There’s something about traveling—about being out of your element—that makes you more open to connecting with others. On this episode of the Relate podcast, we’re looking at relationships forged in exciting, life-affirming, and sometimes terrifying travel experiences. Highlights include a story of two young women who bonded over a bus trip gone spectacularly wrong in Ethiopia, and tips on understanding cultural differences from Graham David Hughes, a man who has traveled to every single country in the world without ever setting foot in an airplane!
Featured in this episode:
World traveller and Guinness World Record holder Graham David Hughes
Study abroad classmates Clare and Joey
FEMALE: Last year I went and traveled for like six months of the year, I just quit my job and went and traveled.
FEMALE: Once went to this restaurant in Japan and I got to try like fried lizard there and all these kind of like interesting unique foods.
MALE: I went to the Galapagos Islands, my whole life I thought like you know it's so exotic, it's somewhere nobody goes to it must be-cost so much money to be there and I never thought in my life I'd ever get to this place.
TAMARA STANNERS: There's something about traveling. About being out of your element that makes you more open to connection with people. On this episode of the Relate podcast, we're looking at relationships forged in those exciting and life-affirming and also sometimes terrifying travel experiences. You'll hear about two young women who bonded over a bus tour that went horribly wrong in Ethiopia. And you'll get some tips on understanding cultural differences from Graham David Hughes, a man who has traveled to every single country in the world.
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TAMARA STANNERS: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.
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TAMARA STANNERS: I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zendesk. It's a show about relationships and this time around, it's about relationships in motion. Do you have a travel bucket list? You know, a bunch of places you'd love to go if you had the time and the money? Well check this out. Graham David Hughes traveled to every single country in the world. Yes, all 193 of them, plus Taiwan and Vatican City and a bunch of other regions. And he did it all without setting foot in an airplane. That's a lot of countries and a lot of cultures to experience and we wanted to figure out how he did it. So we spoke to Graham David Hughes from his home on his private island in Panama which he won by the way in a reality TV contest. Who is this guy?
GRAHAM HUGHES: Hello. My name is Graham Hughes, I'm from Liverpool, England, and I am the first so far only person to visit every country in the world without flying. It took four years to complete and the reason why I wanted to do it, I mean there's a lot of reasons really, I wanted to prove it could be done. I started in 2009, and at the time there were 192 members of the United Nations and my job was to get to all of those plus Taiwan, Kosovo, Western Sahara, Palestine, and Vatican City.
I thought I'll get it finished in a year, then I thought I'll get it finished in 18 months (laughs) then I thought I'll get it finished in two years, but it ended up taking me four years and in July of 2011, I still had 16 countries left to visit, and unfortunately for me, fortunately for the people of South Sudan I guess, South Sudan became the 193rd member of the United Nations, so I was in Australia at the time and I had to go over to Fiji and New Zealand and then backtrack all the way back to Africa to take South Sudan off the list.
The one country that really surprised me the most was Iran. It was full of the warmest, friendliest, most hospitable people that I met anywhere and I expected a very sort of conservative country where they might not you know, be so friendly unless they're trying to sell you something, but I couldn't have been more wrong. They have this saying that I heard when I was over there which is "Always be good to strangers, because one day you might be the stranger." And that really stuck with me, I love that.
For instance, I was in the capital of Iran, I was in Tehran I was trying to get a visa for India, I met a guy in the queue, got chatting, he said, hey, come around to mine tonight, we're having some food, we're having some drinks and stuff, and I thought wow, okay, I've been invited to a sort of Iranian house party.
So I turn up and it's this guy and his mates and there's a couple of girls there and they come in with a headdress on and he gets out a bottle of wine and he's like, "Oh, you know my-my uncle smuggled this in because Iran is a dry country, it's very hard to get alcohol there.” And they look at it and they go, "How do we open it?" And I pull out my Swiss Army knife at my-you know with my corkscrew in it, "with this" and I open it up, everyone cheers, we have some wine.
And a bit later on we went to get some kabobs and um, we're walking back to the flat with th-the-of the apartment with these kabobs and one of his mates, a guy called Azzi, he says to me, “What music have you got on your iTunes? And I was like, “You probably won't like it, it's all like British Indie rock and roll from the nineties and he said, "Have you got any Radiohead?" I'm like "Oh my God, I've got all their albums and all their B-sides," and then he starts singing Creep by Radiohead. And all his mates join in. So we're walking along, a little bit tipsy after some wine, eating a kabob, singing Creep by Radiohead in Tehran and that was like the last thing I was expecting.
