bali beach trash season dirty

How to travel: 14 Travel Myths Debunked (Part 2)

by Larissa on March 4, 2013

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.

rocky statue paris

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

Soussevlei sand dunes Namibia

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

Bali Kuta Beach trash

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

Rocky Mohammad Lebanon Abu Dhabi

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

travel myths debunked 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

choson ot what women wear in north korea

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

Angkor Wat crowded entrance

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

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Ali March 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

All great tips & info! I’ve had so many people ask me about traveling to countries where they don’t speak the language, and it’s just not a reason to stay home. I’m not a morning person either so I don’t do much of that “go early to avoid the crowds” stuff. Although I’m not sure Angkor Wat is a place anyone goes to early thinking they’re avoiding crowds. Go early because the sunrise is fantastic.

wandering educators March 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm

great tips and resources! I love how you debunk these myths in such common-sense ways!

Anonymous March 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I completely agree with having a leisurely breakfast.

Larissa March 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I’ve heard that about the sunrise at Angkor, Ali, and I’m content to take your word for it ;). The sunsets were pretty great as well.

Larissa March 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Yep, the truth must be told! 🙂

Lillie - @WorldLillie March 4, 2013 at 8:13 pm

These are fabulous! That photo from Bali is heartbreaking, though.

Maddie March 5, 2013 at 4:22 am

Sadly, I completely agree re Bali. We left feeling uptight and stressed rather than blessed out and relaxed, such a shame.

Theodora March 6, 2013 at 12:41 am

I think the problem with Bali is so many people only ever see the tourist south. The north and east coasts are lovely and there are actually plenty of good beaches in Seminyak. But it’s more about the interior of the island, although that is a side that plenty of visitors never manage to experience.

Terry at Overnight New York March 6, 2013 at 4:00 am

Yup — stuff gets lots in translation (love the meatball picture), but communication is universal. Nice line-up of tips and observations.

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family March 6, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Fantastic post!!!!

Larissa March 6, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Yes, it was a very disappointing day.

Larissa March 6, 2013 at 9:33 pm


Larissa March 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I agree Theodora. It was only once we got to the interior that we saw the beauty. But it is getting so crowded you need to go further and further afield to find it. For the record, the beaches at Seminyak were dirty during the “trash season” as well.

Larissa March 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Well communicated 🙂

Larissa March 6, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Thanks, Bethaney. Glad you liked it. 🙂

D.J. - The World of Deej March 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Great post…I too found the French to be mostly friendly:)

Cole @ March 8, 2013 at 4:05 am

Wow you guys have been to some amazing places!

Also totally agree with the “go late” tip. But ssshhhhh don’t tell everyone! By that time most people are resting in their rooms or getting ready for dinner. And since most European and other countries eat late anyway, it is a perfect time to go exploring.

Forrest Walkee March 8, 2013 at 9:52 am

Every one of your tips is absolutely tru. From my experience. Especially Bali. Great post

Robyn March 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I’m so sad to hear about Bali. When I visited there in 1978 tourism was very new. We found it to be an amazingly beautiful country with quiet, peaceful people who were only too willing to take time to stop and talk. The impact of tourism can have such a devastating effect on a whole culture if it’s not well managed. Even here in New Zealand I am sometimes saddened by the changes that are made to special places in search for the tourist dollar.

Daniel McBane March 12, 2013 at 7:40 am

Urinate beef meatball sounds pretty painful…

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Thanks Jessie.

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Thanks, D.J., I’ve always been mystified by this ongoing myth. I think it’s one of those “self-fulfilling” prophecies: expect rudeness, and you’re likely to find it. . . when in actuality if you are friendly, you will make friends 🙂

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

No, not been to the Philippines yet, but it’s on the list–so many great places to go!

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Okay, Cole, it’ll be our secret ;).

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm

thanks for checking in.

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm

The people are still open, friendly and generous. I think they are a bit bewildered by all the growth and are trying to make the best of it, but they might be fighting a losing battle.

