We’ve all got an Aunt Barb or Uncle Jim who think they’ve got all the best travel advice— but we all know it’s actually the worst. Maybe even the worst of the worst. You proudly told them you were planning to study, intern, or teach abroad during that annual, awkward, they-cornered-you-by-the-guac convo, and they immediately started repeating every negative headline in the news or carried on about their one friend who had a terrible time abroad. But, they still want you to enjoy your travels, and of course they have some words of (not so much) wisdom for young travelers like you.
And if it’s not Aunt Barb, it’s your cousin who spent two weeks on a Caribbean cruise and thinks he is Anthony Bourdain now. No matter who it is, there are always people in our lives willing to give terrible travel advice. So, how do you spot the good from the bad? Here’s some of the most common lame travel advice, which we hope you’ll never follow:
The worst travel advice
1. The only way to REALLY experience a country is through its major landmarks and attractions.
Paris is the Eiffel Tower. Pisa is the Leaning Tower. Cambodia is Angkor Wat. There just isn’t that much more to it. Bring your selfie stick and make sure you take as many photos with as many tourist attractions as you can fit into one day. After all, the history and culture surrounding these landmarks isn’t nearly as important as your Instagram game. — Sydney Thompson
2. Patience is not a virtue, shell out the extra bucks so you never have to wait in line at said landmarks and attractions!
There’s nothing more annoying than arriving at the line for the London Eye or Madam Tussauds and having to stand for hours. Your feet will start barking like dogs! You didn’t come all this way to stare at the back of a stranger's head for hours while standing in an endless line. Before you embark on your trip abroad, plan an itinerary and search out all the deals online. Laugh in the faces as you pass by all your fellow disgruntled tourists who aren’t as smart or organized as you are, and enjoy the attraction without being the sweaty peeved-off mess you would have been if you had waited for 40 minutes. No more early morning risings to make it through all the items on your to-do list. That’s intelligent traveling at its best! — Kevin Worrall
3. Forget free, locally owned and operated walking tours—big air-conditioned bus or bust!
Sure, it may be a better deal to do a free “tip what you can” walking tour of the city, guided by a local with deep understanding of their culture and history (and some pretty stellar restaurant recommendations), but what about personal comfort? Walking around is exhausting. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. You’re much better off going with a big international tour company, a huge group of fellow tourists, and a woman with a flag, a red vest, and a clipboard. You can just buy an audio guide at the Louvre, anyway. — Erin Oppenheim
4. Ditch the dictionary and practice your best slow, simple English (with lots of hand gestures) to get around.
Luckily, English is a global language — AKA one of the most common spoken languages, so there isn’t any reason to bother learning local phrases in your foreign destination. Instead, spend time refining your own English skills for communicating your basic needs with non-native speakers. The #1 tip: pretend like you’re speaking to a small child and you’ll be golden!
Plus, since everyone around the world wants to learn English nowadays, you will in fact be helping out the local people that you meet. Everyone will appreciate your efforts to speak with them in English and you’ll be sure to make a great impression and plenty of new memories by sharing your native language throughout your trip. — Mariel Tavakoli
5. No white-tablecloths = No Interest.
We’ve all heard the agonizing stories of the food poisoning that goes along with traveling to “exotic” destinations. Avoid the pain by researching only the fanciest restaurants in each city you visit and staying far away from those dubious dives and suspicious street food vendors. Some good indicators are the presence white tablecloths, a sign that the restaurant accepts all major credit cards, a website or online review(s), or the best insurance of all, a recommendation from your five-star hotel concierge. When planning ahead, you can also scout out Michelin-Star or Zagat-rated restaurants that will leave your stomach rumbling for more and your wallet a whole lot lighter. — Mariel Tavakoli
6. First and foremost, think of your Facebook profile picture.
If you don’t upload a new photo of you hugging grateful local orphans, did you ever really leave home? Traveling is only about making your social media followers jealous of your incredible life. When you post photos, make sure to avoid any mentions of homesickness, stressful situations, or loneliness. Instead, focus on practicing yoga poses in front of temples and perfecting your “candid” laugh while petting a sleeping tiger (just make sure to edit out the chain around its neck and the lines of other tourists behind you waiting for their photo op!).
