Ignore these questionable travel tips on your next trip.
Anyone who has ever received misguided travel recommendations knows that many popular but questionable travel "truths" simply shouldn't be put into practice. While some claims hold merit, seemingly well-founded pieces of wisdom passed along from globetrotters, guidebooks and websites are flimsy assumptions that have been shared and reshared until they're accepted as fact. To sort through common misconceptions – and flat-out wrong – travel advice, we caught up with top experts to identify the travel tips that should be dodged and dispelled, along with smarter strategies to put into action.
Tip: Only stay at off-the-beaten-track hotels.
Truth: While many travel sites suggest staying outside of town to secure the best deals, it's not always the smartest move, says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel. "When visiting a big city, it is indeed tempting to grab a bargain in an outlying area and commute to the popular museums, parks, restaurants and historical sites," he says. But staying far removed from top attractions is an easy way to waste time and money and rack up higher commuting costs rather than fully immersing yourself and enjoying in your surroundings, he cautions.
Tip: Skip kitschy tourist spots.
Truth: A common sightseeing tip is to forgo popular tourist-ridden locations in favor of lesser-known attractions. However, some iconic places shouldn't be skipped, Firpo-Cappiello says. "While we are big fans of going off the beaten path, eating like a local and going your own way, there's a good reason why places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Empire State Building and the Great Wall of China are clichés – because they are truly unique and amazing experiences that you should not miss."
Tip: Don't visit 'dangerous' international destinations.
Truth: Yes, travelers must consider if they might be at risk in certain destinations overseas, but not all environments abroad pose health or safety concerns. Despite a flurry of recent issues escalating travelers' anxiety – from the Zika virus to terrorism – experts agree that you should make informed, rational trip-planning decisions rather than assessing limited factors. "Resort destinations in Mexico are consistently safe. Visitors can enjoy a safe trip as long as they stay within their resort […] or within a populated, patrolled hotel zone," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. He also points out that in Mexico, and any international destination, travelers should follow basic, common-sense rules to maximize safety, such as staying cognizant of your surroundings, knowing the laws of the country you're visiting and avoiding exploring unfamiliar places on your own.
To maximize your safety, enroll in the State Department's free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program online by answering a few quick questions about yourself and the country you're planning to visit, and you can subscribe to country-specific lists to receive the latest travel alerts and advisories.
Tip: Never travel on your own.
Truth: Traveling on your own brings its own unique set of challenges, it doesn't mean it can't – or shouldn't be – done. "Solo travel is on the rise, and companies are slowly catching up with demand," Saglie says, pointing out that there are an increasing number of options for women or men who want to explore on their own. In fact, a 2014 study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons revealed that 81 percent of adults ages 45 and older planned to travel on their own in the following 12 months, and 37 percent of participants reported taking a previous solo trip. And the number of solo trips have steadily climbed in recent years, with 1 in 5 traveling alone for his or her most recent leisure trip, according to a 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, which surveyed 13,603 travelers across the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The study also found that travelers tend to focus on a particular destination, but they are flexible and spontaneous in terms of activities on their itineraries. "Common sense should always prevail, but being on your own certainly shouldn't keep you from traveling," Saglie says.
Tip: For the best flight deal, you should book your flight on Tuesday at midnight.
Truth: This widely circulated piece of advice is false, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "An airfare can go down on a particular route any day of the week," he says, adding that the idea that you can consistently get the best rate by booking at midnight is nonsense.
Saglie echoes similar sentiments. "Historically, airlines have released sales on Tuesdays and competitors would launch rival sales right after," he says. But the process has changed, allowing for deals to be snapped up at different off-peak days and times. "The way airfare sales are disseminated these days has changed dramatically, thanks to a plethora of social media channels and the captive, committed audience they help generate," he says. While sales are available on Tuesday, "all other days of the week have also become fair play," he says. "And since those sales are often short-lived – eight hours, 24 hours, maybe two days – the more connected the consumer, the better the odds of nabbing a deal," he adds. Plus, in terms of timing, Saglie points out that carriers will offer sales and steep price reductions during slow booking periods, but a better strategy for finding a bargain is looking for domestic flights six to eight weeks ahead of your desired departure date. Typically, flight prices will increase at certain intervals - two weeks, seven days and three days – ahead of your flight, he explains, adding that though last-minute sales are a possibility, strategically timing when you book, particularly during peak travel periods, is a smart idea.
