As someone who has traveled solo to dozens of countries, I’m often given “helpful” advice from well-meaning friends and family. The problem is, much of this advice can actually hinder your trip experience. Think twice when you’re given these common travel tips.
Don’t Talk To Strangers
This is probably the most common piece of advice I receive before going on a trip, especially as I’m often traveling solo. For me, talking to strangers is one of the most important steps in getting to know a culture. I stay in hostels so I can hangout with other backpackers, or I’ll do a homestay to immerse myself in the daily living of locals. Additionally, I pepper cab drivers with questions, ask bar tenders to help navigate me to offbeat attractions and invite tour guides out for drinks. I’m not saying to put yourself in dangerous situations where you’re completely alone with a total stranger; however, having conversations in public spaces can enhance your trip. If I could revise this tip, I would say “talk to strangers, but have your guard up.” There’s a difference between chatting and spending some time with someone you just met, and believing there’s no way you’re new friend could rob or harm you. Use good judgment, and you’ll be fine.Hostels Are Dirty
I’ve stayed in at least 100 hostels in my life, and I can only think of one that I considered dirty. Off the top of my head, I can think of two hotels that were less-than-pristine, even one that had a dead frog on the floor. Yes, in a hostel you’ll often be sleeping in a room with at least three other people, so the level of tidiness you’re accustomed may be compromised. However, clothes strewn about the room does not mean there are cockroaches or rats. Most hostels are clean and safe while still embodying a character of their own. I’ve stayed in hostels where the walls were covered in vibrant graffiti to reflect the local streets, themed like a medieval castle to show the city’s history or just extremely laid-back with bean-bag chairs and a barefoot philosophy. The only thing that’s really ever compromised is your privacy, although many hostels now offer private rooms.
You Must Be Rich To Travel
Along with being a writer, my job titles have included waitress, cashier and telemarketer. I’ve never had a particularly high-paying salary, and I’ve always managed to be able to take extended trips. Just because you can’t afford to stay in five-star hotels and eat at Michelin-starred restaurants every night doesn’t mean you need to stay home. Use some budgeting tips, and you’ll realize a little cash can go a long way. Travel during shoulder season, stay in budget hotels or hostels, travel to countries with favorable exchange rates, avoid restaurants with English menus, take public transportation or walk instead of cabbing it and travel slowly instead of hopping between 10 different cities. While you may not be living in the lap of luxury, you’ll still experience a new culture and enjoy the benefits of travel.
It’s odd to me that – as a young female who has traveled solo numerous times through countries many wouldn’t visit in a group – people still tell me I “can’t travel alone as a woman.” I, along with countless other solo female backpackers I’ve met on my trips, am living proof this is false. I’ve backpacked solo through Thailand, China, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Morocco and most of western Europe, and have never so much as been pick-pocketed. Use your brain and listen to your instincts, and you’ll be fine. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash electronics and expensive jewelry, stay out of dangerous neighborhoods and always be alert to your surroundings, and you should be fine.
Planning Out Your Trip Is Essential
I’m a firm believer in planning a trip without making plans. While you may want to have a rough itinerary and know your flight dates, planning every single detail of a trip can make it difficult to go with the flow. Before arriving to your destination, you have no idea what you’ll encounter and what opportunities will arise. Keeping your itinerary loose and your options open helps you experience more. Know country entry and exit requirements, do some research on the culture and leave the rest to chance.
You Can’t Travel To (Input Lesser-Known City)
I’m not saying every city in the world is 100% safe, but the popular school of thought seems to be if a person hasn’t heard of a city or doesn’t know anyone who has been there, it isn’t safe. Many times, this actually ends up being inaccurate on many levels. For example, when traveling through Ecuador I visited Vilcabamba, Cuenca, Banos and Quito. One friend of mine commented, “I would love to travel through Ecuador. Although I’d only go to Quito, not those other places I haven’t heard of.” The truth is, Quito was the most unsafe by far of the four cities. Just because a city is more popular than others in terms of tourism doesn’t mean it’s safer. And, just because you don’t know someone who’s been to a certain place, doesn’t mean you can’t pave the way.
In order for a trip to be well rounded, you should include a mix of touristy and off-the-beaten path fare. Many travelers believe visiting touristy sites is, well, too touristy, and will omit these points of interest from their itineraries. Would you really want to visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Or Rome without visiting the Colosseum? New York without the Statue of Liberty? These sights are iconic, and for good reason. A site doesn’t become touristy because it’s got nothing to offer; in fact, these places usually hold much historical and cultural significance. While filling your itinerary to the brim with tourist sites can leave little room for surprise, not including them at all will lead you to miss out on important knowledge.
Eating Street Food Will Make You Sick
This is a tip I often get from concerned family and friends. Everyone’s heard one horror story of someone getting food poisoning from street food in foreign countries. To counter that, I’ve actually gotten sick from dining in upscale New York restaurants. I know many people who eat street food and at small local eateries religiously when they travel, and have never had a problem. Eating at these places will not only give you insight into local culture, you’ll be consuming the most fresh and delicious food in the city. Bonus: you’ll be saving a lot of money by avoiding the touristy eateries.
You Need To Know The Local Language
While knowing some useful phrases is helpful, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language to visit another country. Depending on how long you spend in a place, you may actually pick up on language just from being immersed in it. I become an expert in charades and hand gestures when traveling, and always bring a pen and paper to help draw or write down words I can’t pronounce. You’ll find a way to communicate. And when in doubt, you can always look up how to say something.
Sure, there are places in Mexico travelers should avoid; however, this doesn’t mean Mexico as a whole is unsafe. For example, on a recent trip to Puebla, I felt more than comfortable with my surroundings. Not only that, but my friends took a trip to Mazatlan to take part in some adventure sports and had a great trip with no problems. Moreover, taking a road trip through Baja California will introduce you to some of the country’s best wine in a relaxed setting. Don’t believe everything you hear. Also, realize one person’s idea of an unsafe city may differ from yours. A friend once deemed Playa del Carmen unsafe for travel because “a friend of a friend’s girlfriend got sick after drinking and was probably roofied.” If that’s all it takes to scare people away from a city, I’m surprised they even leave their house.
[Images via Jessie on a Journey]