When telling friends or family about an upcoming trip, there’s a strong chance that they’re going to offer their thoughts on just about everything, from where you’re going and what to do there, to what to bring and how to act. Whether you want to hear it or not, people love sharing their opinions. Taking advice from someone who has been where you’re going often proves a good idea, especially when it comes to trip planning. But it’s the more generalized travel advice that is often out of place or just downright incorrect. Here a five such travel tips you should generally ignore.
“The window seat is so worth it.”
We’ve all seen (and probably posted) the classic Instagram photo looking out across the wing over a skyline or into a blue and white abyss. Everyone loves to recommend the window seat for the epic views at 30,000 feet, but trust us, you’ll regret it when you have to go to the restroom in the middle of the night or are in a hurry to catch your connection. When you’re stuck on a long-haul flight heading overseas, the aisle seat is the way to go. The extra legroom and easy access can make the claustrophobic experience of a ten-hour flight a bit smoother. Plus, you’re off the plane faster and at no point do you have to worry about crawling over anybody. The next time you fly, take a look around the plane and try to gauge how well-traveled those sitting in an aisle seat appear compared to their window-bound counterparts. The pros know what’s up.
“Don’t eat street food — it’ll make you sick.”
Before you immediately write off street food simply because the vendors haven’t hung a certificate from the local health department, know that millions of locals in dozens of countries depend on this street food every day — and it’s often the most authentic, affordable and delicious option. In many places, including street food capitals such as Bangkok, street food vendors are registered businesses, not just someone who decided to turn on a flame at the first open street corner they found. The chef cooking pho on the street in Hanoi has likely been fine-tuning her recipes and procedures over the course of a lifetime. She’s earned her spot and her reputation. Her ingredients were bought from the market earlier that day, not packaged, frozen, and shipped across the country.
That said, you should still exercise some caution. The best practice for identifying which street vendors are serving dishes that both taste good and have the lowest chance of sending you the restroom for the remainder of the day is to identify where the locals are eating. Let’s say there are two vendors next to each other on a busy corner. One has a long line and it looks as though it could be 30 minutes or more before you reach the front. The other vendor is wide open, perhaps even beckoning you in. Don’t take the bait. Busy stalls are going through their food faster, meaning what you’re getting is fresh. Additionally, the locals have embraced the spot, which means it must be good.
“It’s better to just rent a car — public transportation isn’t safe.”
If you’re planning on staying within city limits, there’s no need to get a rental car most of the time. The high cost of parking, dense traffic (and often overwhelming road rules), coupled with the rise of ride-hailing apps and growth of public transit in many cities across the globe makes renting a car more of a hassle than a convenience. Before heading out on your trip, check the public transit authority’s website to get the lay of the land. Also look at whether Uber, Lyft, Grab, or another ride-hailing app is available and prominent, and note what people say about getting to and from the airport. In cities where the airport is located outside of town, a shared Uber ride is often much more economical than hailing a taxi.
“Don’t travel alone, always take a friend with you.”
This myth of solo travel not being safe, particularly for women, is centered around the idea that the world is an inherently dangerous place and people are out to get you. Sure, there is always the risk of danger, but that’s just as true in your home neighborhood as it is abroad. Staying home doesn’t guarantee your safety, and it’s no way to live your life. So whether you can’t find a friend to join tour travels (and the idea of a group tour makes your cringe), or you simply are craving some alone time, feel confident about heading out into the world on your own, no matter what the haters say.
Solo travel puts all of the trip planning entirely in your hands, so there’s no need to compromise. With a bit of research, you can often feel more in control of your own safety than you would traveling with a group of people, particularly if that group tends to make unwise decisions and lets their guard down. This piece of advice also forgets to take into consideration the concept of personal preference. Again, it all just comes down to staying alert and making smart choices. Plus, if you’re a social person, you might not be spending much ‘solo’ time at all. Meeting friends or just having a casual conversation over a cocktail is more than doable in pubs, hostels, coworking spaces, or just about anywhere else you might find yourself.
“The best deal is to stay at an all-inclusive resort.”
This is one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to popular international beach destinations like Mexico or Costa Rica. Let’s break it down, using Puerto Morelos, Mexico as our example. A typical night at an all-inclusive resort costs between $150-300, depending on location and time of year. With that you get your room, transit to and from the nearby Cancun airport, four meals per day (assuming you go all out and eat that extra meal at the 24-hour diner, just for good measure), a handful of sightseeing activities and non-motorized sports equipment such as paddle boards or snorkel gear, and all beverages (note that those tropical cocktails are going to be very watered down). For a one-week stay at a $200/night resort, you’re looking at $1,400 before you ever venture outside the resort. This doesn’t sound like a bad deal at first look, but it’s important to remember that the cost of living in Mexico (and in most places around the world where all-inclusive resorts are available) is much lower than it is in the United States.
Instead, get on Airbnb. Rent yourself a room, house, or whatever fits your needs. Plan to spend about $50 per night, per person, less if your group is larger than 4. Buy your food from a local market and/or eat at local restaurants, where the food is far more authentic than anything served at the resort. If anything requires cooking, you can take care of that in your rental. A restaurant meal in Puerto Morelos, outside of the tourist-populated area near the beach, costs about $3, and within the tourist area you’ll pay about $6. Beers are around $3, cheaper if bought in bulk at the store, and you can take a private van — enough to shuttle your entire group and luggage — from the Cancun airport to Puerto Morelos and back for about $50 round trip. This trip takes a bit more effort in planning, but you’ll save some serious dough and have a much more adventurous and personalized experience. The waves feel just as nice on the other side of the fence as they do in the resort, and the beaches you’ll visit are likely to be far less crowded. Total cost per person for a week? About $600 on the high end, versus $1400 at the resort. You’d have to drink a heck of a lot of Coronas to make up that difference.
Beyond the price point, it’s tough to experience local culture from the walled-off confines of an all-inclusive resort. You’re unlikely to expand your horizons when surrounded by nothing but tourists and eating food meant to replicate what you’re used to back home. If you really want to say you’ve been somewhere, it helps to actually go there.