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There you are planning your next big trip, and then all of a sudden the travel advice starts flowing in from everyone you know. We’ve all been there. Even people who haven’t traveled in decades start throwing advice your way. With so much advice and differing opinions, it is easy to get confused and start to second guess yourself. And let me tell you, I have seen some really bad advice floating around out there.
I have spent a large part of the last decade and a half traveling about this world, and I have at one-point-or-another been guilty myself of using and passing on some of this advice. But with travel comes experience, and I am here to pass that experience and wisdom on to you. So the next time your traveling companion insists that you book that hotel or hostel 30 minutes outside the city or pass by every street food vendor you see, just show them this article.
Wait Until the Last Minute for Travel Deals
I hear this piece of advice a lot. The premise is that waiting until the last minute to book your travel will allow you to take advantage of bargain deals. Well, unless you really don’t care at all where you go, this is absolutely horrible travel advice for the following reasons.
- You will need to request time off of work, not knowing if you will find a travel deal to use those days for. Unless you like rolling the dice with your precious vacation days, this is a bad idea.
- Even if you do find a travel deal at the last minute, you have absolutely no control over which destinations you will find deals for. You might as well close your eyes, put your finger on a globe, and then spin. This is essentially what you are doing.
- If you do have a destination in mind and you don’t find any travel deals for that destination in the last minute, you will be lucky to only pay twice as much as you could have on airfare alone. Kiss that affordable vacation goodbye.
Never Travel On Your Own
I am hearing this piece of advice less-and-less these days, and I am happy to see that. Sure, traveling with other people is awesome because you get to share those travel experiences with the ones you care about. It can also be frustrating because you are surrendering some of the control over what you see, what you do, and what you eat when you travel.
According to a 2014 study by AARP, roughly 81% of adults over the age of 45 say that they are planning to take a solo travel trip in the near future. In fact, solo travel trips are becoming so popular that the travel industry and travel marketers are starting to pick up on that and gear their products towards solo travelers.
So please, do not be persuaded by the naysayers that say you should never travel alone. Sure, there is some extra planning and responsibility on your part to keep you safe, but as I outline in my Top Safety Tips for Travelers, most of this stuff is pretty common sense. The same rules and guidelines that you would be smart to follow in your own hometown.
Stay Away From “Dangerous” Locations
This piece of advice I can understand, so I don’t think it is really “bad” advice, but I do think it gets thrown around far too liberally. There are some locations, such as war zones, that you really should stay away from. Some people might say you should never be afraid to travel anywhere, but I am not one of those people. However, I don’t think every country with a high crime rate or that has had a recent terrorist attack is too dangerous for travel.
Again, it all really comes down to common sense. If you are planning on going out alone at night and getting overly intoxicated, that is something that could get you in trouble in your own back yard. Instead of canceling that trip that people are telling you is too dangerous, first consider if you would feel safe on that trip if you followed these simple guidelines:
- Don’t go out alone at night, especially in areas notorious for crime.
- Visit the location as part of a tour group, or take local tours when you get there.
- Don’t get too intoxicated when you go out.
- Only use marked public transportation.
- Have the emergency numbers for the country you are visiting ready and accessible.
- Register with the US Government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Carry Your Passport With You at All Times
Another piece of really bad advice that I hear way too often is that you should always carry your passport on you when you travel. I cannot stress to you strongly enough how bad of advice this is. Forget the possibility of a pick pocket stealing your passport, or a thief grabbing your backpack with your passport in it, there is an even higher likelihood that you could lose your passport all on your own. And if you do, you will put a huge damper on your trip.
Instead of carrying your passport with you when you are out-and-about, I would strongly recommend that you put your passport in your hotel safe. If your hotel doesn’t have a safe, I showcased this awesome portable safe that I use and love in the past. This ultra-light travel safe secures to any immovable object you can find in your hotel room and keeps your valuables safe.
|Master Lock Personal Safe ($18.38)|
I would also strongly suggest that you keep a copy of your passport in another secure location, along with some of the money and credit cards that you are carrying. It is always a good idea to keep these valuable items in multiple locations in case something happens. When I travel, I always leave a copy of my passport with someone at home as well, just to be extra safe. The copy of the passport may not be good enough to get you into another country, but it is great to have if you are coming home without your passport or need to get an emergency passport from your embassy abroad.
Never Eat Street Food
I get that not everyone who travels is a foodie, but the suggestion that everyone should completely write-off all street food is just bad advice. Some of the most authentic and amazing food that I have eaten when traveling has been street food. Like the late and great Anthony Bourdain once said, “you’re never going to get that magical meal if you’re not willing to take a chance on a bad one.”
If you want to truly appreciate another culture, you need to immerse yourself in it. This doesn’t mean you need to eat the food of every street vendor you see, but I wouldn’t completely write-off street food in your mind before you even depart on your trip.
Keep in mind, these street vendor’s livelihood is at stake, and if they got people sick, they wouldn’t be in business. If you are really worried about getting sick eating street food, the simple rules below will help ease your mind when picking which street food to try.
