Last year, social media maven and actor George Takei shared one of my travel posts (as a huge "Star Trek" geek and sci-fi nerd, I did jump up and down a bit with joy).
As I went through the comments post, I was shocked and saddened by the mean, dismissive comments, as well as the misconceptions about travel people had. Here are some examples:
The comments made me realize that despite all the detailed websites and books on how to make travel affordable and accessible, too many people still believe the notion that travel is expensive, unsafe and impossible unless you are rich. Too many say, “I can't, it's impossible,” and, like Bob, become cynical, hateful and dismissive of anyone trying to say or prove otherwise.
The notion that travel is expensive couldn't be further from the truth. There have never been more ways to do it for less. I know this from countless stories, thank you letters and emails from readers. It's time to put these common beliefs about traveling to rest and show why they're wrong:
1. Travel is expensive and can't be done without a trust fund.
Everything costs some money. No travel is free, but the idea that most people hold of travel is the result of advertisements, commercials and travel magazines that highlight fancy tours and luxurious accommodations. They use subtle marketing language that effectively says, “A fun vacation is an expensive vacation.” After decades of being bombarded by these messages, our collective consciousness equates travel with luxury.
When I first started traveling in 2004, I believed this, too. I remember looking up tours to Australia and thinking, “No wonder I don't know people who travel. It's over $3,000 for a two-week trip!” When I started planning my round-the-world trip in 2005, saving for it seemed like a daunting task. It took my entire savings plus another 18 months of constant overtime to save for my trip.
But you don't need a trust fund or a high-paying job. Michael worked a job paying $9/hour and saved $14,000 for his trip. It can be done, even on minimum wage. It may take longer to save for your trip, and you may need to make sacrifices. But if you want to travel — whether for two weeks or two years — you can find a way to make it happen.
Thanks to a plethora of websites, apps and tools, it's never been easier to make your inexpensive trip happen. My entire website is dedicated to crushing the belief that travel is only for the rich. Here are some starting points that can help you lower your costs and travel on a budget:
- 61 Travel Tips to Make You the World's Savviest Traveler
- How to Use the Sharing Economy to Travel on a Budget
- The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel
- How to Find Cheap Flights
And you don't need to save for the whole trip before you leave, either. You can work when you're overseas (see tip number seven).
2. Credit cards are a stupid financial move.
When used properly, credit cards are smart financial instruments. You can earn hundreds of thousands of miles per year that enable you to travel for free (and they offer better purchasing protection than your debit card). Simply having them won't send you into debt or cost you high interest rates. Just make sure not to spend more than you have, and to pay off your bill each month.
Moreover, having multiple cards increases your credit score over time. One of the biggest factors in your credit score is your credit-to-debt ratio; having several cards increases that ratio. If you have $10,000 in available credit over 10 cards, but only use $1,000, your credit score will be better than if you had $4,000 over two cards, but only used $1,000.
Although applying for cards will cause a temporary dip in your credit score, it gets corrected within two months. Space out the applications and you won't see a sustained negative impact on your credit score. The most important thing you can do for your credit is to pay your bills on time and avoid hitting your credit limit every month.
I have 18 credit cards (though I only actively use three) and a credit score of 797 out of 850.
3. Couchsurfing is unsafe.
I would never stay in a stranger's home. People on Couchsurfing (and, for that matter, around the world) are kind and helpful. They want to show you the best their home has to offer. Experience has shown me you can rely on the kindness of strangers.
Yet, there is a general fear of staying with strangers because we believe the world is unsafe and dangerous. People think, “Stay with a stranger? No way. That's dangerous.” Because, despite the fact crime has gone down, we perceive strangers to be dangerous. We just don't trust people anymore.
And that fear makes people mistrust hospitality websites like Couchsurfing. However, websites like Couchsurfing allow you to see a host's reviews and choose whom you stay with, and you always have the option of backing out. Single woman? Stay with another woman. Have a family? Stay with a family. You have many options and ways to research your hosts.
Websites that connect locals and travelers, such as Couchsurfing, EatWith, BlaBlaCar, Meetup or BeWelcome, are safe and well-policed by the community. Once people understand how these websites work, more will say, “That sounds like a fun idea!” instead of, “Stay with a stranger? No way."
4. Hitchhiking is unsafe.
The idea that hitchhiking is always unsafe dates back to the 1950s when the FBI led a scare campaign to get people to stop the practice (which was very common back then), in part because civil rights activists were hitchhiking to rallies. The FBI's campaign permanently embedded in the mind of people that hitchhiking is dangerous by claiming most hitchhikers were murderers. Combined with a general sense that the world is unsafe (see above), hitchhiking continues to be perceived as a dangerous activity (even if it's not).
But as my friend Matt showed when he hitchhiked the US, and Kristin when she hitchhiked through China (and even John Waters) have shown, not everybody ends up in a ditch by the side of the road. I've hitchhiked in Europe, the Caribbean and Central America and met wonderful, interesting people in the process.
Hitchhiking is about using common sense. You don't have to get into any car that stops. Use your judgment. Don't assume everyone is a psychotic killer.
5. Travel is dangerous for women.
Men and women both face risks on the road, but women do face additional hazards men don't, and they have to be extra cautious in certain circumstances. However, the “if it bleeds, it leads” approach to reporting highlights only the negative stories and bolsters the perceptions that the world is so scary that solo female travel is very, very unsafe and murderers lurk behind every corner. That's not true at all. You have a higher chance of getting hit by a bus than you do of ending up like in the movie "Taken."
But don't believe me. Believe the other women who have traveled the world alone. Here's an excerpt from Laura's post on women's safety:
If I look back on the times when people have told me, “Don't go there!” or “You might die!” it's mostly advice from people who have never been to those places and have never done any research on them. The press is hugely influential. I can't tell you how many times I've read international press coverage that is flat-out wrong. You need to find trustworthy sources and advice from people who know what they're talking about. I once mentioned to my parents that I had plans to go to Rwanda. My concerned father told me, “You're not going.” He was obviously worried about Rwanda's tumultuous past. Had he done his research, he would have known that Rwanda is the safest country in East Africa. Once he researched it, I never heard another word about it. The crime rates in your backyard can be just as bad as the destination you're headed to, if not worse.
And take a look at these blogs for inspiration and proof women can travel alone:
Every day millions of women travel the world alone. It's safe and doable, and you won't end up in a ditch.
6. This advice is only useful if you're young and single.
Too many people believe travel is something you can only do in your single youth. I understand that when you are older, you may want more luxury, and family travel requires more planning. But travel is not solely the purview of the young.
7. You can't work overseas.
There are a variety of ways to work overseas. We think of work as a job that requires interviews, visas and a résumé. This isn't always true. If you want to work and are flexible about what you're willing to do, you can find employment.
There are many legal jobs for travelers all over the world. Australia and New Zealand offer working holiday visas where travelers under 30 can get a year-long work visa. You can teach English around the world, work on a cruise ship or get a freelancer visa in Germany.
These travel myths come from years of being indoctrinated with the beliefs that travel has to be expensive and the world is scary. Your job is to ignore the naysayers. There's an excellent community of travelers here who will support your decision. Travel is possible for the vast majority of us, no matter your budget.
Don't listen to those who would place their own fears and misunderstandings on you and keep you from living your dreams.
Matthew Kepnes is the creative force behind NomadicMatt.com, the world's largest travel blog on budget travel, as well as author of the New York Times bestseller, “How to Travel The World On $50 A Day.” This article was originally published on NomadicMatt.com.