Also, never hesitate to get up close and personal for some authentic pictures of happy locals going about their daily lives. They’ll be honored you took the time to seek them out, stick a camera in their face, and then loudly tell them you love their country! Remember, you could make a difference in your followers’ lives by inspiring them to get out, head to the most photogenic spot in each country, and then spend hours inside on their hostel’s wifi editing, posting, and counting the likes on their photos. — Katharine Rose Fielding
7. NEVER use public transportation— it’s dangerous!
The first rule of getting around in a new country has to be to find a reliable cab driver, or a chauffeur if you have the budget. Never use public transportation to get from place to place. If you do, you are simply asking for trouble. Not only are you sacrificing your comfort as you sit pressed up against locals who might not be wearing eau de pafrum, but you might be forced to interact with them as well. Don’t be fooled when they smile and try to make conversation — they’re actually just eyeing up your bags and working out a way to rob you. If you’re sensible, you’ll steer clear of this one and drive in another direction! — Elisabeth Tuck
8. Save even more money— don’t waste time on meaningful souvenirs.
Traveling is not cheap. Plane tickets alone will cost you a fortune, especially if you’re one of those fun, spontaneous, day-of travelers. So instead of spending a few dollars or so in each country collecting meaningful souvenirs, simply apply this money to some nicer meals or a Starbucks every now and then.
Postcards? Just take pictures and post them to your Facebook! It’s much quicker than sending them to your friends and family. Handcrafted knick-knacks? Don’t bother learning the relevance of these emblematic trinkets. Your IKEA bookshelf looks tidier without these items anyway, and you won’t have to talk about your travels every time someone asks about them. Play it safe and pack your suitcase to the brim so you won’t even be tempted to buy any new clothes that’ll disrupt your uncomplicated wardrobe. When it comes to travel, every cent counts, so spare those memories for that moolah. — Joe Santini
9. Splurge on an expensive international data plan.
How do people even travel without their phones? It’s practically your lifeline and you should never be more than two seconds away from it. Although it may be critical in case of emergencies, staying connected outside of airport or hotel WiFi networks is just a more enjoyable way to go about your journeys. You’ll have the ability to mindlessly scroll through your social media feeds at dinner with your host family or on public transport, and you won’t have to wait for WiFi before uploading those coveted Snapchats. Turn your attention from your surroundings to your screen and treat yo’ self to a “reasonably priced” short-term data plan through your provider. — Joe Santini
10. Avoid hostels and get the most expensive hotel you can find.
Have you seen the movie Hostel? Not only will your hostel be full of creeps, but just think about the rooms. You will definitely be packed into a huge, gymnasium style room with a bunch of sweaty, hairy, stinky strangers sleeping on cots. Don’t even think about bringing any valuables with you. People that stay at hostels are so rude and downright sketchy, they’ll steal anything they lay their eyes on, so you’ll just have to stay up all night and crouch over your belongings to protect them. Not to mention hostels are disgusting. You’ll end up showering from a hose and eating cat food for all you know. Go for the most expensive hotel you can find. That’s the only way you’ll be comfortable. — Olivia Curran
11. Enjoy that hotel room for the entire trip.
What’s better than arriving in a new country and breaking in that comfy, king-size memory foam mattress in your hotel room? Well, actually nothing! Yeah, you flew across the world to eat new foods, see new things, and hear different tongues. However, will anything be better than staying in your hotel room all day? Besides, you can still do all of that from the comfort of your bed with foreign films on demand and room service. You already paid for it, so you should enjoy it.
Don’t bother with all the activities outside your safe zone when you can experience all the culture you need by watching that poorly-dubbed and subtitled version of Harry Potter. Wrap yourself in those daily-changed sheets and towels, and bother room service daily. When you want to #treatyourself, be sure to eat all the snacks and peanuts in that cozy refrigerator in the corner. — DeShawn Peterson
12. Long layover in the early morning hours? Stay in an expensive nearby airport hotel!
Flying abroad can be tiresome, and long layovers do NOT help the situation. Have you ever arrived at an airport after midnight and your next flight leaves early in the morning? If so, you probably weighed your options. Do you book a hotel and get some shuteye for a few hours? Or, do you save the cab fare and the expensive room when you could just find a cozy spot to sleep in the airport and not worry about missing your flight the next day instead?
Most international airports have departures and arrivals late into the night, so you are not alone in this quandary. But do you REALLY want to take your chances and sleep in the stinky, dirty, overcrowded airport? Do yourself a favor and book a fancy, expensive, airport hotel. Bonding with fellow travelers is lame. — Stacey Sloughfy
Take this travel advice…and throw it in the garbage!
Let this bad travel advice wash over you. Read through it and then immediately forget all of it. Instead, check out articles with STELLAR travel advice from our Best Meaningful Travel Articles list. That’s where the good stuff’s at. #SrryNotSrry Aunt Barb, Uncle Jim, and cousin-who-went-on-a-cruise-once, but we know just how transformative and magical true meaningful travel can be. So find that program, eat that street food, and learn that new language! You’ve got places to go, and strangers to turn into friends.