How Messed Up Are We?

Ted Simon at Overland Expo 2012

Ted Simon at Overland Expo

How messed up is the world? Are people growing colder to forgein travelers? Here are some observations from, Ted Simon, a seasoned traveler.

Ted Simon spoke at the Overland Expo this weekend to inspire people to “just go” and see the world. It’s a common theme at the expo, and Ted is an authority figure given his travel resume . A foundation has sprung up in his name to promote the spirit of travel that his books capture. The incredibly humble Ted always made sure to mention it wasn’t his idea and that he never thinks too highly of anyone who erects a statue (virtual in this case) of themselves within their lifetime. His stories and words of wisdom never let me down. Sometimes you’re not quite sure what he’s getting at until he brings it all together in a way you never saw coming. His thoughts on the current state of the world did leave me a little bothered though.

Having traveled around the world for four years in 1973 and repeating the route in 2001 Ted has a unique insight. He candidly refers to the world as a “mess.” He recalls a change he found consistent across all continents. In 1970 people he met were friendly, kind and welcoming. Thirty years later the reception from strangers was still friendly, kind and welcoming but always followed with questions like: “What do you want?” or “What are you doing here?” Suspicion seems to be growing, and perhaps globalism is blame. A world more interconnected can bring about incredibly beautiful things, but there’s no filter against the ugly things too.

Is Ted turning into a curmudgeon in his old age, or is there some truth to how messed up things are?

I’ve only had one big journey and it wasn’t as lengthy as Ted’s, but I came away with a great deal of optimism about people and the world. I thought the world was a mess before I left for Latin America, so maybe it was easy for my perceptions to make a positive shift from by the warmth I experienced from people.

Perhaps I am exaggerating his commentary on the current state of affairs. I try and think about all the ways he is right and all the ways I could be mistaken. Ted deserves the benefit of the doubt with his experience, but it still bothers me. He still urges people to go out into the world, but I get the feeling that it is in need of saving along with exploring.

Never mind corporations, politics and pretty much anything involving large sums of money. These things are expected to have turmoil.


What about the culture from country to country?

What about the stranger you meet in a distant land?

Is suspicion brewing everywhere?

Is the warmth of the world fading?

Share your experiences below

Photo courtesy of
  • Donna Rees

    I motorcycled solo throughout Spain and Portugal two years ago and found nothing but kindness and curiosity. I never felt the least bit threatened and for a woman alone in a foreign county that’s pretty surprising and enlightening.  I believe we sort of gather what we radiate and if that’s vibes of fear and suspicion we get it back in kind.  I don’t know, I see the world still as a marvelous place for travel and exploration.

  • AtlasRider

    Thanks for sharing Donna. I agree that our own dispositions are mirrored in others. As Ben Slavin said, “Make a friend out of someone before they have a chance to make an enemy out of you.”

  • Roseann Hanson

    We spent a month on expedition in Egypt in February this year. We found everyone hugely welcoming, in fact we were embarrassed by all the attention, like rock stars! Without fail the citizens, no matter what demographic, separated us from our government (and its policies, particularly since our government supports the military to the tune of $billion-plus); people are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for. We had one negative experience (involving 18 men, 3 AKs and 2 Land Cruiser pickups . . . had a happy ending but just as easily could not have!) but that does not reflect badly on an entire country. Anyone who thinks they can travel and only experience goodness and light . . . should go to Disneyland!

  • AtlasRider

    That’s awesome to hear Roseann, especially with some of the unrest in that area. It’s always reassuring to hear stories from people who’s boots have been on the ground.

    Disneyland? The budget needed for a week there can fund an expedition! 😛

  • Paul Holborn

    In 1990 something I read Jupiters Travels and had the same response as many 1000’s of others . . . that is . . . back the bike and go. In my experience of Europe and a birthday trip to Morrocco I’m not sure I share Ted’s view of a change in people attitude. In general there is still a curiosity of where you have come from and where are you going. Most people like the idea of travel and new places, and the motorbike seems to break down barriers and open doors too.
    Just the other week travelling home through sourthern Normandy with my brother-in-law we ended up in the provincial town of Alencon. Found a cheapish hotel from rough guide and walked out looking for diner. In a small bar close by having some food we were looking over photos of the weekend when the bar owner came over with wine and said he had seen us come by earier on the bikes and in our pidgon french and his pidgon english explained that he had been to Scotland himself on his XS1100 . . . did we want to see it? After serving the three old guys in the corner he closed the bar and took us through the kitchen to the confusion of the poor woman with the marilyn manson t-shirt cooking our dinner, over piles of beers creates . . . across the yard to a shed . . . in the shed, yup, the old xs covering in a plastic sheet with his old AGV helmet on the seat.
    We had a diner then a few glasses of the bordeaux with the man talking bike and his memories of Scotland and how friendly people were , and he he was returning the favour.
    A totally unplanned encounter , but here I am telling you about it.
    Maybe that young Ted wans’t so aware of something thats always been there . . . a caution of strangers, but youth and optimism of ‘young Ted’ won the wary over?
    Anyway, if you find yourself looking for a plain meal and talk bike in sourthern Normandy you might do worse than the bar directly opposite the train station on the corner of the street. Make sure you mention you came on a bike . . .

  • cr0ft

    We’ve had news stations reporting nothing but horrors every single day for those 30 years. Not that there is only horror to report – it’s just that the horror is what they choose to go with and what people are fascinated with. That all plays into the already overblown “stranger danger” think we all get from home etc. How could it not lead to more fear of strangers and a colder society in general? Everyone you meet has been painted as potentially dangerous to you since childhood and there are even areas of the world where people genuinely believe that there is no reason for a man who isn’t in some way related to a child to speak to that child, and if he does he’s obviously some sort of crazy deviant. If he has a serious camera with him and is shooting pictures of children at play, the assumption isn’t that he’s just taking pictures of his kid – people instantly think he’s some sort of pervert. Add to that governments everywhere pumping out fear propaganda – especially the US government – because it makes the population pliable and happy to give away their civil liberties in return for some nebulous promise to be “kept safe” and I’d be stunned if mr Simon’s experiences weren’t spot on.

    The problem isn’t “globalism”, the problem is very basic and thus very hard for most people to see – the basic function of society as we organize it today is combat-based. The core of everything we do is about fighting someone for something else, be it jobs or actual resources. All the rest follows from that; if you’re in competition or combat with your fellow man, then of course you’re going to fear them and suspect them. For this reason and many others we’re going to need a total reorganization into a form where the world is in fact cooperation based at its core, and where the wealthy can’t derive advantage from fear-mongering. It’s going to be quite a job to make that switch, though.

    But I believe people are really basically empathetic and kind even today, which is a huge testament to the human spirit, where every day of their lives in this society is programming them to be hostile and cold.

  • Brandon Earl Bristow

    Just did 2 weeks through Yosemite and Tahoe on my 1980 Honda cb900. ((A few months ago)) Every single person I met was helpful and kind. I might have to adjust my world view to something a bit more sunny………a bit, ha ha . Peace, B.E.B.


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