A great thing about the travel community is that people are always happy to share their advice. However, sometimes people give travel tips about a place they’ve never even been to, or haven’t been to in several years. This is the 21st century! The world has changed, but people are still spreading these totally-outdated travel tips.
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“Make sure to bring traveler’s checks!”
I made the mistake of taking out a traveler’s check. Once. Never again.
I was moving and needed to close my local bank account. They gave me the option of getting my money in cash or traveler’s check. I chose the check just because it seemed safer than driving with a dozen Benjamins over 800 miles to my new home. This was silly thinking because, A) I had all my worldly possessions in my car anyway, and B) if I lost the traveler’s check, it would be just as devastating as losing the equivalent paper money. And once I did arrive in my new hometown, I had the hardest time finding a place that would convert it back into cash.
This experience was from six years ago. Traveler’s checks would be even more difficult nowadays, and especially in foreign countries. Skip the checks altogether and just bring plastic.
“Bring enough money to exchange!”
Currency exchange booths are the worst. It’s a guaranteed way to lose money. I still bring some US bills tucked away in case of some sort of bank emergency, but as mentioned above, I now rely on plastic.
I bring a debit card for when I need to withdraw cash from an ATM. Many ATMs offer free withdrawals, though your bank will still likely charge you. However, depending on the amount you withdraw, this will probably cost less than exchanging money. (Talk with your bank before you go to make sure that you have the best kind of card they offer for international travel.)
On my most recent trip, I only used my debit card once in the two weeks I was there- and that was on my last full day! Credit cards are becoming the global currency. If you find a credit card that doesn’t charge an international conversion fee, this is the only way to use foreign money without losing money. And using your credit card wisely can even make you money!
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“Buy a rail pass!”
Just about everyone who’s gone to Europe for a length of time has been asked by well-meaning older folks if they’ve bought a rail pass yet. On my first trip to Europe, it seemed like it was a requirement for any cross-continent backpacker. So I bought my two-month, ten-trip Eurail pass. What a waste of money.
While they may have been great for backpackers in the 70s, rail passes are no longer the best for saving time or money. I still had to wait in line to ask a desk agent which trains I could ride with my Eurail, and if I needed to make reservations to go on those trains. (Reservations were usually 10 euro extra on top of the price of the Eurail pass.) If I ride the rails again, I will just buy point-to-point tickets in advance, or even at the kiosks in the train station. However, for my first month of European travel, I booked long-distance buses instead of trains. That cost a lot less than the trains did, and in some countries was much more practical. On my most recent trip, I found a cheap flight from Ireland to England, and I’m not the only one taking advantage of discount European airlines whose city-hopping fares are less than the train.
“Bring an adapter and converter so your electronics don’t blow up!”
A quick explanation on adapters and converters: an adapter makes your plug fit into a differently-shaped socket. A converter changes the amount of currency that flows into your charging electronic. There are some bulky 2-in-1 adapter/converter combos, but nowadays I only bring an adapter.
Most modern electronics are made for international distribution, meaning they have built-in converters so that they can handle whatever current they’re connected to. I only travel with a phone and compact camera, neither of which requires an external converter. Even larger electronics like laptops and tablets are fine without a converter. High-voltage items like hair dryers do need a converter. (It will fry if you try to use it without, but I don’t think it will blow up!) However, most accommodations have hair dryers available, so don’t bother bringing your own from home. If you don’t see one in your room, they may be kept at the front desk.
I still bring an adapter, but within a few years, I can see that being outdated as well. On my last trip, I saw planes, bus, and even hostel charging ports for USB cords. USB ports are becoming more universal, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can just bring a USB cord and leave the wall adapter and international adapter at home.
“Only drink bottled water!”
In many places, there’s nothing wrong with the water that flows straight from the tap. Check to see if your destination has safe drinking water, and pack a refillable bottle to avoid wasting money and time searching for overpriced bottled beverages.
Even in countries with unsafe tap water, you may still be able to avoid the single-use plastic bottles all the time. When I visited Istanbul, there was a reverse osmosis filter tap where I was staying. If you’re given drinking water at a restaurant, you can use whatever you don’t drink there to refill your bottle. You can also clean the tap water yourself by bringing a Lifestraw or purification kit. If all else fails, buy your water in bulk instead of little bottles. Simple refill your reusable bottle from the larger jug, and that way you’ll still save money and plastic!
“Don’t eat street food!”
If you skip the street food, you’re missing out on some of the best culture! With the rising popularity of food trucks (formerly dubbed “roach coaches”) in the US, I haven’t heard as many complaints about street food around the world in recent years. But wherever you go, remember that street food vendors have government-regulated cleanliness standards that they have to keep up with, too. In fact, seeing my food prepared right in front of me often gives me a better peace of mind in how it was made.
“Hostels are creepy and disgusting!”
Stop watching horror films! Okay, I’ve never actually seen that movie before, but if I made a movie called “Hostel”, it would be about a traveler who has a great time in a new destination, gets insider tips from her roommates and the staff who work there, enjoys freebies like breakfast, internet, and city maps, and leaves paying only a fraction of the cost that the people in the hotel next door paid. But I have a feeling that Hollywood isn’t interested in this story that millions of travelers live out.
