's answer and my replies to him in paranthesis:
"Thank you for your thoughtful response; and certainly, yes, it is our hope that our guide partners will of course learn from the ToursByLocals' best practice which we try so hard to instil and maintain for every ToursByLocals tour.
I do believe that guides who join ToursByLocals benefit from the experience of delivering tours for our customers, and I would certainly hope that our business practices will have an ongoing positive influence on how our guide partners conduct their business with respect to both ToursByLocals and any other endeavour they pursue in their private life.
However, it is important for me to maintain this distinction and to be conscious of what requests it is appropriate for me to make of our guides; and as I said, in this case I do not agree it would be appropriate for me to pressure Jean Claude to take any certain action with regards to his private funds which are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. This is simply the dynamic of our partnership in which we respect our guides’ private commitments which they may have outside of ToursByLocals."
(I understand you Gavin. Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. Nobody ever does. So my expecting you to put any pressure on Jean-Claude would be very unrealistic. I suppose you couldn't do any more than what you did without hurting your own interest. And why should you hurt your interest for something the person you work with did to someone who means nothing to you? I understand, it's no concern of yours. Not beyond the “stain”, a negative comment on your name on the internet.
Still, you didn't need to comfort Jean-Claude and take credit points for yourself by telling him you provided a promotional code for us. I understand, it is whatever gets you credit for anything you give away. That was just a good move to promote your business through a customer, plus strengthen Jean-Claude's bonds and loyalty to you. Two birds with one stone. I'm sorry I'm not the bird who falls for those stones. I understand perfectly well where your loyalties and your interest lies. This doesn't make you bad of course. It just makes you pragmatic and businesslike. And it makes me despair more. One more layer added to my unsuccessful tries with institutions. I understand asking for integrity at the cost of one's interest is asking for too much and it is only the rare few of those like me who do that. Perhaps I care about this so much because I grudge that I have given up so much for my integrity and principles. Or because the world is not a place for the likes of me. Or because I am left so alone...)
"Thank you again for your considerable efforts to provide feedback and enact positive change - your dedication to moral and ethical improvement is admirable. As per your request, I have cancelled the promo code previously provided to you and have instead arranged for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation."
(Thanks for arranging for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation. But again, I still have difficulty in understanding. Okay, I take your word for it but I'd never expect anybody to take my word for such a thing and I'd have provided a receipt to back up my word when I made such a claim to anybody. Why is it so difficult to do something properly without the need for prompting? And you probably are the best of the best possible. At least you care and respond. At least you tried to do something whatever your motivation may have been. Thanks for all your efforts.)
I left the most significant part of Gavin's response for last.
"I believe I have fully addressed the issues you have raised about Jean Claude, and as I said, I am confident that that this has been a learning experience for him. I believe everybody is capable of making mistakes and is entitled to a second chance. I do not believe it is necessary to pursue this matter any further with Jean Claude; I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident."
(Yes, I agree, everyone is entitled to a second chance. After they make up for their mistake. You are not the father paying for the window your son broke. Jean-Claude is an adult and he faces the consequences of his actions.
And what he did about the scam is NOT something light. Coming up with excuses, trying to shift the blame on us by saying ah we exchanged money through his friend is not acceptable either; let alone that, it's more outrageous. It's total bs trying to whitewash.
You may be “confident that that this has been a learning experience for him”, I am not. As I have not seen or heard anything from him.
You say “I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident.”
Sorry??? You have accepted his contrition??? You are NOT the person to accept his contrition! He did not violate your contract, your trust, he violated ours; he did no damage to you (I mean apart from getting your name involved indirectly), we suffered the damage he caused. Sorry but you have no right to accept his contrition in our name. Only we have that right. And we have not accepted anything as we have not seen any gesture or heard any word of redemption from him.)
This is so important, so so important that I cannot emphasize. Whenever someone does something wrong, they should make up for it, they should make amends. To the person who has been hurt. To the person who has been the object of the damage, the one subjected to the damage.
As far as I know, or as far as I don't know that is, Gavin might not have talked to Jean-Claude at all. How do I know he did? I mean of course I believe him. But I have no single proof, no single evidence that Jean-Claude got what I wanted him to get out of this incident. But Gavin writes:
“I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident.”
Oh good, I am glad Gavin was satisfied! So it was about the satisfaction of ToursByLocals after all from the very beginning and not mine! Their satisfaction is enough! And Gavin's satisfaction with Jean-Claude understanding should be enough to satisfy me I suppose.
I'm sorry... It doesn't work that way. I know I am hard to satisfy. I know I am expecting too much. But I am not actually asking for much. I am not asking integrity over self-interest from people who are struggling to make a living. I do not expect a poor man to act with integrity at the cost of his and his family's well-being. But yes, I do expect integrity from people, companies and institutions who are well above the standard. I expect integrity from people, from companies who can afford it.
I do not blame the people who actually swindled us. Why? Because as much as it is not correct what they did, as wrong as it is that is, I believe they needed the money. Sure, there are other honest ways, but not always available to everyone. Sure, there are people under dire circumstances who do not resort to fraud, scams, thefts etc. However, I still have clemency for them. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning them, I'm not condoning any cheating, BUT, yes, no, I do not blame them. At least not as much as I blame people with means, people pretending to be civil doing wrong things.)
For Jean-Claude, I don't have it. Giving back some of the money he has made a lot of was not much to do. As for ToursByLocals, I'm not sure if their involvement served anything. What did Jean-Claude get out of this incident? Of course I don't have any knowledge of the conversation between him and Gavin, but what I gather from Gavin's account is this:
“Oh, okay. Even if it's not a ToursByLocals customer, whatever I do may get back to me. But, ToursByLocals will cover my back.”
