6 Travel Myths Blasted By Facts

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There are so many myths about travel, the topic could nearly be considered folklore. Yet the most prevalent misconceptions are those that are ironically contradicted by the most facts. These are some of the most frequent misconceptions about going from one place to another.

1. Americans Don’t Travel As Much As The Rest Of The World

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According to the market research organization GfK Austria, Germans are one of the most internationally traveled people in the world. Approximately 65% have been outside of their borders at least once. Yet, only 20% have ever left continental Europe. Compare this to the United States, approximately the same size as continental Europe. Only 20% of Americans have ever traveled internationally, but roughly 65% have traveled once domestically for leisure purposes. Well what about Australians, whose country is about 80% the size of the US? They have about a 20% international travel rate as well. There is a strong correlation between average passport thickness and how close the nearest international border is to you.

2. Traveling Is Dangerous

There is a growing amount of evidence that suggests the more vacations you take, the longer you will live. We are also living in the safest time in human history. Consider that trips we take for often granted today, like a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, are 9,000 times safer than they were just 100 years ago.

3. Traveling Is Always Expensive

There are so many ways to save money on travel – the two general rules being – things get more expensive the faster you travel and the less flexible your time is. Plane tickets cost more if you have to fly on a certain date and when you have less time to see things you end up paying more to compensate. You can however turn the Internet into a powerful tool against the airlines, use multi-city flights, or stop chasing cheap tickets all together to save.

4. You Need To Print Out A Boarding Pass Before Going To The Airport

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Printing boarding passes – or paper really – is so 2003. I don’t travel with a printer in my backpack (ouch!) but simply by showing my passport at the check-in desk or self-check in I’ve never had any problems. Remember, you’ve already booked your flight and the airlines have you on record. Unless the airport (for security a few require ticket confirmations) or airline specifically says you can’t fly without one, don’t bother. Most airlines now support mobile boarding passes or online check-in (then print your tickets at either the airline’s kiosks or check-in counter).

5. Reading About A Place Or Seeing It On TV Is The Same As Going There

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Cognitive studies show that we are mentally bound within a philosophical framework about the world around us and unconsciously we attempt to categorize the rest of the world within our own framework. Those perceptions we hold tend not to change unless there is a psychological change within ourselves. This psychological framework is based on our personal experiences – so while watching is seeing, seeing is truly believing.

6. Your Chance Of Dying In A Plane Crash Is 1 In 11 Million

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That figure, typically cited, is based on risk for the average American – but most people aren’t “average” Americans (or Americans for that matter). Also, 80% of plane crashes occur during take-off or landing (recall “plus three, minus eight“) so it’s not how far you fly but how often, that determines your particular risk. For frequent flyers those odds boil down to about 1 in 20,000. But since I’ve just scared the hell out of you, allow me to reinsert hell back into you. For perspective, consider that your rough lifetime chance of getting struck by lightening is 1 in 10,000. Lastly, 76.6% of people involved in plane crashes survive and there are 7 more ways to increase your odds.

Keep Your Facts Updated

Science is anything but static – which is really the beauty of its methodology. Some facts change more quickly than others so be prepared to keep mesofacts from screwing up your next vacation. You can start by updating 8 things you probably got wrong about the Great Pyramids in Egypt and these cultural facts you didn’t know Bulgaria will surprise you with.

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  1. Interesting statistics. I would have thought that the Australian number would have been a lot higher given their attitudes towards travel and generous vacation time. Also I seem to run into a whole bunch on them when I travel.

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  2. If I believed everything that was on Department of State website about every country, I’d be paralysed and not want to leave the house. The vast majority of people in the world are great people, and travel definitely broadens one’s horizon. Will be doing it until the day I die. Which hopefully isn’t in a plane…

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    • Anil P. says:

      Those warnings are usually absurd beyond being useful and almost all talk about terrorism as if it’s a large and uniform threat around the world. The UK versions are a bit more reasonable and I completely agree with you. (Though I hope I don’t go via plane crash either. Every time I get on a plane though I’m convinced I’m pushing my luck!)

