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.
1. Don’t Talk To Strangers
Not talking to strangers during your travels only prohibits you from truly experiencing the culture and enjoying yourself. Interacting with locals is how you’ll learn about everyday life, customs, rituals, business, food, clothing and other facets of the culture and community. Additionally, conversing with other travelers and exchanging tales from the road makes the trip more interesting, and gives you people to go exploring with.
2. Don’t Travel Alone
As someone who has traveled alone countless times I know the typical reaction people will give you when you tell them you’re backpacking solo. And as someone who has traveled alone countless times I also know it can be a positive, enriching and worthwhile experience. Solo travel allows you to form a stronger relationship with yourself, and also gives you the freedom to travel the way you want without having to compromise with someone else. It also enhances skills like problem solving, communication and negotiation as you navigate language barriers, cultural differences, transportation, bustling markets and new experiences you’ve never encountered.
3. Hostels Are Dirty
Like hotels, there are many different classes and styles of hostels. While you may find some that are less than pristine, there are others that will make you think you’re in an upscale hotel. That being said, for the most part you’ll find hostels to have a lived-in feel, allowing you to feel at home and lending to the social atmosphere hostels are known for. Additionally, hostels are budget-friendly and usually offer free and inexpensive ways for getting to know a city.
4. Don’t Eat Street Food
Street food is one of the most delicious ways to get to know a local culture. Not only is it cheap, it’s authentic and dishes use fresh local ingredients. Unlike in restaurants, there is no fuss over presentation, making meals modern or fusing creative cooking styles; instead you’ll get traditional dishes that come as they are for a genuine look into the culinary culture.
5. (Insert Lesser-Known Country/City Name) Is Dangerous
Many people have this perception that if they haven’t heard of a place it must be unfit for travel. The truth is, there are plenty of lesser-known destinations that are safer than well-known cities. For example, when I was traveling through Ecuador I told a friend I was in Vilcabamba, heading to Cuenca, Banos and Quito.
“I would be curious to see Quito,” she replied. “I would be too nervous to go to those other places, though.”
I wondered where her fear was stemming from, as Quito was without question the most dangerous of the list. People are afraid of what they don’t know; however, the truth is many times the unknown is worth exploring.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Don’t Visit (Insert Popular Site) Because It’s Too Touristy
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.
9. 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.
10. Mexico Isn’t Safe
I could have inputted a number of country names instead of Mexico that could make the same point, but Mexico seems to be making everyone nervous lately. 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.
This post was adapted from my original article on Gadling