Larissa March 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I would imagine so, Daniel. . . for obvious reasons I chose not to partake 😉

The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) March 21, 2013 at 12:02 am

Wow, I had no idea Bali was so gross, at least parts of it. I’ve heard the people are amazing, though. What I appreciated most about your trip was that you guys went to so many “different” places that most RTW travelers never even think of touching … like the Middle East (other than Egypt), North Korea, and sub-Saharan Africa. A well-rounded journey!

Marilynn March 23, 2013 at 11:56 am

Yes, the French are indeed friendly! I have to disagree with #14. It almost always pays to arrive early.

Larissa March 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Thanks Ellen. As we were going along it seemed like we were “so close” we just had to go to these places.

We did not make it to Myanmar, though, so I am looking forward to reading about your experiences there!

Larissa March 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm

You must be an early riser, Marilynn. We are not, and are quite grumpy in the morning. So more power to you 🙂

Ezra March 29, 2013 at 10:39 am

larissa, i am indonesian. Bali is part of indonesia. that trash is from pacific ocean. so, don’t blame bali. that trash is from many country in pacific. like japan, australia, hawaii, philippines, and another country in pacific. in the midle of pacific ocean you will find a trashland. if you don’t believe. search in google ”trash in pacific”. and in some season, wind will bring the trash in many beach in indonesia, and maybe many beach in another country. so, don’t judge Indonesia if you dont know.

and Larissa! if you want quiet holiday go to raja ampat, papua, indonesia. that is very beautiful island.

sorry my english is bad. because i am stupid student in here. but many smart people in indonesia.

Carolyn August 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Actually, my husband and I get up early to avoid the crowds on every trip, and it *does* work! We get the best photos that way.

Michael August 11, 2013 at 8:02 am

Hi Carolyn,

So happy that works out for you. As for us, we’ll continue to sleep in.

Fatimah December 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm

LOL! This was a great read! I am extremely happy to hear fellow late risers – I’m much more of a night owl! I live in South Africa & you definetly have to drop by – security concerns are often sensationalised by tourists with no common sense! The country also has an added bonus of giving you a great exchange rate. For those who like exploring themselves, self drive is a really convenient & cheap way to travel here. On the middle ease, I cant believe people actually think that – in my experience Americans and British were treated very well and were well respected, more so than other nationalities.

Marysia @ My Travel Affairs February 2, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Love the philosophy of going late to avoid the crowds! And oh my God picture from Bali is terrible, almost the same like a beach in Cotonou in Benin!

Michael February 3, 2014 at 11:17 am

Since we’re not people who like to get up early, going later in the day works out perfectly.

Sue March 18, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Would love a greater coverage story on Bali. We visit there many times a year always opting to stay in either Nusa Dua or Lombok. Main reason being, Kuta area has become very popular for young students who prefer the party life, booze and cheap accommodation. Our philosophy has always been pay the little extra and enjoy the true relaxation and fresh air Bali has to offer….

The Barefoot Backpacker January 28, 2016 at 5:05 am

Yeh, pretty much … 🙂

There is one thing about #14 though. I’d always tend to visit more touristy sites either early morning, not to avoid the crowds, but more to avoid the weather (since many other ppl think this, so the crowds build, but hey ho!).
Many of these popular places are more towards the equator, so regardless of season it gets dark earlier than a British summer (in the tropics, between 6 & 7pm all year round). Given that the day will be generally quite hot, even by sundown the temperatures are still too high to be traipsing around a huge site. Thus going early doors rather than evening makes more sense.

Also, certainly in many parts of Africa & Asia, more public transport tends to depart in the early mornings, so you’re likely to have to be an early riser anyway.


Michael January 28, 2016 at 9:16 am

Good tips. I guess we’re just not early risers.

Brian April 26, 2016 at 9:47 am

I live in France and can honestly say that most of the French you encounter will be nothing but very helpful and very often they actually enjoy practicing their English. But of course they are only going to be helpful if you are courteous and don’t make assumptions about language. Not everyone in the world speaks English and your first attempt at communication should be in their language.

There will always be exceptions to the rules, like in any country, but generally the French are a lovely people.

Michael April 26, 2016 at 10:09 pm

Hi Brian,

That’s what we said. Apparently a lot of people misunderstood what we wrote to mean that the French are rude, when we mean just the opposite.

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