5 Terrible Pieces of Travel Advice You Should Forget Immediately

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I read a lot of travel blogs so that you don’t have to. Just kidding. I read a lot of travel blogs because I’m an insane person who thinks about new places to travel to even while I’m currently traveling somewhere awesome. That’s called an obsession.

That's me. In Brazil. In 2015. That was a fun trip.
That’s me. In Brazil. In 2015. That was a fun trip.

But, I read a lot of travel blogs, and mostly I see really good travel advice-helpful, timely, if just a little bit self-indulgent. But every once in a while I come across a list or article that says something dumb, or out of touch, or helpful only to those who travel the exact way the writer does. And these things kind of piss me off, because they usually come from a place of judigness. Like how ten years ago people who said they didn’t own televisions weren’t JUST saying they didn’t care for tv, they were actually saying that to mark their status and imply that you, the lowly tv watcher, was an uneducated bumblefuck. (But then we entered the golden age of television and everything went online. And now saying you don’t own a tv just means that you watch on your laptop. Way less judgy.)

Look, I don't own a tv right now. Doesn't make me cool. Or mean I'm not watching a terribly bad but awesome movie.
Look, I don’t own a tv right now. Doesn’t make me cool. Or mean I’m not watching a terribly bad but awesome movie.

So here are 5 pieces of travel advice that I’ve come across over the years that you should just ignore if you ever see it out in the real world:

Put Your Phone/Camera Down or You Won’t Really Experience a Place

This is a cool one. I get it, four years ago it was hilarious to watch someone take pictures of their food. But the world changed. If you don’t understand that the way people process information and experiences are changing rapidly, and that the ability to document and share are now integral to the way many people live, then I can’t help you. It’s not just vanity or the inability to slow down. It’s that technology and social media have disrupted the way the world was, and it’s not like that anymore.

I’m from the last generation of Americans who grew up without computers. We got our first one when I was thirteen. We got internet when I was 14. Yes, it’s crazy to think that I grew up knowing how to stand in a line and just wait, without something to do. Without Candy Crush. Without the ability to text my friend about how annoying that line was. I can’t do those things anymore.

So teach mindfulness. Talk about the value of mediation. But don’t dig your head in the sand and pretend that if someone Snapchats a place that they aren’t fully present in the moment.

You don't know why this guy has his phone out, and neither do I.
You don’t know why this guy has his phone out, and neither do I.

Don’t Travel to X Place because It’s Dangerous

Stories like this abound. They usually come from a well-meaning place, they just miss the mark. Are there places in the world that are hella dangerous right now? Yes. Do I want to avoid those places right now? Yes. Should you? I don’t know your life.

Recently a travel bloggers groups I’m in was discussing a pitch from the Syrian tourism board. They’re trying (and failing) to get tourists to come to the beaches in the safer parts of Syria. There’s no chance on earth I could go to Syria right now and not feel like an asshole. And feel like I was about to be bombed by Russia. Forget about laying on a beach.

But should you go? I don’t know. Maybe you’re a serious journalist and you have a real story to tell that will bring increased awareness to the situation. Or maybe you have family there. Or maybe you want to preserve some piece of history or culture before it gets destroyed.

So even in the case of Syria, which seems like a no brainer to say “please don’t go there,” I can still think of a few exceptions.

There are countries like Afghanistan where you need to hire ex-military personnel to protect you. There are tourism boards and tour operators in Iraq. In North Korea, you get watched by government minders and everything you see is fake. Does that mean you shouldn’t go? I don’t know. What are you planning to do with the information once you have it? Is it important for people to go and witness this fake display to contrast it with what it’s like to be in a free society? Is there a chance you’ll see some truth behind the curtain? Or does this mean you’re a puppet?

For me, the answer here is there are no absolutes. Don’t go on a Syrian beach vacation, probably. But yes, there are circumstances and safety precautions for almost every place on earth. Because people, real people, actually live there. And seeing the way the world really is, even when it’s dangerous, is usually good. So if you’re thinking about going somewhere dangerous (which Mom, right now, I’m not) think through everything. Read the government warnings. Examine your intentions. Come up with your own conclusions. You’re an adult.

This is the UN Buffer in Cyprus. It's not dangerous. It just looks dangerous for illustration purposes.
This is the UN Buffer in Cyprus. It’s not dangerous. It just looks dangerous for illustration purposes.

Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

This is poppycock. There’s some kind of internet BS out there, which probably comes from a silly travelogue, about how tourists act a certain way. But travelers, real travelers stop and learn about a culture and really want to get to know a place and blah blah blah. Yuck.

Even if you’re going for a month, even if you’re going for a a year, even if you going to volunteer and give back and really invest in a place, don’t get all high and mighty that you’re better than some other kind of person who wants to be a different way.

