Travel advice is the biggest and most hazardous mixed bag a traveler has to face. Everybody and their mothers have a myriad of tips, advices, and words of wisdom that they want to impart on you before you set off into the big, wild world. Majority of these advices come from a good place with nothing but your safety and well-being at it’s heart. However, I find that a lot of these advices/tips/warnings veer more towards doomsday scenarios, and often from people who’ve never even set foot in another state.
“Thank you sensationalist Western media for turning the general populace into a cowering and paranoid lot. Yes, I’m looking at you Fox News!!”
Over the years I’ve travelled, I have personally dispelled the following popular myths/rumors/advices/misconceptions. I have seen a world far kinder and friendlier than what I’m expected to believe. I have met people who welcomed me into their homes and lives with open arms with no conditions attached. I have tried some pretty scary and exotic stuff along the way, and not only did I survive to tell the tale, I came home with new favorites that I get nostalgic for every so often. I’m not saying that every single place in the world is as safe and magical as the fabled Shangri-la, but with a little street smarts and a big sense of adventure, a world of amazing possibilities await you.
- “Do not eat the street food.” If I listened to this advice, I would have missed out on most of the incredible things I have tried over the years while out travelling. Often the best food a city has to offer are found in their friendly neighborhood street stalls. Street food also tells the story of the city you’re at; it’s history, it’s culture, it’s attitude, it’s future.
Be wary though of salads, unpeeled fruits such as apples and pears, cold drinks, or anything with tap water. Also keep an eye on the utensils or plates used for serving, if those are being “cleaned” by dunking them in a bucket of standing water, move on to the next (hopefully cleaner) stall.
- “Do not travel alone.” Whatever the reason the person telling you this may have, it still doesn’t change the fact that traveling solo is one of the best things you can for yourself. Travel alone, but do your due diligence before leaving. Research the place you’re going to, know the culture, the norms, the taboos, the expectations. Do not fly in anywhere blindly. Use common sense and good judgment when making decisions. Trust your instincts. Be vigilant. Do not be afraid to pull back if something is amiss. Travel, see the world, meet new people, and have fun, but never let your guard completely down. You, and only you, will look after you.
- “Do not go to Morocco, India, Turkey, the Middle East or any Muslim country.” Some of my best experiences were from travelling in the Middle East. The hospitality and welcome I’ve received in the Arab world is beyond gracious and is incomparable. I now have at least a dozen different mamas and papas across the Middle East. These are the people I’ve met, they’ve welcomed me into their lives, fed me good food, and took care of me like I was a long lost daughter. I would not trade those experiences for anything in this world. Fox News and most of Western media will have you believe that the entire Muslim world is at war with the West, they’re not. Don’t buy into the sensationalist, scare tactic type of bullshit. Just don’t.
- “Do not take public transportation in Third World countries.” I’m cheap, I can read maps, and I like a good adventure, so why not? Public transportation especially Metros are fast, efficient, convenient, cheap, and the perfect place to observe locals going about their daily lives. Yes, they are ground zero for scammers, schemers, perverts, and pick pocketers (I’m talking to you Paris!!), but a little common sense and a lot vigilance goes a long way in ensuring that you arrive at your destination safe and with all your belongings.
Use a small carabiner to hook your purse’s zipper to the strap of your bag, and make sure your purse is in front of you at all times. It’s not 100% pickpocket-proof, but it’s enough to discourage would be pick pocketers and move on to the next (easier) victim.
- “Don’t talk to strangers.” My mom tells me this every single time I leave for a trip. I have to keep reminding her that everybody I encounter after I walk out of my front door is a stranger. While it’s good to be careful about who you interact with when you’re abroad, especially if you’re a solo female traveler, you cannot completely shut yourself off from the world. The whole point of traveling is to meet other people, experience other cultures, hear other points of view, try on new things, and step out of your comfort zone. Keep you guard up but your mind and heart open. Find the balance between being safe, and enjoying yourself with your newfound friends. Trust your instincts. If that cute guy is too slick and is hitting on you a bit too hard, walk away. He, more likely, has a less than noble agenda in mind.
- “Do not stay in hostels. You will be raped, murdered, hacked to pieces, and fed to the dogs for breakfast!!” Jesus Christ! How many times have you watched Hostel, Saw, and Taken?? Turn off Netflix, get off your couch, go outside, and see the world. If you must insist on staying in, at least watch Love Actually.
- “You do not need to buy bottled water, the water here is like sooo safe”, says the foolhardy tourist who will be doing the Aztec Two-Step for the next 3 days. Umm, no thanks, I didn’t come all the way here to hang out with the porcelain gods. I am adventurous. I like to try new things, especially food I’ve never seen before. I like to test out how sturdy my cast iron stomach really is. However, I draw the line at tap water. The majority of food borne illnesses are transmitted by water, and unless you’re without a doubt, 100% positive that the tap water where you’re at is in fact safe, I’d go for the safer option and get bottled water.
A note on bottled water though, especially in countries like India; make sure that the seal on the bottle is the original one and has not been tampered. There have been a lot of reports of unscrupulous merchants recycling used water bottles, filling it up with less than sanitary water, and resealing it with what looks like the original manufacturer’s seal. Buy your water from bigger, more reputable sellers, and try to avoid buying it from the street vendors if you can. Always have anti-diarrhea medication like Imodium on hand in case of emergencies. And lastly, see your physician before you leave and get immunized for typhoid fever, and have him prescribe you medication that you might need for your trip.
At the end of the day, there is no one destination that is free of peril; however, this shouldn’t be a reason for you to be afraid to see the world. In every bad advice I’ve been given, I’ve seen some truth in it and I understand why I am told that. It is for my own good, I get that. However, I refuse to let that stop me from going out and exploring the world. I listen to those advice, break it apart, and figure out how I can successfully overcome the scenario I’m being warned against. My one advice will be the same one I tell my friends, “keep your eyes open, your guard up, watch your back, but keep your heart and your mind open”.