I, like many people in the world, love to travel. If you are an avid traveler too, you probably have noticed like I have that we don’t all have the same idea when we say “I like to travel.” While I respect different people’s choice of destination and activities, some choices continue to baffle me. Here is my top 10 list (in descending order) of questionable choices, activities, or travel styles that I find simply overrated. If there is something I missed, add it in the comments.
#10 Going to a Destination via Cruise Ship
I start with this because it is the only item on the list for which I have no personal experience. However, it doesn’t take a genius to realize the downfalls of traveling by cruise ship. For starters, when you are at sea, it is the equivalent of staying in a nice hotel (see #6) and not going outside to actually experience the country. When you finally do arrive somewhere, you are unloading with a horde of five thousand other tourists pushing and shoving to make the most out of the time they have in this place. What would be worse, is being in an overpriced tour sold to you by the cruise ship (see #2). There is absolutely nothing unique about doing the same exact trip that five thousand people are doing. If I haven’t scared you away yet, maybe their recent safety record or appalling food quality (independently tested) should.
#9 Bring Excessive Luggage
As any wise traveler will tell you, MAKE A LIST and stick to it. Now, I am not saying not to bring extra socks or an extra shirt just in case. However, you are on vacation and there are many things you can do without. Extra baggage will only slow you down and make it impossible to do some of the more impulsive things while traveling. While I like to have a “home base,” whether it be a hotel or hostel, it is also important to be mobile, especially during longer trips. I have heard that things like “travel de-humidifiers” exist…. come on….really?! You can handle a little humidity for a few days or traveling might not be for you. I am proud to say that I used everything I brought with me on my last four trips and packing light has been a huge help. Now, many travelers don’t understand what is meant by ‘light’ so here are some rules of thumb:
1-2 days: Bring a small backpack
3-5 days: Bring a large backpack
6-12 days: Bring a travel backpack or a very small rolling luggage
12+ days: A combination of the above, and consider washing your clothes while traveling. Trust me, that hassle is not as big as the hassle of pulling up twenty kilos up three flights of stairs.
#8 Riding Business or 1st Class
Now, don’t get me wrong, if you can get this for free, or at a very reduced price, go for it. However, paying a full price upgrade for first or business class is a complete waste of money. Airplane flights last anywhere from one to fifteen hours if you are going from one side of the planet to the other. Having done the LA to Seoul flight a few times myself, I understand that it is uncomfortable, cramped, and the food is rarely filling. Toughen up! Eat before you fly, bring some snacks, try to sleep through most of it, bring a book, write a story, and spend the money at your destination. While the upgraded flights are nice and comfortable, it is the same idea as a high end hotel (see #6).
#7 Follow the Suggestions of Travel Books
Look, if you are going to visit a restaurant because you saw it featured on Lonely Planet, chances are, so are a million other Lonely Planet readers. As soon as something gets into a popular travel book, people flock to it. If economics has taught us anything is that with increased demand and stable supply, prices soar. This is especially true in countries in south east Asia where places will actively promote that they were featured on a book to justify their inflated prices. While travel books will give you a rough idea of what general area to visit or things to do, don’t feel compelled to eat or book a hotel where they suggest.
Furthermore, has anyone considered that companies that produce new books every year, due to their scope, have a very narrow viewpoint of what there actually is to do in a place? Think about it. The Lonely Planet produces a new book for every place on the planet (as far as I know) every year. They can’t possibly have the manpower to have a real consensus “best restaurant” or “best hotel.” Personally, I prefer to read travel blogs. They often have a more expert knowledge than the supposed ‘experts.’ While the argument could be made that the same applies to this very blog, this site is not that popular (yet) so you’re safe.
#6 Fancy Resorts or Five-Star Hotels
I’m just going to go ahead and say it. If you can only travel by staying in five star hotels or fancy resorts, you like taking breaks from life, not traveling. Save yourself the money of the flight and some time by booking the nearest five star hotel to you. These high end “homes away from home” are the illusion of exploration. You fool yourself into thinking you are becoming more well rounded and understanding of the different parts of the world. In reality, you are viewing it through a scope that does no reflect the every day lives of the people who live where you have traveled. In the case of poorer countries, you usually are in a level of comfort and luxury that is unavailable to the general population. When you stay in a nice place, you are more compelled to stay there longer as you “paid so much for it.”
Personally, I view hotels or hostels as a place to sleep. That unfortunate reality that we are human after all and require rest is a curse for travelers everywhere as it cuts into our (often too short) vacation time. I am by no means suggesting that everyone stay in the cheapest place available all the time. After all, some of us (or maybe just ‘you’) have certain standards of hygiene and cleanliness. However, high end hotels and resorts are a waste of money and offer a completely unauthentic experience that you can certainly skip on.
