Bad Advice: Five Common Travel Tips That Are Wrong

There’s no shortage of advice given every day on the Internet, from what foods to eat to how to raise your kids. Travel of course is not immune to these musings of so-called experts, but just because it’s on a web site doesn’t make the tip useful or even true. Here are a few that I particularly disagree with, and my reasons why. (Of course there is a certain amount of irony writing a post like this and believe me it’s not lost on me either.)

 Money cash currency dollar

1. Bring some foreign currency with you and or/travelers checks – I thought this travel tip had died out a long time ago, but I was saddened to read it again just recently. In 2013 this is horrible, horrible advice. If you exchange money before leaving home the rates are awful, there’s no arguing with that and there’s no need for it. If you want money in your pockets when you arrive, just go to the ATM at the airport. I have never been to an international airport anywhere in the world where they didn’t have plenty of ATMs. An ATM should always be your first choice for local currency; they provide the best rates possible. The same advice goes for traveler’s checks. You have to pay to get them and to use them, a senseless waste of money. Once again, ATMs are your best friend.

 Young kids backpackers

2. Travel while you’re young – Lately there has been a preponderance of posts promoting the importance of traveling in your early 20s. That’s fine; it’s not wrong per se. But it’s the message between the lines that I find so offensive, that you can only get a remarkable, life changing, exciting and carefree travel experience if you’re a kid. That’s not true at all and 30 is not the death knell for independent travelers, in fact I think the experience is even better a few years older. You have more experience from which to draw upon and unlike so many of the younger travelers, you’re not wasting your time getting drunk in the capitals of the world. So yeah, sure, travel if you’re young but if you’re not below the 25-mark don’t think you can’t have a lot of fun on the road because you absolutely can.

 Virgin Atlantic upper class

3. Scared of flying? Have a drink! – Fear of flying is a very common phobia, so common that there is no shortage of advice on how to get through that fear inducing flight. I’ve never had this fear and while I can’t relate I can tell you what not to do in order to get over it. Self-medicating through alcohol is a horrible, terrible, awful idea. Why? Well, of course the alcohol doesn’t do anything to help you fight past your fear, it just medicates you against the anxiety. If that’s all you want, there are plenty of pills out there that can fill this need without the physical risks that drinking and flying pose. Being airborne is an intensely dehydrating experience, a fact you may have noticed before. Lips become chapped, hands are rough and most people have a healthy thirst throughout the flight. Alcohol dehydrates the body and that effect is greatly exacerbated up in the air. If you get drunk when you fly you are risking your own health during the flight certainly, but afterwards as well. Your hangover will be greatly intensified and if you are crossing multiple time zones, it will take you much longer to get over the jet lag. So if you’re scared of flying take a class, see a doctor or swallow a pill but whatever you do, please don’t drink to assuage those fears.


4. Do not go into a McDonald’s – I cringed when I recently read this ‘tip.’ I cringed not just because it’s wrong, but because it reeks of elitism, something I abhor in travel. I’ve written an entire post on why McDonald’s restaurants are important to visit overseas, but please allow me to offer the Cliffs Notes version. Menus at McDonald’s restaurants around the world feature many regional and local dishes that are an important and quick look into the foreign culture. You cannot argue the fact that it is a reflection on the local society that on the menu you can find: Corn pies in Bangkok, Fried Emmentaler in Vienna, Black sesame rolls in Taiwan and even McLobster in Maine. You don’t have to eat there, I’m not necessarily advocating that, but at least go and look at the menu for a quick lesson in local food customs. From a practical point of view, McDonald’s restaurants around the world usually feature free WiFi and clean bathrooms, both precious resources for active travelers.

 Luang Prabang, Laos

5. THIS is the REAL way to travel – Everyone thinks that they have THE answer, THE way to travel and what is often describes as real and authentic. Some say it’s by staying in hostels, others by eating only street food and still others say that it is only by avoiding tourist hotspots that you get to see the ‘real’ destination. That’s all crap; elitist and pompous crap at that. We are all tourists, all of us whether you choose to admit it or not. We all like to do and see corny attractions, eat foods that are probably a little too expensive and take home souvenirs that will please Grandma and not your friends. That’s all fine, acceptable and encouraged. What IS important, what IS the real experience is taking that leap, which at first can be frightening, and travel. Just go, see as much as you can and never look back. If you can only afford a brief few days somewhere, do it. Do it now. Every trip, no matter the length or how far away it takes you is important. Even the most prosaic of experiences teaches us something and we always, always grow as individuals. So don’t hold back because you’re afraid you’re not traveling the right way. There’s no such thing, there’s just traveling or not traveling.

