There is so much travel advice out there it can be hard to be sure which is good and which is bad, and with every piece of good advice that comes your way there are often half a dozen pieces of bad advice too. These are ten of the most common pieces of bad travel advice that you should completely ignore.
Often this bad advice comes from a well intentioned source, parents or loved ones who have never travelled but still tell you that the country you are heading to is dangerous, or that you should pack the entire stock cupboard of an emergency department stock cupboard just in case you stub your toe, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to it.
Then there is the travel advice that is so horrifically bad you should be gagging the people giving it to you for the greater good of society.
You should treat the good advice – like the many great tidbits you find on this site – like pure gold dust, but if anyone gives you any of these pieces of bad travel advice then run a mile!
Take travellers cheques for emergencies.
Seriously, what the hell? I really cannot believe this advice is still peddled, but it is! This advice is usually given by parents or older relatives, the ones who have only ever been on ATOL protected package holidays to Sharm or Benidorm and have never left the resort. Travellers cheques are obsolete! They have been for at least a decade! Stop peddling this absolute rubbish and learn how to manage your money abroad, use your debit card for crying out loud, ATM’s are everywhere!
That country is dangerous! You’ll be kidnapped, raped or murdered!
No it isn’t and no you won’t. Calm the hell down! Most people who give this advice (usually concerned elderly relatives) have never even been to the country and are basing it on decades old news reports that there was once a civil war, protest or mugging there. A decade ago. Travel is more often than not very safe with reasonable safety precautions and basic risk management, so don’t listen to the scaremongering.
Street food is unsafe and you shouldn’t eat it.
This is an absolutely ridiculous piece of advice often given by those who never eat anything but prepackaged fast food at home and never get out of their comfort zone. Street food around the world is often the most delicious and amazing food you will ever eat, not to mention the fact it is often dirt cheap and is one of the best ways to get a direct route into a country’s heart and soul. And even better, the absolute majority of the time it is safe and healthy too! At least you can see exactly what you are getting, unlike in those sit down restaurants! Of course there are exceptions to this rule like there are with everything, but in general if you use your common sense, the stall looks clean and there are a ton of locals lining up to eat there, then get in line because it will probably be awesome!
Plan everything down to the last detail.
Doing this completely invalidates the whole point of independent travel. Backpacking is not some micromanaged package holiday tour, it’s a full on independent adventure! If your itinerary is so tightly packed full of every single thing you want to see, then you will miss out on so much and probably exhaust yourself in the process because you haven’t given yourself any free time to rest. Plans change when you are backpacking, you will meet people and want to join them for a while, you will hear of amazing new places from other backpackers and want to visit them, and you will fall in love with some places and want to stay longer or want to leave other places earlier. It’s all normal. Leave plenty of free time in your plans to take advantage of those opportunities and stay flexible.
Don’t plan anything.
This is the other side of the coin to the planning advice and just like the advice to plan everything, it needs to be taken with a piece of salt. The truth is on any backpacking trip some planning is always needed. You will need to know a rough route of where you are going and major hubs, cities or countries you will hit along the way, you will need to book a hostel or guesthouse if your plane is arriving at night when it isn’t a good idea to be trekking around with all your gear looking for a bed. The key here is balance. Plan a little, but leave room for flexibility too.
You’re a woman so you shouldn’t travel alone.
This is perhaps the single most ridiculous piece of ‘advice’ (and I do use that term in the loosest possible way) on so many different levels. Solo travel is one of the best ways to travel and thousands of women travel alone every single day. Ignore any media nonsense or outdated gendered crap from friends and family, it is absolutely no more dangerous for any woman to travel than it is for any man, and although there are certain countries that demand a few practical or logistical differences between the genders (such as ensuring cultural norms when covering up for religious sites) that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly fine for women to travel there. Let me say that again to make it very clear, with reasonable and practical safety precautions women can and do travel the world every day completely safely. Bad things can happen anywhere, anytime, to either gender, but if you follow reasonable and common sense safety precautions you will be generally be fine regardless of what sex you happen to be.
The Government’s safety advisory warnings.
These warnings are a law unto themselves and are the equivalent of a mass panic every time someone in a foreign country farts in the wrong direction. Seriously, it’s as if the home office only employ frightened little girls with nervous dispositions who will hit red alert at the drop of a pin. The government’s advisory warnings are often so overblown and often even out of date to the point that individual tourism boards have put in formal complaints to get them changed, you just need to learn how to interpret any travel warnings that are put out. But there is a caveat to ignoring this advice too, you really do have to do your research here. The government does act on intelligence from around the world, and although their approach is severely heavy handed you may want to check on the severity of the warning and fine tune your research appropriately. If it is a general warning of ‘be careful’ then odds are most of the country is absolutely safe. If they slap an advisory against all travel, then look into things a bit further (as this may also invalidate any insurance you have).
You need the biggest backpack possible.
This is absolute nonsense. Apart from the fact that getting a massive 85 litre backpack is going to be completely impractical for some of you and will cause no end of spinal injuries and back problems, you really don’t need that much space! Unless you are 7 plus foot tall and a few days worth of your clothes take up the internal space of a small family car, that amount of space is just overkill. Add the fact that if you have the space you will often find some way to fill it, and you will end up with a pack you can barely lift, never mind lug onto a night bus or up a hostel stairwell. The best thing you can do is get measured up and find a backpack that fits you as an individual (for the majority of people that will often be a 55 or at most a 65 litre).
Stock up on everything before you go.
This is probably one of the biggest rookie packing mistakes. It doesn’t matter what it is, toiletries, medicine, personal hygiene stuff, there seems to be a strange mentality that if you are travelling the world you need to carry with you the entire stock cupboard of your local pharmacy as well as every single item from the outdoor survival shop you bought your backpack from. You need to take a step back and breath. This may come as a huge shock to most people but other countries around the world have plentiful and well stocke pharmacies too! With a few exceptions you’d have to be pretty far off the beaten track to not be able to find anything you need, and unless you are Bear Grylls, you don’t need that survival knife either so put it down!
Travel ultra light.
Again this is the flip side to the above argument. Some backpackers treat packing like an olympic sport and seem to think of travelling with as few of their belongings as possible as some sort of extreme sport! It’s ridiculous and you really don’t need to go to this extreme either! By all means cut down on what you bring, you really don’t need all that much stuff after all, but there is nothing wrong with bringing an extra T Shirt or two or that little personal item that you can’t bear to be without either as long as you don’t go overboard! Like most things, the key is balance.
Did you enjoy this article? What useless or unhelpful pieces of travel advice have you ever received? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.