For 21st-century travelers, there is an unending mountain of travel advice out there, and it can be hard to figure out what to believe, what to consider and what to dismiss outright. A lot of the information sounds like smart, essential advice while actually being confusing at best and wrongheaded at worst.
Lousy travel advice comes from all sources — travel magazines, websites, blogs, message boards, even couch-potato friends and relatives. You can listen and learn, but sometimes you need to say “thanks, but no thanks.” Following are 11 pieces of the worst travel advice we’ve ever seen or heard.
1. If you have never missed a flight, you are wasting time.
This eyebrow-raising advice comes via Smithsonian.com, which argues that you can use a mathematical formula to optimize your airport arrival time and avoid wasting unnecessary time at the gate.
I understand that this is more of a math geek exercise than anything else, and I enjoyed the article for that purpose — but as travel advice, ay yi yi. There’s a reason you don’t hear about the time your friend had to dither away 45 lost minutes in an airport, but hear plenty about the time she missed a flight and was stuck there for hours or days — the loss of some wasted minutes vs. the stress of a missed flight and a scuttled day of vacation simply are not the same thing.
Add to that the fact that a little time to decompress in an anonymous airport is often quite pleasant, and that smartphones and airport Wi-Fi now allow us to be productive, entertained or both, and this seems like some of the worst travel advice I have ever read.
2. Armchair travel is good enough.
Most travel publications and websites are in the business of armchair travel to some extent, so we are implicated here somewhat too, but the idea that reading about places in the comfort of your home somehow offsets or satiates the urge to go there seems entirely false to me. To me the only purpose to reading about travel is to inspire and inform actual travel; otherwise, the whole idea simply leaves me cold.
3. Don’t visit the real thing; visit the theme park version instead.
A family member once advisedsenior editor Sarah Schlichter to go to the Morocco pavilion of Epcot instead of going to actual Morocco because it would be “safer.” Schlichter’s response says it all: “Ugh.” (In the end she went to Morocco and had a great time.)
Anyone who traveled extensively back in the pay phone days knows that worrying about stuff going on at home could cause anxiety of the highest pitch. I have placed collect calls from Europe and received one from Kuala Lumpur, and neither was for pleasant reasons.
Now we have devices that can keep us in touch with everything and everyone at home, and we should hobble ourselves? This makes no sense. The simple act of waking up in the morning, checking in on critical issues back home, and then when everything is all clear going out and enjoying yourself is one of the great pleasures of travel at the moment.
And if something goes wrong, it isn’t days before you can react; it’s more like hours or minutes. Family knows where to find you, neighbors know where to find you, and yes, your employer knows where to find you. All (usually) good things.
For many, unwinding relies not on unplugging, but on being just plugged in enough not to worry about anything. Pack your phone and charger, please.
5. Improvise your first night, then make plans when you know the place a bit.
Hauling your bags around while trying to find the best neighborhood, decent lodging, and good, safe food — this just seems like asking for it. We’d recommend doing the exact opposite — planning at least the first day and improvising from there. (For more ideas, see 10 Things to Do in the First 24 Hours of Your Trip.)
6. Don’t travel in peak season.
Visiting a place in peak season has multiple downsides — it is typically way more crowded, more expensive and harder to plan. However, there is a reason it is peak season, and sometimes you want to see a place at its, well, peak. Don’t ignore the risks of traveling at peak times, but sometimes you have to go when the things you want to see are able to be seen.
7. Don’t take tours; explore for yourself.
Our company name () might seem to encourage this mindset, but at some point most of us here at have found a guide of some kind to be an invaluable enhancement to our travels. The history, context and significance of many attractions simply cannot be understood deeply without some expert information, and unless you can memorize your guidebook, a tour guide can provide this.
Guides also know where to pull off to see monkeys bounding around in trees, and which neighborhoods are safe; on a visit to Rio last year, I traveled through the favelas on the back of a Jeep with a local guide who very clearly knew what was and wasn’t safe to visit (not to mention interesting). To figure out if a tour will suit you, see 20 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Tour.
8. Try this medication you have never tried before; it will help you sleep/wake up/recover/etc.
Oddly, advice abounds on which knockout potion to take before you get on a red-eye flight or start a long itinerary — i.e., take “drug x” when you get on your flight and you will wake up hours later feeling great.
Not everyone reacts the same, and some individuals can even have what is called a “paradoxical reaction.” I took a sleep aid on a doctor’s advice on a red-eye once, and sat awake in the dark the entire flight feeling like I had taken a caffeine pill. It could have been worse; thewarnings for Ambien include the following: “Avoid taking Ambien during travel, such as to sleep on an airplane. You may be awakened before the effects of the medication have worn off. Amnesia (forgetfulness) is more common if you do not get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep after taking Ambien.”
Other types of medications can also have unexpected side effects, and a full long-haul flight is a bad place to experiment with new medications. In 11 Things Not to Do on a Plane, we recommend testing any potential drugs at home before you take them while traveling.
9. Don’t eat street food.
Street food offers so many elements of great travel that it’s impossible to pass up; direct engagement with the locals, native cuisine, affordability. Sure, it’s possible to get street food that does not agree with you, but the same is true of a restaurant that uses tap water to wash vegetables or that doesn’t meet hygiene standards. An old traveler’s technique: Find the busiest cart or stall and take your (pretty good) chances. For more advice, see Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling.
10. Don’t get sick/mugged/Zika/travel scare du jour.
I am headed to Rio this week, and it is astounding how much advice I am getting on how to avoid this or that from people who would never think of going to a place that involves even the slightest risk. (I was there last year and found the Ipanema area about as dangerous as the Upper West Side.) Folks, I read the news too — I’m good, thanks!
11. If you drink the tap water, your system will get used to it more quickly.
Okay, feel free to have some; there’s a reason this made our list of 18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling.
Have you received any bad, misguided or just plain ridiculous travel advice? Share it in the comments!