The travel cynics.
Oh, we know them so well.
You know who I’m referring to.
The ones who can burst a bubble faster than you can say “road trip.”
The ones who reassure you x,y,z-bad-thing will befall on your innocent head if you travel to a,b,c-country.
Every time they warn you about infectious disease in a foreign country, a unicorn dies.
Rest assured, we’ve all faced their uncompromising judgment and critical stare. This guide will show you what their naysaying really means, its underlying travel myths, and how you can remind yourself you’re on the right track.
1. “Are you sure you’re not running away from your problems?”
What they really mean: “I don’t understand why or how you travel so much, so you must have issues.”
Underlying myth: People who travel often only want to escape from life.
I get this one sometimes from family. They think because I’m traveling, I must be escaping.
The opposite is true, especially if you’ve caught the wanderlust bug. I love traveling to expand my ideas about myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in your everyday life and lose perspective, after all.
Avid travelers trek the globe—even different parts of it—for many reasons. I visit Phuket, Thailand, for awesome raw vegan food and beaches that never fail to mesmerize.
I visit Boston because I go wild at the Bostonian pronunciation of “car” (are you at all surprised Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite films?).
And why do I visit India? Simple: dosa, obviously. All day, every day.
Whether we’re gritty pioneers or fearful adventurers, we form connections with every place we visit. Our experiences are unique, but that’s what makes travel so zesty.
Besides, does journeying more necessarily indicate escapism? I know some people who stay put in the same location and live life on autopilot.
They escape into their own routines without stepping a foot out of line.
2. “Isn’t it time to settle down?”
What they really mean: “It’s time for you to be like everyone else.”
Underlying myth: Frequent travelers want to settle down eventually.
With all these millennials running about and breaking the status quo, what does that even mean anymore?
If people ask why you’re not settling down, one thing’s certain: you make them nervous.
They’re nervous because you’re breaking a mold they’ve built their own lives around. Cookie-cutter lifestyles and matchbox houses aren’t your thing, so you stick out like a sore thumb.
The thing is, neither of you is wrong. Some people seek the cookie-cutter life and you move beyond it.
You share different values.
You value experiences and the glory of hotel rewards programs. Newsletters from your favorite travel blogger tickle your fancy.
Your peers may even be unaware they cherish the dreams everyone else has.
In fact, settling down isn’t on your game plan—at least not yet and not the way others imagine.
We travel to keep ourselves from settling down.
Let’s face it—when things settle, life drags. And we have little left to learn.
3. “Why can’t you go to (insert “safer” country/city/region here) instead?
What they really mean: “Mass media tells me your intended destination is unsafe, so travel to this other part of the world full of rainbows and unicorns.”
Underlying myth: Westernized, first-world countries are safest for travel.
Whoever asks you this question hasn’t done his homework.
The definition of travel and international crime is changing every year.
I’ve seen websites write articles with titles like “15 Countries Unsafe for Tourists.” When you read the article, the authors state crime statistics without even citing any source. Even worse, some will even cite isolated incidents of unrest as a reason not to travel.
There’s a difference between a country landing on a nation’s travel ban list and the rare disturbances of peace.
I live in New York and I stand behind its relative peacefulness and safety, though crime statistics would indicate otherwise.
To add insult to injury, most of these articles don’t even have real data on rates of crime on tourists. What you’re seeing are statistics from general crime rates of the entire nation.
I love looking through NationMaster’s international crime statistics to debunk my own myths.
Did you know the United States ranked #9 in the total number of homicides in 2010?
Be aware of how the statistics are presented, too.
Take a look below at this chart showing the total number of rapes by country from NationMaster:
The U.S. ranks #1 here, with India following at #3; however, these totals don’t mean much unless you put them into perspective.
To see if one country is really more dangerous than another, look at “per capita” statistics. Per capita means “by the head” in Latin, and shows a number in comparison to the whole.
For example, Country A and Country B both have a total of 10 murders yearly, but Country A’s population is 100 and Country B’s population is 1000. Country A’s per capita rate is 10% and Country B’s per capita rate is 1%.
Both have the same totals, but Country A has the higher rate of crime and likelihood of danger.
This is the international per capita data on rape for 2010:
Notice the U.S. is #9 now and India doesn’t even make it to the list. Its rank? #46.
We can’t determine how safe a nation is for travel by hearsay.
We can’t even determine safety by looking at one dimension of numbers floating around the internet.
4. “Won’t that cost you a lot of money?”
Underlying meaning: “Are you using witchcraft and mafia to fund your trips because I can’t seem to find the money for what you do?”
Underlying myth: Traveling is expensive.
Sometimes you give off the impression of a money-making wizard. You just wave your wand, and voila—off you go on another adventure.
At least in my life, it works something like that.
But for every other frequent jet-setter, priority is key.
If you prioritize material things, you become a thing.
If you prioritize experiences, you become those experiences.
If you prioritize eating Russian home fries, you become fat.
