Travel Thoughts: Top Five most Friendly Countries I have visited

Although for the most part, the vast majority, if not all, the countries that I have visited have been full of friendly and hospitable people, some stand out in particular for having a notably high level of downright friendliness. In our modern world, there seems to be a huge movement towards shunning traditional stereotypes, which despite having its merits, does not take into account that stereotypes can exist for a reason. The values and traditions that a country or region imparts onto its citizens no doubt contributes in no small part to their collective behavioural traits.

This is a light-hearted article meant for easy reading. It does not take into consideration the blindingly obvious fact that people are still people, and you get ‘good eggs‘ and ‘bad eggs‘ in any place. Nor does the article imply that countries that do not feature on the list are necessarily any less friendly, but those below are just the ones that really stood out to me personally. Interestingly too, one thing I have noted during travels is that friendliness can be shown in many ways that may not be so obvious, just because people are not offering beaming smiles or high-fives does not always mean they are not friendly. In the UK for example, a famously stoic and reserved country, I have still been invited into strangers’ homes without hesitation when I have needed help, or in a recent case – medicine.

So, let’s have a look…


Costa Rica

The official Spanish denonym for the folks of this small but beautiful Central American country is Costarricense. However, for most, the term ‘Tico‘ (or ‘Tica‘ for females) is preferred. This stems from their habit of using the diminutive form when using nouns, such as ‘gato‘ (cat) becoming ‘gatico‘, and ‘café’ (coffee) – ‘cafético‘. This is a colloquial but ‘cute’ way of describing things in the Spanish language that shows affection and friendliness – perfectly encapsulating their warm-hearted nature. Costa Rica is a country that has no standing army, vast tracts of protected land containing immense biodiversity, and a commitment to being Carbon Neutral by 2050. Plus any country that has special ‘Sloth Crossings’ across the highways must be a nation full of good people no?

I cycled through Costa Rica in 2015, doing a large loop through the country covering both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, and I was consistently blown away by the welcoming attitude of the Ticos throughout my time there. A particular highlight of each day was the respite from cycling my heavy bicycle in the tropical heat that came in the form of ‘Sodas’ – little roadside ‘Mom and Pop’ food stands where a hungry cyclist could eat the national dish – ‘Casado.’ Meaning ‘married’ in Spanish, Casado is simply a butterflied chicken breast served over rice and beans and with a side of veggies. Protein, carbs, and vitamins to refuel a tired body, with a sugary, icy cola on the side to refresh a tired mind! The locals that ran these stands loved listening to my adventures and I swear they gave me extra-large portions too!


United States of America

Being a global superpower featuring daily in worldwide news, and with a somewhat contentious history in recent years in the minds of many, not to mention its widely misunderstood attitude towards food, freedom, and guns – to the misinformed reader, the USA would seem an unusual choice for this list. However, I still feel that the US of A is inarguably a strong contender for friendliest country award. Although their northern neighbour of Canada is often toted as being super friendly, the Americans in my opinion more often ‘wear their hearts on their sleeve’ – that is to say they are more expressive in their affections and don’t have so much of the calm stoicism famous of their Canadian cousins. I have travelled extensively in the US, and in comparison to many other countries where often I have to make the first move in communicating with locals, Americans will usually make the first approach and come say ‘Hi’ to me. This was particulary apparent while cycle-touring there last year, every time we stopped the bikes, friendly locals would offer us food, water, showers, a place to stay, or just good advice – always with a smile. The ‘Have a Nice Day’ mindset may seem overtly corny to outsiders, but to me exemplifies their attitude towards others.

In my work here in the Cayman Islands where the majority of my guests are from the United States, I have collected a countless number of email addresses, phone numbers, and business cards from customers – all while promising me a place to stay and company should I ever find myself in their part of the world. American children are certainly more polite than their counterparts elsewhere, calling me ‘Sir’ and females ‘Mam’. Americans say ‘Thank-You’ to their servicemen and women, and military personnel are usually invited to board planes, trains, and buses first.


New Zealand

Despite being quite a bit larger than my home country of the UK, New Zealand has only 5 million people across all of it’s gorgeous landscapes – the vast majority of whom live in its largest city of Auckland on the North Island. Although the physical beauty of the country is incontestable, its people are something to behold too. Tucked away at the bottom of the world, the inhabitants of this Pacific nation are calm and quietly unassuming, contrasting with the outspoken yet good-natured (mostly) boisterousness of their neighbours across the Tasman Sea. Although, like much of the world that fell to European powers during the age of discovery, New Zealand has, and continues to have, ongoing contentions between those of European descent and the native population. However, the country has taken a very progressive stance in making amends compared to some. The Maori language (Te Reo) sits alongside English as an official language, and features in all government documentation, in schools, television, radio, and more. Those of Maori descent also have positions in government and their culture is recognised and celebrated. Like everywhere, there is still a long road ahead – but they are on the right track.

