Beware the Bad Travel Advice, and Think Twice

Part of traveling means that you’re going to meet a lot of people who are going to pass along their advice (usually unsolicited) on what you should do, and how you should do it. Like anything, you really have to use your own discretion regarding what will work for you and what won’t. Some of the advice is bad because of my travel style, other advice I find horrible in general, and some of it has to do with personality. I’ve compiled my list of the worst travel advice I consistently received and why I chose to ignore it.

1- Never buy data on your phone, use the free Wi-Fi at your hostel or cafes (or in free Wi-Fi areas of the city) is the worst travel advice well-meaning people constantly gave me (unsolicited)! I’m all for saving money where you can, but this is not one place I compromise (though I tried it initially). Here’s why I learned it’s a horrible idea to rely solely on free Wi-Fi.

  • Hostel/hotel internet isn’t always free. I’ve stayed in lots of accommodation that have per day access fees or sold their data in increments of a few hundred MB. These fees were often higher than the units of data I could buy from my mobile cell phone provider (I bought a local SIM upon arrival in Australia) and I always had that data on demand wherever I was (provided I was in range of signal).
  • Hostel/hotel/restaurant internet isn’t always fast and/or reliable. I’ve stayed at lots of places that technically have “free Wi-Fi” but good luck actually getting it to work. Worse were the places I paid for access to the Wi-Fi and it didn’t work.
  • You can’t use your GPS, or other helpful travel apps (like public transport information) when you’re on the go. It really helps to have your data connection on demand, to assist you with the quickest route by public transportation from your location or to find the best coffee next to the museum you visited.
  • Using your credit card or making bank transactions over unsecured Wi-Fi can put your personal information at risk. I’m not saying there will or won’t be someone skimming data off the unsecured Wi-Fi, but I cannot think of a worse time to have your credit card (or your identity) stolen, than when you’re traveling around in a foreign country. Of course pretty early into my trip I did on occasion use the unsecured Wi-Fi to buy airplane tickets. Thankfully, nothing bad came of it and for that I consider myself lucky. I feel much more secure using my own data connection for credit cards and banking transactions. My ideal solution that came to pass after a few months of traveling was to have some data on my phone available with the opportunity to buy more. If the chance for free Wi-Fi presented itself (one time my hostel was a block away from a library that allowed me free Wi-Fi access) I’d use it for things like backing up my photos, updating the software on my computer, and anything else that might take large amounts of data (e.g. to make a call home over Skype) My phone data was used for things like making purchases and money transfers. It was perfect!

2 – Get an electronic travel book and leave the hard copy at home. Sure travel books are big, and heavy and they take a lot of space up in your pack so it seems logical to stick your favorite travel guide onto a digital device. The thing is most e-readers don’t have navigation designed to allow you to jump around. Chronological order is fantastic for a novel, but not what I want in a travel book (which I like flipping through). If you’re unsure what’s best for you, do yourself a favor and buy or check out the digital copy of the book from your public library and check it out before you travel (I hope/suspect that the market will demand these functionalities be addressed so hopefully this will become obsolete advice). Some people like to keep their books as reminders of their trips, I left mine in a hostel book exchange shelf the night before returning home.

3 – Camera advice before I went traveling fell into two categories, both were not solid advice. They were:

  • Only take your smart phone, you won’t need a ‘real’ camera OR
  • You’re going to regret not taking a DSLR with you

I took a mid-range point and shoot camera with me at the encouragement of my favorite uncle even though my original plan was to take my smart phone. I’m so glad I did! I discovered photography while traveling and while my smartphone does have a very good camera, it’s not as versatile as my regular camera. Additionally, my phone’s battery could barely keep up as it was (particularly if I was going in and out of service). It would suck having a flat battery while trying to find your accommodation because you took to many photos that day. Conversely, it wouldn’t be cool to not taking photos because you’re trying to preserve your phone’s battery with the knowledge you may need it to find your way later in the day.
That being said the phone was always with me so on the occasion I didn’t have my point and shoot pocketable camera with me I’d still be able to take photos (some of which are my favorite photos). I also found using my phone to take photos of mundane things to share with people back home (i.e. the electrical power outlet) very convenient to use to email or send via FB Messenger. At the time I didn’t think these photos would be memorable, though many of those pictures I treasure now.

Unless you’re a photography guru I also wouldn’t take a big DSLR. When receiving advice point number two, I had no photography experience. There’s no way I would have lovingly packed a big DSLR with me on every day trip before I fell in love with photography. I wouldn’t have gotten as many pictures plain and simple. For me, spending a lot of money on a DSLR was not the right choice. In general, my impression is that people who would value a DSLR will already know they will want this type of camera. If you don’t know you’ll want a DSLR, or don’t know what a DSLR is, don’t take one!

4 – Don’t take more than one device, your smart phone can do everything. I had a laptop, a camera, and a phone with me. Had I owned a tablet when I went traveling I probably could have left my laptop at home if I also brought a mouse and keyboard for the tablet. You can do a lot on your phone, but you need to assess your goals. For instance, creating a lot of content simply isn’t practical on your phone nor is backing up and editing your photos. But if you’re not blogging or writing home it may not be necessary to have that capability.

5 – Keep traveling on your credit cards. When my time traveling was coming to a logical ending place (for now) there was so much pressure to keep going and bill it back to my credit cards. At first, I’d try to explain calmly that though my travels were wrapping up for the time being, I’d go home, work, and save. I want to put all my money into that travel fund instead of trying to pay back high interest rates. I eventually reached a point where I’d just say that I had already exhausted that option because I was done with people telling me how to run my financial affairs. But a lot of people are (perhaps correctly) convinced these opportunities are once in a lifetime. While part of me is sad this could be true, I don’t want to be paying interest rates on a loan from a credit card if I can avoid it. Simply put, I can avoid it.

*This article is specific to traveling in Australia in 2014/2015

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