With so many travel myths out there, it can be confusing to figure out what’s actually true or not. Whether you’re traveling for the first time or have many trips under your belt, knowing the difference between fact and fiction can help you make better decisions when you’re on the road.
Here are five common myths we’re going to debunk.
1. Dressing up will help me get upgraded to business or first class
Myth: If I wear fancy clothes to check in at the airport or at the boarding gate, the agent will notice me and upgrade me free to first or business class — especially if I ask nicely.
Reality: As wonderful as it would be if this were true, it simply isn’t the case. Wearing something sophisticated isn’t enough to put you in the front of the plane.
Automated check-in procedures put upgrade-eligible travelers on the upgrade list. These travelers have purchased a ticket that allows them to upgrade it or have elite status with the airline.
Seats in business and first class, particularly on long-haul flights, cost thousands of dollars. They often include pricey perks like lie-flat beds, high-end food, premium beverages and spacious seats. The airline won’t want to give them away free to just anyone.
Even if there are still empty seats in first and business class, the airline likely won’t try to fill them with eager, well-dressed economy passengers. There’s no incentive for the airline to upgrade someone who hasn’t paid for it or earned access to premium cabin benefits through their elite status.
2. Traveling is expensive and I can’t afford it
Myth: Traveling is expensive because flights, accommodations, dining and excursions all add up. It’s not possible to travel affordably and comfortably while still enjoying myself.
Reality: Some destinations (like the Maldives) and some modes of transport (like business class flights) are pricier than other options. However, you can still book an affordable vacation on a budget, even to great places like the Caribbean.
Booking flights with airline miles and hotels with points are two great ways to save money because instead of paying with cash, you pay with travel rewards. Getting into miles and points with a travel credit card can open the door to affordable travel, even to expensive destinations.
You can often earn 100,000 points or more by applying for a single credit card and meeting a minimum spending requirement. If used wisely, those points can often cover the price of an entire trip.
Other ways to save on travel include booking flights when airlines are having sales and booking lodging when hotels are offering promotions. If affordability is your goal, refrain from traveling during peak times, like summer and holidays. You also have several nontraditional options, such as hostels, vacation rentals or even a private room with Airbnb.
You’ll have the most success in traveling inexpensively when you can be flexible with your plans.
Many cities offer free walking tours, so you don’t need to spend money on expensive excursions. If you’d like to explore a city by bike, consider renting a bike on your own and asking the front desk at your lodging for suggestions on where to go. This approach can be much cheaper than joining an organized bike tour.
To save money on dining, try heading to a supermarket to pick up some breakfast basics that you can make yourself. Save your dining out for bigger meals, like lunch or dinner.
3. Hostels are dirty, unsafe and for young partyers
Myth: Hostels are unsanitary and not safe. If I sleep in a shared room, my stuff will get stolen. I won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep because the beds will be cheap and there’s going to be a nonstop party.
Reality: Just like hotels can be high-end or budget, so can hostels. Some hostels, particularly newer ones like Selina and Generator, offer modern décor, comfortable beds and well-thought-out finishes (multiple personal sockets near the bed, a reading lamp, a privacy curtain for your bed and spacious lockers, to name a few). If you’re looking for privacy, you can also find private rooms at some hostels.
Check websites like hostelworld.com and filter your search results by those with a rating of 8.0 and higher. You’ll likely be able to filter out all the properties that received bad reviews for one reason or another.
Certain hostels (and hotels) cater to a young, party-seeking clientele, while others do not. Read reviews to find out what people are saying, or call the hostel to ask about the vibe. These accommodations can double as a great way to meet other travelers while also saving you money on your trip.
4. Solo travel is dangerous for women
Myth: Traveling by myself, particularly if I’m female, is dangerous.
Reality: Safety can mean different things to different people. Solo travel isn’t automatically dangerous, and common sense can go a long way.
Some people consider countries with low crime rates to be safe. Others can feel unsafe if they’re addressed in a certain way when walking down the street.
Consider how you feel about the cultural norms in the country you’re planning to visit, and make sure you know which areas to avoid in the cities you’re visiting. Even in the U.S., you wouldn’t wander into certain areas in the middle of the night. The same applies to cities you may visit abroad.
As far as feeling safe from petty crime, common sense is key. In general:
Don’t leave your belongings unattended or unsecured.
If using a ride-sharing app, check that the license plate number matches what shows on the app.
Don’t drink too much or walk alone in the middle of the night.
Crime can happen anywhere; do your best not to be an easy target.
5. I should always exchange money at the airport
Myth: Exchanging money at the airport will give me the best rate. The currency exchange kiosks at airports make it easy to change my money into the local currency, and I’m better off exchanging all of it at once.
Reality: Although convenient because they’re right at the airport, currency exchange shops have inflated exchange rates and won’t offer you a particularly good deal.
The best way to get the fairest exchange rate is often to take money out of an ATM when you arrive at your destination.
When withdrawing money at an ATM, always decline the currency conversion rate offered by the ATM because that includes a commission.
To avoid paying ATM fees (those charged by your bank and local ATMs), open a checking account with a bank that reimburses ATM fees before you travel abroad.
(Check foreign exchange rates at MarketWatch’s Currency Tool)
Travel myths: busted
There are many misconceptions about travel, so it’s better to know what’s true and what’s not. Use these busted myths to your advantage so that you can plan your next trip with ease.
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Elina Geller writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @elina_geller.