- Look for a street vendor with a lot of traffic at their stand. If they are really busy, chances are it is because the food is really good.
- Research the common types of street foods before you go (use resources like Fodor’s and TripAdvisor). Know what you can expect when you arrive.
- Use forums and blogs to see what others have had good experiences eating in the past. These forums and foodie blogs can be invaluable resources on what is good and what to stay away from.
- Eat when the locals eat. People eat at different times all around the world. If you get in the habit of eating when the locals eat, you will know that what you are eating will be fresh.
- Always avoid drinking any water that isn’t bottled, produce that you can’t peel, food that isn’t fully cooked, or sauces that look like they have been sitting out.
Take an Overnight Bus Ride
While at first this might seem like a brilliant way to save time and some money on accommodations, it can also be an absolute nightmare. I outlined sleeping on an overnight train or bus as one of my tips to save money on travel, and it really is a great way to lower your travel costs, but you really need to make sure you understand your sleeping conditions before committing yourself to this.
I have had some absolutely great experiences on overnight train rides, but in all of those occasions I had a sleeper car or a comfortable reclining seat to get some rest in. I have never been on an overnight bus ride, but I have been on some very, very long bus rides. Depending on the bus, and how crowded it is, trying to get some sleep might be near impossible. And if you arrive at your destination exhausted, is it really worth the extra time and money you saved?
Never Visit During the Rainy Season
While the photographer in me is a big proponent of finding the perfect time and conditions to plan your trips, the traveler in me can see a value in traveling to a destination when it is cheaper and there are less crowds to deal with. It’s kind of the Yin and Yang of traveling. While I am not going to tell you what time of year is the best time for you to plan your trip, I am going to tell you that you shouldn’t let anyone else tell you when to plan it either.
You may need to deal with some inclement weather if you travel during the rainy season at your destination, but if you come prepared, that may not be the end of the world. Especially if you are getting some really great cost savings that allow you to travel to other fantastic destinations as well.
Only Stay at Hotels Off the Beaten Path
I always cringe when I hear people give this piece of travel advice. It isn’t bad advice because the premise that you can find cheaper lodging outside of the popular tourist areas is flawed, but it is bad advice because it is poorly thought out. If you were making a decision about a hotel in a vacuum, this would be tremendous travel advice.
Instead, you have a myriad of other factors that you need to consider when traveling, and where you choose to stay when traveling can have a really big impact on these other variables. For instance, if you are staying 30 minutes outside the city to save some money, are you really saving money if you have to pay an arm and a leg to travel into the city every day and then back out while you are there? That is something that inexperienced travelers rarely consider when looking for a hotel.
Another thing people rarely consider when booking that steal of a hotel deal way outside of town is the amount of their precious travel time they will be wasting traveling to-and-from that hotel. You can end up wasting a big part of your trip sitting in a taxi or public transportation just trying to get to-and-from your hotel. Hey, you’re talking to the guy who once booked a hotel up a mountain with only a gondola ride to access it. I am well versed in making bad travel lodging decisions that waste my travel time.
Bottom line is, if you need to book a hotel far from your destination to afford your trip, then you should absolutely do it. However, you should never start your search for lodging by looking first for hotels or hostels “off the beaten path”. Start by looking near the things you want to see, and then work your way out from there. Using that method, you can’t go wrong.
Skip the Tourist Hot Spots
This is just plain lousy advice. Really, it is just bad, bad, bad. Again, I get why people often suggest this. By skipping the tourist hot spots, you also miss out on the large crowds and high cost attractions. You save money and save yourself a little stress from not having to deal with huge crowds. However, you also miss out on some of the most amazing things in this world.
There is good reason why the Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the other wonders of this world are such tourist hot spots. They are absolutely amazing places. If you plan your travel to skip out on all of these great places, just to save a little money and miss some big crowds, you are really doing yourself a disservice.
Instead, I would suggest finding other ways to save money on traveling and miss the crowds. To give you a head start, I outlined some fantastic ways to save money on travel earlier this week. There are some great tips in that article that will help you save money without missing the must see things in this world. If you are concerned about crowds, then I would suggest trying to travel during the shoulder seasons or offseason, when the crowds are much thinner. The shoulder seasons, which are the seasons in between the peak tourist season and the offseason, can be an excellent time to travel.
Book Short Layovers to Avoid Wasting Time
Again, this is one of those suggestions that sounds like a really great idea, then ends up burning you and creating a lot of stress on your trip. Believe me, I have made this mistake countless times. It must be a lesson that I need to continue to learn.
I have no problem with the concept of saving time by not scheduling a flight with a lengthy or overnight layover. However, there is such a thing as too short of a layover as well. We have absolutely no control over whether the flights we take depart and arrive on time. If you book a flight with too short of a layover, there is a really good chance you will miss your connecting flight.
Even if your originating flight isn’t delayed, there is still a good chance you could miss a connection if you have a long way to go from your arriving gate to your departing gate at your connection airport. I once booked a flight with a 35 minute layover thinking I was a genius, only to discover it nearly impossible to make my connection once I disembarked at the airport.
