Top 10 Travel Myths

Travel is one of the great rites of passage for men around the world. From going walkabout in Australia to the European Grand Tour undertaken by men of a certain standing in the 19th century, exploring new lands, new cultures and new experiences has been a great way to broaden one’s horizons. With the addition of airlines and other rapid transit systems -- at increasingly affordable prices -- the opportunity to travel far and wide has never been greater.

Despite the world being smaller, fear of the unknown remains common. And, as in earlier times, the stories of foreign lands that travelers return with are often warped, exaggerated and occasionally completely made up. The half-truths and travel myths that serve to make an experience sound more exciting or a destination more dangerous can sometimes prove pervasive and become repeated as wisdom by the rest of us. Scratch the surface, and many of these stories are as improbable as Marco Polo’s narrative about dog-headed people.

What follows are 10 common traveler’s tales that, on closer examination, deserve to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt. While some are based in truth but obscured by hyperbole, others are just nonsense. We are here to help dispel the top 10 travel myths.

No.10 Your phone will make the plane crash

The use of cell phones on flights was banned as far back as the early 1990s, when calling them “mobiles” seemed somewhat absurd. The fear was that they would interfere with the pilot’s instruments, which could cause accidents. While that ban is still in force, a study by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2006 could not prove this to be the case. However, the agency was also unable to conclusively prove that cell phone use did not lead to accidents and so retained the ban. This is despite many airlines that do allow calls to be made in flight, which have yet to have an accident attributable to mobile phones. Travel myth? We think so.

No.9 Anti-malarial tablets will prevent malaria

As one of the most potent travel diseases in human history -- and currently an estimated 3.3 billion people are at risk -- it's a small wonder that people seek to avoid malaria. Most anti-malarial drugs are between 85% to100% effective. However, while taking them reduces your risk of infection, it does not guarantee complete protection. This is also true in dry season, when people sometimes assume that mosquitoes aren’t active. While the disease spreads more rapidly in the rainy season, it is important not to simply rely on a tablet that may not protect you adequately -- especially as malaria is extremely good at developing resistance to drugs.

No.8 Currency conversion rates are better at home

Our next top 10 travel myth looks at money. It is easy to assume that getting your foreign currency before traveling abroad will afford you the best deal. However, you will usually get stung by poor exchange rates and occasionally a commission on top of that. Places that don’t charge commission tend to offer a poorer exchange rate to offset the loss. Often the best way to obtain the appropriate currency is through using specialist bank accounts or credit cards, which don’t charge a commission when you use them abroad. These will often circumvent the tourist rates, giving you a much more competitive rate of exchange as a result (ensuring your money goes further).

No.7 Booking in advance will save you money

This is certainly one of those travel myths that has some truth to it. Booking flights well in advance will often work out cheaper than a ticket purchased closer to your departure date. But if you are willing to wait, have some flexibility over destinations, and have the time to keep a close eye on changing airfares, you may well find a fabulous deal offered at the last minute for a flight the airline is looking to fill. It is a high-risk strategy, and you may need a slice of good fortune, but it is a risk that can pay off handsomely.

No.6 You must haggle abroad

It is true that there are many destinations and cultures in which haggling is expected. In some places, spotting a tourist means quadrupling the price, trying to take advantage of someone who doesn’t know the going rate for a product. However, you are probably visiting somewhere from a relative position of great affluence and therefore can afford the difference. Does shaving that extra dollar off the price tag really matter (especially when you consider the difference that may make to the vendor)? So just because you can haggle does not always mean you should.

No.5 You'll be pickpocketed abroad

Another common travel myth is one that implies foreign places are inherently more dangerous than home. But the reality is very different. Many foreign countries actually have far lower crime rates than the places we call home. The distorted perception of crime stems from the fact that criminals are likely to target those who appear vulnerable. In many cases, this will be the tourist who sticks out like a sore thumb and whose attention wanders away from keeping his possessions safe. But taking sensible precautions and remaining vigilant will (usually) ensure that you are at no more risk than you would be at home.

No.4 Jet lag is caused by a lack of sleep

This is a classic travel myth. Anyone who has traveled long distances by plane has experienced jet lag. The rapid changing of time zones can be extremely disruptive and is most commonly associated with tiredness. But the causes of jet lag have little to do with how much sleep you get on the plane. It is actually linked to your circadian rhythm, the biological clock the body uses to regulate appetite, bowel habits, and even body temperature and blood pressure. This mechanism is itself influenced by daylight, which also explains why traveling east and shortening your day tends to cause greater jet lag than when traveling west.

No.3 Tours don't make for an authentic experience

For some, the idea of taking in a tour while on holiday is anathema. It suggests to them a superficial, touristy experience, while being independent allows them to get the real flavor of a place. A well-organized tour with a knowledgeable travel guide can serve to really enhance your experience of a place, as it can fill you in on details that you may otherwise have missed. A tour guide will know which places to see as well as the places to avoid, and can often give you a local insight that independent travel may not be able to offer.

No.2 English is understood everywhere

The development of a global economy dominated by English-speaking nations has certainly contributed to its global spread, and it is the most widely understood language in the world. But it is a travel myth to believe that everyone speaks it. For one, many places lack the educational facilities to teach English; others have an extremely strong national identity and culture, which may reduce local exposure to the English language. Recent studies estimate that English is understood by around 1.8 billion people, which, while an impressive figure, probably only amounts to around one-third of the global population.

No.1 Last-minute flights are cheapest

While we previously noted that buying in advance is not always cheaper, that waiting until the last minute is cheaper is arguably the biggest travel myth we continue to perpetuate. Yes, if an airline is seeking to fill an underbooked flight, you may get a great deal. But even more frequently -- and especially on popular routes -- the later you leave it, the more expensive the tickets become. This is a simple case of supply and demand. The fewer seats remaining, the more the airline can charge, knowing the odds are firmly in its favor that someone will be desperate enough to pay.