You sort of learn about cultural norms on the hoof. I loved Ethiopia, I mean on the buses in Ethiopia which was sort of like a cultural norm that I didn't realize, and I got in a bit of trouble for it actually, is that they don't like opening the windows. They think that if you have your, the windows open on the bus, even if it's like 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and your head is boiling, disease will come in on the wind, so I'm on this bus it's a sort of an eight hour bus journey through the desert and we're on this game of cat and mouse where I keep opening the window and the people around me keep closing it, I'm like, "Please, I'm sweating, I'm dying here," and there was a woman with a baby and she was really angry with me because she thought that I was giving her baby disease by opening the window. It surprised me and irritated me in equal measure, let's put it that way.
And here in Panama, I mean there's some wonderful nuts cultural norms, I mean first of all wow, the people working in the shops here are surly. One of the adorable things that they do here, well I find it adorable, I think other people find it rude, is they point with their lips, so you imagine if you nod towards something, they kind of nod and then they purse their lips and go like this, to whichever direction the thing that you need is in. Which is quite fun as well. So it's kind of interesting, there's some cultural norms that hit you head on first time you visit somewhere and other things that you know, it takes a while for you to sort of pick up on these little like many nuanced things that people do in one place when they might not do in another.
I learned very quickly that you can't judge people by the actions of their government and I traveled to every country, it took me four years, a lot, about 80 of those countries I had to go through twice for one reason or another and the people I met everywhere were just phenomenal I mean I had a couple of run ins with the police or the authorities now and again when I was crossing borders and things like that, but the people who just came up to me and you know, what little they had, they'll share with me. Especially traveling through somewhere like West Africa where people are really poor, and they'll still want to hang out with you and be your friend and I think that's a very human desire, is just to have friends and be liked and have a good time and what I really learned and the takeaway from all this was like I said, traveled for over 1,600 days and I wasn't mugged, I wasn't robbed, I wasn't beaten up, I didn't get into a fight, I didn't get ill. And I think the big takeaway is that the world isn't as scary as you've been led to believe.
The cultural norms in all these places are something that I just find absolutely fascinating, I mean why do we travel? Why do people go and see these places around the world and it's a mixture of reasons, it's you know the food, but also it's the culture, it's being able to immerse yourself in a culture different from your own and take away something from that culture for yourself that you know, you carry with you for the rest of your life. Whether it's the charming way in central Asia, they slightly bow and hold onto their heart while they shake your hand which is just adorable, or whether it's somewhere like the South Pacific, where you have to be very respectful to the elders of the village.
Yeah, it's funny, I mean I don't really collect souvenirs, I guess as I'm traveling I really just collect experiences and learning about the culture of all these different places was one of the greatest experiences that happened to me on the journey and will probably happen to me in my life I guess.
TAMARA STANNERS: You can find out more about Graham David Hughes and his amazing ‘round the world adventures at TheOdysseyExpedition.com. and now, if you're inspired to get out from behind your desk and explore the world, but you just don't know quite how to do it with the whole money situation, take a look at this article on our online magazine. It's called Ten Millennials Share Why And How They Ditched Their Jobs And Joined The Gig Economy. You'll find out about several people in this piece who are working while they travel the world. Check it out at Relate.Zendesk.com.
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to Relate, by Zendesk.
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TAMARA STANNERS: So you might remember from Graham David Hughes how he loved Ethiopia. Even though his experiences on the buses there left something to be desired. Well, believe it or not, this next story also features Ethiopian buses, though the characters in this story had way bigger problems than not being able to open a window. Joey Bouy was born in Australia after her parents immigrated from Vietnam. Claire Henning is Canadian but moved to Costa Rica when she was 14. The two women met five years ago when they were studying abroad in Abu Dhabi, but they really got to know each other when they were stuck in the middle of nowhere on a bus in rural Ethiopia.
CLAIRE HENNING: We were actually talking about this last night, we were trying to remember when we first met and neither of us have any memory of meeting each other for the first time. We pinned it down to probably about the first week of university.
JOEY BOUY: Actually, it's coming back to me now. We worked on the student newspaper together.
CLAIRE HENNING: We both went to university together in Abu Dhabi, but we never really...we were friends at that point, but we were more friends because we had friends in common. We hadn't really hung out one-on-one at that point.
JOEY BOUY: She was always cheerful, she was always laughing and smiling, so that's something that stood out.
CLAIRE HENNING: I thought Joey had a very strong personality and she's very on top of things, so in class for example, she was always the one who knew the reading inside out.
JOEY BOUY: Yeah, and we had a full break coming up and tickets to Ethiopia were pretty affordable.
TAMARA STANNERS: So Claire, Joey, and a group of their friends book a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city.
JOEY BOUY: Addis was really, really hectic. It's a very dense city. That's what I remember, it was like it was difficult to get a sense of bearings, I felt like I was lost all the time, but it was very, very exciting.