What are some tips you’ve read that you disagree with?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

39 thoughts on “Bad Advice: Five Common Travel Tips That Are Wrong”

  1. It’s not as black and white as you say, though there is a lot of truth in what you suggest.

    I carry a small amount of money in my destination currency – about enough for a bus or taxi to the hotel, plus one meal and one nights accommodation. Yes, there are ATMs at airports – but they can be hard to find. Even more imprtant, I have had occasional trouble with ATM cards overseas that meant I had to wait till the next working day to phone my home bank to sort out the problem. Not good if you are stuck at the airport with no way to get to town. Worried about exchange rates at your home bank? Use a site like, then compare the rate offered by your bank or money changer. If your bank rate is very different to the rate on XE, go somewhere else. Travelers checks? A total waste of time as they are very hard to cash anywhere but a bank, which may be very inconvenient.

    Travel while young
    The real answer is to travel at every age – but don’t wait until you are old to start traveling. The unpredictable changes and challenges in life might stop you traveling when older, in which case you’ll have fewer regrets if you start traveling young.

    Drinking to overcome fear of flying. Totally agree. Even if you are not afraid of flying, having a lot to drink means you won’t be able to cope with an emergency, and may not be in a fit state to approach the immigration desk when you land.

    Macdonalds is an emergency food kit with a big yellow label outside. Predictable, safe, plus bathrooms and WiFi. But only from time to time – most of the time eat the traditional food of the area.

    The only way to travel? I totally agree with you. There is no “only way”. Everyone is unique – with different interests, skills, confidence, health, age, family arrangements, and more.

  2. I sort of take for granted sometimes that people know how travel works, but even well-informed people who seem to know what’s going on in the world seem to have missed a lot of things. I tell people fairly often that hostels have private rooms and Wi-Fi, for example, and that there are indeed women who travel as well. I don’t think any travel myth will ever die.

  3. I was delighted to see that you included a visit to McDonalds to be an interesting experience! Try other well known fast food places too! On my first visit to Jamaica we stopped on the way from the airport at KFC and was astonished to see that they had fried dumplings on the menu (it was my first ever visit to a KFC other than in the UK so I was amazed at the difference) If you ever get a chance please do visit a KFC in Jamaica and try the fried dumplings with gravy (they were called ‘biscuits’ which I believe is the US terminology) Oh, and you can get mashed potatoes too, which caused us no end of amusement! Awesome…

  4. I think the currency advice depends very much on where you’re travelling to. I’m currently in Argentina and thankfully brought a huge pile of US dollars with me (which I bought in Europe). The official exchange rate is about 5 pesos to the dollar. On the black market I can get 9.1 to the dollar. I would always recommend having a wodge of US dollars when travelling in the developing world too – very useful for buying visas at borders and, sad to say, bribes etc. I’d say the Bad Advice you’re flagging up is Good Advice. Sorry…

  5. I really loved this and especially you are last point! Aren’t we all tourists somewhere and if you look at places like the Pyramids and Angkor Wat would you really want to miss such a beauty just because it has become a tourist attraction? I live in Cape Town and go on Table Mountain because it is a stunning place to be, how can I tell someone not to because it would oust them as a tourist instead of a ‘traveller’? I think places like that become tourist attractions because they are stunning and people want to see them – nothing wrong with that.

  6. Re: #1 – Not completely true. I find that carrying foreign currency to be a cheaper option than withdrawing from my atm abroad. Bank fees tend to be high.

  7. ugh. are you american? I agree with 1+2+5, #3. is BS (mostly) I just had a friend visit who is afraid of flying and he said self-medicating helps. Having a drink does not equal getting drunk. (unless you live in a country that vilifies alcohol) There is nothing bad/dangerous/evil/unhealthy about that. I have a drink on long hauls to help me sleep. Don’t drink if it makes you paranoid, but if you know it helps you calm down, go for it (in moderation)
    #4: you are joking right? yes, it’s fun to walk into an american chain restaurant in Bangkok to see what they have. McLobster is not “local Maine”, I bought one in Toronto this summer. So please no fairy tale about local customs or learning about the local culture, you are learning about the local customs of McDonalds, not the country. Want to learn about that? go to the night market or have lunch/dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a card that is no in english.

