Travel Advice That Annoys Me

Peppino!

I’ve been looking at a lot of travel advice recently in preparation for a pretty awesome gig that I’ll tell you about as soon as I can. In doing so, I’ve found that so much travel advice misses the mark – by a country mile. Below are my top three offender categories of travel advice.

1. Budget Travel Advice

I recently read budget travel advice for Rome that recommended getting your morning coffee and pastry at a McDonald’s because sitting down in a cafe was too expensive. This epitomizes the worst kind of budget travel advice: It makes you feel like you can’t enjoy what the destination has to offer because you’re too broke. Drives me bananas. (The writer also mentions taking a taxi within the city center – spendy! – and wanting sushi upon his arrival.)

2. Travel Advice For Women

Why does this even exist? It’s all shopping, spas and safety tips that imply a rapist around every corner. I have yet to meet a woman who has sought out travel advice tailored specifically for women. Here’s some advice, ladies: Travel light, travel smart and don’t be slutty. Boom.

3. Green/Sustainable/Voluntourism Travel Advice

While this category started out with the best intentions, it’s quickly adopted the language and posture of one of those commercials imploring you to adopt little Kimba for just pennies a day. Please stop making me feel bad because I want indoor plumbing and electricity while on vacation.

What are your travel advice pet peeves? Let it rip in the comments.

107 thoughts on “Travel Advice That Annoys Me

  1. Here’s mine:
    The off-the-beaten-track advice that turns out to be so on-the-beaten-track it might as well be a freakin’ tourist boardwalk.

    • Yes! Yes, a thousand times yes. “Here’s an insider tip: Go to the Eiffel Tower at night!” Jesus.

  2. Bad travel advice: Anythings that warns against traveling somewhere without sound reason. Just because it’s a developing country doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to go.

  3. GENERAL advice for woman: don’t be slutty!

    actually, i find overall safety tips somewhat inefficient and silly. if it looks like a dark alley, don’t go. if you feel like you’re being followed, go to a public place. if you are mugged, just hand over your stuff. be ‘city smart’ and so on.

    why would safety measures be any different at home than while travelling? just use your common sense like you would normally do back home.

    p.s. i find mcdonald’s to be more expensive than cafes most of the time. and most of the cafes charge half price if you order take-away (which you can eat at a nearby park or piazza).

  4. I’d like to amend what you say about women’s travel advice annoying you. While women travel for the same reasons as men do, our social concerns, as well as health and safety needs are different. Female travellers are more directly affected by the religious and societal beliefs of the countries they visit. As they make their way around the globe, they need to adapt the way they dress and how they interact with the local population. The more they prepare themselves for differing norms and attitudes, the richer and safer their travels will be.
    Evelyn Hannon, Consultant to Foreign Affairs Canada on ‘women and travel.’

    • Hi Evelyn! Because this was meant as a rant, I didn’t qualify what I wrote.

      Obviously, there are parts of the world where it is absolutely vital to the health and well-being of the female traveler to be well informed.

      That’s not the advice I’m talking about, however. I’m talking about the kind of advice for places where the issues you mention are not a factor. If there is something I need to know as a woman when visiting, say, Montreal, tell me. But don’t assume because I’m a woman that the only travel advice I’m interested in is where the hottest spas and the best fashion deals are. It’s insulting.

  5. The worst that comes to my mind is the translation in my Italian tourist books of “please” as being “per favore”.

    (Must have been somebody who traveled a lot in Mexico.)

    In four years in Italy, I never heard “per favore”.

    It was “Ti prego” (I pray thee, intimate).

    Or “La prego” (I pray thee, formal).

    A friend and I asked directions to Il Colosseo in Roma, and had a young man walk us there, fifteen twisting blocks. A tour guide would have told us not to follow him.

    We got there.

    He said, “Prego”, and headed back to where he had been.

    • What? It’s perfectly acceptable to say per favore, and I hear it all the time. La prego is a bit desperate. Per cortesia is more formal, but per favore is totally fine.

              • In Bari (Puglia), I was waiting at the wrong platform for a train.

                Our train came on another, similarly-named platformed. Something like 23 W instead of 23 E.

                A signorina looked at my three pieces of luggage, picked up the smallest and took off down the sottopassaggio for the other track.

                That small piece of luggage contained my passport, my plane ticket home, my credit cards, and thousands of dollars in American currency.

                I took off after her with my two larger bags.

                We were swimming against a tide of commuters coming into Bari to make a living.

                I lost sight of her.

