Allen Yeh, a professor of intercultural studies at Biola University in California, has visited 64 countries on six continents, Antarctica being the only icy region he has not yet conquered.
Yeh has seen the historical ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, walked among Mayan pyramids on white sand beaches in Tulum, Mexico and gone on a safari in Kenya, among a variety of international experiences. Here are Yeh’s top tips and tricks for traveling abroad that he has gleaned during his globetrotting trips.
Born on the island of Guam in the North Pacific, Yeh has been traveling since childhood — his dad was an international businessman who took Yeh on trips while he was growing up. Yeh explained that in junior high, he went on a multi-nation tour of Asia and visited Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and his parents’ home country of Taiwan. In high school, Yeh and his family headed to Europe and explored Belgium, Germany, England, France, Italy and Luxumbourg along with Hawaii, an experience which Yeh said “instilled a love of travel in me.”
Yeh, who has played violin his whole life, also traveled with the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra on a junior high tour and played in Germany and Austria in an international competition. He explained that the orchestra flew to Frankfurt, then drove across Germany, passed through Salzburg and came to Vienna, Austria. Yeh said that was his first time in Europe and that he had a sense of independence as he traveled around the continent. Yeh noted that the “influence of travel with purpose is better than just travel for its own sake” because it gives a sense of purpose to both the journey and the destination.
Yeh went to Barbados over the 2023 spring break, his first time in the Caribbean. He explained that he has not yet been to the South Pacific but has Tahiti and Fiji on his bucket list.
One of the most beautiful places Yeh described was Iguazu Falls, a thundering cataract that straddles the border of Brazil and Argentina. It’s the largest broken cataract in the world, meaning that a string of waterfalls comprises the one great cascade. Yeh said it is “surrounded by lush green jungle and is more beautiful from the Argentine side, but Brazilians will argue that’s because you’re looking into the Brazilian side!”
Yeh’s quick rundown of his favorite countries around the continents was eye-opening because of the diversity he described. Yeh explained that Brazil is his favorite South American country because of the variety of cultures as Portuguese, Afro-Caribbean and Asian influences are all represented in the country. Italy was his country of choice in Europe because of the impressive architecture, delicious food, interesting history and natural beauty of the ocean. When it came to Africa, Yeh pointed to Kenya as his favorite place he has visited because of his interest in the Masai culture and Swahili language. Japan won out in Asia because of its rich cultural heritage and clean, safe environment.
One subcontinent, though, stood out as a particularly interesting place to visit.
“If you want to go to one place and see it all, go to India,” Yeh said, describing it as “the most different country from the West.” He pointed to clothing, food, religion, architecture and landscape as dramatically different from styles in the United States and noted the incredible diversity of the vast country.
Yeh strongly recommended planning trips in advance and cautioned travelers that they will miss out on opportunities if they do not do their research beforehand. Yeh explained that while he was working on his Ph.D in England, he tried to see Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper painting while in Milan, but he was told at the museum that he needed prior reservations. He stressed the importance of pre-booking well in advance and to plan ahead for documents as well, like online visa forms.
Yeh suggested avoiding traveler’s checks and cash while traveling and to stick to ATMs and international credit cards which do not charge fees for use overseas. He also pointed to the necessity of basic safety, especially as a tourist in a foreign country, and advised travelers to make note of who is around them, keep their wallets hidden and watch for pickpockets and scammers.
At the end of the day, Yeh explained that the beauty of foreign countries is ultimately found in the people and their culture.
“Just enjoy,” Yeh said. “Keep your eyes open and ask lots of questions. It’s one thing for you just to observe with your eyes but if you actually get to know people, they’ll tell you much more of the history and background.”