5 Worst Travel Myths Unmasked

There are many handy tips, bits of helpful advice and invaluable ”insider knowledge” that we all seek before we embark on a journey. Nonetheless, how much of it is actually helpful? Do they really make a difference to our experience? To help you decide here are a few of my most frequently heard travel myths – unmasked.

1. Travel is a  luxury.

How do I travel so much? As a blogger and freelance writer my life (thankfully) is not fixed around a 9-5 schedule. I’m the girl working remotely on a plane, in the restaurant, at the beach, in the desert or in my hotel.

A significant consideration is to know that ”travelling” is not the same as ”holidaying”. “Holidaying” implies a break from you regular life – a short indulgent time of leisure or recreation. “Travelling” is not a short lived time of excess. There’s no requirement for special clothes, special diets or “bikini bodies”. It’s being fully present wherever you are, doing regular things as you would at home. Master ”travelling” and you’ll never need another ”holiday” from your life.

2. Duty free “bargains”.

It’s of course tempting to browse in “duty free” shops at airports while you wait. That is after all, why they were created. However, you’re not necessarily paying less for anything. It only means that you’re paying no tax. I often find skin care, perfume, confectionary and wine at much lower prices at home in London.

One thing I do to match cost in various countries is to use one of my daily skin care products (250ml facial cleanser) as a measure. In some countries I find it better value in terms of cost per size but in many places the ”saving” is negligible.

3. Long transits are a waste of “vacation” time.

If you have a transit in excess of 5 hours at Changi Airport (Singapore), Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan), Incheon Airport (Seoul, Korea), Taoyuan Airport (Taipei, Taiwan), Ataturk Airport (Istanbul, Turkey), Salt Lake City Airport (Utah, USA) or Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar) you’ll be in for a treat.

They offer visa free heritage tours in their respective cities for transit passengers. If you have less than the required time it’s still possible to enjoy in-airport tropical gardens, cinemas, spas, swimming pools and even museums. While there are conditions attached to city tours other facilities can be enjoyed even on a brief lay over.

I enjoyed the 25 meter, temperature controlled indoor pool at Hamad International, Doha during a long transit. After a relaxing swim, I sipped orange juice and fell asleep on one of the cosy loungers. It was absolutely worth the £40 entrance fee. When your airport offers a gym, hydrotherapy tub and squash courts which stay open 24 hours a day, every day, you can turn even the most merciless lay over in to a mini vacation.

4. Jet lag.

Jet lag does not need to be a part of travelling. It’s caused by sleeping at the wrong time rather than a lack of sleep. Short naps are fine on short haul flights. However, if you want to avoid jet lag, only sleep if it aligns with the slumber time at your destination.

When I’m on long haul flights I adjust my sleep accordingly. Being in sync with my destination when I arrive lets me get the best out of the day as I often have to go straight into ”work mode”. Try it on your next trip to escape the groggy, detached feeling of jet lag.

5.  Cash is best when you travel.

I almost never carry wads of cash when I travel. This is to avert the risk of losing it, misplacing it or having it stolen –  ALL of which have happened to friends or relatives (sometimes within hours of arriving at a new destination) which doesn’t make for a good start.

Using my debit card allows me to keep track of my spending via mobile banking. Major banks helpfully offer the choice of paying in your own currency OR the local currency when using cards abroad. This means I know EXACTLY how much something costs in £Sterling BEFORE I pay. It’s a great deal more convenient than working out the exchange rate every time. Banks further offer preferential rates to loyal customers thus reducing the fee per transaction. Many credit cards have perks such as no foreign transaction fees and % back on purchases. Add to all of this the convenience of 24 hour helplines and I am sold.

 

This post was inspired by Gilbert Ott’s 8 Travel Myths, Debunked.

 

10 Ways to Navigate Marrakech if You’re Flying Solo.

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Marrakech is a major city in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara beneath the snow capped Atlas mountains. Picture that if you will. Not that it needs any introduction. It is surely Morocco’s most memorable experience. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s densely populated and the locals are multi lingual – speaking a mixture of Arabic and French. The moment you touch down on this baked red city your senses will go into overdrive. So here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your time in Marrakech:

  1. Be respectful of local culture.

    Morocco is a Muslim country which follows Islamic traditions. I visited Marrakech during the holy month of Ramadan. Almost everyone I met was fasting. So, during my stay I did not eat and drink in public. When I had lunch, I sat inside a hotel or restaurant away from windows as a mark of respect for those who were fasting. Ramadan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (not the same as the lunar calendar). So, check your travel dates and be mindful if you are travelling during Ramadan or any other times of cultural significance.

  2. Carry a scarf.

    I found Marrakech to be liberal in terms of dress. However, if you’re a female traveller, carrying a scarf is a failsafe for many places in the world. It comes in handy when you least expect it. You do not need to cover your hair. I mostly use my scarf to protect my skin from the sun. In Marrakech I used it for covering my shoulders whilst out and about during the day. It’s a great way to communicate that you are aware of local culture which is always appreciated by locals. It also makes you look like less of a novice – useful for avoiding unwanted attention if you’re travelling alone.

  3. Download Citymapper.

    This is a brilliant app that works well inside the Medina (where you are most likely to get lost). Citymapper allows you to navigate walking routes via your smart phone. It also offers alternative routes to get to your destination. So if you like exploring on foot then this is a must and you will not be at the mercy of the locals to find your around.

  4. Remember landmarks.

    If you have no access to wifi or are unable to use apps for any other reason you can still navigate the city. It’s dotted with various distinctive landmarks. However, each narrow lane looks remarkably similar to the next. Try to remember names of particular hotels, a distinctive stall or a coffee shop and use them as landmarks to navigate your way through the medina and find your way back. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions – shop keepers are your best bet. Avoid faux guides who will offer to direct you as they will always expect to be paid for their trouble.

