Updated: Apr 4
Happy Fourth of July From Brisbane
It’s always hard to be away from the USA for the Fourth of July. It’s always fun when we are stateside in July. I loved spending time with friends and family. We’ve spent many Fourths in Silverton, Colorado camping in the last five years.
We typically don’t do much for the Fourth when we are abroad. But I do enjoy seeing everyone’s photos on social media. Light some sparklers for me this year!
In 2019, I wrote a satirical blog called 47 Things Americans Take for Granted, which got a really good response. This year I’ve asked other bloggers and ex-pats what they think Americans take for granted. Note that these bloggers have lived in many different countries worldwide, and their responses reflect their unique experiences.
Free Drinks Refills
Realizing that complimentary drink refills are not a universal experience is one of the first lessons I ever learned abroad. And it’s not one I’ll soon forget!
It was my first time leaving the country studying abroad from Oklahoma to Italy. Hours after landing in Rome, the first thing I did after checking in to my hotel was find the nearest street cafe. I was prepared to get out of my comfort zone trying new food.
But fighting jetlag and needing caffeine, I went with my usual drink of choice back home. Plus, an Italian “coca” was the perfect combo for my first taste of Quatro Formaggio pizza. Overcome with the romance of it all, I didn't think twice when the waiter only refilled my cup once it was empty… and only after I asked for more. But it certainly dawned on me once I got the bill for six drinks with my meal. Oops!
Contributed by Cassie of Cassie’s Compass
As an American, I know I certainly took the convenience of elevators for granted. Are there multi-story buildings without elevators in the US? Yes, but they are extremely rare, and I certainly haven’t been in one that I can remember.
In Paris, France, however, it’s not so uncommon to have apartment buildings without elevators. In fact, we inadvertently rented such an apartment on the 6th floor. Which to an American like me is really the 7th floor. But we got such a great deal, we stuck with it so we could justify gorging on decadent Parisian desserts.
Soon we were used to the routine of running up and down the stairs to grab a baguette or linger at one of the famous cafes in Paris. In fact, when our American friends came for a visit, we forgot to mention the no elevator issue and one in particular was not too happy with me.
It’s actually not just the lack of elevators in Paris that can be be problematic, it’s the size—especially in apartment buildings, they can be quite coffin-like. My 6’4” husband can barely fit in some of them. So, sometimes even if there is an elevator, we still take the stairs!
Contributed by Denise of Chef Denise
I remember when I was in college sometimes throwing a shirt into the dryer for a few minutes instead of ironing it. I hadn’t ever even considered how convenient it was to be able to wash something and wear it later that same day.
However, when I moved to Colombia as a volunteer teacher, I realized just how much I had taken that for granted. That first year as a volunteer in a small town, I didn’t even have a washing machine, only a bucket. Once I got a proper job and moved to Cartagena, I did get a washing machine, but dryers remain very rare (and expensive) in Colombia. It was all clothesline drying for me for over a decade!
Having to wait at least most of a day, and if it’s not hot and sunny, sometimes more than 24 hours, to be able to wear something you’ve washed isn’t really that bad. However, it does take some planning, and having the freedom to pick out something dirty and have it washed and dried within a few hours is something I definitely took for granted before. I imagine most Americans do as well.
Contributed by Adam McConnaughhay of CartagenaExplorer.com
Nearby Hiking Trails and Outdoor Activities
Over four years ago, we took the plunge to move from San Jose, California to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is an exciting place to live due to the affordable housing, fun activities, and delicious food options.
One of our favorite things to do is go hiking and do outdoor activities on the weekends. When living in the Bay Area, it was easy and convenient to hop into a car and drive 30 minutes or an hour away from home to visit hundreds of hiking trails, relax on the beaches, and explore nature. We could easily go to Santa Cruz or somewhere along the Peninsula to get fresh air and our nature fix.
Unfortunately, Ho Chi Minh City is a concrete jungle and super flat, so the nearest hiking trails are over 2+ hours one-way. It’s not easy to get to the trails as other transportation options are needed - take a motorbike or bus, hire a private driver, or go via a group tour. Unfortunately, foreigners can’t rent cars.
Since we don’t have a motorbike, we rely on group tours where 40-seat buses are rented or go with someone that has a car. The good news about using other transportation options is that the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is extremely congested and crowded. It’s better to not drive as the drivers on the road are unpredictable.
Ho Chi Minh City and South Vietnam get HOT (around 90℉ every day). Any intense outdoor activity needs to start early around 5:00 am to 6:00 am, and finish before 10:00 am. Then, the rest of the afternoon is eating and relaxing.
