I’m part of a few backpacker and travel groups on Facebook – they’re great tools for asking advice on destinations, and good for finding travelmates, secret spots, humour, money advice, visa options, places to stay, “help I’m in this situation”, and everything else you can think of to do with travel.
For the most part, they’re great. So the Australia Backpackers group has at least five posts a day asking for travelmates along the Great Ocean Road. So everyone has completely different advice for budgeting or how long to stay somewhere. So you get some self-absorbed dickheads who put you down for asking a simple question. But I have found out about so many places I’d never even heard of in Australia! Someone posted a picture of a kangaroo on a beach at sunset, at a place called Cape Hillsborough. Had we done our east coast trip a month before we did, we would have missed this beach completely – as you may know, it was one of the highlights of our time in Australia.
However, something I’ve noticed is that sometimes (actually, quite often) people will give really bad advice. Or completely inaccurate information on things you really, really don’t want to get wrong.
Here are just some of the worst – and you’ve probably heard them all before, too.
“Don’t bother with travel insurance.”
This REALLY bothers me. People on these groups often ask which insurance company they should go with, and a huge portion of the response is, “you probably won’t need it so there’s no point.”
My BIGGEST gripe with this is the assumption that nothing will go wrong. If you lose something, you can buy it again. If you miss a flight, you can catch another one. This is NOT what insurance is for. Sure, you’re covered, but what happens when you wake up in hospital with a $1,000 bill just for the ambulance that took you there? What happens when you fall off a scooter in Thailand and get landed with a $600 medical bill? What happens when something more serious happens?
A good friend of mine suffered a brain aneurysm in Thailand last year, and had round-the-clock attention in critical care for a month. During his coma, his family and friends frantically rallied to raise money for his treatment and his return home – but thankfully he had insurance, because his medical care cost came to over £10,000. (all money raised went to charity instead)
Then there was the campaign to raise money for a British guy who cut his knee and almost lost his leg to an infection caused by a flesh-eating bug. They were asking for donations to cover his £30,000 medical bills, and it annoyed me for several reasons. Why should other people cover your mistakes? It’s a horrific situation, but THAT’S why you get insured. Secondly, they realised it was serious pretty quickly, yet elected to stay in Laos where medical care just isn’t up to standards. In that situation, I would be straight to Thailand. As a result, they were fobbed off with cheap “treatments” from doctors and had to pay far more for surgery to fix the increasing damage. In fact, by the time they got to Thailand, you could see his bones. You don’t wait that long to fix something like that. But it’s okay because other people have paid his medical costs, so who needs insurance when you have humanity?
Since then, there have been several similar campaigns to cover people’s medical costs who were stupid enough to not get insurance, and frankly it pisses me off that a lot of people are happy to ride off other people’s backs when there’s no need to.
“Malaria tablets / vaccine shots are a waste of money.”
Another medical issue that people really shouldn’t be giving advice on.
Sure, malaria tablets are expensive, but hey, you won’t be worrying about the costs if you get malaria. It’s a HORRIBLE debilitating disease, and you want to avoid it.
The risk in Southeast Asia is low, but there’s still a risk. I took them in Vietnam and Cambodia and most importantly, I didn’t get malaria.
Even better – I got a generic brand of Malarone, which cost a fraction of the price and didn’t have the potential side effects of Doxycilline. Hopefully they weren’t sugar pills. I bought them from Express Pharmacy.
That’s not to say you should listen to everything your doctor says, though.
There are many vaccinations that you can get for different areas. For Southeast Asia, we were recommended to get the polio/diptheria/tetanus booster, typhoid (free on the NHS), Hepatitis A & B (also free if you get them together, but do be aware that they consist of 3 injections spread over 3 weeks, so consider this in advance of your trip), rabies (not free), Japanese encephalitis (not free) and a few others.
Because we were working on a sanctuary with lots of rescued dogs, we opted to get the rabies jab but had we been travelling normally, we wouldn’t have bothered. Japanese encephalitis is only a concern if you’re REALLY going out in the sticks or are “planning to roll around in rice paddies” (literal quote from my doctor).