The exact opposite of what I wanted him to get:
"I should be careful with every single one of my customers, not just ToursByLocals; otherwise, I might be losing my bread."
I believe Gavin should have pressured Jean-Claude to pay us (or any ONG), made him write to us too. Or alternatively, he could have provided me their phone conversation recordings. Some kind of solid feedback to make me see Jean-Claude got what I was trying to say. The best would have been, of course, Gavin writing to Jean-Claude, and BCC me, so that we could discuss it openly. With Gavin doing the intermediary.
Was he obliged? Sure not. Would it have been nice? Sure yes. Should that be a standard? I sure do believe it would help for a better world if things were done like this in every area. Courts and the justice system is just so crap. Howard Zehr's “Changing Lenses” should be standard compulsory reading for everyone at school, our methods for solving conflict/clashes should be updated.
Would such a thing have damaged ToursByLocals relationship with Jean-Claude? Probably yes. Still, as I said, I think companies can afford that. They should be able to put their interest at risk for doing the right thing. They should impose right behavior on their employees. Anybody who has any power should impose right behavior. Actually, it works in the other direction as well. I believe people should be resigning from their jobs if they witness the company they are working for is doing unethical business. So anybody who interacts with someone acting wrong should cut contact with that person/company if they do not correct their ways.
Perhaps I am wrong. But I feel this strongly.
Whatever... I seriously do not wish to deal with such things any further. Life is too short to spend trying to correct all the wrong in the world. Yet I know I cannot just accept and shut up. I need to speak my truths. Only then can I have a quiet mind.
So now, with your permission, I go on with my life.
Moral of the Story: Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. And we will never achieve civility, civility in its true sense that is, unless we can overcome this obstacle and put integrity above our interests.
There is a very nice answer from Paul Melhus, the founder of ToursByLocals about their response to a challenge with a guide in an interview on Leisure. They are a 5-star company, if there is any lower evaluation for a guide they take it seriously. What's more, they even go further. They see how many customers provide feedback. Because people generally do not bother to comment if the guide is not especially good or especially. ToursByLocals seriously seek perfection, at least in theory, that is what they aim for.
“We’re not into average. We’re into awesome.”
That is such a nice and strong statement. I really wish they had owned up to their aspiration and showed they were into awesome.
The story goes like this:
Chris, an Australian citizen, is travelling around in Asia. He wishes to go to Indonesia. He needs a visa. At the time he is in Thailand, so he goes to the Indonesian Embassy there. The lady at the embassy informs him:
“We do not issue visas here to third-world countries. You need to get it from the embassy in your home country.”
Chris is stupefied. He thinks to himself: “I knew our economy was going down and we had problems, but I had not realized we had sank down to the level of a third-world country.”
Of course, what the woman at the embassy meant by that was totally different to what Chris understood. First-world countries are your neighbors, second-world countries are countries in the same continent as you, and the third-world are all the rest.
It is now sort of politically incorrect to call a country third-world. They are rather called “developing” countries. And the way we use the term first and third-world today has nothing to do with how the term originated. It was during the Cold War era: The US and the countries aligned with NATO were first-world countries, the Soviet block was the second-world, and all the rest was the third-world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, first-world came to signify developed countries with high standards of living and strong economies, the rich and the “civilized”. In contrast, the third-world was the poor, under-developed ones.
In his article “Tra Bosnia e Croazia, Il “Gioco” dei Migranti per L'Europa”- The forgotten land migration route: “We all want to go to Italy”, Fausto Biloslavo writes that migrants call what they are doing the “World Game”.
While young migrants play this game, there is another game very similar to theirs played by a different group of people. That game is called the “Every Country Game”. And it seems to be getting popular every day if you have a look at the increase in number of the members of Every Passport Stamp group on Facebook or the news about someone being the first, youngest, fastest etc. to be to every country.
"With a membership of only approximately 100 people, it’s one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth. In fact, more people have been to outer space than have earned their way into this, the ultimate travel club..." announces Ric Gazarian in the introduction of his "Counting Countries" podcast interviewing the 193 country chasers.
Others playing this “Every Country Game” make similar claims: “5,000 people have climbed Everest whereas there are about 300 people who have been to every country in the history of mankind.” Emphasis is mine, just to show how people elevate their status by such exaggerations. What's our history, how long have we been around? It's just so short. Besides, a century ago there weren't countries like we know today. So who was to go to every country? Even if there were countries, people simply didn't have the opportunities we have today. It's just recently that we have these commercial flights, even the buses and cars to make it all possible. So now more people are joining the "club" of people who have completed the “Every Country Game”.
People in this game try to elevate their status with the number of countries they've been to. The basics is 193 UN countries. Then there are those who add the two observer states: the Holy See and Palestine. Some add Kosovo, Western Sahara and Taiwan to their list.
There are different travel clubs partitioning the world into different numbers. The oldest most known is the Traveler’s Century Club, which says the world is composed of 327 sovereign nations, territories, enclaves and islands. The Most Traveled Person divides the world into 891 unique parts. Nomad Mania divides it into 1,281 regions. And SISO says there are 3,978 places to visit if one wishes to see the world.