TAMARA STANNERS: They painted their faces, they went to see a soccer match, they explored the local markets, and dined on traditional Ethiopian cuisine. And after a few days in Addis Ababa, it was time to head to their next destination, Lalibela in northern Ethiopia, just about 420 miles away. The day before they planned to leave, Joey, Claire, and the rest of their friends stopped in at a flight center to buy their tickets. They knew there were only three flights a week to Lalibela, but they were super surprised to find out that the planes were small. Like really small. They could only seat eight people.
JOEY BOUY: There weren't enough seats for everyone so actually one person had to be left out, which is a pretty awkward situation.
CLAIRE HENNING: And so sort of a unanimous decision that Joey would be the one who wouldn't come on the plane with us because she was the last one to join our group. She was going to take the bus or do something else. And I could imagine what it would feel like to be you know told that you have to go off from everybody else and you're not coming on the plane with us and sort of that's it, you're kicked out of the group.
JOEY BOUY: It was really concerning, I think the bus trip was supposed to be 14 hours, but I was feeling pretty intimidated at the time. I couldn't make the trip on my own, but then Claire volunteered.
CLAIRE HENNING: I remember thinking this doesn't seem very fair, I mean if you join our group a day after everyone else, why does that mean she doesn't get on this plane? And also I'm down for the adventures, you know it takes a little longer to get there, but you have more fun.
The next step for Joey and I to take together was to buy bus tickets and so we ran into someone at a hotel who told us that he could help us get these tickets. He had a friend who owned the bus company, so the next morning we got up really early and he met us in the hotel lobby and he took us on a bit of a walk and he seemed really nice, you know, he was showing us around and pointing things out, giving a little bit of a tour of the city we were in. Eventually we go down and we buy our bus tickets, he takes us down, he puts us on the bus. It was much more of a minivan than a bus.
JOEY BOUY: It was definitely not in good shape, it was really old, you know, rusty, scratched up, and I remember thinking that everybody getting onto the buses were men and that was pretty scary. I kept thinking I'm not sure that this is an appropriate thing for women to do or a safe thing for women to do. After I came back from my trip and I talked to a friend of mine from Ethiopia, she said my Dad would never let me take one of those public buses, I can't believe you did that.
TAMARA STANNERS: But they didn't have much of a choice. Their flight back to Abu Dhabi left from Lalibela so if they didn't get there, and soon, their trip was going to get even more complicated. So, they get on this tiny crowded bus and started off down the dirt road on their journey. It was Joey and Claire's first chance to really get to know each other.
CLAIRE HENNING: It really was a bonding moment when we were sitting there on this bus in the middle of nowhere, gossiping about the boys we like. JOEY BOUY: We did talk you know very personally, quite intimately, I remember learning about her romantic history. This guy that she was involved with at school and the things that he had done for her that I thought were cute and I remember.
CLAIRE HENNING: Something I really like about Joey is how excited she gets for other people, so if I come to her with really good news or you know, the guy I liked finally talked to me, she's able to be genuinely really excited and happy for you.
Yeah, so we were told that it was supposed to be you know, four hours and then we'll transfer. And our first clue that something wasn't right was as soon as we pulled out, everyone started opening their wallets and giving the bus driver money. We thought, "that's strange". JOEY BOUY: ... because we already did, we paid you know that other guy, and their response basically was, "Who is that other guy, we have nothing to do with that other guy."
CLAIRE HENNING: He didn't speak English, there was a lot of sort of hand gestures going on, but we got the message of you need to buy your ticket. JOEY BOUY: So I guess that's the moment when things got really scary and we figured out that we had been scammed. Also more importantly we had no idea if it was the right bus and not and where we were going.
CLAIRE HENNING: And then less than an hour later, maybe 40 minutes later, the bus pulls into this parking lot, it's this dusty, dry parking lot and the bus stops and the doors open, and everyone gets out of the bus. That's it, this is the final stop. And then we realized the situation was much more out of our control than we had originally thought because we didn't know where we were, no-one could understand us, and we were both just really frightened.
JOEY BOUY: It was pretty deserted, there weren't many buildings around that we could see, you know, that we could imagine going in to get help, and we had started to attract a lot of attention. We were the only women that we could see in the area and the only foreigners. We were extremely conspicuous, you know, I'm Asian, there's not a lot of Asians in Ethiopia, Claire is blonde and blue-eyed and there is not a lot of that in Ethiopia either and people were staring at us, just these two girls, and I felt very vulnerable. I didn't feel safe.
CLAIRE HENNING: We're going around asking questions and we attract enough attention that this crowd starts to gather around us and some people started telling us, "You can come with me, come in my car, I'll take you to Lalibela." We thought, there's no way that-you're not getting in a car with a stranger.
I just remember standing there, all these people around us and sort of grabbing at us and trying to tug us in one direction and tug us in the other direction and Joey's usually so good at controlling situations and in this case she couldn't do that and I could see that Joey was frustrated at it and also afraid, and I felt the same way.
