I know this is a strange topic but every day I seem to encounter some form of advice that runs counter to my acquired wisdom. Often I find that this advice is well-intentioned but it comes from sources that are either 1) too emotionally involved to be objective 2) too optimistic or pessimistic or 3) based on faulty or incorrect information. With that said here is my list of “bad advice” which you might want to be a bit skeptical about before taking to heart.
- Internet Ratings
- Buy This Now Before It’s Gone/While It’s On Sale!
- Everywhere is Safe
- It’s Ten Minutes Away
We all like to use sites like TripAdvisor to ‘help’ us find the best places to stay, eat, and enjoy. The problem is that these sites do a poor job of weighting and vetting the sources of the ratings and simply post an ‘average’ mean score. Many people are simply too nice or too emotionally invested in whatever place they are rating, and others will jump straight to a lowest score based on one bad experience without regard to the other factors involved (like people that are angry they didn’t get a refund even when they canceled outside of the cancellation window). There are even people that mistake the low score for the high score.
Generally, you should throw out the high and low scores and read the actual reviews, particularly the most recent ones. Also, keep in mind that a dive establishment might have the highest rating because it has loyal patrons that are friends with the owners, when in fact an honest review would be more average. And of course, you can sometimes read the reviews and notice certain language and names that are indicative of people that might be tied to the ownership.
The best bet is really to look at the ratings only if there are many, many hundreds and read the reviews for consistent patterns by people that have made a lot of ratings (like myself). Those people are the ones that are to be trusted more often than not.
Buy This Now Before It’s Gone/While It’s On Sale!
There are dozens of variations of this pressure sales language but it’s essentially the same. If you don’t part with your money immediately this great opportunity to pay less will pass. From my experience, this is a total falsehood and can lead to spending a lot more in the long run.
First off, sales are ALWAYS going on except for high-demand things. That exact same before Christmas bargain will soon be the After-Christmas bargain. And then when we enter the low-shopping season you’ll have yet more bargains. You should never feel time pressure to buy anything unless there is truly such high-demand for whatever you are purchasing that waiting a moment longer really will mean it is sold out.
So yeah, plane tickets, concert tickets, room tickets might well have a time demand placed on them and you really shouldn’t wait. But never pay in advance for ANYTHING that you aren’t going to use or do within a short timeframe (if you can). It is always better to save up over time and spend a tad more out of pocket than to bury yourself in credit expense that leads to interest charges just because you get a little discount for spending less early than paying full price later on. And interest is money thrown in the trash can.
It’s also harder to get refunds sometimes than you realize. I always opt for the pay when you arrive option instead of in advance. If for some reason I need to cancel I don’t need to make sure I am refunded.
Everywhere is Safe
Just about every guidebook I read tends to give a false impression about the relative safety of just about everywhere. And it sometimes drives me crazy to think young, naïve adults will believe it and potentially get themselves into some tricky situations.
Nowhere on planet Earth is perfectly safe. There are human dangers, environmental dangers, financial dangers, and logistical dangers. Knowing these in advance and being properly aware of them is so very important in order to be safe wherever you go.
There are two types of extremes among the advice you’ll encounter. One is that of the rose-colored glasses crowd that just can’t admit to itself that criminals are real, that food safety standards and building codes might not be optimal, that mosquitoes and ticks might carry diseases, and that the weather and other environmental concerns might actually be present. The other is the chicken-little crowd that lives in utter fear of literally everything and everyone and is probably more unhappy than anyone that ran into any difficulties from the naïve crowd.
Neither is right, but the truth is that you can probably go anywhere and do anything you want as long as you take into consideration what might potentially go wrong and how to avoid it as best you can. Not carrying expensive items and keeping those items on you or in a safe can pretty much eliminate the risk of theft. Knowing which areas of cities have higher crime rates, taking rides only with established driver services and tour groups, and staying in areas with a police presence all go along way toward staying safe.
It might not sound friendly, but also it helps to know that it is ok to tell peddlers and vendors who are pestering you the word ‘no’. Say it and continue on without looking back. Often these people just want your attention long enough to suck you into a situation that you don’t want to find yourself in. I remember getting cajoled by hustlers in places like Tijuana and Belize City and New Orleans and while some of them might have been genuine, in other cases there are real risks of theft or worse. Legit or not, move on.