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  3. Soumya Mukherji says:

    Dear Anil

    In India unfortunately you still need to carry a print out of your e-tickets to show to the security personal before you can enter the airport (both domestic and international). Sometimes showing your ticket confirmation on the phone works but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    And I completely agree reading/seeing a place on TV and traveling there is completely different. I strongly believe that traveling,coming in conatct with new people & culture broadens our understanding of the world.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Hi Soumya,

      That’s exactly the country I was thinking about when I mentioned above the security requirements of some airports. I recall clearly having to show boarding passes in New Delhi and Bangalore; although on my second trip out from Delhi, I didn’t and was still let in. Being a foreigner helped in that case I suspect ;)

      As for reading and going, it’s nice to have both to tempt the soul but experience cannot be substituted like you say!

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  4. Juergen says:

    Well, statistsics can be always twisted and shaped into whatever one wants to state with them. To me, and from my experience:
    a) travelling within one’s country cannot be compared with travelling within one continent, even if it’s the same size. Staying in one’s country means you’re not stepping far outside your comfort zone (exactly my experience with the majority of US citizens), whereas for example in Europe you travel 500 kilometers (or often less) and you’re in a different country with a different language, different customs, different cuisine, different road rules, different everything…
    b) not the number of of stamps in your passport counts (or as you put it the thickness of the passport), but more so the way people travel. Some go for a week on an organised tour, others leave for months on a shoestring, travelling on local transport, organising their own itinerary and accommodation, mingling every day with LOCALS instead of people of their own nationality.
    If you would be really on the road with both eyes wide open, you’d notice quickly, that among the second group (the ones who travel longterm w/o pre-booking everything) Germans, Swiss, and Australian are in the majority – despite there only being some 80 million Germans, 8 million Swiss, 23 million Australians, compared to over 310 million Americans… Heck, you meet more Japanese solo travellers than US-Americans.
    To be fair: that the Americans get hardly any paid vacation time isn’t helping either.

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    • Anil P. says:

      How would you suggest the statistics in those studies are being manipulated when compared to your anecdotal data?

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      • Juergen says:

        O.k., for example you state that Germans seem to travel as much as US Americans, no more no less, because the radius of most of their travel is the same as for an American, eg going from Tucson to New York. Yeah, great, you board a plane in Tuscon after you had your lunch at TGI Friday, where you ordered from a familiar English menu with familiar dishes and paid in your local US Dollars or with credit card, then you arrive in NY, where you could go straight to a similarly decorated TGI Friday with the same familiar menu, also accepting US Dollars. There’s no challenge whatsoever involved in this.
        If you go the same distance in Europe, lets say from Hamburg in Germany to Albania, you have to cross 4 countries (if I counted correctly: Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia), all with different languages, local food and customs, most even with different currencies. Here you’re leaving your comfort zone clearly behind you!

        And as for Australians: there’s so much desert that hardly any Australian would even consider to drive from Perth to Adelaide, not to mention Sydney or Brisbane. Many Germans explore the surrounding countries in their own vehicle, which is far more of a challenge than hopping on a plane from A to B.

        Now if that’s not twisting statistics to match ones statement…
        [ps: I’m German born & raised with Australian passport]

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        • Anil Polat says:

          The point is, the average human being’s travel limits aren’t based on travel challenges, seeing cultures, etc. – it’s strongly correlated to distance.

          Using your example, you can also fly from the Hyatt in Hamburg to the one in Madrid, and then Athens, use a credit card (or cash Euro) to pay for everything, and think they’re all similar places.

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  5. Great post! The safety issue thing has been well versed over the last few weeks and I think people need to hear how SAFE travel actually is. Unless you do stupid things (like go down dark alleys in bad neighborhoods at night while wearing a suit made of diamonds) the chances of you running into issues are so minimal. Its the media who makes things sound worse than what they actually are. And its a shame, because I had heard it from many people of late, that they wont travel long term because of the safety issues!

    What a shame that so many people miss out on having the most amazing life experiences because of the fear media has put into their heads.

    Thanks for dispelling many of the travel myths! Hopefully it will help people let go of their fears and get out there and see what this amazing world has to offer!

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  6. Kevin says:

    Thanks for posting this!

    Especially #1. I get tired of people I meet when I travel saying “Oh, you’re so rare for an American, you’re actually traveling!” So dumb because I also do meet Americans overseas all the time, I don’t get why this whole “Americans don’t travel” meme got started.