I always try and leave myself at least a few hours between flights when I can. That way I not only know that I will be able to make it to my connecting gate without having to rush, but it also gives me a little bit of a buffer should my originating flight be delayed.
Don’t Book Accommodations Until You Arrive
Arguably my least favorite piece of travel advice that I hear from time-to-time is that you shouldn’t worry about booking your accommodations before you arrive. The thinking goes that you will have more flexibility to choose the accommodations that you like once you have arrived and determined what areas you like.
Unless you don’t mind getting stuck in a hotel room you hate, a hotel that is hours away from your destination, or left with the prospect of sleeping in your car (please, don’t do this), then I would strongly advise against taking this advice.
Are there situations where booking a hotel room when you arrive might work out great? Sure, there is always that chance. However, more often than not the hotel that you really want will have sold out before you arrived. This is especially true if you are looking to visit a really popular tourist destination.
Again, this is a mistake that I have made in the past. I once thought it would be a brilliant idea to hold off on finding accommodations until I arrived at Yellowstone National Park and determined where I wanted to stay. By the time we got there, most of the hotels and motels even remotely close to the park were out of vacancies. I ended up having to stay over an hour away and commute to the park each day. That made for some really early mornings and late nights.
Instead of waiting to arrive to find lodging, do your due diligence well in advance. There are plenty of resources online that can help you determine which areas to stay in and which hotels in those areas are recommended. I can think of one great resource you are visiting right now!
Bring Travelers Cheques
Thankfully, I am hearing this suggestion less-and-less these days, and for very good reason. These dinosaurs of the travel world were outdated years-and-years ago, but for some reason some people I talk to still insist on using them. Trust me when I tell you not to waste your time.
Travelers cheques are expensive to purchase and they are becoming a really big pain to try and cash in at your destination. The last thing you want is to pay for travelers cheques, only not to be able to use them at your destination. Instead, I would follow the simple tips below for handling your travel transactions.
- Bring your ATM card with you. You are going to get the best exchange rate from your bank, so take out money in a few larger transactions to avoid paying too much in ATM fees.
- Obtain a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. VISA cards are preferable, as they are accepted in the most locations.
- Use your credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees as much as you can to preserve your cash.
Explore on Your Own Instead of Taking a Tour
Exploring on your own can be fun, and I absolutely enjoy the flexibility in doing my own planning versus taking a group tour vacation. However, unless you have spent years at the location you are planning to travel to, there is little chance you know the area as well as a tour operator does.
I understand the premise of wanting to save money and have the flexibility to go at your own pace, but there are some things that you really do benefit from seeing with a tour guide. For example, when we toured the Vatican in Italy, we were able to bypass lines to see certain areas and we were able to coordinate an amazing visit to see St. Peter’s tomb. Without our tour guide, we wouldn’t have seen much of what we were privileged enough to see.
Instead of foregoing tours all together, I would recommend that you look at doing a combination of tours and independent travel. Instead of taking your whole trip with a tour group, plan your trip on your own. This will allow you to save some money and be more flexible with your travel. However, when it comes to seeing some of the bigger tourist draws or less known locations, look into obtaining a local tour guide to help you see just those parts of your trip. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
Drink the Local Tap Water
The first time I heard someone suggest this, I had to ask them to repeat themselves because I thought I heard them wrong. You’d think by now it would be widely known that drinking the local tap water when you travel can be a huge risk, but alas, there are still people out there passing around this bad travel advice.
The premise of the advice is that by drinking the local tap water early in your trip, your body will build up an immunity to the pathogens that might exist in that water. While this is true, your body will eventually adapt to the local pathogens that are in the water, this may not happen in the period of time you are on your trip. Not to mention, there are pathogens out there that are harmful and your body will never adjust to.
Bottom line is, unless you want to spend large portions of your trip sick and in the bathroom, I would not make a habit of drinking the local tap water. In this day-and-age, bottled water is available almost everywhere, so I would suggest you drink that. If bottled water isn’t available, then make sure you purify your water before you drink it. You may regret it if you don’t.
Save Money For Another Year Before Going
Tom Cruise has a great line in the movie Knight and Day. In the scene, Cameron Diaz’s character has just told him about her bucket list, and said she hopes to see those places someday. To which Tom Cruise’s character responds, “Someday is a dangerous word. It’s really just code for never”. This is such a simple line, but in many ways it could not be more true.
I am a big believer in saving before you travel. Racking up thousands of dollars in credit card bills never helped anyone. However, if you are waiting for the day when you can take that big trip and it will in no way impact your finances, you are probably going to be waiting a long time to take that trip.
Instead of waiting that extra year, sit down right now and make a financial plan to help you afford to take that trip. If you really want to take this trip, you will have no problem making a few sacrifices on other expenses so that you can afford to do so. Maybe you can give up coffee, not go out to eat as much, or pick up a few side jobs if you really need to.
With a financial plan in hand, even if you don’t go on that trip this year, you will have made a plan that you can work towards to go in the future. You only live once. Don’t regret not taking the dream trip when you are older. Sometimes “someday” never comes.