What’s the Worst Travel Advice You’ve Ever Received?
There are some of us who eat, breathe, and sleep travel. Travel-lovers active on social media sites read and talk about travel daily. It’s what we live for. Despite what we may think, though, we are in the minority. A good majority of people don’t travel much at all, and many of these people have a horrible misconception about everything travel related.
We all know these types of people. The worried mom who thinks no country other than her own is safe. The jaded, bitter man who is quick to inform you that kidnapping, theft, and rape is right around the corner if you visit that place. The wacky aunt who is convinced that you should never, ever eat at a roadside stand or market when traveling in a foreign country. If you do, you’re sure to die a slow, painful death from a weird and foreign sickness.
Most people who give this advice don’t intend to be condescending or bossy even though they may come across that way. A great deal of the time it’s just our loved ones who are worried about our safety. You can’t really blame them for that.
The staff here at BootsnAll recently reached out to the travel community on both Twitter and Facebook, asking followers and fans the worst travel advice they’ve ever received. Some advice is funny, some is sad, and some is just downright weird. Though a lot of the advice given was horrible, some of it brought up some really good points. It gives us the chance to discuss our travel differences and gives us a lot to talk about.
The bad advice: Safety
People tell me not to travel by myself because I’m a woman and I’ll get kidnapped, assaulted, trafficked, etc… Hard to believe people still think that way in this day and age. – Rene Madonna
That those people in that [insert country] you’re going to visit are really rude and mean and you shouldn’t even bother going there because you’re going to have an awful time of it. – Jim Neuner
“Shouldn’t you take a gun?” – mom. – @JimODonnell2
“You shouldn’t go to _________ (insert any country name). They kidnap women there.” – My dad. – @WorkMomTravels
I got the same from my dad, except he said they kidnap babies there instead of women. – @walkingontravel
”There’s no way I’m flying out of the country with all of these terrorist threats. I’m staying right here in the US of A.” By Trina Enriquez
“They eat people over there, you know.” I swear a remote family member said this about the South Pacific. – @TravelingAnna
Never ever talk to locals. They will cheat you of your money. – Boy Kembara
“Why go to a foreign country when you can visit the Disney replica instead? It’s safer.” – @TravelEditor
The better advice
If you leave your hometown, you will die! It looks rather ridiculous when I type it out like that, but there are plenty of people who legitimately think this. It is true that it’s smart to stay away from certain countries or certain areas within a country (including parts of most major cities in safe areas like the US, Europe, and Australia). The thing about all this advice is that it most likely came from a person who has never visited the destination in question. Watching the doom and gloom of the news would make you think you can’t even leave your house.
But with the reach of the internet today, it’s not difficult to find blogs, message boards, and websites of people traveling pretty much everywhere in the world right now. I suggest finding that information and trusting the people who are actually there, not Uncle John who can’t pull himself away from Fox News.
>> Want the straight scoop? Read Seven Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked, 6 Countries on the US State Department Alerts and Warnings List that You Should Visit Anyways, and Why You Should Ignore Everything You’ve Heard and Go to Colombia
The bad advice: Food
“Don’t eat the street food – you’ll get terrible afflictions.” – @dontforgetspork
The better advice
A huge part of travel for many people is food. There are plenty of travelers who plan their journeys around the culinary delights of a destination (I am one of them!). If you’re a food lover and are traveling to a place like Southeast Asia, the Middle East, or India, it would be an absolute crime to miss out on all the street food. Street food is king in places like these, and it’s usually where travelers can find the best, most authentic, not to mention cheapest food around. Eating at street stalls and markets provides not only tasty treats but a wonderful cultural experience. Safety is certainly an issue as refrigeration methods and cleanliness can be suspect, but if you use common sense, 99% of the time you will be fine. Look for big crowds, lots of locals, and high turnover, and chances are high that you’ll be running back for seconds, not the bathroom.