It sure is a game. Some play the basic game, the 193 countries. Others have more money, they play the game of going to every “territory" spending tens of thousands of dollars in order to get to some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
I don't know if it needs to be stated: The people playing this “Every Country Game” all have first-world passports, or at least some sort of strong passports. There is a whole range of nationalities that are missing among the “Every Country” chasers. Have a look at the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index- Global Travel Freedom at a Glance or at the info-graphic “How powerful is your passport?” by Ricky Linn. How do you expect an Afghani to play the “Every Country Game”? How can you expect any Pakistani to overcome all the hurdles to obtain a visa for the 160-165 countries that is required of him? As most people playing the “Every Country Game” agree, visas are one of the, if not the main obstacle to travel. Keep in mind, the people who are saying this have obtained only about 20-40 visas max. The rest was visa free or VOA (Visa on Arrival) for them.
So the game these people with first-world passports is basically this: Go to every country. Whereas migrants play a totally different travel game. Their game is: Go to this one country with the third-world passport you have. Without being caught and being too much beaten up by the police, without being robbed on the way or cheated by smugglers if possible. And of course, make it in one piece and alive!
Their challenge is the passport they carry. Their challenge is to cross borders and make it to one special country that is in their heart without the right passport. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are faced with barriers to go from one place to another, for those who are faced with deportation, who are put in detention centers, who die in unimaginable horrible circumstances... it's not a game. For them, travel and crossing borders is a matter of life or death.
The sad part is that the first-worlders are oblivious to the tribulations and the plight of the third-worlders.
First-world citizens play the “Every Country” game, third-world citizens play the “Reach This Country With This Shit Passport If You Can” game. They both form groups and share information amongst themselves, give each other tips on how to get around the troublesome points, give advice, names of places to stay, people to contact and maps to use. What both parties have in common apart from that is this: They all want to move around the world they were born on. However, it's not the same world they inhabit; they belong to two different worlds. Just like the menial first-world problems are much different than the real problems of the third-world the games they play are very different too.
PS: This piece was originally written for and published by InsideOver
Take the “The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Kid-Friendly Road Trip" on Misadventures with Andi. This woman has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.
Let's take a look at this “Ultimate” guide on travel with kids. What does it say?
- Make the Journey Part of the Fun- which basically says “Bring games and take detours if it seems interesting.”
- Break Up Long Drives
- Bring Plenty to Do
- Pack Accordingly
- Plan a Budget and Stick to it
I know... There is the classic stupid American stereotype, but is it really that ubiquitous? Do people really need to be told these things? This is not an “Ultimate” guide to anything, it is just some common-sense suggestions.
There are 13 comments. Let's scan them:
“I love your tips for traveling with kiddos!”
“These are such great tips for vacationing with young ones. Thank you so much for sharing”
“These are great tips.”
“What great tips!”
“These are fantastic tips.”
“So many great tips.”
“These are fabulous tips!”
I am appalled how... but I should not be appalled with such things anymore, I should know that this is how the world is and this is the capacity of the majority of people. When I was reading the comments to Carlo he commented: “You know there is an industry providing fake comments, right?”
I said “Yes, I know,” with a sigh of despair. Yes, it really makes me despair. It makes me despair, not for myself, but for the state of our world. We call ourselves homo-sapiens (how stuck-up is that?) when we actually are homo-banalus.
* I called this “The Ultimate Bullshit” but of course this is not the ultimate bullshit and banality. You may find much worse on the internet. In fact, the internet is full of so much bullshit and banality that it gets tiring to bump into them.
The ultimate guide to travel with children would be:
Know your child. Know yourself. Travel is not a must. Postpone it until both your child and you are ready. Wait until you can all enjoy it. Or, if you still choose to go ahead and travel, try to find something worthwhile in the experience, be it in the form of wisdom or relief that the trip has actually ended. Know that time passes and children grow up. And one day not too far away from now, you will be wondering where all that time went. Treasure every memory.
Bonus Tip: If you see anybody who has posted an ultimate guide to anything, just run away from that site!
From the moment Lara was about nine months old and I started having a bit of a confidence that she wouldn't die on me, I also started saying “Once she turns 4-5, I'll grab her and travel the world.”
Then, when she was two, I read a Trans-Siberian article and I knew I had to do that one day too. And that I would continue on my way once I started. (I don't like returning the same way. Also, I see the world as a whole. You don't travel 1/4 of the way around the world and turn back, you do a round ;)
When I researched a bit, I saw that the Trans-Siberian train was free for children under four years of age. (We had gone to Mauritius before she had turned two because after that we would have to pay full-price for her. Of course, this is just an excuse to do something, an incentive.) So in the end we did a 99 Days Around the World tour starting with the Trans-Siberian when Lara was 3.5 year-old.
In one of our flights, we had met an Italian-Russian couple who have a daughter same age as our daughter. When we told them of our Trans-Siberian plans they both went “Are you crazy?!” They said the trains were horrible, the ride boring, there was no way they'd ride that train. Especially with a kid. “Ekaterina would bring the train down,” they remarked.
That gave me a pause. I questioned myself, was I really attempting something so stupid? Was even the thought of it silly? After thinking it over long and hard with my husband, we decided we'd still do it. I wanted to do it so much. Trans-Siberian is the dream of travellers and it had been at the back of my mind for a long time.
We had not known each other much with this couple. The second time we met, only the father came to visit us in Rome. When he saw Lara he commented “Of course you'd go with this.” Lara is a pretty calm child.
