Cold, hard fact: the world is not as dangerous as your ill-informed parents and the mainstream news media would have you believe.

If it was, none of us would ever leave home. Not without a sack full of Imodium, a cadre of armed security guards and a six-inch layer of bubble wrap around our person. Fear not, bold traveler: with a little common sense and your wits about you, you too can travel the world safely!

Let’s take the five most common (idiotic, though well-intentioned) travel “tips” you’re likely to hear … and why you should ignore them all.

Chinese Fast Food on the Street in Shanghai
Chinese Fast Food on the Street in Shanghai © Jonathan Kos-Read

Tip #1: “Don’t eat the food there! You’ll get sick!”

If you travel long enough, you may very well get sick. But, after years of near full-time traveling and dining on plenty of dodgy meals in even dodgier places, I’ve never been truly gut-wrenching sick. Like everything else on this list, it’s all about common sense. Eat where the locals eat and you’re likely to be just fine. See a street food cart in Laos packed with workers at lunch hour? That’s probably a fine place to chow down. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain:

Isn’t it worth risking one night on the thunder bucket to potentially experience the best meal of your life?

Yes, Tony, we think it is.

Tip #2: “Don’t ever travel alone, especially if you’re a woman! It’s SO dangerous!”

Mainstream media (and consequently most Westerners) believe there are places in this world where locals wait at the airport to ambush Western tourists before robbing them blind, shanking them in a back alley, and leaving them to bleed out. This simply isn’t true.

Save for a few places in sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps the obvious war zones in the Middle East, the world is not “out to get you”. People the world over are much the same as you and me: they want to go to work, support their family, (hopefully) knock off early on a Friday, and grab a beer at the local watering hole with their mates. You probably don’t fit into their daily plans at all.

Just as you would walking the streets of any major city in the States late at night, keep a level head and you’re likely to be just fine.

Tip #3: “Why would you ever want to leave the U.S.?”

Sadly, my grandparents actually once said this to me. I fully believe this thinking stems from the blind “We are the greatest country on earth!” mantra so prevalent in the U.S. for the last few decades. The problem is: how do you actually know if you never travel outside of it? You remember this old chestnut:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

While this sounds rather cocky, the essence of the message is clear: travel is the truest way to experience the world and those living in it.

Sign: "Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity."
© Zephyrance Lou

Tip #4: “How can you afford to travel for that long? It’s gonna cost a fortune!”

The greatest racket in the history of marketing is that travel is expensive. Talk to any of the thousands of digital nomads traveling today — folks who’ve been globetrotting for years with no fixed address making little more than the average minimum wage worker’s salary in the States — and they’ll assure you otherwise. And you don’t need to sleep in sketchy hostels or eat canned cat food every night. It comes down to being smart and knowing where you can save and where you can splurge.

Tip #5: “You’re leaving for a year?! But what about your job, your life, your [fill in perceived grown-up responsibility here]?”

Life is full of plenty of calculated risks. Be the person who takes them.

Someone once told me, “the traffic lights of life will never all be green”. There’s never a picture-perfect time to have a child, move across the country, buy that new sports car, or fulfill your lifelong dream of traveling the world. If it’s your true passion, wouldn’t you rather take the chance now? If it doesn’t work out, when you’re old and gray at least you’ll know you tried.

I’ve found that those most likely to ask this question are inevitably those who aren’t truly fulfilled with their own lives and the choices they’ve made.

After running Vagabondish.com for more than six years, I’ve connected with thousands of travelers. Not a single one has ever said, “Ya know, I really regret quitting my job to travel the world.”

Life is full of plenty of calculated risks; be the person who takes them.

What’s the worst travel advice you’ve ever received … and soundly ignored?

10 Responses

  1. Christy

    The worst travel advice— don’t talk to strangers.

    Reply
  2. Susan

    Well said! You are so on point with all of the idiotic, non-sense tips people who never travel love to give out that everyone should ignore.

    Reply
  3. Kathryn

    I’ve never understood the advice for female travellers, even the need for it as something separate from safety advice for ALL travellers. In fact, the worst stories of robberies/scams/violence I’ve heard have happened to men, usually strting with a good looking woman chatting them up in a bar.

    Tip #5 is great – I had a women who’d just returned from a year’s maternity leave say that to me before I went travelling. I wasn’t quick-witted enough to make the connection until later!

    Reply
  4. Charlotte

    Really great article! So true – I speak as a woman who travels alone all the time, even to places like India. Next on my list is Morocco, which my parents say I shouldn’t do alone. Pah!

    Reply
    • Mike Richard

      @Charlotte: Right on! It bothers me to see how afraid people (particularly Americans) are of the “outside world”. It’s just not that scary!

      Reply
  5. Doug

    Mine would be “Don’t explore outside the tourist areas”. I have taken walks in Sao Paulo where I was assured even by locals not to venture too far. I love it and have met some amazing people and seen amazing sights and had amazing foods venturing outside of the “comfort zone”. Just be smart about it. Don’t take the expensive jewelry and the 1000 dollar camera and your ipad etc.. Just get some cash in local currency and some form of ID (never know if you might need it) and have a walk…

    Reply
  6. Angela

    Wonderful text, Mike!
    As a native Brazilian I don’t get the “Why would you want to leave Brazil?”, but usually “Why don’t you go to America or Europe instead of Asia?”
    I guess I need to start spreading this travel gospel to some friends here.

    Reply

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