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    • Anil Polat says:

      I wonder if the phenomena you describe is because we tend to notice our own first – I can imagine it could be a beneficial adaptation for a social species like ours. I’m researching for an upcoming post and hope to have more. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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  7. Agree wholeheartedly with your point about the dangers of travelling being much exaggerated, especially regarding personal safety. I like to hike solo I’ve found that the huge majority of the things you worry about never happen and likewise most folks are good, kind souls and wish you no harm. Having said that it’s obviously important to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself by dressing in an understated way (no acres of flesh on view) and keeping valuables discretely tucked away. I do a little research on the body language and culture of my destination so as not to inadvertently incite anger or offense. Also, if I want to pour over my map I’ll usually head off away from the crowds – I try to avoid looking lost or confused (when many times I most definitely am!)

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    • Anil P. says:

      A little bit of research goes a long way as you mentioned, and it’s always a good idea to know what areas of a place aren’t quite as safe as others. And as someone who too is almost constantly lost, looking like you’re not is a good camouflage technique that comes in handy often!

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  8. Alouise says:

    That first point you make is a really good one. I’m Canadian and I live about a 6 hour drive from the US border (even thought statistics say 90% of Canadians live 100miles from the US border). Consequently I usually only travel to the US (our only neighbouring country) once a year, if that. If it’s a matter of distance travelled (and not passport stamps) there’s only a 20km distance (according to Google maps) between me traveling from Edmonton, Alberta (where I live) to Vancouver, BC, and between someone from Berlin, Germany going to Venice, Italy. The difference being the person from Germany would be going to another country, and I’d just be going to the next province over. I still think international travel is important, but I definitely understand international travel might be easier for some people because they’re closer to other countries.

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    • Anil P. says:

      To add, I recently wrote somewhere that 51% of Canadians reported to get passports for travel to the US. It makes sense – and I agree, although international travel is important – many Europeans discount how much diversity there is in large countries. Vancouver is not like Montreal and if you’ve only ever seen New York it’s impossible to imagine what Oklahoma City or Miami is like. Borders are fun but not nearly the whole story :)

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  9. Fascinating! I’ve often contended that Americans are reluctant international travelers, so I was very interested to see the 20% figure. Wonder where you found it?

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    • Anil P. says:

      Hi Barbara, it was by data compiled at Indiana University by their Government Information, Maps and Microform Services Department.

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  10. I didn’t know that 76.6% of people involved in plane crashes survive – that’s quite a lot!

    The only airline I know who actually force you to bring a boarding pass is Ryan Air. If you don’t bring a printed boarding pass with you to the airport you have to pay a “boarding pass reissue fee”.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Makes us frequent flyers feel a bit better doesn’t it? ;)

      …I don’t get Ryanair; the don’t need printed passes really. I mean, then what are they looking up on their computers when you check in…

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  11. Very true Anil and good point about No 1. I think Americans get a bad rap for nothing.

    As for No 4 – *some* low-cost airlines expect you to print out your boarding pass beforehand or they charge a penalty eg. Ryanair in EU.

    And No 5 – surely the chances of dying in a road accident is much higher? I’ve never been as afraid as when I was cycling in Toronto ;)

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    • Anil P. says:

      Yes on #4, always check the airline’s requirements – even if there as completely pointless as Ryanair requiring printed boarding passes :) I often think they’re just after fees rather than efficiency.

      And on #5, yes but it depends. Again how much you drive and average traffic density. All of that considered, the average person in the developed world has much, much, higher chance of death in a car crash. That is, unless you take public transportation to the airport and are a frequent flyer ;)

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  12. Larissa says:

    You don’t travel with a printer in your backpack?

    Wizz Air is also another airline that makes you print your own boarding pass beforehand or else they charge you a 15 Euro “check-in fee”. It’s retarded but I guess how a lot of these budget airlines make money on top of their exhorbent excess baggage fees.

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    • Anil P. says:

      haha, I guess they’re so small these days it’s not out of the question!

      So many of the ‘budget’ airlines are just “low initial prices when booking” airlines unfortunately :( Makes no sense for them to make you print a boarding pass…

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  13. On #2:

    Safety is without a doubt, in my mind, the absolute, utmost overblown aspect about traveling abroad as a digital nomad and/or expat. People always say the craziest things about places the’ve never even been to and know nothing about above and beyond what the Western media is telling them.