Then we went and saw them in Kaş, where they live. When I saw Ekaterina, I thought to myself but did not tell it to them: “Of course you cannot travel with this.” Ekaterina was an agitated, restless child, like most kids her age, running around, with constant need of stimulation. I have to say I was critical of the way she was being raised, they had all these toys that make sounds, with lights blinking; Ekaterina was constantly pressing a button, making noise. I don't want to paint a wrong picture of my child. Lara seeks constant attention sometimes and can really be a nuisance. Yet, she is calm and knows how to entertain herself quietly too.
Especially at that age she was into Donald Duck comics of her father. Give her one of those books and she could spend an hour or more carefully scrutinizing all the drawings. I thought I'd put one in the bag for the trip and that would keep her busy on the 6 day long Trans-Siberian train without any stops. Lo and behold, I forgot the book! To my amazement, it turned out fine. Lara had us, her parents to herself and was fine talking with us and playing word games. A 6.5 day travel in a closed box was a breeze with my 3.5 year-old.
That being said, when we got to Los Angeles after a long-haul Pacific flight, things were different. We were all exhausted from the trip, add the jetlag. To top it off, my husband left his backpack which had all his important documents, money and computer inside the airport. He realized it only after we came out of immigration and exited the airport. Luckily, this being LA, they had spotted the backpack and given it to the airline. That delayed us more than an hour and a half. Finding the AirBnb, putting our stuff in, I was so crashed. To top it off, Lara was throwing a tantrum for I don't remember what now. I seriously felt like holding her by the arms and throwing her out of the window! It was that unbearable.
We were on the first-floor, so that would have been just putting her out of the window, and of course there's no way I'd do such a thing, but the impulse was definitely there. I wanted her out, shut up. Mind you, she is the most valuable creature in the world for me; she is the one for whom I would let all other children of the world die. Yet, at that moment, my nerves could not bear her existence. That's motherhood.
The bottom line is... Sure, I believe it's important children are exposed to the differences of the world at a young age. I am proud of my daughter's social skills, being comfortable with anybody. It's so nice to see her interact with children of other worlds. In Madagascar, it was so nice to hear that she played with children and animals when we left her with the tour-guide while we went trekking in the Tsingy. She was 6.5 then. I know some of her 8 year-old friends do not even sleep at their grandmother's. Lara was 3.5 when on one of our cruises an elderly lady offered to babysit her and put her to sleep in her cabin so that we could have some alone time with my husband. We had our doubts of course. Leaving her with a stranger... Something to note is that I've never left her with a baby-sitter, the few times I ever had someone to come look after her, I was always there in the house together. Anyway... Considering we knew the lady a bit, this being a long and expensive cruise the passengers were sort of elite or at least had a different quality than your ordinary cruise, we decided to give it a go. Of course we were curious to know if everything was alright and called on to check. Then we went and picked up a sound asleep baby.
A similar thing happened while visiting the islands in the Pacific. We were in Rangiroa by the sea, putting Lara's feet into the water. Children quickly surrounded her; they wanted to take her out swimming. Well, Lara didn't know how to swim, I sure wasn't going to leave her in the hands of these tiny children! We did not have our swimsuits as we weren't planning to swim. What if anything happened to her?
Then I put things into perspective... These children grow up by the sea, they are also given responsibilities to look after young siblings when they are basically babies themselves, they are perfectly proficient and capable of handling other children. So much that they could even be better than me in handling Lara at sea!
I figured we would go in with our clothes anyway if an emergency arose. I decided to trust them. We were there, keeping an eye of course. What we saw was children being children, it was so nice to see them interacting without prejudices. Unfortunately, in some other parts of the world, in poor countries which are more touristic, or I don't know... It depends on the place perhaps... Children see “white” children and start begging, start asking for their clothes, their bracelets etc.
Anyway... What I'm trying to say is this:
Whatever value there is in travel, it is not a must. Thou shalt know your child and yourself. Thou need not travel unless you feel you are ready. I did not take my first foreign trip until I was 22, I don't feel I lack anything. Now there is a girl who has been to every country before she turned 22. I'm sure she has developed skills and knowledge that I did not possess at that age. However, she still lacks the wisdom to process her experience. As Seneca said, your having been tossed around a lot doesn't mean you've gained wisdom. In fact, most of the travel community today lack any wisdom. They are just travelling the world looking at themselves. No need to add one more to the numbers of such people. One can improve himself/herself just as well by sitting at home, observing, reading and thinking.
If you insist on travel, just be ready to make whatever experience you have as valuable as possible. Be it as a lesson, or knowledge of your and/or your child's limits. Also, just know that it will not be, can not be as enjoyable as when you were travelling kid-free. Yet, there are the the joys of having your child witness some spectacular sites, savor those moments to the fullest.
Ahh... And if you see an article named “The Ultimate Guide to Travel With Kids” or similar, just know it is the Ultimate Bullshit.
Please please please... I'm begging you... Please... Don't buy into any of the glorious photos of families travelling together. Sure, they have their happy moments; then again, sure, they have the crappy moments -which are generally a much higher percentage- that they do not show to you!
They are just ego-boosting or trying to get credit for themselves by boosting an industry.
We had a very unpleasant experience with Jean-Claude, a local tour-guide in Madagascar. We had booked Jean-Claude privately through a personal suggestion and later found out he worked with ToursByLocals. For those who do not know, ToursByLocals is a peer-to-peer travel company connecting local guides with travellers.
During our trip, Jean-Claude said that ToursByLocals provides counsel when an issue arises with a customer; hearing this and going through their website I was impressed with their attention to quality and perfection. I wrote and told Jean-Claude to discuss the matters that caused our conflict with him and ask their opinion if he didn't believe or agree with my points. I had no doubt that ToursByLocals would be backing us up on both issues: how to do the fuel cost and protecting customers from being hassled.
