5 Stupid Travel Myths Everyone Believes
So I was gone for a couple weeks there, and after returning to find my inbox overflowing in typical post-vacation fashion ...
Not spam, actually. These are all friends of mine.
... I realized I had a column to write. And because nothing happens to me that isn't hilarious and insightful and life-affirming, I thought I might rub one out about my recent trip. After all, I'm sure you're all very interested in what a Cracked writer does on vacation, away from the poop joke yoke. (We think up poop jokes, but don't write them down, mainly.)
(thinking) "I swear, if this clown doesn't stop giggling and whispering words that rhyme with 'turd' to himself ..."
As a fairly experienced spoiler of great world cities, I've absorbed more than a bit of traveling wisdom, and one of the things that still surprises me most is how many people do it wrong. There's a huge number of misconceptions people have about the simple act of visiting a place and drinking all its beer. So then, as a public service to you, prospective world-beer drinkers, I present a list of five traveling tips that are completely bullshit.
Public Transit Is the Best Way to Get Around
Every city in the world has certain sights that must be seen. If you're in New York for the first time, you really do have to see the Empire State Building or Central Park or that one place that was in that movie that was filmed there.
I think it was The Fugitive.
And because these sights are scattered around the city, the fastest way to see them is almost always by public transit, whether it's by bus or subway or rickshaw.
Rickshaw drivers in New York are famously surly, and will get pretty angry at you when you climb aboard.
It's all part of the game, though. Just be firm with them.
Why It's Bullshit:
By spending your time on buses or trains, you're missing out on all the texture a city has. By simply walking around, you'll be able to see how a city actually lives and breathes. You'll see the way they drive (manically), the way they urinate in the street (freely), and the way they urinate while they drive (frothily).
On my recent trip to Europe City, I walked everywhere: the Louvre, Big Ben, the beer gardens, Little Ben, the Puppet Sex Museum, everywhere. And although those sights were themselves fantastic, in between I saw how Europeans actually live. It's mainly sneering at foreigners, but still.
(thinking) "Who is zeees eediot toorist making jokes de la merde and laughing to heemself?"
You Should Speak at Least Some of the Language
I'm just going to assume that if you're seeing this you can speak English.
Or are an archaeologist from the future, in which case, we're super sorry about all the weird sex stuff we've left everywhere.
Almost every travel guide I've read recommends that you learn at least some of the local language. It's considered polite, and will of course help you out if you ever need to communicate simple ideas like:
"I would enjoying your beer."
"I would enjoying your toilet."
"I have liked making some disaster in your toilet. Please make me a doctor."
Why It's Bullshit:
First, there's no need to be polite because everyone you're dealing with hates you already (see below). And honestly, I've traveled a ton; my language skills consist of some barely remembered high school French and "cerveza," and I have never had any issue traveling in any country in the world. Because of things like the Internet and good old imperialism, basically everyone in the world knows at least some of our baffling, mongrel tongue. And failing that, they'll usually be able to figure out what you want with hand gestures or simply shouting "cerveza" at them in increasing volume.
"Excuse moi, sir. Uh. How much for this ... cerveza?"
Buy Local Handcrafts
I'm always a little reluctant to buy souvenirs, mindful of the fact that they just mean more to carry around with me. But I do understand why some people see value in them, if only to serve as reminders of your adventure. After all, memories do fade, especially if you're traveling properly.
Which is to say, with the throttle pinned.
The conventional wisdom, then, if you are looking for a souvenir, is that you should gravitate toward local crafts from the region's artisans, something that is more authentic than the mass-produced crap you find in museum gift shops.
Although I would pay quite a sum of money for a Van Gogh bobblehead.
Why It's Bullshit:
First, the best souvenirs are rarely bought; they're found. Objects that come with stories attached to them, like "This is one of the rocks the villagers threw at me" or "This is one of the rocks I threw back."
"And here's their Rock God I stole, which set the whole thing off."
And secondly, and I want to be fair here, local handmade products are often massive sucking piles of crap. Remember that one kid in school who showed up in homemade clothes and everyone threw rocks at her? That's what you'll look like when you show up at home with your sad little handmade purse from the bazaars of Southleft Europe. And when you consider that you won't be able to walk 20 steps without someone offering you counterfeit designer goods at rock-bottom prices ...
It's the prices that are rock bottom, not the bags. If you put rocks in these bags, the bottoms will fall out.
... you'd be crazy not to come home with about 30 Prada bags.
Wear a Money Belt
Watching out for scams is a sad but necessary aspect of traveling, whether it's as simple as pickpocketing or more involved, like ATM skimming or tipping. By virtue of your unfamiliarity with the place you're visiting and loud, "R"-pronouncing accent, everywhere you travel you're going to have a big fat target on your back, visible to any criminals, hustlers, or lowlifes in the area.
"I don't think that guy shrieking 'cerveza' at that statue is from around here."
Far and away the most common advice I've seen on how to avoid being pickpocketed is to wear a money belt, which is kind of like a dorkier version of a girdle.
Why It's Bullshit:
You mean other than the fact that money belts will make you look like an idiot, are impossible to actually get money into and out of (without looking like an idiot), and don't protect you from any non-pickpocketing scams? Do you need more reasons?
Avoiding pickpockets and scammers needn't be so difficult, and doesn't take much more than common sense. Pickpockets make use of some pretty transparent distraction schemes when operating, which are pretty easy to spot in action. Also, no bullshit, they kind of all really look like criminals.
So long as you start paying attention when shady-seeming people are about, or when anyone gets within arm's reach, you'll be fine.
Make an Effort to Meet Locals
Surprisingly, one of the hardest things about traveling is meeting people who actually live in the places you visit. As often as not, the only people you'll ever have an actual conversation with are Australians.
Our stock image service threw a surprising blank when queried with "Australians + drunk," so you'll just have to imagine these guys surrounded by about 50 tins of cheap lager.
And because traveling is supposed to be about new experiences, travelers like to share all sorts of tips and tricks for how to meet locals. Things like "hanging out in different parts of town" or "getting off the fucking tour bus" or basically anything so that the experience of traveling becomes more than drinking lager with Australians in every city you visit.
Why It's Bullshit:
Locals want nothing to do with you, and the ones you manage to get close to will hate you for it. Consider who you are to them: Unless you're in an extremely distant corner of the globe, you aren't new or interesting to them. You're not an exotic bird to be fawned over. And you're sure as fuck not bringing valuable news from the north. You are one of thousands of people visiting their city that day, getting in their goddamned way. And you'll be gone in three days! There is no reason any local would ever want to spend any time around you at all.
Well, almost no reason.
And that's not empty cynicism. I guarantee that if you're dealing with a local who's showing any sign of friendliness to you, or even just not actively spitting at you, it's because they're after your money.
Or one of your many Prada bags.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has been chased out of dozens of countries, as well as two city-states. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
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