A fair amount of travel advice is just plain wrong. Here are a dozen popular—yet unfounded—travel "truisms," and the real stories behind them.
© Ian Shaw / Alamy © Ian Shaw / Alamy
| Credit: © Ian Shaw / Alamy

Quick: what comes to mind when you think of a four-star hotel?Luxury and great service, right?Are you sure?How about when you’re shopping for a getaway and you find a "low-price guarantee"—do you really feel confident it’s the best deal?

It turns out that many widely held beliefs about travel are untrue, or more likely, only partly true. These myths often took root among travelers decades ago, and nowadays many people regard them as gospel. But things change fast—and often—in travel, due to technological advances and fierce competition between travel companies, among other reasons. A traveler who swallows outdated assumptions runs the risk of getting taken advantage of, paying too much, and not getting the most possible out of their precious vacation time.

For instance, have you ever bought something in an airport duty-free store?Most travelers have, likely because their pockets were still full of foreign currency, and they had time to spare while waiting for a flight. Also, they probably assumed that duty-free merchandise costs less than goods purchased where they’re taxed, so why not scoop up some top-shelf perfume, chocolate, or vodka?

But if travelers actually did the math, they’d realize that their purchases might not be the bargains they’d imagined. Many items in fact cost more in duty-free shops than they do in an ordinary store in the U.S.—especially since 2008 has seen the dollar’s value drop around the globe. And if you’re not getting a deal in a duty-free shop, it seems pretty silly to return from a trip to Italy with Belgian chocolates or Russian vodka.

And how about travel packages?They’re traditionally regarded as offering good value. While they certainly make booking a trip easier, are you always saving money?Maybe not. Of course, figuring out whether you’re getting a bargain requires some legwork: pricing each element separately, checking that the hotel isn’t in the middle of nowhere, making certain you’ll be taking advantage of all the package’s extras. Only you know if that extra time is worth the potential savings—but it very well might be.

There are plenty of other popular beliefs and tips passed around among travelers that are equally questionable—or outright false. The moral is: Be a bit skeptical before acting on advice. Always question assumptions, even those that seem rock solid. Too often, the truth is a lot more complicated than some travel companies—and some poorly informed fellow travelers, for that matter—would have you believe.