    1. Not sure how many McDs you have visited throughout the world but each one adapts their menu to the area they are in. This does reflect the locals preference for fast food tastes. Corn pies reflect Thais enjoyment of corn, especially as a desert (try an ice cream sandwich made with bread, ice cream and topped with red beans, peanuts and sweet corn). Of course, you may not investigate local food habits and realize this to be the case and that’s okay too.
      I’m not American but I do compare things like this when I travel. Shows me how different yet the same we all are.

      1. the best McDos are in the Philippines…rice, coffee, orange juice, longanisa (a local sausage), or pata (a local kind of steak meat), sunny side up eggs, pan de sal (a local bread fresh out of over)…yummmmmmmy

  8. Love the whole article! Esp the bit about travelling can be fun even when ur a lot older. Though I have to disagree on the currency bit. It all depends on your home currency. I live in India and if I don’t carry currency from home, I may not be able to convert later depending on where I travel. Most ATMs do a double conversion, INR to USD first and then to the local currency. It may work at times but not always.

  9. Good post overall, but as Edward pointed out, arriving in Argentina without a big pile of cash means you will spend far, far more on everything—if you can even get enough from the ATM. But you should bring real currency of course, not get theirs in advance.

    You should also arrive in Burma with crisp U.S. dollars that have no flaws. I’m sure there are others.

  10. As Gionni points out, it’s not black and white in regards to currency.

    You are going to be charged by an ATM regardless, and frankly I don’t mind being charged, perhaps a bit more, to have a few days worth of local currency in my hand before I land.

    Having a few days of local currency in my pocket saves me the hassle of having an immediate need to find an ATM, especially if I am connecting to a smaller airport. It allows me to get out of the airport quickly or pay for items on arrival. It can also give you the chance to become familiar with the new bills and their value before you use them. Another bonus is you can ask for small bills (ATMs typically dispense larger notes and can be hard to cash at ma + pop businesses).

    For me, spending a few more dollars to convert and bring the local currency with me is worth the peace of mind and lets me hit the ground running.

    Each to their own. You clearly prefer the ATM route, but that doesnt mean you should dismiss other options or mislabel those options as bad advice.

    Like any ‘advice’ on the Internet, a grain of salt is required.

  11. I too disagree with the currency one… travelling from the UK to the US, I have never been charged an extra fee for buying or exchanging travellers cheques – they are issued at the same exchange rate as cash and I am given exactly what I bought back (so a $100 travellers cheque gives me $100 cash). Most of the larger firms to exchange money over here do not charge commission and rates are very competitive. As for using my debit card to withdraw abroad – in the US I am charged for using an ATM machine and then charged for each withdrawal (my bank charges an exchange fee), so the money I’m saving by the potentially slightly better exchange rate of using an ATM is undone by the additional fees for each withdrawal, especially as there’s a limit on the amount I can withdraw in one transaction.

  12. In terms of bad advice, I often see people say that if you’re ready to leave for a RTW, you should quit your job and go immediately! I suggest the opposite. If you’re making a decent wage and don’t totally hate your job, stay there a while longer. Staying just an extra three months at a good job could allow you to save enough money to extend your trip by as much as 6 months, and I believe that’s a trade worth making.

  13. I’ve been given some bad travel advice, too, especially telling me that I should take my kids to Disneyland instead of Italy because “you’re a parent now,” as though I was being irresponsible for wanting to take my toddler on an overseas trip…Ugh.
    I just taught a unit about global brands, and we (my students from several countries) were just talking about how McDonald’s has different food that reflects local food tastes. I personally hate McDonald’s, but you bring up a good point about them that a lot of people don’t realize.

  14. Good post! Thank you. I was surprised about the ATMs, but have experienced it as well, except Dubai. However – yes, exchanging outside Dubai is expensive and exchanging at the airport is expensive, so much so, that they even tell you, not to exchange more than you need immediately. Another issue is also currencies: we carry Swiss Francs and Euro with us and have experienced different exchange courses with different “benefit” :)

    Drinking and flying: I am so glad for the word to maintain a limit to it. I had to treat enough passengers under alcohol influence brought by the airport police in the most embarrassing situations, different stage of awareness and then when they were awake, the realised what had happened and that they now had to pay CHF 800 at the least for the ambulance to start off with :)

    McDonald: I use them knowing that I will get a somewhat clean toilet and a somewhat opkay coffee, not to compare with an espresso

  15. I like to have some cash on me when I arrive in a new country in case of emergency but find that US dollars or euros are fine and easily exchanged.