The bad advice: Shady touts and bad guides
“I can get you those tickets for half price. Meet me in the souk at 8.” – @JimODonnell2
“Take a conducted tour in Turkey because you don’t know the language and it’s dangerous for two women to travel there.” We managed just fine in Istanbul and while the tour around the country was OK, I’ll never take another one as long as I’m capable of traveling independently. Not following the yellow flag of the tour guide in a herd again! – Nandita Pakrasi Deianova
A travel agent recommended that we take a bus from Zimbabwe toNamibia. It’s routed through a war zone (Caprivi Strip). – @deliciousbaby
The better advice
Dealing with touts and decisions about guided tours are things every traveler has to deal with, particularly when traveling in developing countries. Some choose to ignore all touts, some will chat with them every once in a while, and novice travelers tend to talk to every tout who approaches them. It’s all a matter of personal opinion, and the most important thing is to do your homework before visiting a place. If you read up on Bangkok, you will know that touts will try to tell you the Grand Palace is closed so they can take you on a tour of the cities other temples, with several stops to their buddies’ shops. If you already know this before going, you can put a stop to the lying immediately. Using common sense and remaining patient is the best way to deal with lying, overzealous touts.
When it comes to trusting travel agents and deciding whether or not to take a guided tour, again, that is up to each individual traveler. Some love taking guided tours, some absolutely loathe it. For some experiences, like hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you don’t have a choice, and going with the most reputable company around instead of trying to save a buck is your best bet. Trust your instincts when deciding whether or not a guided tour is necessary. If you feel pressured by the touts and tour companies and just don’t have a good feeling about it, then walk away. You can always go back once you weigh your options, but the worst thing you can do is make a rash decision because you feel pressured. Again, doing a bit of research and reading up on a destination before visiting can save tons of headaches upon arrival.
>> Learn more about dealing with tours and touts in How to Negotiate with a Tour Guide to Get the Experience You Really Want, How to Prevent Hawkers and Touts from Spoiling Your Travels, 3 Paris Scams to Be Aware of
The bad advice: Booking hotels and hostels
“You don’t need to book a hostel in advance for a weekend in Amsterdam.” That resulted in 1 night in sketchiest hostel ever and 1 in the train station! – @anorthernnomad
“Book a hotel when you get there.” I hate doing that! It’s a waste of time, energy and it’s stressful. – @AnjaniLadki
”Don’t worry about booking ahead. Hostels are never busy at this time of year!” – Fraser Balaam
(Upon telling someone about couchsurfing) “Don’t do that! Be safe, get a hotel.” – Austin Williams
The better advice
This was perhaps the most surprising of the “worst advice” we received, as whether or not it is bad advice depends on a lot of factors, including where and when you’re traveling and for how long. When traveling on a shorter vacation, such as for only a week or so, it probably doesn’t make sense to wait to book. You want peace of mind, you want to relax, and it’s silly to spend a few hours or half a day wandering or driving around trying to find a place. But if traveling long term, the budget is usually tighter, and time is on your side. So walking around and trying to find the best place for the best deal can sometimes be smarter.
Of course, you always want to pay attention to big events, high season, and holidays, so use your brain. If you’re heading to Western Europe in August, it’s probably not wise to wait until your arrival. As far as couch surfing goes, it’s very easy for someone who has never heard of it to automatically think the worst. It sounds rather shady, and unfortunately we tend to assume the worst about people. The best way to combat this advice is to point the worried friend or family member to the site itself and the thousands of glowing reviews the service receives.
>> Read more about Couchsurfing and get Tips for a Smooth Couchsurfing Experience
The bad advice: Travel naysayers
Terrible advice that I gave myself–“You can’t take that trip, because of [school, work, other]”. I missed out on golden opportunities, and have since learned my lesson–find a way to make the trip happen! – Mary K. Furness
“Do it while you’re young.” I’ll travel whenever I like, no matter my age, thank you very much. – @texkourgan
”Don’t hitchhike.” Some of my best travel memories come from the kind people I met traveling this way in Ireland and New Zealand. – ToursByLocals.com
In Vietnam, collect the hotel toothbrushes, soaps, etc. as you go and bring some pens to give the kids you meet while traveling. A few months later in India I realized this sort of behavior encourages the “give me, give me, give me” mindset in towns/villages touched by tourism and taints the interaction between locals and tourists for years to come. – Julia Baker
”You can take the trains for free in Japan if you just speak loudly and aggressively in English. The train attendants are too polite to press the issue and let you go for free.” The person who gave me that gem was deported two months later, though I doubt it was because of their train scheme. – Nyssa Gomes
“Don’t go, hardly anyone speaks English there.” – @GDARCYRYAN
The better advice
There are plenty of travel naysayers out there, as we saw in the safety section. Many people just don’t understand the travel obsession that some of us have, so they try to bring us down instead of trying to learn more about it. Sometimes we are our own naysayers, as Mary stated in the first comment. It’s important to listen to our hearts and do what it is that we want to do. That’s what this column is all about—encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones and stop doing things because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Know that you can break away and travel no matter your age. If you want to make it your priority, then do it, don’t let age have anything to do with it.