#5 Fancy Restaurants (yes even famous ones)
I remember when I went on a trip to Beijing, I was talked into going to (fine I volunteered) a famous Peking Duck restaurant. I realized it was trouble when I saw more foreigners than Chinese people….in the Chinese capital of all places (insert Chinese population joke). To be honest, the duck wasn’t bad, but the food was just as good, if not better, anywhere else in China for 10% of the price. This, of course, is not the only example as the pattern has been repeated in other countries.
Many people might also be scared to get food poisoning from eating street foods. While those worries have some merit, consider this: When I went to Cambodia, I ate street food for the entire trip. When did I get sick? When I decided to “treat myself” and have a “nice dinner” at a fancy restaurant in Phnom Penh.
Thankfully, I have become wiser and stuck to places where it seems like locals are present in force. It is definitely helpful if you befriend a local who can show you awesome local spots. Avoid fancy restaurants, and both your stomach and wallet will thank you.
#4 Excessive Drinking and Partying
I have nothing against drinking or partying, nor am I opposed to the idea of having a “night on the town” while traveling. However, some travelers seem rather upset if their itinerary doesn’t end with the words “booze cruise” or “and get totally wasted” every day. Partying and drinking is similar to fancy hotels, you can do it at home. Unless you come from an oppressive country where booze is forbidden, you will quickly realize the downfalls of drinking. Hangovers are as real abroad (if not more so since you are more tired) than at home. You will waste the entire next morning trying to recover from doing something that you could have done in your own neighborhood. Do yourself a favor and put the bottle down. There are a million other things you can experience while traveling.
#3 All-Inclusive Hotels
While this might seem the same as “fancy hotels,” it is in fact completely different. In fact, some all inclusive hotels might be on the lower end of the spectrum. Since “all-inclusive” is kind of vague, I should define it. By this, I mean hotels that offer three meals a day in addition with a place to stay. While I am not opposed to complimentary breakfast (especially on a tight budget), one of my favorite things to do while eating is traveling…or was it the other way around? Trying the local food is essential and an experience of itself. Don’t waste your money, time, and potentially amazing meal on hotel food. Regardless of how good it is, it’s usually an international cuisine meant to appease all patrons of the hotel. Skip this tourist trap and dine like a king at a local spot.
#2 Tour Groups
Some of these are unavoidable in places where no other option is available (such as the dungeons of the Colosseum in Rome). I am not opposed to small tour groups where five to ten people are lead and shown around a place for a short time. However, I have often seen tour groups of forty to sixty people trying to gather together in a place where they have to carry headphones and radio receivers to even hear what the tour guide is saying. One particular instance that comes to mind was last year when I visited Venice. A group of what looked like a hundred people followed a tour guide like a mob through the tiny streets while pushing everyone else out of the way with their sheer size. It wouldn’t have stuck on my mind as much if the same process hadn’t been repeated about twenty times in the few days I was there. How many hundred people groups could there be?
In addition, I hate tour group packages that are sold with plane tickets. I am not a baby that needs to be shown around every single place. I like the freedom to explore on my own and not experience the exact same things everyone is experiencing. These groups even stay in the same hotel and eat in the same restaurants. It is as if, in an attempt to appeal to people who are not naturally travelers, they have packaged, branded, and sold what should be a unique travel experience, in a “one size fits all” formula. Is this even traveling, or staying in a safe bubble where nothing can hurt you? Pass.
#1 Shopping (especially in airports)
What could be worse than tour groups right? How could I challenge the powers that be and go against such a lucrative industry. I haven’t even gotten on my plane, hell, I haven’t even gotten off the bus to the airport before I have seen advertisements telling me how awesome the shopping is at “Duty-Free” in the airport. Shopping is the single biggest traveling scam of all time.
Now let me clarify, I am not opposed to shopping for things only found in that county, or even for trinkets and souvenirs for your friends and family back home. However, there are two types of shopping that make my blood boil: At malls abroad and at airport shops.
Malls abroad can be interesting to look at. Sometimes, there is a cultural significance to visiting such places, as is the case in Gangnam, Korea or Times Square, New York. However, why would you actually purchase something at a store readily available in your hometown? You have seen it in every tour book since the beginning of time, “SHOPPING DESTINATIONS” there, in big bold letters as if now all your prayers have been answered. The only problem is that the stores are often filled with the same stuff found back home. It is okay to look at the general area, but shopping is a complete waste of time. In addition, you have to carry this stuff for the rest of your trip (see #9).
Duty Free is also an enormous scam. They entice you by promising amazing deals. In addition to the same problem as malls (you have to carry around whatever you buy), it is an illusion that you are saving money. Most of the stuff you save ‘taxes’ on, you could easily find a better deal online. In addition, the most popular items (booze and cigarettes) are taxed anyways if you exceed a certain (very low) amount. Furthermore, if you didn’t have time to get a souvenir for your friend at a store in your destination, a half-hearted gift purchased at the airport isn’t going to ease your conscience. But, regardless of how many anti-shopping rants I make, there will still be dozens of people loading up their duty free bags on the airplane, glancing over at me with the proudest smile on their faces.