Travel Myths Debunked

Ever heard the story of the guy whose identity was stolen after his personal information was swiped from his electronic room key? Or the one about thieves drugging passengers with sleeping gas on trains in Eastern Europe? What about money hidden in hotel bibles? These are just a few of the myths that make the rounds on the travelers' circuit that make good stories -- but, for the most part, simply aren't true.

1. Hotel Key Cards Contain Personal Information
With so many hotels using key cards for room access these days, a widely circulated rumor persists that there's a chance of guests having personal information -- even their identities -- stolen off these cards. Not true, according to the rumor-busting website Snopes, which traced the legend to a 2003 email sent out by Detective Sergeant Kathryn Jorge of the Pasadena Police Department. The e-mail followed a presentation she saw about fraud techniques indicating there was a possibility of such a tactic being used. In the end, the police department was forced to issue a retraction to quell the rumors that exploded throughout cyberspace, saying that "the one incident referred to (in the detective's email warning) appears to be several years old, and with today's newer technology, it would appear that no hotels engage in the practice of storing personal information on key cards."

2. Gideon Bibles have $100 Bills Tucked Inside
Once a fixture in hotel rooms, those Gideon Bibles in the bedside table may not be as common a sight as they once were. "Legend has it that evangelical Christians often tuck $100 in the pages as a reward for the devout or desperate soul who next flips through the Good Book," said marketing specialist Amy Bradley-Hole of Little Rock, Arkansas, adding that it's most likely a legend, as she has never heard of anyone finding bucks in a hotel bible. "I do know plenty of people who have admitted to tucking their cash in the Bible, thinking that it's a great place to hide their valuables," she said -- and that might be reason enough to take a look.

Travel Myths Debunked

3. Penguins Go Missing from Aquariums
Just about every zoo and aquarium in the country has had the "penguin in a backpack" travel myth pop up at least once. While the details vary, the story usually involves a little boy or girl getting separated from his or her parents during a visit to an aquarium or zoo. Once reunited, the family travels home and soon after finds the child playing in the bathtub with a stolen penguin. Senior Aviculturist Amy Graves at the Tennessee Aquarium has this to say about the pervasiveness of the myth: "It seems to come in waves. One year I don't hear anything, however the next year I get questions about it everywhere -- even while at the grocery store," she said. "When I do hear the 'penguin in a backpack' story it usually is about other institutions -- even some zoos that don't even have penguins," she says. In 2005, the New England Aquarium in Boston actually had to call a news conference to dispel a rampant rumor that one of its penguin chicks had been taken home by an autistic boy. It was simply not true.

4. You Won't Feel the Rocking on Mega Ships
For the most part, cruise ships are very stable. But if you think booking a berth on one of the largest ships out there -- like the Oasis of the Seas or the Allure of the Seas -- means you won't feel any rocking at all, think again. "It doesn't matter what size ship you're on. At some point you're going to feel some movement," said John Deiner, managing editor at "Stabilizers help the situation greatly, of course, but if you want to avoid the rocking altogether, the best thing you can do is stay on land and watch the ship from shore," he said. But if you are onboard, "to minimize the sensation, head to the center of the ship on a middle deck," said Deiner.

5. Electronic Devices Interfere with a Plane's Navigational System
Arguing with a flight attendant over shutting off your cell phone or other electronic device is never a good idea. But Patrick Smith writes on his AskThePilotblog that "few rules are more confounding to airline passengers than those regarding the use of cell phones and portable electronic devices." According to Smith, the main reason laptops need to be put away for takeoff and landing is that they risk becoming projectiles in the event of an impact or sudden deceleration. The problem with passengers using iPods and other mp3 devices during takeoff and landing is the headphones, he says, since you need to be able to hear flight attendants' announcements in case of an emergency. Regarding cell phones and the possibility of them interfering with the plane's navigational system, said Smith: the answer is "potentially yes, but probably not," adding that "although cellular phones are unlikely to screw anything up, regulators are erring on the better-safe-than-sorry side."

Travel Myths Debunked

6. You Always Need an International Driving Permit Abroad
Every country has the right to determine the rules of its roads. But many newbie travelers not used to travel outside the U.S. are under the false impression that they'll need an International Driving Permit to rent a car in countries like France, Germany, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The truth is that in those countries -- and many others -- your valid U.S. driver's license works just fine for renting a car. In fact, an international driving permit is really just the same information contained on your U.S. driver's license, translated into multiple languages (and it's most often only valid when used in conjunction with your U.S. driver's license). And while the United States Department of State does recommend travelers get international driving permits for travel abroad, only in a few countries--including India--is it actually necessary.

7. Traveler's Checks Are Easy to Use
American Express won't like to hear it, but ATM machines are so pervasive these days that you hardly need traveler's checks to get money. In fact, in many cases, traveler's checks can be pretty unpractical compared to cash. Michael Shepherd, who arranges hotels for visitors to Paros, Greece, says that whenever guests write him in advance to inquire about the best method to carry money, he advises against traveler's checks. "About once per year I have guests show up with traveler's checks who hadn't asked (in advance)," he said. "What this means is they have to plan their activities around a trip into the main town during banking hours on a weekday to get their checks cashed. In one case, a couple had to miss an excursion boat to a neighboring island with their friends and go to the bank instead."

8. The Suction on Airplane Toilets is Strong Enough to Trap You
Of all the lavatory legends, this seems to have the most...traction. Reuters once reported that a female passenger filed a complaint against Scandinavian Airlines about being stuck to the seat; this was later discovered to be fictitious. Since the flush mechanism is a vacuum, you'd have to make a perfect seal with your backside to even approach the possibility of being stuck to the seat through suction. Still, Sara Keagle, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline who keeps the blog The Flying Pinto says she won't be trying it anytime soon. "I do know that it (the vacuum) will suction a whole roll of toilet paper stretched from the flight deck all the way back to the toilet when flushed," she said. "I have seen that!"

Travel Myths Debunked

9. Sleeping Gas is Used by Thieves on Eastern European Trains
There's a widespread urban legend on the traveler's circuit in Eastern Europe that thieves will insert a tube into train cabins and pump in sleeping gas to knock out travelers. And then they rob them. Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of the The Art of Charm, and a frequent traveler, said he heard the rumors from other travelers (who were passing on rumors they had heard) when he was traveling in Serbia and the Czech Republic. "I even called the embassies to ask if any Americans abroad had reported this happening," says Harbinger. "And they were like,'No, that never happened, it's never been reported.' So it all seems to be the rumor mill, hearsay." Besides, says Harbinger, if someone wants to rob you, no matter the country, there are more straightforward ways of going about it. "It's a hell of a lot easier to get a knife at 3 a.m. and say, 'Give me your backpack,'" he said.

10. You can be Arrested for Joining the Mile High Club
Well, yes and no. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, no specific laws govern the matter, though Britain's 2004 Sexual Offences Act includes sex in a public lavatory. "Actually you could get arrested for joining the mile high club, but you'd have to join it out in the open, which I have seen people do," said Keagle. "My most famous was a guy who decided to join 'solo mission' – in first class, no less," she says. "Needless to say, he was arrested." Keagle said her airline doesn't have specific procedures for dealing with people who attempt to join the mile high club in the lavatories. "We usually get a kick out of it, as long as they're discreet about it," she said.

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