It’s strange how people who’ve never gone traveling are often convinced it’s the most dangerous thing you can do. When I quit my 9-5 in May 2016 to travel, I got mixed reactions. Admittedly, a lot people thought it was cool, and said they wished they could do the same (spoiler: you can!). But it surprised me how many people raised their eyebrows sceptically, or shook their heads sadly, as if they knew I wouldn’t make it back in one piece.
But after a year and half on the road, on a trip that took me from the southernmost tip of South America to the furthest corners of Southeast Asia, I did make it home alive… and entirely unscathed, too. Go me!
One year after my big trip, I’m still surprised at how many people seem genuinely afraid of travel. Are they right to be? Here are four of the weirdest yet most prevalent travel myths, BUSTED!
Myth No. 1: “If you visit South America, you’ll get kidnapped by a cartel!”
Of all the places I visited on my trip, South America drew the severest reaction – in particular Colombia. The country has long been infamous for drugs, kidnapping and murder, and Medellin in particular was branded the “most dangerous city on earth” in the 90s. But the lingering perception of South America only illustrates how the scariest things are the things we remember.
Medellin today is one of the best examples in the world of how a city can reinvent itself. A lot changes in 25 years, but shrugging off such a shady reputation is hard. When I told my dad I’d be spending six months in South America – and venturing into deepest, darkest Colombia – he blurted out, “I can’t afford to pay your ransom, you know!”. He wasn’t joking.
Of course, there is a risk of danger – but you can say the same about any country. Yes, be sensible and don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t listen to people who hear the words South America or Colombia and instantly assume that (1) you’ll be up to your eyes in coke; (2) you’ll be kidnapped by a cartel; and (3) you’ll eventually be murdered. In reality, only the first one is true (LOL JK).
Me not getting kidnapped in Medellin, Colombia.
Myth No. 2: “Hitchhiking is certified way to get yourself murdered!”
Admittedly, getting into a car with a stranger will always carry a degree of risk, and if I’m traveling alone, I wouldn’t hitchhike. But the very idea of hitchhiking being a surefire way to getting yourself killed stems in part from a scare campaign by the FBI back in the 50s; civil rights activists often hitchhiked to rallies, and the FBI led a campaign to frighten people away. It was so successful we’re still scared of hitchhiking 60 years on.
Many people just assume that if you get into the car with a stranger, of course they’re going to be a psychopathic killer. Of course you’re going to end up dead in a ditch on the side of the road. But the main thing I took away from my time traveling is that actually, most people aren’t psychopathic killers. Most people are actually… well… nice.
My partner and I hitchhiked throughout Central and South America. Some of the most interesting people we met were locals who took pity on the two dishevelled backpackers with their thumbs out. Follow your gut: if you feel uncomfortable getting into a car that stops, don’t get in. But equally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the world is a truly terrible, dangerous place and everyone is secret psychopath serial killer. They’re not.
“Hey, can I have a lift? Please don’t murder me though!”
Myth No. 3: “If you stay in a hostel, your dorm mate might kill you!”
Sensing a pattern here? It involves being killed. Like hitchhiking, hostels are apparently so scary they’ve inspired a series of horror movies. So what is it about hostels that makes so many people wrinkle their forehead in concern? “You don’t know who these people are,” a friend told me when I asked. “They could be serial killers.” And again, we’re back to serial killers.
It’s true that your dorm mate might be a serial killer. It’s equally true that your neighbor back home might be a serial killer. Why do so many people think it’s travel that brings out the inner murderer in us all? After staying in many hostels around the world, my firm belief is that staying in hostels is not only not dangerous, it’s one of the best ways to meet other travelers.
However, I do have some tips to reduce your chances of being killed by your dorm mate. Staggering in while out of your mind drunk isn’t helpful; neither is turning lights on when everyone’s asleep. If you’re getting up early, pack your bag the night before. If anything turns people murderous, it’s the sounds of multiple zips being drawn at 5am.
A Central American hostel with a view. A no murderers.
Myth No. 4: “If you go traveling, you’ll ruin your career”
On hearing I was quitting my permanent job to travel, another common reaction from people was “But what about your career?”. The idea of packing up shop when you’re still in your 20s was unfathomable to some, and the myth that travel is damaging to your career is very prevalent.
But the world is increasingly borderless, and more and more people are waking up from the idea that going to work means sitting in an office from 9am–5pm. Who made those rules anyway? Why must we all live by them? There’s no reason today why you can’t travel and work. If remote work really isn’t an option, consider taking a sabbatical. If you want to travel, don’t let work hold you back. Life’s too short.
It’s worth considering that traveling might actually be the making of your career. It was during my travels that I realised I never wanted to go back to a 9-5 again. I’ve worked remotely – and freelance – ever since, and my career has gone from strength to strength. The reason is because I’m so much more invested in my work, and only take the jobs I’m genuinely interested in.
“Man, I wish I’d never left the office.” Said no traveler ever.
Looking back now, the negative comments I got came from people who’d never traveled. They’d never been to these places they were so scared of – never even researched them. Many persistent travel myths simply come from years of being persuaded that the world is terrifying place. But it’s a beautiful place too… and at Remotise we encourage you to see as much of it as you can.