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Travel essay

How Boston prepared me to travel the world

The author in Jordan, one of the 35 countries she has visited.Handout

Kate McCulley, a Boston area native, gave up her Fenway apartment and online marketing career for a life on the road two years ago. She has been traveling and blogging ever since, visiting 35 countries on five continents.

McCulley, 28, explains how living in Boston prepared her for the rigors of international travel, from Vietnam to the Shetland Islands.

DRIVING  In most cities, drivers refuse to follow the rules of the road. In Boston, you’re lucky if drivers follow the rules of physics. Combine that with our fearless jaywalkers and you have a perfect storm for traffic mayhem. But it’s true: If you can drive in Boston, you can drive anywhere.


If there’s any country in the world that requires a Boston driver’s education, it’s Vietnam. Drivers there speed like mad, regularly overtake buses, and lean on their horns more or less nonstop. Pedestrians cross streets by gingerly stepping into the road while drivers swerve around them.

I put my Boston driving skills to the test riding a motorbike down a Vietnamese highway at rush hour, racing the setting sun. It was too much for some of my European companions, who opted to wait out the traffic. Thanks to several years of driving through Kenmore Square on game day, I dodged traffic with aplomb all the while smiling at my fellow motorists.

SPORTS RIVALRIES  During baseball season I found myself thrust into heated sports crowds several times a week. I knew that simply putting a guy in a Yankees hat in a room with a Red Sox fan could quickly spark fireworks.

For John Henry owning half of the biggest US sports rivalry wasn’t enough. With his acquisition of Liverpool Football Club, chief rival to Manchester United, he became a protagonist in Britain’s biggest sports rivalry.

I spent several months in Chester, England — a battleground town where Liverpool and United fans are divided evenly and an offhand comment can lead to a fight between rival fans. Learning to keep a group like that calm requires skills worthy of a diplomat . . . or a Bostonian. I knew how to calm the factions: simply turn them on to someone they hate even more — like Arsenal or the French.


Kate McCulley in the Shetland Islands. Handout

DIALECTS  Bostonians have the most inimitable accent in the United States as well as a unique vocabulary. They also develop an ear for linguistics.

When you grow up in Boston, you learn multiple dialects — those of neighborhoods from Southie to Revere, regional New England dialects, and mainstream American English from TV and movies.

This multiple-dialect perspective enabled me to easily understand Catalan in Costa Brava, Spain, and Quebecois French in Quebec City. Many travelers struggle with this, but I think being a Bostonian gave me an edge.

Above all, it prepared me for being thrust into the Argentine Spanish of Buenos Aires, a rough, challenging dialect unlike anything taught in Bay State high schools, where random “sh” sounds are added to words.

Argentine Spanish soon sounded natural to me. And when you can ask where the bathroom is and understand the answer, that is a gift that will pay for itself over and over.

EXTREME WEATHER  In Boston, we’re used to hair-curlingly humid summers and long, frigid winters where snow lasts for months.

I’ve camped out on the Esplanade in direct sunshine on the Fourth of July. And on many a New Year’s Eve, I’ve chosen style over comfort and teetered on heels through the snow. Living through these extremes gave me an adaptability for handling difficult climates with ease.


At Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I climbed temples on my hands and knees in searing 100-degree midday heat as my British companions opted for a fruit shake in the shade. A year later, I scaled hills in the Shetland Islands — in high-heeled boots, no less — much faster than my Australian companions as hail ferociously spattered my face.

I’m no athlete. I’m just a Bostonian who doesn’t let tough weather stop her from having the time of her life.


Kate McCulley can be reached at