Going somewhere outside of Ho Chi Minh City takes some preparation but at least we get to explore!
Contributed by Jackie Szeto of Life of Doing
Good Air Quality
Growing up in the Midwest didn't make for the most exciting childhood. But, it did spoil me with fresh air, large green spaces, and uncrowded cities. In many of South America's big cities, you're surrounded by concrete upon concrete instead of front yards and boulevards lined with trees. The air quality is noticeably poor in certain cities and the high altitude in the Andes only makes it worse.
After spending a month in the incredibly unique city of La Paz, Bolivia, I was craving nothing more than a peaceful walk in a park. Unsurprisingly, the air quality in a crowded metropolis at 3,600 meters above sea level isn't conducive to any sort of intense physical activity. The insane traffic congestion and the city's location on an Andean plateau only add fuel to the fire. At times, you feel like you are breathing in car exhaust.
I may have shed a tear leaving La Paz because the city is truly amazing, but my lungs were smiling. Needless to say, the most excited I've ever been to go for a run in my life was when I got home from La Paz. If you're considering a move abroad, a city's air quality is definitely something to think about.
Contributed by Mark George of George’s Backpacking Guides
As much as I love traveling in Hunza Valley, a remote part of Pakistan, there is one thing I miss so much about the USA–pizza! Growing up in Connecticut, I had no shortage of delicious pizza, with many options in my hometown. Not to mention my family lives minutes away from New Haven, one of the pizza capitals of the world!
While I’ve been able to find some authentic pies in the large Pakistani cities of Karachi and Islamabad, my newfound home of Hunza Valley is seriously lacking in anything that can even be called pizza. The one shop in town doesn’t know how to make or use sauce (despite repeated visual tutorials), and although we have thousands of cows up here, the “cheese” they use cannot even be categorized as such.
I’d say the only thing they’ve been able to get right is the bread, but even then it’s not even worth the prices, which are almost the same as a pie back in Connecticut! While I love living and traveling all over these mountainous areas of Pakistan, it would be a dream come true to have some quality pizza nearby, even if it can’t quite measure up to the delicacies of the East Coast, any improvement would be appreciated.
Contributed by Samantha Shea of Intentional Detours Travel Blog
I have been traveling full-time with my family since 2019. Before this, we lived in Chicago, IL USA. One of the things I took for granted living there for over 16 years was urban planning, specifically public transportation.
Chicago's public transit system connects the downtown area with the neighborhoods, suburbs, and two international airports. We could easily go almost anywhere in or around the city as a family without a car, including riding the CTA Christmas train in December.
In the last three years, we have only visited two cities outside the US that had good public transit: Mexico City and Kuala Lumpur. Since leaving Chicago to travel, we have had to pay much more attention to where we stay or live.
I always have to ensure that I find a place within walking distance of a grocery store, since most cities don't have a subway or bus system. If they do, it's often not easy to use or easy to understand.
Myanmar didn't have intercity transit at all that I could find, except for one train that looped around a single circle in Yangon. It didn't go anywhere that tourists wanted to frequent.
When we lived in Playa del Carmen for 9 months, there were minivan buses that drove around town on designated routes. Sadly, I couldn't find anyone who could tell me what the routes were and there was no official map.
In Guatemala City, there is a subway but it doesn't go very many places outside a small loop in downtown. We are driving the Pan American Highway from 2021-2024, and I don't expect we'll find decent public transit again until we reach Panama at the end of 2022.
Contributed by Brodi of Our Offbeat Life
Something Americans take for granted is that they can easily take their car anywhere locally, regionally or even out of state. They still speak the same language, use the same currency, and are familiar with most laws.
Road trips in the United States are fantastic for day trips or longer getaways. In the US you can get the great outdoors like nationals parks, or even easily tour big cities and enjoy cultural attractions.
Driving access in the USA is always taken for granted and we are indeed lucky and blessed to have so many privileges. One road trip I enjoyed recently was this road trip of Long Beach, Washington.
Contributed by Noel of The Mature Traveler
Let's Count Our Blessings
From my friends around the world – we hope you enjoyed this blog! Life is about perspective. Sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge the things we are thankful for, that we don’t always consider.
What do you have in your country that you might take for granted? One of the beautiful things about travel is that it opens our eyes. People everywhere have things they take for granted.
Let’s all stop, and count our blessings. Happy Fourth to my American friends and family wherever you are. Although it’s been a tough year, there are good people everywhere. May the good outweigh the bad and may love and compassion always prevail in the USA.
Love from Brisbane.