This week we tackle travel myths and misconceptions related to destinations. In our many years of travel to 70 countries, we’ve learned to take what we read in guidebooks with a grain of salt and form our own opinions. Some places were pleasant surprises, others not so nice. Read on to see if you’ve encountered the same, or have others to add to the list:
Travel Myth #8: The French are rude
Oh bullmerde! Do these people look rude? The French are nice people, and very proud of their country and its traditions. We have been to France many times and have never had to deal with rude Frenchmen. The French are not very tolerant of rude travelers—they will simply be standoffish in return. And who can blame them? I’ve seen plenty of tourists march up to a random Frenchman and ask in English, “Where is the Eiffel Tower?” Learning a few simple words like sil vous plait and merci will go miles in engendering good will. A good practice wherever you travel. (Thanks to the very nice Barbara and Didier for posing with Little Rocky in Paris.)
Travel blogger Barbara Weibel of The Hole in the Donut writes more about smashing the myth of French rudeness.
Travel Myth #9: You have to take a group tour or safari to visit Africa
Nope—try Namibia. The 22-year-old nation on the southwest coast of Africa is a safe spot for self-drive road trips. It offers an abundance of wild animals, a sterling national park system, and spectacular scenery. Many of the countries popular for safaris—Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa—warn against moving about the country on your own due to safety concerns, so a group tour is your only option. In Namibia we drove around the country alone for 3 weeks, and there were days we were the sole humans viewing a waterhole filled with 30 elephants taking a bath. Just be sure not to wake a sleeping lion.
Travel Myth #10: Bali is a paradise
Sadly, we found this not to be true. Rampant overbuilding and way too many tourists have made the southern part of the island overcrowded. Traffic is a nightmare, the streets full of litter and the beaches are some of the filthiest we have ever seen. They even have a time of year known as the “trash season”—yuck. The Balinese people are wonderful, and beauty still exists on the island, but you have to head pretty far inland to find it. Here’s more on our experience with Bali’s trashy beaches.
Travel Myth #11: Middle Easterners don’t like Americans
Total hummus. We spent 2 months traveling independently throughout the Middle East. Wherever we went, people asked where we were from. When we replied “the US” their first response was universally “welcome”. This was true of Emirati in Dubai, Bedouin workers in Qatar and Jordan and even a few Lebanese and Saudi guys we met in Abu Dhabi. Their Arab and Muslim customs may be different to that of the west (and as a woman I’m not really crazy about the whole burka thing), but that does not mean the people are hostile. The reports we see on TV are of the sensational zealots, and like zealots everywhere they are a small (but noisy) minority.
Travel Myth #12: You’ll have trouble with the language
We’ve been to almost 70 countries, and we certainly don’t speak 70 languages fluently, or even 2 for that matter. English has become the universal language of business while English language movies and TV programs are available all over the world. (Heck, you can buy knockoffs of the latest western releases in China and Vietnam for 75¢.) As a result, in most major cities and tourist areas you’ll be able to at least muddle through with English. And the world over, when someone doesn’t speak the local language, English is what they use to communicate. In Vietnam we saw an Italian man conversing with a Vietnamese woman in English, similarly a Turkish woman speaking English to a German. This does not mean you shouldn’t learn at least a few words of the native tongue (see number 8 above). And in rural locations all bets are off. But do NOT let unfamiliarity with the language be a hindrance to your travels!
Travel Myth #13: North Korea is off-limits to visitors
Not true. Although visitors must take a group tour via one of the few approved tour operators (we used Koryo Tours), and all tours originate out of Beijing. Visas are not granted to anyone with a public profile, so this is not the time to brag about how popular your blog is, or even mention that uncle who works at the Pentagon. The tours are pretty structured, with visits to the “great and glorious” sights that the North Korean government has deemed worthy. Despite this, there are still glimpses beneath the veneer, and opportunities to interact with the North Korean people, who are sheltered, but still friendly and curious. We wrestled with the question “Is it morally right to visit North Korea?” and in the end were glad we decided to go.
Travel Myth #14: Get up early to avoid the crowds
Ah, the “travel secret” of every guidebook! Know what happens when you do this? You end up stuck with the crowds of people who got up early to avoid the crowds, missing breakfast in the process. We aren’t early risers, so our philosophy is to go late to miss the crowds. We do other activities in the morning (which usually includes sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast) while the crowds are at the nearby sights. Then we head over after lunch, just as the busloads are returning. From the temples of Angkor Wat to safaris in Africa to the ruins at Pompeii this strategy has worked well for us. We often have the place almost to ourselves, along with great late afternoon light for photos.
What travel myths about destinations have you debunked?
For more see our list of Travel Myths #1-#7