    Macdonalds can be a safe haven of semi-familiarity when you’re having a bad day or dealing with extreme culture shock. Even with local differences to the standard menu, you can work out how to get a simple, predictable bite to eat when you have a jippy tummy or just can’t face any more local delicacies.

    And I’m glad you make the point that we are all tourists, no matter how brave and adventurous we like to think we are. There’s far too much snobbery and emphasis on ‘authentic experiences’ among travellers. Go, enjoy, get lost (I like to have a map so that I can find my way to where I want to be when I’m done wandering). See the things you want to see and take lots of photos. Why not?!

    1. “There’s far too much snobbery and emphasis on ‘authentic experiences’ among travellers” – oh how right you are. Going with the McD’s theme, I’ve had people tell me that because I took my kids to McD’s while in S.E.A., that I ruined their chance to have an authentic experience. I guess all the locals eating there weren’t authentic. Too funny IMHO.
      I say enjoy your trip regardless how you travel. We’re not “all inclusive” type people and don’t understand the draw to sitting at a resort for two weeks but we don’t put people down for liking that style of travel.
      People just have to feel superior for some reason.

  16. Wow, this post has great timing! Incidentally, I’ve just published my blog post on payment methods while travelling.

    I agree that using debit cards at ATMs gets you great exchange rates, but sometimes you do need to have some cash on hand from home. Even if the exchange rate isn’t as good as that of ATMs at the destination, I don’t take much anyway and it’s probably a difference of $5 or something, which is worth it for my peace of mind.

    When I was in Taiwan, for some reason the ATM wouldn’t give me money and instead spit out a receipt full of Chinese writing. I’ve even heard of ATMs swallowing debit cards for no reason. Or the ATMs at the airport might be out of order. So many things can go wrong!

    While ATMs should be the go-to source for local currency, I think having some cash available for emergencies is a great idea. Same goes for travellers cheques — they could be a lifesaver in emergencies.

    Btw, I had some Thai milk tea bubble tea at McDonald’s in Thailand and it was mediocre but I’m glad I tried it! There’s no sense in being snobbish when you’re supposedly there to experience everything.

  17. Thanks for these, Matt. I agree with them all, especially with the “travel while you’re young” one. I’m over 60, and this is the best time to be traveling full time. As for McDonalds, I’ve never been to one overseas, but I have been to a Burger King in Costa Rica. It was good. All fresh veggies and real meat. Since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve resisted, though. The local restaurants are just too good.

  18. I disagree with the ubiquitous advice to pack light. If I’m going to drag around a suitcase, it’s not much more effort to use my large traveler over my medium one. The additional weight/size might be annoying for a minute but not having the right shoes, enough layers, an umbrella, etc. can ruin an entire day or night.

    1. Good point, Esme. As Caribbean editor of Recommend magazine, I commute between NYC and the islands, where I want my own snorkeling mask (it fits my face — there’s a concept) and “extras” like a snorkeling shirt, sailing gloves, sandals, camera gear, rain gear, and drugs for any and all occasions. Why stint — to look cool with a bag that’s small enough for carry-on? Remember: On most international flights there’s no fee for checking luggage, so don’t worry, be happy.

      P.S. Terrific post, Matt. Even if we disagree on this or that, you’ve got us talking and (dare I say it?) thinking.

  19. Love this Matt, especially #4. We make a conscious effort to go into the McDonald’s in every country we visit (where there is one) and find this a cultural experience, particularly in the more exotic destinations!

  20. I disagree with the “You should Travel when you’re young” only idea as well. Another blogger I follow suggested in response to a question from one of her readers, that if you miss out on 20’s travel you’re sunk and continued on to suggest that one should be okay with incurring more debt or not paying off student loans to be able to travel.
    Talk about elitism and entitlement.
    Travel when you can. Where ever you can. At any age. But don’t put yourself in debt for the rest of your life so that you can say you got drunk in a few countries.

  21. I guess, not going to Mc Donald’s is still okay…specially when you’re travelling for a long time. Occassional break fromlocal foods is essential.

  22. Interesting points on all that old advice. Here is a tip that I know from experience is not wrong. This was a life saver on my last trip to Rome. I lost my passport during the day and had no idea it was missing. Fortunately, I had a tracer tag on it. A waiter where I ate lunch found it and entered my tracker number on the website. I was automatically sent a text message (and an email) with a pickup location before I ever even knew my passport was missing. Lucky for me, I was leaving in the morning for Germany and getting a new passport would have been impossible. Tags are available through That tag saved my trip from total disaster and I put them on my phone, laptop and almost everything that travels with me now.