But it was obvious he was not going to consult them. So I took it up on myself to inform ToursByLocals. The answer I got was this:
“All the guides on our websites are independent guides who are provided marketing through our websites. As a 5-star company, we provide assistance to assurance to all travellers who book tours through our website about the standard of service and experience they will receive.
While we take all claims against our guides seriously and we will monitor Jean Claude's behaviour in the future, we have no authority to provide any compensation for tours not booked through our website. I suggest that you take this up with the company that you booked your tour through, or if you did it directly you will have to take it up with Jean Claude yourselves.
It is a shame to hear of your disappointing experience and in future, if you book through ToursByLocals we will ensure that a 5-star experience is given.
I wish you luck in being able to sort your issue.”
I couldn't help the snigger. Wish me luck in being able to sort my issue?!! What a disingenuous, feigned wish is that! Nobody ever pays money back unless they are very honest and they wouldn't have done such a thing in the first place if they were honest. We live in an age where even the big companies making the big bucks resort to cheap tricks with the bills, TIM charged me 15 Euros for 10 KB of downloads even when my billing type was not supposed to be like that. Get it back from them if you can. You just let it go because it's not worth your time and energy. That's how most companies work today.
I underlined the important sentence in their answer. Yes, it is a shame to hear of my disappointing experience. It is a much much bigger shame that ToursByLocals tells me so openly they will ensure a 5-star experience if I book through them and do not care if their guides cheat people not booking through them! I am in awe, with disgust.*
May I say I was not much surprised but disappointed by this response. I wrote back:
“From your message, I get it that you are saying 'We do not care if our guides cheat their customers while working privately, as long as they do not cheat our customers and we make sure they cannot and do not cheat our customers anyway.' Is that right?
I'm supposing it's not. And I'm sorry if I couldn't explain myself very well again. We are not looking for compensation, we already took it up with Jean-Claude even though we were sure he wouldn't compensate us at all. He got the money, why should he be giving it back? Nobody really ever does apart from very quality companies. Not even the big name ones. As long as there is no threat to his earnings and no sanction from a higher authority, no reason for Jean-Claude to do it.
I did NOT write to you to sanction him, but to advise him on the matter of calculating gas money, as I am sure it is general knowledge how it is done with renting a car and you'd confirm what I have told him.
Also, I wrote thinking you might advise him that it is his duty to take care of and watch over his customers. This is no light matter. Being scammed while with a tour guide, especially after we have asked if it was a scam. You can be sure, if we were alone, that never would have happened. It was Jean-Claude's duty to keep unsolicited hordes of people away from us and we trusted him.
We wrote to you because we believe you would not want bad publicity for one of your tour-guides on travel groups and on the internet, we believe it's not good for one's reputation to be associated with such people.
We wrote because from your values, we thought you'd want to work with people with integrity.
Thank you for your concern anyway.”
I did not hear back from them again. Not that I expected to.
Moral of the Story:
Jean-Claude doesn't resort to cheap tricks when working with ToursByLocals, he knows he will get a negative return on it, he knows he will have to pay the price of his cheap trick. He cannot risk his means of livelihood. He will never act the way he did with us when working with customers of ToursByLocals.
So where does this leave us?
a) We either always have to go through sites that guard our back in case of a problem, paying them 20-30 % extra. Which may be fine. You may think of it as an insurance of some sort. After all, they are adding value to your experience by finding trustworthy guides and making them behave.
b) We take our own risk and pay for any mishaps.
I'll be honest with you, as I always am... As I said, I heard about ToursByLocals through Jean-Claude, it was not vice-versa. So it wasn't that I stole their guides going around them. Had I known ToursByLocals before booking Jean-Claude, I still wouldn't have booked it through them. Even taking into account the amount of money we paid extra for fuel and got swindled, we are still in the plus.
So was it wrong of me to write to ToursByLocals and expect them to help me out in this situation?
I wouldn't say so... I am a strong believer in integrity and for the right things to be done. I had some hope that a company like ToursByLocals would have integrity and sort out the issue by advising Jean-Claude. I was wrong. No big deal. I tried. All life is an experiment and experience; you test people and companies. I sure won't recommend ToursByLocals to anybody even though they might provide value.
It's not fine for a big company to say “It's fine with us if the people we work with act 'wrong' or immorally, as long as they do not act that way towards OUR customers.”
Perhaps I am asking for too much. Companies, after all, are institutions set up to make profit. They are not supposed to be moral. Perhaps it's my high standards that do not align with the realities of the world. Oh well... It almost never does. I got used to it by now, and came to accept it. Still... I cannot help but wish for a radical change of mentality in people and institutions.
Please at least say “Amen”.
Even if it is hoping for the impossible...
* Upon re-reading this piece some time later on, I realized I was too harsh. Perhaps it is too much to expect so much care and attention from that level of Customer Care. And the management level is generally not interested, doesn't get involved. Perhaps that's the doom of companies or the unluck of us customers. Nobody hears us who has authority.
Please read the update on ToursByLocals and Jean-Claude, Self-Interest versus Integrity to see how this ordeal progressed and ended.
PS: Please also read Scandal at Booking. The giant company who keeps on working with a business doing illegal transactions. They just shush the rare customers who realize the disguised sneaky swindle by giving them a refund. Then, It's business as usual.
As far as I understand, there are two types of guides if you want to go with a tour in Madagascar. One is the foreigners who have set up travel agencies, the other is locals. As can be imagined, foreign travel agencies are much more expensive than the locals. I suppose their services are a bit above the average of the local guides even though I'm not sure if it's worth the price difference.