It’s a simple equation.
I’m a firm believer in prioritization.
You don’t need millions or even hundreds of thousands to travel the world, too. The Western idea of travel is rooted firmly in expensive hotels and luxurious destinations.
The limit starts and ends with ourselves: our ideas of the world, of travel, are limited by our own perceptions.
Of course, ongoing travel isn’t affordable to the average person. But that’s because the average person pictures himself sipping $18 cocktails and sleeping at $300/night hotels.
Which doesn’t mean you need to backpack.
Which doesn’t mean backpacking can’t be luxurious, either.
How can I afford to travel?
I’ve unearthed my own misconceptions and ideas. I stopped limiting myself.
The wizardry helps.
Now people can’t believe how often I’m on the road.
5. “One of my friends went there, and he/she had a terrible experience.”
What they really mean: “One random person I knew for 2 hours said ____ was a bad area to travel, so I’m warning you that it must be true.”
Underlying myth: Everything you hear and see is true.
This is what the urban-legend-believer travel cynic says. Chances are, whoever says this has never met the aforementioned person with the “terrible experience.” And if they’re acquainted, they know little else about each other’s lives outside that one story.
If one awful experience was definitive of an entire country, then we might as well move to Mars (but we won’t do that because…gelato, right? Thought so.).
I wish credit cards could award me triple travel points every time I heard about that “one bad experience.”
My best advice: don’t give value to individual negative experiences. At least, don’t let your research stop there. Especially in the travel industry, we tend to hear news stories only when the experience turns sour (0 to 100, real quick, real quick).
Take the latest scandal of airport security personnel dragging a United passenger off an overbooked flight. A slough of distasteful media coverage followed, and people lobbied to boycott United, threatening the livelihood of thousands of employees.
I’m not condoning what happened, but following the ebb and flow of media—and individual naysayers—can turn you into a somewhat shortsighted human being.
Take caution with what you hear. And give yourself room to experience what others are trying to define.
6. “You’re very brave, you know, traveling by yourself.”
What they really mean: “You need to travel with a burly man. You’re totally unsafe otherwise.”
Underlying myth: It’s dangerous for women to travel alone.
Ah, my family’s favorite.
It seems I can’t go a day without reminders of my womanhood, which, I learned, is more obvious to others than myself.
“Do you know how they even treat women abroad?” I’m asked on a weekly basis.
To prove the women-traveling-alone myth is ingrained in the human psyche, I performed a quick keyword search using Google Adwords.
I typed in several keywords including:
- female travel alone
- women travel alone
- male travel alone
- men travel alone
These were the results:
Yes, you’re reading that correctly. According to Google’s Keyword Planner, the search popularity for “travel alone” related to men is zero.
Even the search-term manifestation of our collective consciousness agrees: women traveling alone is an issue.
I’d like to know which media story ignited the misconception, but something tells me there’s more to the story than a news channel. A combination of social norms, stereotypes, and media likely fuel the misunderstandings.
More often than not, the topic of women traveling alone turns into a discussion on ways to stay safe or advice on protecting oneself. People rarely give empowering travel advice to women and tend to coax them into a puddle of fear based on half-baked truths.
Scaring girls and women out of their travel dreams breeds disempowerment. We’d all be better off with a little grit to face the naysayers like these lovely ladies do:
Half-baked truths and myths certainly fail to explain the successes of all these female travel bloggers.
7. “How will you find food/shelter/transportation?”
What they really mean: “I can’t picture the level of our nation’s prosperity in other places of the world. We’re obviously the best.” [#AmericanExceptionalism]
Underlying myth: The quality of life is substandard everywhere else.
Usually, the person who asks this question rarely travels or only travels to first-world countries.
As an American, I notice the idea that quality of life is substandard elsewhere is prominent in our culture.
In fact, 17 nations ranked higher than the U.S. in quality of life under U.S. News‘s “Best Countries” report.
While it’s important to look at the quality of life of where you’re traveling, several factors in those rankings rarely apply to travelers anyway.
For example, I always compare the cost of living index of New York to my destination. This factor is useful for me to know. It gives me a better idea of my daily budget and my expenses.
Other factors like job security and economic opportunity don’t apply to me or other travelers unless you’re planning to move to the country. Because travelers are visitors, they can’t experience the quality of life a resident does.
So it’s good to look at statistics, just be aware they’re looking at aspects of the nation that may not apply to you as a traveler.
Besides, the populated towns and metropolitan cities that attract most travelers have plenty of food, accommodation, and transportation options.
Only experienced travelers tend to go off the beaten path to witness a dimension of an area where these resources may lack.
With so many travel myths floating around, I’m proud of the online community of travel bloggers, writers, photographers, and downright thrill-seekers who push the boundaries of normal.
What are some travel myths you’ve encountered?
How did you handle coming face-to-face with negativities aimed at your aspirations?
Have you had people come around and support your goals?
Comment below—I’d love to hear from you.