Do any of these sentiments sound familiar? “New Yorkers are rude and the city is dangerous.” “There’s no culture in Texas, it’s just filled with cowboys.” “The South is full of hillbillies.” “The Midwest is boring and flat; that’s why they’re called fly over states.” “California is just surfer dudes and Valley girls.” “The French hate Americans.” “All Canadians are so polite.” And it goes on and on.

In spite of our best efforts, all of us have probably said something similar at one time or another. Sometimes we’re aware of our judgments, and sometimes the words slip off our tongues and surprise us as much as anyone. I’m talking about pre-conceived notions. Even the most open-minded traveler is bound to have a few secret prejudices against some destinations.

Prejudices aren’t always against something; sometimes you can have a pre-conceived notion in favor of a certain place (see the generalization about Canada above). What we all need instead is informed opinions. Now, we can’t all travel to every single place and get first-hand experience, but we can all inform ourselves about the cultures and history and traditions of places before we form an opinion about them.

So, when you’re planning a trip, or even thinking about where you might want to visit, do some research. Don’t dismiss a specific spot immediately just because you heard from someone who knows someone who went there and they said blah, blah, blah… It’s a dangerous path to start down when you blindly accept others perceptions without taking the time to make your own assessments.

On the flip side, you shouldn’t automatically dismiss what other travelers have experienced. People who’ve made the trip before you are some of the best resources for info, whether it’s a hotel recommendation or a warning about a certain neighborhood. So listen to the people who’ve been there. Consider what they have to say about their experiences, and add their feedback into your total assessment.

Once you’ve done your research, seeking out information from other travelers and reading about your (maybe) vacation spot, only then would I make the decision for or against travel. And remember, a place that may have been unstable a few years ago could be a hidden gem now (and vice versa).

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s your decision. Don’t be swayed by media perceptions or your own pre-conceived notions. I can tell you from personal experience that all New Yorkers are not rude; the Midwest is not boring (and there are some hills here, it’s not completely flat); the South has many different kinds of people and not everyone in France hates Americans. If you really stop and think about those stereotypes I mentioned at the beginning, you realize they’re completely ridiculous. You can’t make generalizations about any city or country, because there’s good and bad everywhere. It’s up to you to figure out where you want to explore, and to form your own opinions once you get there.

Have you ever visited someplace that turned out to be different from you thought it would be?

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