                I eventually emerged from the sottopassagio at the correct track and saw her, sitting on my small bag, chatting with the conductor, pursuading him not to leave without l’americano whose bag she was sitting on.

      • In Trapani, “per favore” was only used in irony.

        But then down there we used “voi” instead of “Lei”, perhaps because of the French rule of Sicily circa 1300.

        And “ci” is pronounced as “she”.

        I understand the northerners considered us Moroccans, just as we considered them Germans. 🙂

        La prego was not considered desperate, only good manners.

        • Ci as she is very Roman, actually, funny. La prego is old skool and way formal, no matter where it’s being said. But, I guess that’s par for the course in a place that’s still using voi.

          • I found “La prego, signor” especially useful in deflecting aggressive panhandlers and Neapolitan vendors (I may be redundant).

            Did you notice in Rome all the girls — the local ones, the descendants of the Latin tribe — look literally like foxes?

            Small, close-set eyes, nose (the snout) set high up on the face.

            The predator race to beat all predators (i romani).

            It amazed me the feature had survived millenia of folks moving from all over to Rome to improve themselves.

    • Hey Brian, I’m not sure where you have been in Italy for four years, but “prego” and “per favore” are equally used and in different occasions. You use “prego” to reply when someone tells you “grazie”, and you say “per favore” when you ask for something.

      Rest assured that “per favore” is very widely used.

  6. I’ve been guilty of writing up a tips list or two for women. But mine don’t include shopping or spa lists. I also don’t think that anyone under 40 should be allowed to write tips lists.🙂 I wouldn’t have said that in my 30s but now that I am what I am I will.

    • Ha! I’m 39, so I’ve got a year left!

      I’m not against travel advice for women as a general category. I’m fed up with it being about spas and shopping, though. I’ve had plenty of girls’ weekends with my pals, and it’s been about pretty much everything BUT spas and shopping. While I wouldn’t turn down a massage and a nice steam, it’s just so condescending to think that it’s all women care about.

      • The weird thing about that – too, is that I get the impression that most of those “tips” lists are written by women.

        I never understood the whole shopping thing … what a waste of time!

        • And, there seems to be this prevailing sentiment that just because a woman wants to travel alone, she wants to find love. Or that if a group of women travel, they want to reenact Sex And The City episodes. Blagh.

          • Amen! Not all woman are interested in drinking Cosmos at the hottest bar in town wearing overpriced clothes and talk about coïtal experiences.

            News flash: yes, some woman are actually interested in adventure and serious sightseeing.

    • >>I also don’t think that anyone under 40 should be allowed to write tips lists.

      Humph! I’m 33 and I’ve done more travelling, and in more difficult places, than many people twice my age. I’m not that into writing tips lists though – mostly because it bores me.

  7. Great piece! You’ve hit on several of my own pet peeves.

    Would like to add another: alarmist travel advice aimed towards women. I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling the Middle East and have nearly given up on Western travel writers ever offering a balanced and objective view when it comes to travel tips in that oft-misunderstood region.

    • Ha! Are you saying that the advice in Lonely Planet sucks, or that the sentiment that if it’s in Lonely Planet it sucks, sucks?

  8. I’m reading all these women+travel comments and smiling. As in everything in life — different strokes for different folks. You may be a woman who believes that spa going and shopping is not interesting, fun, or a fine way to travel. OK. that’s fair. But … you can’t usurp the ‘real travel experience’ for only what you believe in. That to me is condescending.

    P.S. I’m allowed to write women’s travel tip lists because I’m over 70 and have been traveling solo for 30 years. We have over 1250 pages of advice at journeywoman.com and yes, some of them are devoted to shopping and spas. Wanna make something out of it?;-)

    Let’s keep this conversation going.

    • Ha! If someone invited me on a spa and shopping trip, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. Nor do I think that if that’s your thing, it’s wrong or somehow not a full travel experience. Nor do I think that your site even comes CLOSE to what I’m talking about here.

      I’m talking about sites, or articles, that ASSUME that just because you’re a woman, these are the ONLY things that interest you. Or that you MUST find a place that serves salad because you MUST feel guilty for having overindulged in local cuisine. Or that ALL Roman men will ALWAYS try to pinch your ass.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong, I write about spas. I love spas. I just happen to not put the spa information in a tips list.

      As far as not understanding shopping, it’s not a judgment call. For me it would seem to be a total waste of time, and I don’t understand why it’s a “thing to do”. For women (and men!) who do love to shop, well, they probably wouldn’t understand my favorite travel pastime of spending two or three days hanging out with rocks in an archaeological site.