Do you know what the actual difference between a traveler and a tourist are? Nothing. They’re synonyms. Here are their definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary:

Tourist: A person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure

Traveler: A person who is travelling or who often travels

So let’s see. The only difference here is that a tourist might have fun and a traveler might travel often. So every other list or bs article about the difference is hinging on a fake definition to pass judgement on others. Kind of like how progressives and liberals are actually the same thing, and pretending they aren’t just cost us an election. Ugh.

Using pictures of people to illustrate this point seemed cruel. So here's a monkey.
Using pictures of people to illustrate this point seemed cruel. So here’s a monkey.

Never Check Luggage

Go eff yourself.

Lucy's Not Having It
Lucy’s Not Having It

Never Eat at McDonald’s/A Tourist Trap/Place Near a Tourist Attraction

The thinking here is that the food is bad and the costs high. No brainer, right?

Depends. One time I had to get lunch at the cafeteria at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. A bad sandwich and a Coca Cola light cost me 60 euros. So that sucked. But the lunch I ate at the Acropolis Museum in Athens was one of my favorite meals there. It was delicious, and I was right under the Parthenon. And while it cost about 14 euros, which is on the high side for a nice restaurant lunch in Greece, it was so convenient and pleasant it was worth the few extra bucks.

In Cyprus, the only real restaurant in my neighborhood was a McDonald’s. So I went in one day, guilt free, enjoying the outdoor seating and my Greeked-out MickyD’s. Who cares. I was in Cyprus for thirty days. I don’t lose my traveler’s card because I indulged in some wifi from our corporate overlords.

Instead, don’t ONLY do these things. And know they tend to be more expensive and less tasty than local places. But if you’re about to pass out from hunger, go buy some freaking chicken nuggets in peace.

Even though the sun isn't in the photo, the natural light created at sunset makes the scene of the Orthodox church and the school warmer and more colorful. From my trip to Nicosia, Cyprus in September. (Nikon D810)
There’s a hidden McDonald’s in this picture. And I ate there. Voluntarily.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you read any advice from a travel blogger or travel writer (or even just the travel section in USA Today), stop and think before you decide this person is some kind of travel god. Too many articles repeat the claims of other articles, or spout trite, unoriginal bs. Common wisdom can be wrong. Travel writers are not immune to herd thinking or fads. And well-meaning advice can be right for most people and still wrong for you. If a piece of advice feels like it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s okay. Go with your gut.

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5 Terrible Pieces of Travel Advice You Should Forget Immediately
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  1. Stephanie, I just recently found your blog and I’m so happy that I did. Thank you for this post, it’s too good. I hate it when people proclaim themselves as travel experts and spout this kind of nonsense – the “traveler versus tourist” discussion is particularly bad. Even so called “travelers” have the potential to be incredibly destructive to local communities, well-intentioned or not. Anyone who travels is an outsider to a place and culture and that needs to be respected and understood.

    Really looking forward to reading more of your work and following your journey! Best of luck!!

    • Thanks Alissa! I agree-I don’t think there are very many travelers who don’t make mistakes at some point that can damage the places they visit. The key is the humility, and if you start out thinking you’re in a whole better category, that’s not a great place to approach the world with humility from.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I agree totally. There’s a lot of judginess, which is probably a side effect of how things have changed with social media. But it kind of sucks.

    Regarding being on one’s phone – shaming people for this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Especially that meme that won’t die, of the kids in a Dutch museum all staring at phones. It’s been debunked so many times that the kids were using a museum program. The last time a FB friend posted this, someone else posted a photo of two strangers with a kid, shaming them for being on their phone in front of the kid. I was infuriated, because it’s not ok to shame strangers on the internet. You don’t know who they are, why they are on their phones, or if they spent all day with said kid and are just checking in. And the person used FB (a screen!) to shame them. So I appreciate this attitude that while yes, we can often be more mindful of where we are and how much screen time we are getting, sometimes documenting a place and sharing it on our phones is part of the pleasure of traveling and of living.

    Also regarding restaurants – in Barcelona we went to a seafood place for paella (we were in Barcelona, we had to try it, right?) recommended to us and it was terrible. We later in the week took a train up to Monserrat and their cafeteria was outstanding and we had way better paella there than in the expensive restaurant. 🙂 Also sometimes it’s fun to experience fast food in other countries to see how it compares. Definitely wouldn’t do it at the expense of experiencing the local food, but once in a while, especially if it meets basic needs that have to be met then and there, why not? We had Pizza Hut in Beijing and it was good and they had really interesting fancy non-alcoholic drinks they don’t have in the US. And for fun I always go to a Starbucks. I collect the mugs from countries I’ve been to since a fun souvenir, and they have free wifi. 🙂

    • I had a friend once who absolutely needed to find a West Virginia Star Bucks mug when we were there. We went to three different Starbucks and couldn’t find any! I don’t remember if it was for him or a friend though, this was a few years ago.

      I think Pizza Hut in Beijing sounds like the exact kind of thing you’d never forget. =)

      I agree, I think social media has changed things. I also think that it’s hard for travel writers to break out and so they end up trying to say the toughest “purest” stuff for attention.

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