As far as food and drink, fully cooked and served fresh is always the best bet. You can’t always see how food is prepared and how it was stored but killing bacteria is vitally important to preventing illnesses. Grilled food is generally the safest. Traveling is not the time to sample lukewarm food or rare delicacies.
Also tap water in many places, even the USA, isn’t always the cleanest. Personally, I like to buy bottled water wherever I am which gives everyone a good serving of clean drinking water as needed without having to reuse the same containers (which tend to get dirty). Just be a good person and make sure to recycle the bottles and don’t let them become plastic litter.
Also, of course, don’t imbibe in alcohol that isn’t served in a bottle or is served from a safe establishment. We’ve all read the horror stories about tainted alcohol.
Also let’s not forget building codes in some places just aren’t all up to the same safety standards. AirBnb, Vrbo, etc are all popular for stays in vacation rentals but not every place has fire alarms, carbon-monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, etc.
If you can sleep at night with a window open, do so, even if it’s a bit hotter and more humid than you are used to. If you can’t open the window, you might pack a cheap fire alarm/CO detector to include in your luggage. Just set it up high (on a curtain rod, etc) in a room near the HVAC vents. Entire families have died as a result of CO poisoning in rental units and even hotels in places like Mexico and the Bahamas.
Prepaid Visa cards can be a great way to avoid having your credit card number stolen while traveling or losing your valuable credit cards (which you can keep in a safe). My wife and I both have had fraud charge alerts on our credit cards and unfortunately, while we lost no money, we lost access to the cards.
You can buy prepaid Visa cards and load them with $100, $500, … and you will likely have them fully spent long before a thief could try to charge the card. At worst, the amount you could lose is the amount you applied to the card.
Finally, be cautious of overly ‘friendly’ or ‘helpful’ strangers. There are countless stories of people who had their bags stolen after someone offered to help carry their luggage for them or stow it for them. Offers for ad-hoc tours, special discounts, or stays in places that are not commonly known can be a scam or worse.
We did once take a private cab tour of Puerto Vallarta and while it was excellent and we saw far more than we would have otherwise including the beaches, the overlooks, and the churches and city sights, all while being told the history of the city (the driver even took us to a Walmart and waited for us while we shopped), we would not do this again. We would only take established tours with known, reputable companies.
And be wary of strangers that seem too interested in your itinerary and where you are staying. While I’ve never encountered this, there are unfortunately many stories of criminals who will use that knowledge to victimize tourists if they know that the victim is leaving the next day and will thus be reluctant to go to police (essentially missing their flight in the process). If you start getting probing questions about your plans that seem geared toward figuring out your itinerary and where you will be staying, lie and walk away.
It’s Ten Minutes Away
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told a place is a quick ten/thirty/sixty minute drive away only to find that it’s twice or three times that when we actually drive it. If you know the route exactly and have driven it repeatedly you will probably save a lot of time, but for drivers that are unfamiliar with the roads and traffic, those time estimates tend to be considerably understated.
I recommend giving yourself plenty of buffer time to avoid risking delays and missed connections and tours. I remember when we were in Charleston, SC we went first thing in the morning to Magnolia Plantation, then having to leave after a quick two hours to drive to Charleston harbor to make it to the ferry boat to Fort Sumter, and afterward running on to the Old Exchange and Provost for another tour. In the end we made it to everything but it was not relaxing and the rushing from one place to another took some of the fun out of it.
I’ve learned the hard way not to be ridiculously ambitious in your planning. I enjoyed our trip to the Carolinas and Tennessee but the rapid movement across three states in less than a week made it more stressful and less relaxing than it should have been. Don’t try to cover too much ground too quickly.
Make sure you get to the airport at least two hours ahead of your flight (if not three), giving yourself time to make sure you have everything and aren’t in a mad sprint to the gate. Flying is hectic enough without the added pressure of trying to get through security and to the departure gate in a rush. Also, schedule connections with a little leeway, not less than an hour.
Finally, take advantage of every possible pre-boarding and early boarding option that you can for flights, cruises, etc. If you have to spend a little to take advantage, just spend the little extra. You don’t want to fight for seats and stand in exhaustingly long lines needlessly.