When I say what I do, I tend to get unrequested advice regarding travel: Bring photocopies of your passport! Take mini bottles of alcohol with you on the plane! Always pack a swimsuit!
While I question the legality of some, I tend to agree with most of the tidbits I hear from strangers and friends. However, occasionally, I'll hear travel advice that is simply bad. Feel free to ignore the following tips and be sure to include the worst advice you've heard in the comments below.
For those who wish this was in video form, you're in luck!
Don't Book Rooms in Advance
"The room looked so nice on their website, but we arrived and it was seriously a closet. A closet!" We've all been burned by hotel websites that feature pristine lodgings only to deliver bed bugs. Sadly this is a gambit you take while traveling, but the answer is not to wait to book a room until you see a place. Arriving in a new city without a reservation is asking to waste your entire first day on trying to find a room, especially if it's the high season or a festival is taking place. Sites like Trip Advisor and Oyster provide accurate reviews and guest-taken photos, giving you the ability to see what you're getting yourself into before you arrive. Save the twelve hour stroll for sightseeing.
Bring Travelers Cheques
This is an outdated piece of advice. Practically tantamount to saying "don't forget to bring your Walkman!" Travelers Cheques, while at one time I'm sure a practical thing, are now a burdensome fallback. Finding a bank or store that cashes them overseas can be a time-consuming process and the exchange rate is no longer the best offered. Your best bet is to carry a back-up credit card in case of an emergency. Contact your bank and let them know you'll be traveling abroad so they don't freeze your account. Research the best credit cards for travelers that waive foreign transaction and ATM fees as well as those offering frequent flyer miles.
Don't Stay in Hostels
I suppose the horror movie industry hasn't done hostels any favors. After all, most people who haven't stayed in one associate them with dimly lit rooms, creepy tenants and a chance of murder. However, hostels are a wonderful choice for those looking to save money as well as socialize. For people traveling solo, I recommend splurging for a private room (with a lock) or a larger dormitory room so you won't be stranded with a stranger in a double room. While it is true that older travelers may feel a little out of place surrounded by backpackers who were born in the 90's, the atmosphere is generally congenial. Check out sites like Hostel World which lists the "World's Best Hostels" yearly. Some have luxurious amenities like saunas, in-house bars, rooftop pools and weekly barbecues that will make you wish you had given them a chance sooner.
Calm down guys.
Don't Travel Alone
As a women I often hear this and to be honest it really disappoints me. Traveling alone makes your journey just that--yours. Free from the burden of compromising plans, you can experience every city the way you want to, immersing yourself in the culture and growing as an individual along the way. Of course there are some safety issues that must be considered while traveling solo, but that shouldn't deter anyone. The first time embarking on a solo trip can be daunting, but soon you'll see its undeniable appeal. For those looking for solo travel deals, sites like Solo Trekker 4 U and Overseas Adventure Travel connect solo travelers with hotels, cruise ships and attractions that have lower (or no) single supplement cost.
Don't Eat the Street Food
I'm not saying pick the doggiest cart you can find because you want to give the guy some money. I'm saying explore the market, use your senses and if there's a long line someplace, scope it out! Experiencing the local culture often means a day at the market and exploring the food carts. Afraid of getting sick? E. coli is the main culprit and is often the result of vendors not having access to soap and hot water. Avoid raw vegetables (think fresh toppings like cilantro), unwashed/unpeeled fruit (in things like smoothies) or items like meat pies and dairy-based products that have been sitting unrefrigerated. Don't let this thwart you though. Delicacies like Amsterdam's stroopwafels, Mexico's churros and Istanbul's börek await!
Pretend You're Not American
People often, half-jokingly, ask if I travel with a Canadian flag on my suitcase. While Americans perhaps don't have the greatest reputation when traveling, I find this to be terrible and saddening advice. Traveling is a unique and uncommon opportunity. The majority of people in this world will never travel outside their hometown, let alone their country. You might be the first American someone has met as you travel and be able to undo some of their misconceptions (if they have any). The best thing you can do to feel comfortable while traveling is be culturally sensitive, respectful and appreciative of your host country -- not to lie about where you are from. Perhaps we can change the misjudgments about Americans one traveler at a time. Here's to trying.
What's the worst travel advice you've heard?