Anyway... Of course it's always better to support the locals, so we decided to go with Jean-Claude. Even though I read he was way expensive than other local guides, it was fine as we see travel as contributing to the economy of the country. The tour went fine, Jean-Claude was friendly and on time with everything, all was smooth. I wish we had only good things to say about him. Things soured on our return trip and we left Madagascar with a bad taste in our mouth.
It started when I mentioned to Jean-Claude that he should have told us how much the gas for the car would cost. Sure, he had mentioned the gas of the car from Antananarivo to Morondava and back was not included in the price, but I had just assumed it would be something negligible like 50 USD or so. My mistake, I admit. Instead, it turned out to be 200 USD. Another local had asked us for 1000 USD for the whole trip including gas; we had paid Jean-Claude 1150 USD without gas. As I said, I was ready to pay 15-20 % more than the normal, but ending up paying 35 % more did not feel nice at all.
That's still not the problem. What Jean-Claude did was come empty tank to pick us up from the airport, make us fill it up and on return fill it up again to have half a tank full upon leaving us. Still, not important. We could have considered it as gratuity. But it sure felt like a sneaky way of cheating, -like small letters written in hidden corners in contracts-, which is never nice.
I said “felt like” because I thought they might not know how to do such things in Madagascar. I give people the benefit of the doubt. So I told Jean-Claude that if one is to pay for the gas, the car is given full tank and then left full tank on return. This is where things got ugly. Instead of acknowledging the advice, Jean-Claude retorted “We always do it this way.” The way he responded made me think: So perhaps, it was in fact a sneaky cheating, done knowingly.
Then I told him he should have told us how much the gas would cost in advance. He claimed we should have asked the price, that some of his customers ask. I don't know why he couldn't simply say “Yes, perhaps it would have been better if I had told you. Next time, I'll be doing that.” But he didn't.
No, instead, he still tried to assert his position claiming we should have known the price of gas, how much it would cost for the distances we were to travel! Now... Sure, we could and should have asked. But again sure, he could and should have told us how much it would roughly cost. And I actually asked how much cash we should be taking with us and he did not mention the gas cost being 200 USD even at that point. So that was a very nasty surprise.
What's more, as I said, he didn't charge us the fuel used, they (together with the driver) calculated and charged us EXACTLY 200 USD, which was more than the gas consumed in our trip, about half a tank more. The issue here is not the money but Jean-Claude's approach, his attitude. Cheating and then defending his cheating!
This still is not the big issue. At the airport on our return, the moment we parked, before I could even get out, we were surrounded by locals; they had blocked the door and were begging us to give them paper bills for coins. They said “Problem with the bank.” There were about 8-10 people between me and my husband, all shrieking “Please please please...”
The way they were asking, swarming around us and distracting attention, I suspected something was wrong and asked “Jean-Claude, is this a scam?”
He replied “I don't know” and went on checking his phone.
Seeing his unconcerned, calm attitude, and knowing that banks do not accept coins when exchanging money, we wanted to help them out.
Guess what? Of course it was a scam!
We realized this only after getting into the airport and counting in peace. They had counted the coins in their hands, they must have given us less than half of it, mostly the 10-20 cents that they counted last, keeping the big coins in their palm.
I actually remember very clearly. I was about to count the money they gave in my hand, and they started making turmoil “Please madame please, me too” etc. This was of course meant to distract my attention. I'm sorry to say it worked.
It feels miserable to be tricked. It feels even more miserable to be tricked when you were trying to help someone out.
It also feels miserable to be tricked when there was someone there whom you had paid and who should have covered your back. This shouldn't have happened under the watch of a private tour-guide.
Confronting Jean-Claude with this and his not doing anything while we got swindled, he became very aggressive and tried to blame us as he did for the gas money. He said we were adults and we should have been more careful. Sure we are adults; on the other hand I'm sorry but it was his responsibility to protect us. We could have been idiots for God's sake! He should have warned us to not deal with money with unknown people. Besides, I have asked if it was a scam. I felt something was going on, I was suspicious. He should have done his duty and interfered on our behalf. We hired a guide to protect us from any kind of harm. As adults we could have travelled on our own; however, we have a 6 year-old and travelling as a family in an impoverished country, we wanted the protection and guidance of a guide. Such a thing should NOT have happened under his watch. Mind you, this definitely would NOT have happened had we been on our own. I would not have dealt with a crowd of people knowing that I'd be robbed somehow. It's NEVER OK when you are alone and there is a crowd around you. I felt helpless not being able to reach my husband who was out and surrounded by these people while I was in the car, with people blocking the door. Jean-Claude was there, doing nothing but watching!
It's true, sure, we are responsible; however, again sure, we believe Jean-Claude is responsible too. His lame excuse of putting the blame on us instead of saying sorry is unacceptable. It is part of his job to keep unsolicited requests away from us. He had done a similar thing with people begging us to buy things. It was obvious we did not wish to buy anything, but they were pestering us even after we got in the van. Jean-Claude waited and waited. He was sitting at the back, doing nothing but watching. I felt very uncomfortable. I have no trouble saying “No”, however having to say “No” a dozen times is exhausting. I bought one more thing after already buying three things I didn't want in the first place. Then I had to turn away my head. I couldn't take it any longer. Only then did Jean-Claude close the car's door and told the driver to move. When I confronted him, Jean-Claude defended himself and them saying “It's their job to sell.”