      • Re “(and men!)”, don’t even get me started on that. It’s a vicious cycle for both sexes. Have you ever read travel summaries in a lad magazine?! Ridiculous.

              • Even if you went looking for them they’re hard to find, since the pix they use for each article has a scantily clad babe doing something unlikely. And it’s like, TOP TEN STRIP CLUBS IN RIGA! or WHERE THE GIRLS ARE IN PRAGUE! or PARIS: CAN I JUST GET A BURGER AND A BEER PLEASE?

    • It’s funny, I thought I’d get a lot of blowback from being hyperbolic when ranting about that category of travel advice. I guess I should have gone further. Ha!

  9. “Be careful eating from a cart on the street”… like many other posts – If you would not do it at home — same rules apply on the road.

    • Every place I’ve gone, I take a small sip of tap water. It’s like a vaccination.

      In two years in Mexico, I never got sick. It might be all the alcohol I drink what killed the bugs.

      If it looked good, I ate it, if it didn’t, I didn’t.

      I got Galileo’s Revenge (I’m Catholic) once, from (as best as I can determine) an expensive restaurant in Pisa.

      It didn’t look good. I ate it anyway, because I’d paid a lot of money for it.

      Never was so sick in my life. Five days drinking the acidopholus (sp?) solutions available in the Italian farmacie.

      But the food carts? No problem. Maybe they recognized a fellow plebian and gave me a pass. 🙂

  10. Ah… see what conversation does?
    Phew… I’m feeling better now.

    What I read in your original rant was … ‘Why does travel advice for women even exist? It’s all shopping, spas and safety tips that imply a rapist around every corner’.

    OMG I thought. I’m going to have to stop writing what I write;)

    I hope you realize I’m just teasing. This is an interesting exercise and happy to take part in the discussion.

    Thank you.

    • Personally, I see all sides of an issue – to a fault. Especially when I’m writing in a public venue. But I decided not to qualify my rant and throw a bit of hyperbole in as a side dish. See where it got me? LOL

  11. I also read a bit of travel advice recently that warned women not to be slutty with the locals. I’d add to watch it with your fellow travelers because they could have all the undesirable attributes of a local hookup (scam, injury, disease) plus you’ll bug your hostelmates with your gymnastics.

    I do like this post, I do, and agree that the boom drives it home. Though I’m not 40 yet, so perhaps I should also refrain from opining?

    • I should have put a tongue firmly planted in cheek emoticon on my over 40 remark! :^)

      Who am I to judge. In my 30s I was working on the American version of The Virago Women’s Guides to Wherever (Rome was one of them). Full of travel tips for the woman traveler, including shopping!

  12. I chuckled and agreed with your rant!

    I think of myself as a mutli-faceted traveler: a traveler who enjoys spas and shopping just as much as museums, archaeology, history and hanging out in a local cafe sipping coffee (or wine) or wandering a neighborhood.

    I don’t mind an article that’s titled “25 shopping tips in Podunk USA” because I can choose to decide if that’s of interest. What makes me crazy is the article titled “Tips for Travel to Podunk USA” that’s only about one thing — whether that’s shopping or anything else.

    • Right. That’s my point – multi-faceted!

      Re travel advice that’s only about one thing, I couldn’t agree with you more. I find this especially with ski destinations. There is not one thing about skiing that appeals to me, and I can’t think I’m alone in this. But everything you read about ski destinations (and, I know, there I go with my hyperbole again) is about the skiing. Isn’t there ANYTHING else to do there? LOL

  13. I’m heading back to Rome in a couple of weeks with two women friends. I trust their judgment completely — and their commitment to make our travel together the best it can be. I had never traveled with a woman friend before Beth and I went to Ireland last year. It’s fantastic to find a travel buddy who’s on the same page. Now, her sister will be with us in Rome.

    When I was in Rome fourteen years ago, I met some nice men who went walking with me. It was daylight, no alarm bells went off, it was very, very pleasant. I just used good judgment. I learned a lot from these lovely men — and a couple of women I met, too. It’s the real reason I travel — not just to sight-see, but also to meet the hometown folks. I still have friends from previous trips.

    The one thing I think is hugely important is to never leave a drink (of anything) unattended. One gentleman took me for an espresso. I needed to use the bathroom. He wanted to know what to order for me while I was there. I told him I’d let him know when I got back from the loo.

    For what it’s worth . . .

    Jet

    PS I absolutely love your blog!

    • Thanks for your kind compliment. I think first and foremost is to travel with someone you travel well with – man or woman. “On the same page,” as you said. And “just good judgment” should be a mantra for ALL travelers.

