You’ve made the big decision to do a long term travel project and have created clear objectives for it. Time to get on that plane or train for the first exciting destination, right? Well, maybe not. A vacation traveler getting away from the daily grind for a week or two perhaps only needs to find the right beach and how to get the best deal at a resort. But long term travel is a serious undertaking. Some in-depth research of the countries or regions you intend to travel will help ensure a first-rate experience.
Research does not mean just buying a travel guide. Travel guides usually contain only a few cursory pages of hard information on the intended place of travel. Mostly, they have practical information such as where to stay, eat, visa requirements, transportation, and suggested activities—in other words, some basic logistics..
To get the most out of a trip, some knowledge of a society and its culture, its government and political structure, economic system, and its salient issues, gives the traveler context and understanding of their destinations. If you don’t already have a fairly good knowledge of the country you will travel, I recommend that you do what I call a “Country Study”.
My Country Study is quick, broad-based, comprehensive and easy to do. Follow these recommendations and you can start with no knowledge of a country, except perhaps its location on a map, and have a basic feel for it in hours. Here are the components of my Country Study, (not necessarily to be done in this order):
1. CIA Factbook Country Profile. Can be found by Googling “Country Profile name of country” (say, Guatemala).
The CIA Country Profile is a concise overview of the key points of a country. It starts with a paragraph length introduction to the country. Separate short sections are then devoted to statistics, government structure and type, the country’s geography, population and composition, the military, the country’s infrastructure, the economy including an overview of key areas, industries and aspects of the economy and economic measures, and other salient items like the country’s important geopolitical issues.
It can be read in 15 to 20 minutes.
2. BBC Country Profile. Again, find it by Googling “Country Profile”, (which turns up both the CIA Factbook and the BBC Country Profile).
This gets you a one page overview of the country. Included is a brief description of the country’s government with short profiles of its leaders. The end of the report states the names of the various media in the country—newspapers, broadcast television and radio networks and other major news publications and whether they are government or private owned.
The best part of this BBC Country Profile page though are the links to news articles published on the BBC internet service for the past 6 or so years. There are usually eight 8 to fourteen articles listed, each of which you can read in about 3 minutes. Reading these news articles from the past few years will give you a great introduction to the current topical issues in the target country.
The entire BBC research time should be less than an hour.
3. Wikipedia report on the country. Gives a much more detailed overview of a country, covering a country’s history, geography, people, culture, government, politics and current events of importance. The history, economy, culture and political sections usually have a link for separate more in-depth article on each of these issues. The end of the Wikipedia report usually has many links for further research.
This takes ¾ to 1 hour to read.
4. Follow up on links found in the above, and on key issues uncovered. For example, if researching Guatemala, one learns that the country has a horrific violence and murder rate. A chunk of this violence is related to extrajudicial and clandestine security organizations. So much so that the government in 2006 called in the UN to set up an independent “Special Investigatory and Prosecutor Body” called The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (“CICIG”). To complete a Country Study of Guatemala, some reading and a short bit of research can be done regarding the CICIG. Other salient issues and items of interest can be followed up similarly online or by other means.
Time needed for this step: 1 to 2 hours or so.
And there you have it. A good introductory knowledge of a country you will travel in is obtained in hours. Conveniently, this type of Country Study can be done while on the road when basic internet access is available. Of course, the Country Study is only a quick introduction. After completing it, one then knows what additional research is needed or of interest about a country.
Finally, if possible, try reading at least two or more well-reviewed books on the country or region. This is easy to do with ebooks on a notebook, or smartphone, when traveling.
Knowledge is power, so it is said. With your long term travel project, knowledge will help give you the trip of a lifetime!