Called Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) in Maori, New Zealand was my home for the best part of year in 2012/13. I have many personal anecdotes that attests to their amiability, but a couple really stick out. The most clear in my memory is the time my colleague arrived to work late saying that upon leaving his house he realised that his car was not in his driveway. His demeanour however showed absolutely no concern that it may have been stolen, and he simply assumed that someone must have borrowed it and undoubtedly it would be back by the time he got home! This sounded nuts to someone from the UK, but sure enough when he got home he was re-united with his car that now had a full tank of gas by way of ‘thanks!’ In the small mountain town in which I lived, leaving your car unlocked and the keys in the ignition at all times was completely normal and was seen as a way to prevent losing them!

New Zealand has many great hiking trails, but many of them are ‘one-way’ or ‘through’ hikes over a number of days that do not loop back to where you started. As a result, a problem that hikers face is how to return to your car once you have completed the hike. New Zealand’s answer to this comes in the form of the many ads pinned to the noticeboards of local grocery stores by people looking to do a ‘key swap‘. Effectively you agree with another group of hikers that each group will do the trail from opposite ends, meeting halfway to swap car keys, and then upon completion of the trail drive the other group’s car to a pre-decided meeting place to swap back again!

We could all learn a lot from New Zealand!


Guatemala

The prevailing public opinion of Guatemala is unfortunately swayed all too much by the overwhelmingly negative press concerning it, you only have to look at the Guatemala page of the UK’s Foreign Office website to see what I mean. While there is no doubt Guatemala has many issues that plague its national consciousness, it would be an incredible injustice to judge this most friendly of nations by its handful of societal problems. Everything about the Guatemalan people is incredible, and I have visited on several occasions – each time I spent over a month there, and I would go again with no hesitations.

The moment we crossed over from Belize on our Central American bicycle ride last year, the local schoolkids in their immaculate uniforms ran alongside us as we rode, smiling, waving, and saying ‘Hola!’ The village elders watched on as they did so, also offering us little waves from the porches of their little roadside homes. Even the way Guatemalans speak is evidence to their wonderful attitudes – I’ll give an example below in the form of how to order coffee in Guatemala.

“Hola Señor/Señora, ¿Como está? Quisiera un café por favor, cuando ud. tenga tiempo, no hay prisa.”

(Hello sir, how are you? I would like a coffee please, when you have time – no rush.)

This contrasts massively with the variations I have heard in places such as Spain where a customer simply knocks on the countertop and simply states – “Dame un café…” (Give me a coffee.) Or even in Cuba where the customer emits a shrill whistle to get the waiter’s attention then simply barks – “¡café!“.

Another trait of Guatemalans is their tradition of wishing “Buen Provecho” (Bon Appetit) whenever encountering anybody eating, regardless of whether they themselves are eating. The typical response from the diners is to reply in kind with another cheery “¡Buen Provecho!” What this means is restaurants across the country erupting in choruses of folks wishing each other Bon Appetit every time someone walks in! The list of reasons that I believe Guatemala is a hot contender for the number one spot in world’s most friendly countries is long, but maybe that’s a post for another time.


Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands have drawn me back numerous times to live and work. Their motto is ‘CaymanKind‘ – an ode to this little Caribbean nation’s amazing warmth towards each other and their visitors. Unlike some islands in other parts of the Caribbean, the police here do not carry guns, women can walk safely alone at night, and crime outside of the main urban areas of Georgetown and West Bay is extremely rare. Violent crime is downright unheard of and is generally concentrated around the less salubrious nightclubs in the early hours of the morning.

It is customary to greet people in shops, gas stations, buses, and on the phone. Asking cashiers, clerks, and other folks in service roles how they are is typical before the talk turns to business. Expect complete strangers in stores to tell you all about their kids, pets, life, etc.! I ride my bicycle as my primary means of getting around on a day to day basis, and on every ride I am constantly being waved at and greeted by the folks going about their business – although it is certainly not unusual to see cars stopped in the middle of the road while their drivers talk to passing pedestrians!

Through the islands’ links with the UK, and its financial services and tourism-based economy, the standard of living here is high, and the locals are generally well-educated and tolerant. The country boasts over 140 nationalities represented within its workforce, and in many ways, is a microcosm for what a more globalised world could look like. Despite its multiculturalism however, the islands still maintain their Caribbean charm, especially out in the eastern districts away from the heavily urbanised, touristic areas of the west side.


There we go! Please note – this post is simply my opinion. For those who know me, this changes often. But these are no doubt the five countries that jump in my mind for the most friendly. I still have relatively modest travel experience, maybe one day I’ll visit somewhere new that will make the next list!

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Camper Van Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island (2013)

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