They weren't trying to sell! They were pressuring us into buying. Pressuring and pestering! Those are two very, VERY different things. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries, even in Africa. In such a poor country, you feel compelled; with so many around begging you to buy something you feel obligated to buy things you really don't want just to help out a little. However, as neither we nor anyone (not even Bill Gates!) can help everyone in such a situation, and there is no end to this we had to turn our backs in the end. I understand, Jean-Claude may have wanted his kinsman to make money, but it shouldn't have been at the cost of our being harassed.
I suppose that's something unavoidable when one travels to such poor places, that's why I have decided not to travel to Africa with my family anymore. I thought coming with a tour would prevent such situations; apparently it may not, and if not, it is very bothering.
Coming back to the swindling story... Jean-Claude once again tried to defend himself by claiming he thought we had Ariary left on us and wanted to change it back. Which is just so unacceptable because we had changed 2 USD from him to get Ariary to pay for a small souvenir right before getting to the airport. So he definitely knew very well we did not have any local money on us and we did not need to exchange. Unfortunately, all this made us think he might have been in on this scam. It's not nice, we are not claiming he is, he probably wasn't, but unfortunately a question mark arises when a guide is so nonchalant even when you have asked if this is a scam. Jean-Claude's behavior was inexcusable, but his lame excuses afterwards are even more inexcusable!
What's worse, he started answering our messages in capital letters, which is shouting. Totally unacceptable, uncivil, vulgar behavior.
During our trip Jean-Claude had mentioned he worked with ToursByLocals and that they provided counsel when an issue arose with a customer. So I told him to check with ToursByLocals to find out about the things I said. I had no doubt that they'd be confirming how the gas money is done. I was also sure they'd be backing me about being hassled by peddlers/hawkers as their foundation story is based on such an experience.
Jean-Claude retorted “Why should I be doing that?”
Obviously to learn and improve his services! But again obviously, he had no intention of doing that.
In the end, I asked him:
1) Do you really think your customers should have to know and calculate fuel prices for the distances you quote, or do you think it’s more reasonable that you give them full information?
2) We believe that when locals jump on your customers you are supposed to keep them away. Do you think “I don’t know” is an answer to give to a customer asking if this is a scam?
He did not answer.
We have been swindled about 90 Euros. Jean-Claude's original quote to us, including the gas money, ended up being 300 Euros (350 USD) more than another local tour guide gave us. So we asked him to pay us back 100-150 Euros -I believe it is quite a fair and reasonable request given how much money he made out of us in a place like Madagascar and given his responsibility in the situation- but of course he didn't.
We let it go. I mean what can you do anyway? He's got the money.
However, I could do one thing. Report this to ToursByLocals myself. Which I did. Unfortunately, I got a very disappointing answer from them. Please read about their response here: ToursByLocals
As I had used up the two resorts, i.e. the personal and the higher authority, there was only one more left. To write this post with the hope of warning other people. I want to emphasize one thing strongly: I never wish to “play with anyone's bread” as we say in Turkish; meaning I would never want to be the cause of someone's losing a bread-earning job. However, I also have a strong wish for people who deserve better to make money. Money should definitely be going to people with integrity more than the ones who seek it aggressively. Unfortunately, the way the world is set-up rewards the latter ones. I wrote this in the hope to just make a dent in the better direction.
Conclusion: I'm sure you'll be fine if you go with Jean-Claude through ToursByLocals. In fact, he includes the price of fuel in the cost of the tour on the page of ToursByLocals
He does not resort to the gas money cheap-trick while quoting the price of the tour on ToursByLocals. I also have no doubt he will be extra careful not to get any negative reviews there so he will be protecting you from street-sellers and scammers. Even if not, I'm sure you will be refunded by ToursByLocals in case of any issues. They are a five-star company and from what I have read online take great care to keep up their reputation. However, if you are like me in the sense that you would like to give your money and business to decent, humble people with integrity, to people who will not resort to cheap tricks when not kept in check by a higher authority, please avoid Jean-Claude.
As we pulled in at the gate of the airport in Antananarivo I had a sigh of relief that we completed our family trip in Madagascar without any mishap.
The moment we parked, before I could even get out, we were surrounded by locals. They had blocked the door and were begging us to give them paper bills for coins. They said “Problem with the bank.” There were about 8-10 people between me and my husband, all shrieking “Please please please...”
Carlo was already out, I didn't like that we were blocked from each other. The way these people were asking, swarming around us and distracting attention, I suspected something was wrong. I asked our guide.
“Jean-Claude, is this a scam?”
His reply was “I don't know.”
Seeing his unconcerned, calm attitude, and knowing that banks do not accept coins when exchanging money, we wanted to help them out.
They seemed desperate. They were even offering “22 Euros in exchange for 20 Euros.” Of course, you don't want to take advantage of the bad situation of these people. These must have been coins that foreigners gave as tips for carrying their bags or something.
I started changing the money. In the meantime, I was very bothered that Carlo was standing there alone, surrounded by all the locals. They could have just pulled out his wallet or something else without him noticing. You never stand in the crowd alone like that. I had my back covered in the safety of the van, but I still felt helpless I couldn't reach out to Carlo. He had started changing too and I couldn't stop him, which added another stress to me. I handle the money when we are travelling. We got into a couple of troubling situations beforehand. He is not used to travel and deal with hustlers in such countries. I am. Yet here we were, and I was getting annoyed with the situation.
I changed a couple of 20 Euros. But they kept asking for more.
“Please, me too, me too...”
But you cannot keep changing forever, help them all out. There are other foreigners around, they do a bit too, I figured out. Then I said “Enough!”
