Advice: take it or leave it?

There’s a saying that goes around: what is it everybody gives but nobody takes? The answer is advice. And while I’m not sure that’s strictly true it seems even less true when you’re on the road.

Guide books. They are FULL of advice. That’s what they’re there for – to guide. Hundreds of pages filled with advice on where to stay, where to eat, what do to, where to go, what to avoid, you name it, there’s an opinion on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like guide books and for the most part I have used them to good effect and found them to be very informative. But I’ve always thought there are some things that are so subjective I don’t know how it’s even possible to tell someone else whether or not they will like it.

Backpackers, travellers, call them what you will, are full of advice. Whether they are giving it in person, tweeting it, blogging it or posting it on a wall, if you’re looking for it, it’s there.

When you meet someone on the road who has been somewhere you’re going, be it a city or a country, you ask them, what did you do? Where did you go? What should I look out for? What should I be careful of?

And often responses will be hearty, full and leave no stone unturned. Whether someone’s telling you why Delhi is the dirtiest place in the world and why you should never go there, or what makes a Thailand full moon party so special and why it should be top of everyone’s bucket list.

When I was in Guatemala last year, I met a whole bunch of people in a hostel on the Rio Dulce who were travelling south through central America – the exact route I had just done (except in reverse, obviously).

Semuc Champey

Somehow I found myself giving something that vaguely resembled a presentation on my trip to date. People were even taking notes. It was ridiculous.

While I was more than happy to help out my new friends, and talk about my adventures (who doesn’t?) I did find the situation a little uneasy. It was like I didn’t want to be held responsible for any disappointments.

For example, I had been told by many people about a beautiful place in Guatemala called Semuc Champey – a series of natural limestone pools. Sure, it was pretty and a nice place to hang out but I actually found it quite ‘meh’ (as the kids say).

Maybe I was expecting the eighth wonder of the world or something, I don’t know. But my point is I should have taken the advice with a pinch of salt.

One of the things I love about travel is that it IS so subjective. A hundred people can go to the same place and each can have a different opinion on it. There are so many contributing factors that influence how you feel about somwhere: who you go with, what the weather was like, if it was busy, if you were bitten by mosquitoes, if you were robbed… you see where I’m going with this.

So, MY advice would be to listen to your fellow travellers, ask them whatever you want but remember you are going wherever you are going for a reason. That is, to have the experience for yourself.

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