  23. McDonalds… Ummm No !
    I can not agree with you on this. There are 3 sins that 20’th century America should never be forgiven for, and 1 of them is spreading McDonalds worldwide. I am not an elitist by any measure, but I almost never go to Mickey-D’s in The USA, and I never have (or will) while overseas. If you want to get a taste/tempt/idea of local dishes flavors and meals, go to a local restaurant. And the smaller the better. Ask the bellboy at your hotel where does he go with his friends, and start there.

    PS: I am 53 and have more fun traveling now than I did in my 20s and 30s…

  24. first, there is nothing categorically wrong with any of this advice, it’s all about the context and using your head.

    but i have to take issue with number one: it’s complete bogus and anyone who has travelled to a country with a travel warning will likely agree with me.

    i had a friend taken to an ATM by armed bandits and both of his credit cards failed, he luckily had some money stashed away in a blazer… not to belabor the point but any money is collateral that can literally save your life.

    myself, in the countries that i have travelled to recently, credit cards get comprimised easily, machines are constantly breaking down, plus you need a wad of small bills to get through the police checkpoints. corrupt guards and officers don’t care for the effort and the paper trail or the optics of having to bring a westerner to an ATM, were there one in the first place.

    basically, this is silly advice.

  25. Great post! The McDonalds one is really true. If I ever need WiFi I know that I can get it there. :) I think I go to McDonalds more often overseas than I do back in the US.

  26. I agree with a lot of your points, although as a solo female traveler I try to at least have a bit of money in the local currency before I land. Sometimes flights or buses get in late and I’m exhausted and the last thing I want to be doing is hunting down an ATM.
    As for Mcdonalds, sometimes all I want is aircon, wifi and a clean bathroom although if there is a starbucks nearby I’m more likely to swing by there instead. I have no time for people who judge others on how they travel, or how old they are when they start traveling.

  27. Great post! So glad you included McDonald’s. By far it’s not my first choice in any city in the world but, frankly, I’m more likely to find current local culture in a fast-food joint than I am in all the tourist-packed bistros and cafes in Paris in Rome.

    The laughable part was I went to a McDonald’s in Paris (I was starved after a really expensive, overpriced meal at a reputable Parisian place) and when I tweeted a joke about it, the friggin’ Paris Foodie Mafia on Twitter came down on me like I’d kicked a dog or something. The funny part is each one lectured me on where I should have eaten instead, but not one asked where I had eaten already.

    Lesson: Foodie Mafia folks, in general, need to get a sense of humor and listen more than they talk.

  28. When you have an electromagnet ray problem like I do (no, I’m serious!) and knock out cards like they’re ducks in a shooting gallery, you learn to take a wee bit of non magnetic back up ie some cash or traveller’s checks. PS I’m sure this problem of demagnetizing cards stems from the fact that I have secret super powers – I just haven’t learned to tap into them yet. Nice post!

  29. Good advice Matt. Thanks for sharing.

    I try to have at least the cost of a taxi fare or bus fare from the airport into my first destination in cash. Since I travel at least once a year to EU countries, I have made it a practice to bring back enough euros from the last trip to get me started on my next trip. I know there are ATMs in the airports but can be hard to find. On many trips I am traveling as a single female so I do like to have a backup plan and ready currency helps. Looking “lost” in an airport is not a safe feeling!

  30. Agreed.

    I would say that one reason I might emphasize traveling while young is because nowadays college graduates and younger people aren’t willing to leave full time jobs or good pay because of student loans. It’s not that they don’t want to travel, it’s just takes a backseat to other things…and then before you know it 5 years have gone by, then 10, etc.

    What worries me for young people (I’m talking about my own friends here), is that not only are they failing to visit/reside in other countries, but also they don’t even care to learn about these other cultures from me or other travelers.

    This might just be the American youth, but it’s really disheartening to see them care more about who the hottest celeb is than a trip abroad.

  31. Sheila Cruickshank

    Re: ATM I let the bank know which countries I am travelling to so the card works straight away. Sometimes the bank will block it if they don’t know you are away. Also I always carry a little local currency on me. Never have travellers cheques, just use my card and ATMs. Re:Food sometimes when you travel you just get a craving for some type of comfort food, so it’s o.k to visit a McDonald’s, but the travel tip should be “when in Rome do as the Romans do!” Re:age I have travelled in my 20s 30s 40s 50s and I hope to still be travelling in my 60s.

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