I often read advice from a lot of “travel experts” on how people should travel. After 5 years of non-stop travel I’ve realized that I break most of the conventional wisdom that people believe in when it comes to traveling. Here are 9 ways I don’t follow conventional travel wisdom. Some are things I probably shouldn’t do and some are thing I think everyone should do.
1) I Always Check A Bag
Whenever I hear “travel experts” give tips, near the top of the list is the recommendation not to check a bag and to only bring a carry-on. I have checked a bag on every flight I’ve been on in the last five years, save for a visa run I did to Singapore once. During that time I have never lost a bag and I’ve only had a bag delayed once, and that was due to my original flight being delayed because of the volcano in Iceland.
The truth is, it adds very little time to the act of getting out of the airport. Perhaps 10 minutes at most, and probably less if you are going through passport control because your bag will probably be waiting for you by the time you get to baggage claim. It adds nothing to your check in time.
Because I usually am on international flights and have elite status on all 3 major alliances, I seldom have to pay extra baggage fees.
2) I Don’t Pack Light
My camera bag is heavy. It is deceptively very heavy. One of my small pleasures is letting people I meet try to pick it up. Technically, I’m probably in violation of carry on rules for almost every flight I take, but I’m seldom called on it becasue it doesn’t look heavy and I’m so used to carrying it, I make it look easy.
The fact is camera gear and electronics are heavy. Metal and glass are some of the heaviest things you can carry while traveling. I do it because I have to if I want to run a website on the road. You could possibly get by with an iPad and a small camera for a short period, but if you want to take your blogging seriously (and I do) you can’t skimp on your tools.
My checked bag is also almost always at the weight limit (20kg or 50lbs). Considering that bag consists of all my worldly possessions, I give myself a pass.
3) I Often Do Not Use Travel Insurance
This might be the one I’m least proud of. I know I probably should get insurance and I’m not recommending people travel without it, but the truth is I often go without an active policy. In 5 years of traveling around the world I’ve never had anything stolen, never damaged anything so much I couldn’t use it, and I’ve never gotten seriously injured.
I did carry insurance for the first few years I was traveling, but I eventually just let it lapse and I’ve only gotten policies infrequently when I have to (usually for a group trip).
As I carry more expensive gear and do more adventurous things, I probably will just go back to getting insurance, but as of right now I am currently going without.
*UPDATE* Since I originally wrote this I began buying annual travel insurance policies and I am now always covered.
4) I Never Use Travelers Checks
Travels checks might be going out of style, but I still occasionally meet people who insist on having them “just in case”. The reality is that in the 21st Century, most people probably wouldn’t know what to do with a travelers check if you gave them one. You are far better off just carrying an extra ATM card to get cash when you need it, rather than paying the fee for travelers checks.
5) I Don’t Own A Frequent Flyer Credit Card
This is something I not only should do, but I want to do. I’ve traveled the last 5-years without a credit card. I’ve used a debit card the entire time. I have a very primal revulsion to debt. Other than a home mortgage, I’ve never had any debt. I haven’t had a credit card in almost 15 years.
Having a frequent flyer credit card would probably help me accrue more miles, but the problem I always have is deciding which airline and card to choose. I have elite status on American, Delta and United and I usually don’t have a choice in what airline I fly.
Also, because I never have any debt and haven’t use a credit card in over a decade, I’m afraid I’d get rejected because I haven’t built up any credit history. I’ve basically been a black hole of consumer data for the last 5 years.
*UPDATE* I finally got a credit card!
6) I Never Use Hand Sanitizer
Not only do I not use hand sanitizer, but I also bite my fingernails (gross, I know). Nonetheless, I hardly ever get sick while traveling. Your immune system is like anything else in your body, you use it or you lose it. There are some legitimate things you should be worried about as far as health while traveling. Constantly slathering your hands in sanitizer is not one of them.
7) I Never Use A Money Belt
When I did my first around the world trip back in 1999 I purchased one of these things. After using it for a day I felt absolutely ridiculous and have never worn one since.
There are easier ways to foil pickpockets than wearing a special undergarment just for your currency. Just buy pants with deep front pockets and that will pretty much solve the problem. Likewise, I don’t use a passport holder that goes around my neck. I keep my passport in a pocket of my Scottevest jacket.
If you do get mugged by someone with a weapon, your money belt isn’t going to fool anyone. It isn’t as if money belts are a secret muggers in other countries don’t know about.
8) I Don’t Use Guidebooks
When I started traveling back in 2007 I purchased my first and only guidebook. It was the Moon’s Guide to the South Pacific. It was expensive, it was heavy and much of the important information (especially regarding flight schedules) was hopelessly out of date.
I set down my thoughts on guidebooks several years go and my opinion hasn’t changed since. The more I have learned about how guidebooks are written makes me even more skeptical of them. The information you can get online is cheaper, lighter and usually better.
9) I’m not Loyal To Any One Airline Or Hotel Chain
I’d really like to be loyal to someone, but no one has really given me any incentive to. I took a flight from Los Angeles to London last year on Air New Zealand, which is a member of Star Alliance with United. I took this flight specifically to earn miles with United. They didn’t honor the trips which meant I didn’t get elite status for 2012 which meant I had every incentive to use anyone BUT United. I ended up flying enough on Star Alliance in 2012 already to get my elite status back, but it was done via uncomfortable coach seats.
I can tell similar stories for the other airlines and hotel programs just aren’t that big of a deal for me because I seldom stay in chain hotels. Most loyalty programs seem to do just do enough to stay competitive with their competitors, not enough to make a compelling case for doing business with them.
What bits of conventional wisdom do you violate when you travel?