      I have a cousin who was roofied in an Istanbul club, BY THE BARTENDER of all people. I always think of that when I think about leaving a drink unattended.

  14. I have the opposite response to the budget travel advice: it drives me crazy when people recommend to stay at a Four Seasons. I get that they are beautiful hotels, but every time someone tells me I should stay at one, they assume a) the hotel chain is some well-kept secret I would never have heard of otherwise, b) that I have hundreds of dollars to spend on hotels nightly and c) that I *want* to spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel.

    Phew, that felt good, thanks.

    I also hate safety warnings from people who have never traveled to the place they are warning me about.

    • Yes, that is also an irk of mine. That especially happens in the New York Times. They did a GREAT article a while back listing 150 hotels in Europe for $150 or less. Why don’t they include those in their regular travel pieces?

    • I never was disappointed by a one-star hotel, even the one in Luxembourg City with the too-soft bed and the window on the air shaft.

      If they were off the street level, so much the better. I knew I saved ten euros over one with a street-level lobby.

      The only thing I did in my room was sleep, and when you’re asleep you can be anywhere.

      I went four years in Europe with no income, staying in one-star hotels, eating Chinese or McDonalds.

      • La prego not to advise others that that is the ONLY way to do Europe on the cheap. I feel bad that you missed out on an astonishing array of good, cheap food.

        • Half the reason for visiting places in Europe is to try out and experience the food. If you spend your time in American fast-food and Chinese restaurants then why bother leaving home?

          That’s just my opinion, not a judgment.

          • Well, I was on a budget, and had no income.

            I wasn’t visiting there, but rather living there.

            And I found Italian restaurants on the per piatto basis over-priced compared to what I could get at a ristorante cinese.

            On a euro per nutrient basis, both McDonalds and he Chinese have the locals beat.

            It tickled me seeing the Chinese menu in Italian form, with antipasti and pasta courses and so on.

            And I could always understand the Italian spoken by the Chinese, unlike the Italian of the native speaker.

              • I spent most of my time (2003 – 2007) in my apartment in Sicily, a converted palazzo with a bizarre layout of rooms.

                275 euros a month for a furnished (replete with cooking utensils, plates, and silveware) one bedroom.

                As my money ran down, I traveled less and less.

                It was no hardship, as nine months out of the year (September through May) Trapani is paradise on earth.

            • Did you just put “nutrients” and McDonalds in the same sentence? :-O 😉

              (I guess I just did too, right there!)

              I’ve traveled with no budget, and my secret was to find the markets, get some bread, a couple of tomatoes (for example), and have myself a picnic. Spent almost nothing and ate high quality produce.

              • Yes, McDonalds delivers in the protein (and fat and salt) category.

                When I’m at home, it’s all garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and pasta, but when I’m on the road it’s McDonalds, at least for breakfast, which is something Italians have yet to discover.

            • I also found Italian restaurants and cafes fairly expensive. But it depends a bit on the exchange rate. We had a great time, we just spent a little more money than we intended. And I was a little fatter at the end of it than I intended. But that was probably the daily gelato.

  15. It’s the alarmist type of advice that drives me nuts. I’ve lived and traveled in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia for years. Use common sense. Don’t be stupid.

    This is not to say that nothing bad can happen, but it can happen in the parking lot of your local western shopping emporium too.

    P.S. Of course common sense is not as common as you might think.

  16. Advice to wear a money belt under your clothes. Especially when talking about Argentina where I used to live.
    Oh please. What makes you think that lifting up your shirt and digging through your pants (because the money belt will be there most likely) is going to make you less of a target?

    MY tip? Don’t carry so much cash, and use a handbag like the people living there. The more normal you look the less trouble you have.

    • This is the thing so many people don’t understand, though – in my book, the money belt is supposed to be worn under your clothing (not like a freaking fanny pack, as so many tend to wear it) and NOT ACCESSED WHILE IN PUBLIC. You keep your extra cash, any extra credit cards, passport, etc. in there, and only the cash and cards and whatnot you need for THAT DAY are in your purse/wallet. It’s like a safe you carry around with you – it’s not a storage space you dig around in to get a few euro to pay for lunch or that trinket you just bought at the market…

  17. In telling us about bad travel advice I do believe you’ve given us the best travel advice post on the web.🙂 Love it! Especially the traveling light. What in the world is in that second oversized suitcase, 30 pairs of shoes?

