"Book a plane ticket far in advance to save money."Thinkstock
This myth may have been true back in the 60s, when flights were a much rarer thing than they are today. Back then, the demand for a flight would naturally increase as the date approached, there being few other options. These days, a plethora of alternatives for the most popular routes means that demand is leveled out. In fact, you’re more likely to get a last-minute deal from an airline trying to fill seats. According to recent studies, the best time to buy a ticket was between six and seven weeks out.
"The air on a plane makes you sick."Thinkstock
The air on a plane may absorb every last drop of moisture from your skin like silica gel, but it doesn’t make you sick. In fact, airplanes spend a considerable amount of energy pumping in, filtering, warming, and pressurizing fresh air from outside the cabin. Some of the air is indeed recycled, but it is passes through numerous HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that draw out bacteria before being pumped back in the cabin. So what does get you sick on airplanes? The tray tables, lavatory handles, and headrests that are contacted by dozens of passengers a day, who aren’t all paragons of personal hygiene.
"The best hotel prices are on travel sites."Thinkstock
The boom in sites like Priceline and Expedia has resulted in the misconception that the only way to get a good deal on a room is to use one of these online third-party bookers. In fact, many hotel chains, like InterContinental and Wyndham, offer rate guarantees and encourage customers to book directly with the hotels. Hotels will also frequently have discount or perk offers that third-party websites aren’t privy to, and it’s generally far easier to deal directly with the hotel than with a booking agent. On top of this, hotels give the upgrades, not booking agents.
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"You'll avoid crowds if you go early."Thinkstock
That's what your guidebook says—the same guidebook that was purchased by several million other tourists. There are only so many heritage sites, monuments, and parks in the world, but a practically unlimited supply of tourists. The inevitable fact is that Angkor Wat or Yellowstone will always be crowded, and your guidebook’s suggestion to go early will be followed by every other visitor. The trick is to go not early, but when no one else wants to go, like the middle of the day—when the sun has chased away the weaker tourists.
"Always trust local knowledge."Thinkstock
How many hotels have you stayed at in your hometown? Just as you probably don’t know the ins and outs of the tourist industry in your city, it’s unlikely that a local in a foreign city will know the answer to a tourist’s every question. For hotels and sightseeing, your best bet is to ask fellow travelers, either in person or through the Internet. If you’re looking for directions, locals can be hit or miss: they might know where you’re going but the language barrier can be a problem. On the other hand, they tend to give good recommendations for places to eat. Everyone loves a good meal.
"Street food is unsafe."Thinkstock
Countless travelers prefer to sit down in a restaurant for a bite to eat than stand up in the street with the rest of the country. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little air-conditioning, but the idea that food is healthier because it’s prepared in a “proper” kitchen is dubious at best. First, you really don’t know what’s going on in that kitchen, because you can’t see inside. With street food, you can see the ingredients being prepared directly in front of you. And since street food is often deep-fried, stir-fried, or barbecued over very high heat, it’s likely that even if anything nefarious was in the ingredients, it’s long since been seared out of your meal.
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"Jet lag stems from lack of sleep."Thinkstock
If you think that popping some Gravol and passing out for a 12-hour flight is going to see you perky and jazzed on arrival, think again. Jet lag isn’t the result of exhaustion, it’s the result of a massive change in longitude. Your body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate when you sleep and eat, are governed by day and night. When you travel long distances east-west, your body clock is thrown out of whack. Its attempt to reset itself to the day-night cycle of your destination results in the sensation of jet lag. Sleeping on the plane is only wise if it’s nighttime at your destination.
"You shouldn't travel to countries with travel advisories."Thinkstock
Looking at the government travel advisory map, it would appear unwise to venture to well over half the globe. Of course, the government is bound to take a “better safe than sorry” approach, like an overprotective parent. But take Thailand, for example. The government has marked it yellow, which suggests you should “exercise a high degree of caution”. This puts Thailand in the same category as violence-plagued countries like Egypt and Liberia. A tourist enjoying the beaches of Koh Samui would be perplexed at this assessment. The reality is that one should be aware of these advisories, but not take them at face value. (Thailand is yellow-colored for a “risk of demonstrations,” among other things.)
"Carry your money in a special pocket or pouch."Thinkstock
When you go to Rome, how often do you see a local carrying around their cash in a strange necklace pouch or a money belt? Never, of course, and it’s not because the money belt is hidden. They just use a wallet, like a normal person. When you’re abroad, the sensation that everyone is out to get you can be a little stronger, but there are loads of places in North America where you’re just as liable to meet a ne’er-do-well. If you’re worried, take only what you need when you leave your hotel room. If you must carry everything with you, put your wallet in your front pocket.
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"Duty free equals good deal."Thinkstock
The appeal of duty free has no doubt relieved many an uninformed traveler of his or her stash of travel cash. The reality is that duty free goods often cost no less than when bought at your local shop. It is true that you don’t pay taxes, but the baseline price for luxury perfumes and sunglasses is often higher than normal in the airport. The big difference is with heavily taxed items, of course, like cigarettes and booze. You can certainly save some money on these items, but if you’re looking for a steal at the airport, a gallon-jug of Chanel No. 5 is not it.