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, Just In Case.
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 Isn’t Safe And You Should Avoid 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.
Women Shouldn’t Travel Alone, It Isn’t Safe
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.
Any Government Safety Warning.
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).
Get 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.
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Travel Safety Advice. The Good, The Bad And The Downright Crazy.
What I Wish People Had Told Me Before I Planned My First Backpacking Trip.
What To Pack For Your Gap Year.
Love the one about government warnings. They really are totally overblown. In fact, I recently recall seeing that Spain (one of the securest in Europe), is on the list of high risk places to go according to UK FCO. I wonder how the UK FCO would rate the UK if asked to do a report, I think it would be rather amusing.
Nice story, really enjoyed it Michael.
Another one you should add “People should stop using 7/11’s, they are a rip off – go to local stores and food markets, it is cheaper and often doing more good for the local community.”
Thanks Barry, well the UK was on many advisory lists for a long time after 7/7 in London, and everyone was going about their daily lives here relatively safely and normally. Like I’ve always said, the whole point of terrorism is everywhere has some risk. If you let fear control you, you’d never step foot outside your house, and then probably worry that the terrorists have planted something under your bed! ;D
And I’ve honestly never heard anyone advise anyone to use a 7/11, but you aren’t wrong! ;D
Great list of advice to ignore! I remember being incredulous at my sister taking multiple bottles of shampoo with her when going off backpacking – when her first destinations were the USA then Europe.
Along with ignoring advice on travellers cheques, I’m also bemused by people who exchange foreign currency before they go. Sure, do this if you want US dollars somewhere, but you can’t get it from an ATM (e.g. when heading to Tanzania). However, I’ve never been somewhere where there isn’t an ATM at the airport you fly in to, and don’t like to carry huge wads of money on my person, usually exceeding the amount covered by insurance.
Hahaha Shandos, I’ve met backpackers who have done the same! I know what you mean, people seem to have a pathological fear of foreign ATMs! I don’t know why, especially when in the UK at least the fees you pay for changing money is extortionate compared to what you pay (outside of the airport of course) in money changers there.
Totally agree about women travelling alone. I have travelled to many countries by myself (including so called ‘dangerous’ ones) and have always found people to be kind and generous. Like you say, it’s just about being sensible and not taking silly risks, exactly the same things you would do back at home.
Exactly. 🙂 I have found the exact same thing. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
These are so relatable especially about safety. Be aware but don’t let fear paralyze you.
Exactly Lindsey, thank you. 🙂
Great post! Before we headed to Africa on our 4 month overland. So many people told us we would die, now when i tell them it was 100% safe they say your lucky.
Thanks David, haha, you can’t win can you? Some minds will never be open to facts. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.
The street food has some of the best varieties and best taste that you can find in one place! I often find that these are cleaner than some of the restaurants I have visited.
Totally agree Christi! Street food is awesome!
I would add that anytime someone says, “OH, if you’re in (insert city/country) then you MUST do (insert their favorite activity) Sure, if you’re in Paris you should see some of the most famous sights, but don’t wait in line and splurge on a ticket to the Louvre if you aren’t really into Renaissance art. Don’t let someone else’s must-do list rule yours. Choose your destination and your itinerary based on what you actually enjoy and what excites you. It’s your trip, after all!
Great point Claire. Don’t get me wrong taking advice is always good, after all many of these suggestions are popular for a reason, but it is really important to temper that with your own likes and dislikes too I completely agree.
Thank you 🙂
I’m really happy you mentioned about the governments warnings. I was traveling in Israel and the West Bank a couple of years ago and they changed the warning when I was there, I got a really bad infected cut and I was debating about going to a hospital but upon checking my insurance I realised due to the change it was no longer valid! Ended up treating it myself with minimal consequences.
But thank you for including that bit in too!
They can be an absolute pain, and often cause more fear and worry than the actual situation warrants. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
The travel advisory/warnings are worth taking into account. It doesnt mean that a person should skip the place altogether but it is very valuable to know what type of environment you’ll be travelling in. A travel advisory also renders trip health and cancellation insurance void (at least for us)
To an extent you are right, and when the advisory reaches such a point (ie warns against ANY travel) that it will null and void insurance then that is a different matter and warrants much deeper research and possibly even plan changes. What I am saying is in general terms is that they are often very overblown, and aren’t a reason in and of themselves to stop travel plans.
People say to me “do it now because you won’t be able to travel once you have kids” I say “poo poo” to that as I have met many rad families on the road making it work, kids in tow.
Totally agree. I have met so many families travelling on the road and that number has grown over the years.
Yes, but the cost difference! *faints* My short people don’t make income to support their travel habits. 😉 I love traveling with my kids, and I’m good at finding budget options, but it can be limiting.
That’s very true, there are definitely more logistical problems when travelling with kids, but they aren’t insurmountable either.
Great advice. I never understood the concept of travellers cheques and never used them nor needed them.
Thanks David, neither did I to be honest, I think they were pretty much extinct when I started travelling 15 years ago!
Travel insurance is not complicated, but there are several options available. Selecting the right type of coverage with the right limits is critical to ensure you’ll be protected.
Travel insurance isn’t complicated if you are used to it but it is often very daunting for first time travellers (or sometimes even experienced ones) to read through the small print. I do agree though that choosing the right, specific coverage for you and not just generic coverage that may not cover what you need it to is essential.