  5. Be Assertive – not rude.

    Some touts in Marrakech can be aggressive and aggressive begging is common. While 95% of locals are mild mannered and friendly a handful of touts were an annoyance. The three best ways to deal with aggressive touts are: a) Ignore them as you keep walking by. b) Don’t stop to talk as this will be taken as a show of interest. c) Always be polite but firm and avoid confrontation.

  6. Trust your instincts.

    Never follow anyone to a ”friend’s shop”, “best restaurant”, “cheap carpets/silver/leather”. Rule of thumb in travel is that if you follow someone to a place you don’t know, you will at best, have to buy something don’t need/want. At worst, this is too big a risk to your safety. No bargain in the world is worth this risk. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t – just don’t do it.

  7. Make friends with other travellers.

    I made friends with two solo female travellers whilst dining al fresco in Jemaa el-Fnaa. It meant that after dinner, instead of heading back to my hotel, I was able to stay out a little later than planned, soaking in the atmosphere. It’s a great way to get more out of a trip if you’re flying solo. You may also be able to go on join excursions making it safer and cheaper to travel.

  8. Let your hotel staff know your daily itinerary.

    Excursions should only be booked through an operator who has an agreement with the local authorities. They must be able to display an official badge. Leave the name and contact details of your guide AND details of the company with hotel staff / concierge. If you are braving the trip on your own be vigilant and keep your valuables safe. Also inform hotel staff of your itinerary and let them know that you are travelling alone and get their advice. However, trekking alone is not advisable and you should consider joining a group.

    Guides can be hired through most hotels and riads. A basic guideline of costs is approximately £12 for half a day and £30 for a full day. However, private operator and riad charges may range from £50 – £90.

  9. Write down your hotel’s telephone number, address and location in Arabic.

    English is widely spoken in Marrakech. As you venture a little further outside the city, it will definitely be useful to have the name and address of your hotel AND directions written down in Arabic in case of an emergency. Always carry this with you to make yourself understood in an unexpected situation. It is unlikely that people outside the medina will have heard of your hotel no matter how reputable a chain it may be.

  10. Relax and enjoy!

    Marrakech is a breathtakingly beautiful place. It has a magnetism and allure that is hard to describe. It will charm the most ardent traveller into a spell. So be prepared to soak in all this wonderful city has to offer. Over 600,000 Brits visit Morocco each year and most visits are trouble free. So be safe, relax and enjoy!

     

5 things you definitely CANNOT do in Dubai.

There is no denying that Dubai has successfully transitioned from oil rich emirate to metropolitan tourist hotspot. Tourism is now it’s no. 1 source of income. While it may not be for everyone, shopping, restaurants, unparalleled luxury and opportunities for economic betterment attracts tourists and a workforce from all over the world. As the saying goes, “If you want to meet the world, come to London”. Well, as a Londoner who recently visited Dubai, I can tell you the same felt true of Dubai. It’s workforce in particular – hotel staff, shop staff, restaurant staff, drivers add sparkle to what might otherwise feel like a super shiny, playground.

It’s global workforce is one of the most interesting aspect of this desert turned (man-made) oasis. Conversations and interactions were enriched by each person I met who added an interesting perspective to my experience. And they came from all over the world – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Laos, Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal and South America bringing an old world quaintness to a city so determined to appear modern.

Whenever I refer to visiting the Gulf states, I am asked the same questions by eager travellers who would like to get the most out of their trip without breaking the rules. So, here are 5 common travel questions about Dubai answered:

  1. WHAT do you wear?

    Well, if you’re within the confines of your hotel or resort wear ANYTHING – bikinis, strappy tops, shorts, mini skirts, long skirts, sheer tops, ball gown and tiara if you so wish. However, you will need to be more conservative and mindful in public spaces such as malls, souks and public transport. Opt for short sleeved tops instead of strappy tops and keep your skirts and shorts knee length or below. You maybe walking around in a desert but avoid wearing anything too sheer in public spaces. When in doubt my secret weapon is a scarf. Carry one in your handbag and pull it out to cover your shoulders if you feel your attire maybe causing mild offence. It shows respect for local customs and will be received well.

  2. PDA

    This is short and simple – NO. A peck on the cheek is as far as you should go and only with people you know well. Goes without saying – please don’t do this with strangers, especially if they are female! Save your amorous displays of affection for when you’re within the privacy of your hotel room.

  3. Getting Around

    If like me, you love to explore a new place on foot then Dubai is simply not the place. It is far too hot to do so during the day and people seem to love driving. Everything is ostentatious so luxury cars are everywhere. However, I have it on good authority that the Metro system is fantastic – clean, safe and gives breathtaking views of the city. So, don’t forget to hop on a train.

  4. Consumption of Alcohol

    All hotels serve alcohol and are fairly relaxed about this. In fact, Dubai is known for its boozy work brunches. However, outside of the hotels alcohol is not readily available and you should avoid trying to buy it. If you decide to eat at a restaurant that is not attached to a hotel it is very unlikely that they will have a licence to serve alcohol.

  5. Visiting during Ramadan

    During the holy month of Ramadan everyone you meet will be fasting. It is not mentioned or discussed but you can safely assume that they are. Be especially mindful if you happen to visit during this time. It is forbidden to eat and drink in public during the day. Hotels and restaurants have designated areas for visitors offering dining facilities (usually hidden from the public with curtains or blinds). Small places such as coffee shops are all closed until sunset. However, when it’s time to break fast (Iftar) you can feast like a sheikh. Most hotels offer traditional Arabian buffets which break the fast. Be sure to join in!

 

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