But we got all the others, as did most people we’ve spoken to about it. But plenty of people will tell you you don’t need them.
It’s your body. Do your research – don’t take advice from everyone, especially when most of them aren’t doctors.
I’m not against asking for advice on these groups or to other backpackers. Sometimes there’s a simple answer to a question to save you calling up immigration. But there is a worrying amount of wrong information posted on a daily basis, and not all of it is going to be corrected.
This is particularly apparent on the Australia group, where people talk about working holiday visas, tourist visas, second year visas, student visas, etc (made worse by the constantly changing laws on backpackers).
That said, it can be a good thing. A very frequent question on It’s Orlando Time, a group specialising in Disney World/Orlando holidays, is asking for the correct website to apply for a USA tourist visa (aka an ESTA). I can see you rolling your eyes. A simple “Google question”, sure, but Google also throws up scam websites and over-priced agencies. It’s safer to double check, and you will basically always get the right answer on the group. Same goes for Vietnam visa applications.
But on the Australia group, there are questions over and over again about what qualifies for a second year visa, or what to write on your tax forms, and some of the responses are terrifyingly wrong.
“So and so is overrated!”
Always, always, always take people’s opinions with a pinch of salt when it comes to destinations, particularly those you have a real interest in.
You will always get people telling you not to bother with a particular place (“it’s just a bunch of rocks innit” – direct quote we heard about Angkor Wat), so you consider skipping it but then you’re damn glad you didn’t. Or even the opposite – we’ve had plenty of places hyped up to us so much that we were disappointed (I’m looking at you, Bangkok).
Now I don’t mind opinions. People will argue til the end of the day over which is better: north or south Vietnam. New York or Chicago. Paris or Rome. Sydney or Melbourne.
It’s your experience that defines what you get out of it. I’m sure we wouldn’t have loved Koh Phangan so much if we had stayed where everyone else stays; most people seem to hate it there but we stayed on the opposite side of the island to the full moon party. The same goes for Brisbane and our homely hostel; without that hostel, we definitely wouldn’t have the affinity we hold with Brissie now!
Listen to other people’s opinions; don’t take them as gospel.
“Avoid the street food.”
Worst. Advice. EVER. Take precautions on where you eat, yes.
But see a whole line of locals at a food stall and you GO FOR IT. 20p noodles? Yes PLEASE. We had dinners for 80p ($1.20) in Thailand. To some of you (and certainly to us), eating street food may come with the territory, but we met real life backpackers who spent a month+ in Asia and never tried street food because they were too scared.
We convinced one of our friends that this was stupid. I had a message from her a day later gushing about how amazing her meal had been and “SO cheap!! Can’t believe we’ve been happy to spend so much on food. Shame we only have a week left here and only just realised this.”
True story. :(
FYI – I know Thailand is a typical example, but street food is a worldwide thing and actually a brilliant way to try new foods as well as usually being cheap. Try Borough market in London (or the less touristy markets in Greenwich provided us with a very nice cheap meal) and the West End markets in Brisbane where I tried a delicious Venezuelan empanada. I’d never heard of one of those before!
“I’ll be avoiding Brussels / Paris / London / etc now.”
ARE you serious?!
A friend from my old work one-upped this. She was planning a trip to Europe with a friend which to her disappointment has now been cancelled because her friend no longer wants to go. The reason? Brussels. Paris. Ankara. London.
It’s not like these cities are being bombed every day.
You have more chance of walking out of your front door and being hit by a bus than being involved in a terrorist attack. Moreover, they were going to Croatia. Somewhere, my friend agreed, that is hardly going to be high on the ISIS target list.
Somewhere that is 1,500km from Brussels and Paris, and almost 2,000km from Ankara. Hell, we were in Australia and Sydney had a pretty big hostage shooting just before we got there. Please, avoid Australia guys.
My advice is to take all advice with a pinch of salt, do your own research and form your own opinions. Not every answer to a question is right for everyone (even visa information – it might be different for your passport!). Maybe you’ll hate somewhere everyone else has raved about, or fall in love with a place everyone told you not to bother with. Make your own experiences – isn’t that what life is about?
What bad advice have you read, either online or in person?
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