As for no one speaking English, well, sometimes that’s a good thing. While language barriers can be difficult to overcome, using sign language and a big, friendly smile can get you what you need almost anywhere in the world. Speaking loudly and aggressively when someone doesn’t understand you just never works. So don’t do it; you look like an idiot.
For some of the advice here, it’s best to use common sense yet again. Hitchhiking is not a good idea in many parts of the world, but there are also plenty of others where it’s perfectly safe. It’s probably not wise to just hop in some random person’s car or truck if you don’t know the culture or haven’t done the proper research. When it comes to giving to beggars, that’s a personal decision that every traveler must think about and make for themselves. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Yes, giving can perpetuate the begging instead of encouraging that person to find a job, and oftentimes children are working for someone else and don’t see any of the money or gifts they receive. Many times that person is just doing whatever they can to get by and have their basic needs met. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell which is which.
>> Learn more about coping with tricky issues on the road in The Art of Traveling in Developing Countries and Cultural Tourism: Does It Help or Exploit Local Communities?
The bad advice: What’s good for me is good for you
”Don’t bring too many clothes to China- they’re cheap, buy them there.” (I’m 5’11” & female) – Natalie La Mantia
Paris is lovely in the spring…Paris is never lovely… – Hl Smith
The absolute worst travel advice I ever received was, “Cruises are fun!” – Donna Fisher
The better advice
One of the coolest things about reading over the comments for this article was realizing just how different everyone is – what is bad advice to one person may be great advice for another. Even though we all share a love of the same thing, travel, we all like our travel differently. For some, reading about how someone dislikes Paris or hates cruises may evoke a feeling of anger or “How dare you!” thoughts. But that’s what’s great about travel. There are so many places to visit and so many different ways of traveling that we can all have our likes and dislikes. What works for one person may not work for another. Natalie may not be able to buy clothes in China or elsewhere in Asia, but there are many people who can easily do this. For some, that’s a huge benefit of traveling in a region like that—super cheap clothes that you can just pick up and ditch when they’re worn out. But if you’re tall or overweight, you may have issues with finding clothes that fit you.
>> Explore more of the wide world of travel styles in Stupid Travel Arguments and Why We Should Stop Having Them, How to Enjoy a Resort Trip If You’re Not Really a Resort Person, and Rethinking Traditional Travel: 7 Tips to Break the Mold
Bad advice that sounded good at the time
Just one more bottle of ouzo; it couldn’t possibly be a bad idea. – Ahimsa Kerp
We should all get our own buckets! Sure, we’ll take a round of shots! And another! – @aseper
The better advice
Bad advice that sounded good at the time typically revolves around alcohol. Most of us tend to have a story or two (or three, or ten) about poor decisions we made on the road when boozing it up. “Just one more…” is a mantra most of us have succumbed to at one point or another. Just be careful on those nights when you do just say “Screw it, I’m going to be stupid tonight!” Having a partner in crime or a group to look after each other is always a good idea. And don’t wander off by yourself in a strange city that you are unfamiliar with. The vast majority of muggings I hear about on the road are those that happen late at night when travelers are stumbling back to the hostel from the bar. Most of us like to imbibe from time to time; there’s nothing wrong with it, just exercise a bit of caution when doing so.
>> Read more on strange and serendipitous encounters on the road in Losing Your Innocence Abroad: A Night in Bangkok’s Red Light District and Eye-Opening Lessons from 9 Travel Disasters
We all receive unsolicited advice from time to time. Much of that advice we can roll our eyes and laugh at with our fellow travel lovers. But some of it can be legitimate advice that we may want to think about. Travel is supposed to open our mind and make us more tolerant of others’ cultures, beliefs, and thoughts. So when taking advice about travel, it might be a good idea to at the very least ponder those thoughts instead of immediately dismissing them.
Have you received any terrible travel advice in the past? Comment below to tell us about it.
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.