We all have at least one thing we’ve heard about any country and city we may be off to; otherwise, we wouldn’t or couldn’t go there. Perhaps it was a bad experience from a friend about getting sick from a case of bad food, or maybe you overheard someone saying that the people at the place you will visit are extremely rude.
Here is the thing: the longer these preconceived notions sit and fester in your mind, the more they manifest themselves as “truths,” making it harder and harder to dispel the irrationality of them. The sooner we at least make our own truths, the better.
So dispel them.
Perception is reality, they say, and this is fundamentally true. Whether or not something is real or true is irrelevant; if you believe it to be true, it’s true. Just don’t make someone else’s perception your reality. We should rarely speak about a country, city, its people, history, food, or culture until we’ve experienced them for ourselves.
One of the best examples I can give to this argument is that of the bad reputation that Bogotá, Colombia has had (and still has somewhat). Everybody had said that it was a dangerous place, full of drugs and violence. Before going there for my first time in 2010, I was guilty of this line of thinking, as well. My parents even expressed their concerns before I went there. But it was all for naught, as I came to realize that Bogotá is quite safe, in fact, and I’ve now traveled there 10 times.
I was recently walking with a friend somewhere, and Bogotá travel came up. My friend is from France, and I took the opportunity to inquire if this stereotype of danger in Bogotá is an American thing, or if Europeans have similar reservations. I was quite shocked to hear that they, too, still very much regard it as somewhat an unsafe travel destination. In the defense of these people, their ignorance is not completely unfounded. Bogotá was quite dangerous for some time, when the drug trade and FARC was in full operation. But it hurts the progress of the city and its healing identity if we continue to harbor these sentiments, which is why we should leave the judgments alone until we’ve visited.
It is also important that you don’t simply come to a conclusion about a place if you’ve only been there once for a short time; Many things should be tried twice. If you are familiar with the crowd-sourced review sites like Yelp.com, you know that it is almost impossible for an establishment to receive all bad or all good reviews throughout. The reviews tend to be a mix of both, because what one person experiences as a pleasure could very well be a nightmare for the next guy. You perhaps had some bad oysters one day, but maybe the oysters there are usually recommended by most. Give it another shot if you want, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. Maybe you may never want to go to a restaurant again after one bad experience, but an entire city, country, or region should be afforded more lenience. If we’ve had a particularly bad time at one destination, don’t hesitate to try it once more. This is not only for the destination’s sake, it is also for yours!
You could be missing out on some wonderful people, culture, traditions, food, and experiences if you succumb to stereotypes and ideas that others have put into your head. Even if you go somewhere with these preconceived ideas with the thought that you will confirm or dispel the rumors, the damage is somewhat done. You are already biased, if only subconsciously, in the subject of the preconceived notion. So, the better way to travel is to disregard most of the information that you hear, especially if they seem to be more like rumors; retain only good advice. Set your bullshit meter to sensitive and disregard anything that you flag. Most times, you will only thank yourself that you didn’t listen to these preconceived ideas. Preconceptions are often misconceptions.