    Bulgaria is one of my favorite examples to use for this. If you read the State Department’s take on things the country is one massive Mafia cesspool where foreigners are walking into a death trap. I’ve spent more than 8 years in the country off and on and not once have I ever caught a whiff of the Mafia (even after nearly three years of living in Sofia, where there is the largest concentration of real Mafia; and yes, I was there for the journalist shooting back in, was it 2009 or 2010?) other than seeing caravans of black SUVs rolling around, and the occasional super-model-type girl being escorted from a restaurant with 15 or 20 massive, skin-head, gold-chain/watch-wearing dudes (mutra) back to her SUV. They don’t care about digital nomads and tourists; the only thing they care about is multi-million dollar investors and political maneuvering. It’s organized crime. They have absolutely nothing to do with street-level travelers. International investors…that’s another thing entirely. But I never once had a single, solitary issue.

    I am based out of Mexico presently, and have been for closing in on two years now, and it’s another perfect example of a country which is in Western media at least once a week about how the cartels are slaughtering each other or how some casino somewhere got burned up or someone got beheaded. Does this happen? Yes. In the north. On the border. And only between the cartels. The violence has not spread to the general population. Tourists and nomads and expats are not affected. And unless you happen to live in that one tiny little corner of Mexico you are actually living in a country which has safety levels above and beyond that of the United States. (Ironically, one could say the same about any type of gang war in the United States in any of the major cities and surrounding areas; it all depends on how you spin the news)

    Not a joke. It just does to show you how skillfully the media has manipulated the way information is explained so that the vast majority of people in the world have no idea what’s really going on out there. The reality is closer to the following.

    In 2010 USA Today (along with numerous other outlets) reported on the latest murder rates. Cancun, Mexico comes in at 2 in 100,000. Mexico City is at 8 in 100,000. Sofia, Bulgaria is 6 in 100,000.

    Denver, Colorado is 8 in 100,000. New York City a 9 in 100,000. But the icing on the cake is that the capital of the United States, Washington D.C., swoops in with a whopping 31.4 in 100,000 murder rate. That’s right….Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, supposedly one of the most dangerous places on the planet, has a meager 8 in 100,000 murder rate compared to Washington D.C.’s massive 31.4 in 100,000 murder rate.

    No comparison, not even close. What was that about everywhere outside of the U.S. being dangerous?

    Now granted, that’s not the country, but just singular cities…but the reality for most tourists/travelers is that they aren’t exploring a whole country, rather just a city…so it’s relevant to look at the city-to-city statistics when travelers are looking at vacationing or visiting and spending a significant amount of time in a place. I live in Cancun, for example, and I am in one of the safest places on the planet…far removed from the border wars on the northern side of the country…and far away from Washington D.C. with it’s higher percentage of murders and violent crimes.

    The simple reality is that the vast majority of the world is JUST AS SAFE IF NOT SAFER THAN the United States; it’s just that Western media is the king when it comes to slinging B.S. and manipulating people’s point of view through misinformation so most people don’t know any better. They are ignorant by selection, not by choice. EVERY country out there has issues, but MOST places are completely safe for you to visit as a tourist, expat or digital nomad without ever having issues.

    Knock on wood…I’ve been on the road close to 14 years now and I’ve never been pick pocketed, mugged, robbed or in any way, shape or form threatened…and I’ve been to places that are on the State Department’s no-fly list…such as Colombia, Bulgaria and Serbia.

    People need to get out there and explore the world.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Around the world negative news sells and I too have found that many places I’ve visited were many times safer than what was reported. In general, government warnings are the most cautious and it’s good to get a blend of firsthand advice and experiences for common threats, scams, and the like. Once you’ve got those it makes traveling anywhere much easier – and safer at the same time.

      It is funny to hear all of the warnings about Bulgaria; a few days in Sofia would change most minds about that wonderful city :)

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  14. Jeruen says:

    Ah, I like that first point. I’ve always thought that what matters is distance from origin, and not passport stamp. Americans happen to have a large country, so there’s a large area that can be visited without crossing the border. Hence, if a passport stamp is the metric, then obviously Americans will be lagging in that respect.

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    • Anil P. says:

      In countries of similar size (in relation to GDP in a chart I calculated) like Russia, China, and Brazil international travel rates tend to top off at about 20% for the richest nations. Now imagine if every US state were a country – bet then a much higher percentage would be considered ‘international’ travelers.

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