If you don't say enough and act like you mean it, you never get out of the pressure. It's really bothering.
So we got our luggage, went in, did the check-in, passed through immigration and security. When we finally sat down in peace, Carlo said “Let's count the money.” I wasn't keen on doing it to be honest, I was just glad that the whole ordeal was over. Still, we gathered all the coins between Carlo and me, started counting. Sure enough, money was missing. In between us, we had given them 160 Euros and we had less than 80 Euros in coins now all together.
But how could that be?
We had seen them count the money.
Then we figured it out. They had counted the coins in their own hands. After counting, when giving the coins in our hands, they must have kept some in their palm. The bigger coins like 1-2 Euros were obviously closer to their thumbs, so they emptied the smaller change 10-20 cents in our hands.
Then I remembered. I remembered a detail. When the first man counted and gave the money to me, I had started counting it myself. Because that's what I always do automatically. Then they started making turmoil, clamoring “Please madame please, me too” etc. This was of course meant to distract my attention. I'm sorry to say it worked
It feels miserable to be tricked. It feels even doubly miserable to be swindled when you were trying to help someone out.
What makes it all the worse is this robs trust. I've had another incident where someone whom I gave money to started hassling me for more money. I kept saying “No”, he wouldn't stop. You can be sure, I'm not helping anybody out from now on. I have trusted people until now and have been disillusioned too many times. Mostly, people take advantage of your goodwill. This includes people whom I opened up my house to robbing my stuff. It feels bad. It actually feels awful. Be it my best friend, or someone whom I had called best-friend for a decade “robbing” my car for her boyfriend, be it a total stranger... True, I am the stupid one in each of these situations. I am the one who trusted and gave people my house, my car without any binding agreement; yet, this doesn't excuse the behavior. True, there are people who return the favor and do not exploit you. But they are the small minority. No, I won't keep on doing good for their sake, not when I end up feeling so bad about it afterwards. I won't take my chances again. I won't trust people.
Worse yet, I won't ever try to help people I don't know.
My husband said we should report to the police. I tried to. I even went out of the airport to find the police. Yet, they didn't care. The three officers I found just brushed me off when I told them what had happened. Another told me to show her the people and walked away. I mean how can you identify them?! I didn't look at their faces. I wouldn't have recognized even if one of them was my friend, I am a looker but non-seer. Still... I tried to have a look around. I had one idea of a woman whom I had noticed somehow, but I could never be sure; so no need to accuse anyone. I went back in disheartened.
Then I started questioning...
Why and how come they get to do this?... I wondered about the people who swindled us. What kind of people were they, what were their lives like? How many times had they done this before, how had this scam first occurred to them? Was it a collective thing that came up as a solution to their plight or was it the doing of one person organizing the others? How did they split the money after the deal? Did each get what s/he could get away with or did they share as they were all there doing their part? I wondered if they fought with each other over their share.
I have no answers to any of these questions. I can only guess there are different types of personalities and different reasons that drive people to do such things. Some learn, they are forced to learn to swindle. I suppose I'd have learnt it too if I was left in dire circumstances. Instead of suffering or resigning to my fate, I'd have done something to get some food for my family. I wouldn't have done anything harmful. I wouldn't have stolen probably. Like breaking into someone's house or mugging anyone. No, I wouldn't be able to do that kind of stealing. But yeah, if I could get away with some sneaky means, like messing up with bank accounts, or picking up money from a stack which no one would notice, I'd have done it. I could perhaps even swindle people like they did with us. Who knows? I might be capable of doing that. You never know such things until you are tested.
The reason I don't do any of these now is not a sign of my virtue but a sign of my circumstances not requiring me to do such things. I most probably would have rationalized my behavior if I was in their place. What's wrong with what they did? They didn't harm us. Not physically. They didn't harm us much materially either. They know we have money, and it's obvious we can afford to lose that money without any significant setback in our life circumstances. It is true.
It is also true that they can make better use of that money. Yeah, I have to be fair. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Like the way I reasoned when I had money stolen in Buenos Aires back in 2001, I had reasoned “I'm glad my money went into the Argentinian economy. They can use it. I hope the man used it for something good like buying his sick mother medicines or food for his children.”
Besides, I give money away anyway. I donate. I can assume I donated that money to them.
The thing is... I cannot really assume that. Because I want to pick whom I donate “my” money to. I want to get to decide on that. And I definitely would have preferred to donate it to people who do not even ask let alone resort to such tricks which rob trust.
That is the main reason I hurt. That my trust has been stolen. I didn't think much highly of humanity before this, knowing all the cruelty man can impose on another. All the killings, all the torture, all the slavery, all the kidnappings, all the human trafficking, all the sexual abuse... I cannot complain about my share. (You always need to see the bigger perspective and keep it in mind. Always.) I am among the fortunate. At least until now I've been so. Still... it adds one more tile upon the pile of reasons to retreat from society at large.
May God (or whatever that higher force is) protect people from man's cruelty.
PS: This wouldn't have happened if I was travelling alone. What makes it worse is that it happened under the watch of a guide, it certainly wouldn't have happened if we were on our own either.
Jean-Claude should have intervened on our behalf and scattered the people away from us. So we believe it was a grave failing on his part as a guide. Sadly, his nonchalant attitude even after I asked him if this was a scam made us question if he was in on this scam. Jean-Claude works for ToursByLocals, a five-star firm. We have notified them of the situation. Unfortunately, they didn't do anything about it. So just beware of Jean-Claude in Madagascar.