    I’m beginning to feel the guilt of voluntourism advice as well. I mean, I want to help, but I also want to see a few sites and don’t mind a little comfort when traveling.

    • Yes! I think there can be a balance. That’s what I’m not seeing. Of course, I’m seeing these pieces in places where the readership is well-traveled and looking for something new, so it might be their demographic. But it’s starting to seep in everywhere, I find.

  18. Great post and great non-tips! I’ve travelled to Asia and the Middle East, it sufficed to me to read the brochure from the tourist office to get an idea of what was suitable to wear. And actually, I don’t think it’s a good idea to dress slutty anywhere in the world, even if we are in our hometown.

  19. Hey, can a man comment on here?? Great blog.

    Advice I avoid like the plague is those really rubbish ‘top ten’ lists.
    Sooooooo obvious it makes me laugh.

    The best advice is this:

    Walk a mile in another’s shoes and you’ll see the greatest distance.

    Live it like the locals and you’ll expand beyond comprehension.

    Take care ladies!

    Andy

  20. Come on women, why are we always condemning each other? This is really getting tired. It reminds me of the working women/stay at home mother debate.

    There is no right or wrong way to write about travel, there are plenty of women and men who love to read about spa, shopping holidays just as there are tons of others who do not, different strokes for different folks. Male or Female…

    Funny I rarely hear male travel writers putting down their male counterparts, but I have often heard this kind of complaint from other women writers, very sad.

    • I think there is a place for that kind of advice. But when it’s the ONLY kind of advice that’s offered on a given site or article if that site or article is geared toward women but not specifically about spas or shopping, I think it’s narrow-minded.

  21. Love the post- especially your #1, and the following commentary…

    The cafe/pub people watching experience is one of our fav things to do anywhere (even at home!). There ain’t a budget tip on the planet that could persuade me to eat at McDonalds – sorry Brian!
    d;)

  22. I hate that everything urges you to book a tour. Book, book, book! Or you won’t know what you’re seeing and miss out on all the cool stuff and the story behind the cool stuff! YOU’LL END UP IN THE SISTINE BROOM CLOSET IF YOU DON’T! Bah.

    I’m with Brian on the McDonald’s, I have to say. After two weeks of pasta and breads and cheese (all wonderful, of course), nothing in the world tasted better than the McDonald’s hamburger in Termini. Roll your eyes if you will, sneer if you must, but that thing tasted GOOD. I had a million good meals in Italy and only ate at McDonald’s once, but sometimes nothing else will hit that spot, you know?

    • Ha yes, that’s a good one re tours. They DO do that a lot, don’t they?

      I’ve eaten in McDonald’s here; I call it the 5th food group. Sometimes, you just need that taste. And when you crave it and you get it, it totally hits the spot, you’re right.

  23. I always kept my money and everything else in my largest suitcase.

    I would take my backpack or my smallest suitcase to the WC with me, leaving my compartment-mate(s) with my money and my passport.

  24. Sorry for not having read all of your glorious 90 comments, impressive, but I think you hit the nail on the head. Travel advice? No I prefer to read funny stories about traveling and gleaning travel advice from said stories, it is so much better than a keyword stuffed article with private link sale links proclaiming stuff anyone can find online with a minimum of search engine effort. I am trying to revive my blog and realize my most popular posts were always written in my voice, slightly catty sounding, authentic, engaging, etc, even though I have committed my fair share of errors too, I hope far fewer in the months to come. Thanks for stopping by, love your blog btw and that gorgeous picture of a dog, mine just passed away so all dogs and dog photos catch my eye.

  25. Pingback: 3 Underground Travel Tips for traveling around Toulouse, France

  26. Just to add another travel tip pet peeve to the (quickly reproducing!) list: any “philosophical” tips like “be open-minded” or “step outside of your comfort zone.” Oh, really?! But I thought travel meant making snap judgments and hanging out in my pajamas all day… hmmm, guess I’ve been doing it wrong all these years!

    • McDonalds always adapts to local conditions.

      And the coffee at McDonalds Roma Termini was not the coffee you get here, even after the recent upgrade in McDonalds USA coffee.

      It was Starbucks quality, at least.

  27. Telling me that the only way I am going to enjoy a place is if I live like a local. That’s great if I’m going to be in a place for awhile, but if I’m just there for a couple days………well not likely to happen.

    Travel advice for women is okay as long as it’s not written with the attitude that women are bimbos🙂

    Great post!

  28. I hope Brian Cobb got thrown out of Sicilia for his crimes against taste. Why would anyone eat McDonalds ANYWHERE? And don’t get me started on the coffee comment.

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