Sunday, February 9, 2014

Worst Travel Advice

The Lonely Planet has a list of the worst travel advice ever here. It's not bad. 

Here's my list of worst tips:

1. "Let's ask if they can help us buy some coke." 

Yes, a temporary travel companion did propose this to me in Ecuador.

Don't do this.

2.  Bring candy, pencils, and small coins to give to the children in the streets.

This tip is offered to those visiting a country such as Ethiopia.

Do not do this. Do not do this. Do not do this.

It promotes begging in lieu of school (for those who have access to school). It causes a plague upon the tourists who follow you, as you set up the expectation that foreigners are walking Santas.

Besides, you will never have enough stuff to distribute. Never.

Finally, it is at best, a gesture of noblesse oblige. At worst, it is akin to feeding bread crumbs to pigeons - dehumanizing. 

If you want to contribute in some way to a country you're visiting, to offset in some way the terrible disparity of resources between you and most of the country's population -  identify an in-country organization that you admire and give it a donation.

3. Take traveler's checks. 

Travelers checks have gone the way of rotary phones. ("Rotary phones" - look it up.)

No matter how remote the country you're visiting, trust me, travelers checks are over.

Instead, take some cash (dollars or euros) + cash (local currency, upon arrival) + two cards that you can use as debit for ATMs. Stash the second card in a place that's separate from the other card.

And remember to inform your financial institution that you'll be traveling - you don't want to be abroad and find your card is locked.

4. From locals, about an area in their country - "Don't go there, it's too dangerous." 

This can be superb advice that you'd do well to heed. 


I've discovered that locals in all countries suffer from the same malady as the locals in my country. How many times do we hear compatriots caution against going to a particular U.S. location, be it an entire city or a part of a city, or a certain rural location? Again, sometimes the advice has merit, but more often than not, it's a generalized and unsubstantiated fear that has little connection with reality.

So if a local cautions me about going to a particular place, I'm going to listen to her, but I'm also going to ask more questions, do some independent research, and then make a decision.

5. Wait for the official instructions ... 

Like #4, this is sometimes the exact right thing to do. I learned in Ethiopia to be patient and let staff, such as those at a bus terminal, help me. They knew what they were doing and it was in their best interest for the maintenance of efficient operations to get me through the process smoothly.

But in an unusual situation, look at what the locals are doing. Are they waiting for instructions or are they moving?

In Ecuador long ago, a trio of us (all Americans) were on a train from Ibarra to San Lorenzo. En route, we encountered a landslide that had obliterated a section of track.We passengers disembarked and milled about for a bit. The train maestro said we should wait for instructions about what to do next.  While we waited, we noticed that all of the other passengers began streaming on foot through the compromised pathway.

By the time we decided to follow, our fate was sealed: On the other side was a waiting train - older, smaller -  in which all of the seats were taken.

This experience was a laugh-about-it-later one.

But on a much more serious level, there were people who died in the World Trade Center when they complied with instructions to "stay put."

6. Go here - the food is AMAZING!!! 

Yeah, OK, maybe.

But I invite you to redefine the term amazing!!!  to mean:

It is the ultimate experience in mediocrity! Nowhere else will you spend more money for such a stupendously average experience than this! 

I promise: If you redefine the word amazing as I suggest, you will never be disappointed. In fact, your expectations may be exceeded. Win-win.

What's your worst travel advice? 


AE Challinor said...

Love this!

Mzuri said...

Thanks! What's on your list?

Unknown said...

"It is the ultimate experience in mediocrity! Nowhere else will you spend more money for such a stupendously average experience than this!"


it's a variation on a theme I often get from suburbanites and the rooted. Envy is the root of many conversations because it seems like an exchange of information.

When I rarely visit certain suburban friends I avoid talking too much about my travels to allay jealousy. This always leaves a gap in the conversation in which they regale me with endless stories about other friends who have travelled deeper and further than I, and been greatly admired by many. Sigh.

I admire you for your candour.