Tip: If you don't want to pay a high price, don't spring for business- or first-class seats.
Truth: Whether or not you should splurge for a higher seat class depends on your budget and what you define as a steep price, but that doesn't mean you can't find bargains beyond economy. "Some first or business fares are just twice economy these days if you're willing to buy a non-refundable fare. And I've seen business-class sale fares to Europe when there's a sale that are just a bit more than economy," Hobica explains. And though premium seating is more expensive, "business- and first-class seats, especially on international routes, are often more deeply discounted than coach seats," Saglie says. "The price point will still be higher, but the value for what is always a more lucrative level of service, and a more VIP experience overall, is greater," he adds.
Tip: You can score last-minute hotel deals if you stay flexible in your search.
Truth: While this might be the case during slow travel times, this doesn't hold true during peak-season periods, Hobica says. That said, if you're flexible and willing to modify your travel dates on the fly, you can maximize savings by making a spur-of-the-moment booking, Saglie says, pointing to Las Vegas as an example. "If you want to stay at a four-star hotel when a major convention is in town, you could be looking at several hundred dollars a night. If you're flexible and move your visit to the day after that convention wraps up, your rate could tumble to below $90," he explains. "I'm all about spontaneity, but doing your due diligence – researching things like location, on-site amenities, dining options, reviews – is always recommended."
Tip: Never travel with a newborn.
Truth: While there are practical matters to consider and lots of legwork to put in before traveling with a newborn, Saglie says cutting a baby out of your travel plans is perhaps some of the worst travel advice he's received. "After three kids – including a 10-month-old daughter who's already flown round-trip to Hawaii and Sonoma [California] and joined us on two LA to San Francisco road trips up the California coast – I disagree," he says. "Getting kids traveling as early as possible not only inspires wanderlust, but teaches them early how to make the best of limited personal space over long periods of time," he adds.
Tip: Don't visit the Caribbean in the summer or exotic countries during the rainy season.
Truth: "When the weather is not optimal, prices can drop dramatically," Saglie says. Though he cautions that inclement weather can disrupt a trips to the Caribbean during the off-season and create myriad hassles, from flight disruptions to transportation limitations and closed attractions during off-peak times, the chance to enjoy fewer crowds and lower rates may offer a better value proposition for those on a budget. And if you plan a trip to an exotic destination during the rainy season, savings on the ground can be significant, Saglie says, meaning you can travel to a far-flung locale during an off-peak time and enjoy a five-star experience at a three-star price, he says.
Tip: You should always book through an online travel agency for the best rate.
Truth: According to Saglie, there are two compelling reasons to book directly with a hotel rather than going through an OTA such as Priceline and Expedia. "You get dibs on better rooms. If an OTA gets you a better rate, it's often for a less desirable room," Saglie says. Let's say you prefer a room that's on a higher floor, with a better view or away from the elevator, those attractive room choices are mostly likely being distributed by the hotel directly, he says. And the second reason to book directly with the source is to ensure you rack up travel rewards points. "Loyalty points at the hotel are often only attainable when you book directly through them; using an OTA can mean you won't get loyalty credit for that stay," Saglie says. In fact, Hilton Worldwide recently ran an ad campaign to encourage travelers to make their stays directly with Hilton outposts and even ensured consumers that the best rates are available at Hilton.com. Similarly, Marriott launched a campaign to promote direct bookings, touting the lowest prices, reward points and extra perks, including free Wi-Fi for guests who are part of the Marriott Rewards program. So, if you're a travel rewards member, you may want to reconsider booking indirectly.