I have been very lucky that all these case studies have come together (some very nearly didn't). It has been fascinating to interview people all over the world and I have discovered that we all share the same problems. Many people were worried about changes in future generations, old people all over the world marvelled at the changes that had taken place in their lifetime. Many were also worried about how their children were going to afford a place to live. House price inflation is not just a UK phenomenon. What struck me the most was how we in the West have inflicted the product of our consumerism onto developing countries. In La Paz, Bolivia, the river is a bright foaming red, in Peru the cancer rate is 3 times that in Bolivia because of factories churning out poisonous fumes. In China the pollution rate in Beijing is 240 (compared with 20 in London and 24 in New York, the UN states that 20 is healthy (China Daily). The sad thing is, that because we are walking around in a relatively pollution free and clean environment, the consequences of our consumerism are not brought home. This also applies to food. Only yesterday it was reported in the Telegraph that farmers are spraying GM Soy beans with poisonous pesticides and one boy has died from being sprayed (Gray, Louise, The high cost of the quest for 'green gold' Telegraph 17.05.11 p21). Agribusinesses are major giants and locals do not have a say in where and with what crops are sprayed. The only thing we can do as consumers is only buy organic produce and this applies to meat too. The GM soy is used to feed animals.
Another thing I didn't realise until I travelled, is how lucky we are in the Western world to be able to travel at all. I spoke with Argentinians in Buenos Aires who were desperate to explore their Italian roots but could not get a visa to visit, nor afford the extortionate air fare and living costs to visit long lost ancestors. One guy who worked in finance told me that many American companies outsource to Argentina so there is a ceiling to his earnings. He will never be able to get above a certain level unless he migrates to a more wealthy country.
I also learnt that it is tremendously valuable to travel alone. Though many people tried to warn me of the dangers of being a lone female traveller, I found the opposite. I think your guard is down and you are not so aware if you are in a group. You also miss out on a lot of interaction with locals because you are less approachable. I also think that because I was female, people were more prepared to help because I appeared less threatening and perhaps because they were more concerned for my welfare than they would have been had I been a man. I also enjoyed the huge liberation of travelling solo and also the space for lots of thinking time. I could really absorb the new ideas, peoples and landscapes around me because there was no distraction. Other people thoughts were not polluting my own ideas. Despite this, I did carefully organise things like WWOOFing and Couchsurfing as a way of meeting people and getting to know local cultures in a way that is not possible by backpacking. But this was also as a method of prevention against lonliness. And it worked. I was free and solo when I wanted to be and I had company when I needed it. Sometimes I did wish that James could have been there to share a special moment. But the fact is, we would have unlikely got as far as I did with two of us. Because I only had to think about myself, my money went further because I was prepared to rough it and I also went on much more intrepid and thrilling expeditions than I think I would have been able (allowed?!) to as a couple. I did meet a few travelling couples on my trip, who seemed to have got the balance right and I am sure they will have wonderful memories for years to come. But I am really quite glad to have gone alone.