Hostels are great! If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you’re already familiar with the dorm-style lodging. Basically, just imagine an indoor summer camp in the middle of the city. Or picture renting a twin bed in a hotel instead of a room. It’s really not that bad, and can actually enrich your experience. Along with the low cost of admission, you’ll also get a free cultural exchange with other excited travelers from around the world.
I’ve had an occasional run-in with a hostel that didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’ve experienced that with hotels as well. In fact, some of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been more unique than any hotel. Since most hostels have some sort of online presence, go ahead and check them out ahead of time. You’ll see that they have security measures, cleanliness standards, and a welcoming atmosphere. And if you’re still not sold on sharing a room with
strangers new friends, many hostels offer private rooms.
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(For London travel) “Buy an Oyster card!”
As I prepared to travel to London, almost every blog post I read told me to get the Oyster card. “It will save you so much money when riding the Tube” they said. Even on my first day in London, when I was checking into my hostel, the receptionist asked, “did you get your Oyster card yet?” He then pointed me to the nearest tube station and told me how to get one. Since I wouldn’t be taking the tube that day, I decided not to get one that day.
Or the next day.
Or the next.
I was staying in the Westminster area, and I could walk to so many of the attractions I wanted to see. But I did have a bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge scheduled. When I boarded that bus, the Mary Poppins-esque guide gave us some travel tips for London, including, of course, to save money on the tube by getting an Oyster card. “Or, if your credit card has what looks like the WiFi symbol printed on it, you can just tap your card when you get on and off the tube just like the Oyster card, and you’ll pay the same price as the Oyster card.” I checked, and my credit card did have that symbol. That would mean no waiting in line to buy or return the card or worrying about running out of credit. Score!
I actually didn’t take the tube at all until my last day there, when I headed from Greenwich to Heathrow. So I only spent about $7 in tube fare. I got to see a lot more of London by walking, taking the hop-on hop-off bus, and taking a river cruise. I’d encourage you to explore above ground as much as possible, no matter what city you visit.
“Always wear a money belt!”
I recently was watching a travel lecture where Rick Steves himself mentioned that even he doesn’t wear a money belt all the time anymore. I used a neck stash for so many international trips, and it was uncomfortable, sweaty, and looked weird underneath my clothes. If you don’t like the feeling of your money belt and instead opt to put it in your bag or leave it in your room, it’s kind of pointless.
There are so many travel security items on the market today, you can find one that’s right for you. I use a combination of items. I wear a scarf that has a hidden zippered pocket. It’s big enough to fit my passport and money. I also use my Lewis N Clark convertipack, which has locking zippers and a strap that you can secure to yourself , a chair, bed rail, etc. Even attaching your luggage zippers together with a carabiner can deter thieves. If your accommodation seems safe enough, leave valuables in a safe or locker there. Zip-up pants pockets can prevent pickpockets. There’s also bra stashes and even underwear with hidden pockets! Use what works for you, but remember that the best way to make sure your items don’t get stolen is to minimize what you’re traveling with and keep an eye on what you do bring.
“You’ll have to learn a foreign language!”
I’m visiting three different countries this year. (Four if you count the USA.) All of them are English-fluent countries. But even in countries with another national language, you’ll find an abundance of English speakers. If you used Google Translate to read this blog post, I would encourage you to learn English, as that is the global language of business and the go-to language for travelers. But if you are fluent in English, learn how to simplify what you say, and you should be able to get along fine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to expect everyone to speak English to you or to refuse to learn another language. The more you know in a local language, the more you’ll be able to talk about, and you definitely will have an advantage over English-only speakers. But if you’re visiting multiple countries that all speak a different language, don’t stress yourself out or worse, cancel your trip due to not knowing how to speak. If you learn how to say a few courtesy words (like “hello”, “thank you”, or “do you speak English?”) you’ll be more than fine. And may I remind you that we are in the 21st century? Most people carry devices capable of translating languages around in their pockets!
“Your phone won’t work outside of the country!”
This one may be true, but only sort of. My phone service only works when I’m within the United States (though I was able to make a phone call from Niagara Falls, Canada once). However, I still bring my phone with me everywhere I go. WiFi is increasingly abundant, and you can use apps to text and make international calls for free. I brought an international phone on my first trip to Europe, but my regular smartphone provided me with all my communication needs.
There are other ways you can communicate, too. Sending postcards is still a thing, but Instagram is a more instant method of sending the same type of message. You can find pay phones in some areas (those red London phone booths are still abundant despite hardly anyone using them). Be creative and you won’t even miss your phone service.
“Bring extra film for your camera!”
Okay, I’m not sure if anyone actually says this anymore. My mom always asks me if I brought enough film whenever she drives me to the airport just as a joke to make me feel like I’ve forgotten something. (I return the favor by letting her know her car’s low on blinker fluid.) Your camera’s SIM card should be big enough to take at least a thousand pictures, but if you do run low on space, upload some of your pictures to an online cloud as you go.
What totally outdated travel tips have YOU heard? Let us know in the comments so we can all have a chuckle!