JOEY BOUY: I remember Claire turning to me and saying, "It's going to be okay, you know it always works out, so this is going to work out. It'll be okay." I was really mad at her when she said that because I thought how is it going to be okay? We have to do something, we have to have a solution, take action for it to be okay, we can't just hope it will be.
CLAIRE HENNING: So we're both standing there and we're in this circle of men who are all around us trying to give us directions and convince us to go into their car and who knows what else, and I see these two men, turns out they're from Spain, so they're quite obviously foreigners and they've got backpacks on and they've got the hiking boots. And I see them walking across the parking lot, and Joey and I look at each other like those, those are the people that we're traveling with, so we kind of like scurry over to them and asked them you know, where are they going.
JOEY BOUY: They were also trying to get to Lalibela, they had gone off track because they got scammed into getting on to the bus that they were on, and so we all teamed up.
CLAIRE HENNING: And then out of nowhere this scruffy-haired hitchhiker dude shows up and he's like "Where are you guys going?" We're like "We're going to Lalibela" and he's like "Cool, yeah, can I come along?" And we're like yeah, sure it's another like lost tourist, he can join our group. At this point we're open to anybody who's lost.
TAMARA STANNERS: After some tense negotiations, they finally found a driver who spoke a bit of English and he was willing to take them all the way to Lalibela.
JOEY BOUY: We felt pretty happy at that point, we felt safe like we knew there was a secure way to get to Lalibela, things were going well, but that feeling didn't last very long because the driver...
TAMARA STANNERS: He had agreed to be their private driver and take them all the way to Lalibela, but after only a few minutes, he pulled over and picked up a few people standing on the side of the road. This was not part of the deal. There was a heated argument, Joey, Claire, the Spaniards, and the Israeli hitchhiker got off the bus, took their packs off the roof, and told their driver they'd find a different way to Lalibela, and they weren't going to pay him.
The driver eventually gave in and kicked off the extra passengers and the trip continued. Then, after about five miles, he stopped again to pick up more people. They piled into the van. Joey and Claire and their new friends got off again in protest and the dance continued. This happened several times.
JOEY BOUY: So it became really clear that he had never meant to take us the whole way, but because we pushed back and because we didn't pay him up front, eventually he was pushed into actually driving to Lalibela.
Then he said “Well if I'm going to make this journey, then I have to eat, I have to have thiS break to eat, so he stopped in another town. Then he came back chewing these leaves. I think he had a bag of it beside him as he drove.
TAMARA STANNERS: Those leaves he bought at the gas station are called "khat" and people who chew khat say it gives them feelings of well-being and euphoria, but it can also make them restless and manic. Not great if you're trying to concentrate on driving.
JOEY BOUY: He wasn't responding very well and he was just kind of dazed, and so then we realized that he was high.
TAMARA STANNERS: He narrowly missed hitting several cows and to make matters worse, they were driving through the mountains. Steep, curving roads with no guard rails to prevent them from going over the edge. So Claire and Joey and the others in the car are nervously looking at one another and debating whether or not to say something.
CLAIRE HENNING: And eventually the Israeli hitchhiker tells him, “Okay, pull over for a little bit, so then the Israeli hitchhiker starts joking about it saying like, "You know how hard is it to drive this van, like how long have you been driving for, I can't believe I'm paying you this much money to drive, I could do this job." So they just swapped places. So he crawls in the back, he stretches out over the back seat and falls asleep and we don't hear from him for the next four hours, you know, we completely forget about him.
JOEY BOUY: Then he drove us all the way to Lalibela.
CLAIRE HENNING: We were just happy and kind of shocked that we actually made it and we got there in the middle of the night and we hadn't booked a hotel or anything, so we're wandering around trying to find somewhere to stay. We find this hotel and just as we're checking in, someone walks behind me and like grabs me, so I freak out at this point, like this is the time we're going to die. Right? We've made it this far, we turn around and it's these three guys that we know who happen to be in Lalibela staying at the same hotel as us. I remember on that trip thinking Joey's going to make a great lawyer one day because she's so
clear in what she wants and when it's obvious that someone's trying to rip her off, she's just not going to accept it. And she'll argue with them and she'll say no, this isn't right.
JOEY BOUY: She responds in an incredible way to crises or emergencies or just like vulnerable situations, so that's something I learned through planning this trip and that I still really value.
TAMARA STANNERS: That's it for Relate this time around. In two weeks we'll have an episode for you on parenting. We've got this amazing piece on a woman who raised her son largely from prison and the story of a biker group in New York City that helps deliver milk to new moms. Yeah, I just think that's so sweet. (laughs)
In the meantime, you can subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts. That way, you'll get the next episode automatically. For more articles on connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit Relate.Zendesk.com and if you want to explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to Zendesk.com for a free trial.
I'm Tamara Stanners, talk to you soon.