7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines

I don’t know about you, but when I read one of my trusty indie travel guides (Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Let’s Go, etc.), I sometimes chuckle. Why?

Well, I’ve been using them so long now that I usually know what they’re really saying—regardless of how much they try to dance around or soften things (not saying I blame them, of course).

(Disclaimer: This is a humorous post.)

Here’s my take on what they say vs what they really mean in 7 different categories. If you have any to share, leave it below in the Comments section. Perhaps I’ll add it to the list for all to see!

1. General Costs

What They Say

Country X is less affordable than its neighbor, Country Y. With some effort, you can get by on less than $75 a day. You might consider shopping and preparing a picnic lunch to cut costs.

What They Mean

You’ll probably have to spend $75 a day to make your stay tolerable. If you’re backpacker on a budget, you’re going to feel like one—meaning, poor! Also, you won’t be able to stay for long.

Bonus tip: Steal the white bread and cheese wedges at breakfast and make a super cheap lunch!

089/365 Money...What Money

2. Transportation

What They Say

Buses are cheap and frequent; however, the comfort level may not be on par with Country X’s more developed neighbors. Travel to mountainous regions, often on unpaved roads, may be challenging. Finding a seat may be difficult.

What They Mean

Your butt will be on a crowded chicken bus (or another country’s equivalent) for 17 hours and it will stop every 10 minutes in tiny villages on a treacherous roller coaster-like ride that’s bumpy as hell. If you’re a women, wear a sports bra. If you’re a man? Briefs. For both genders? Pack a barf bag.

Bonus tip: Consider taking Dramamine for motion sickness!

India: 2006 - 2007

3. Immunizations

What They Say

Travel immunizations, some of which may be costly, are strongly recommended for those visiting for jungle and coastal regions of Country X as it is possible to contract certain diseases. Consult the CDC website and/or your travel MD several months in advance of travel.

What They Mean

Don’t be a fool; make sure you’re up to date on those very expensive shots for diseases, etc. that were eradicated in many countries long ago and the other (rare) but super scary modern ones. If not, well–you could get sick. Really sick. Like this guy, who’s having a really bad hair (and overall) day! (Mumps, actually.)


4. Touts ‘n’ Tour Guides

What They Say

Upon your arrival at Monument X, Temple Y or Castle Z, you’ll be greeted by touts eager to make a sale, as well as guides whose quality varies significantly. Check credentials before agreeing to a tour.

Cairo street vendor

What it Means

The touts are going to be super aggressive maniacs who stick to you like Crazy Glue (think: Egypt during high season). Also, the cheap guides are going to suck. Most will speak LTGE—limited tour guide English. The kind where they regurgitate memorized paragraphs in a monotonous tone that will make you want to bang your head against the monument’s walls.

Bonus tip: Get a real guide OR spring for the audio guide.

5. Accommodations

What They Say

Rooms at Hotel X are affordable, but utilitarian, functional and somewhat lacking in decor. The tacky pink paint, peeling or worn away, matches the carpets, however. Walls and mattress may be a bit thin.

What They Mean

The place was previously a brothel and has been converted into what is now a cheap hotel. Good news–they did it just for you! It’s in your price range! Should you stay, though? No–only do it if it’s late, you’re desperate or you’re running low on money.

Bonus tip: Run for the hills! Or keep looking if you can…or consider a timeshare. Might be a better deal in the long run!

My accommodation in Mardin, Turkey--cheap but crappy and by far, the worst place I stayed at during a month-long trip.

6. Travel Advisories

What They Say

Check the latest news and advice before traveling–and especially with your country’s travel advisory listing or embassy/consulate.

What They Mean

Something really unpleasant–a natural disaster or act of violence–recently happened (eg, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, violent protests, etc.) Go at your own risk. It may be limited to one region, but you should be cautious anyway.
Riot Training

7. Hiking: Safety and Difficulty

What They Say

The trail from the center of town to the top of the nearby mountain is lovely but not well-frequented. It is also steep. Those who are not athletic might want to consider an alternative.

What They Mean

The trail is gorgeous but sort of creepy due to the absence of other people. You’ll probably get jumped on your way up. And if you’re over 35 and out of shape, fuggedaboutit! You won’t be able to make it. Go for the non-athletic type alternative–a donkey, a horse, a cable car or a train. And use a damn money belt!


Your Thoughts/Experiences/Suggestions?

Which of the 7 common indie “travel guide euphemisms” have you come across during your travels? Tell us which one/s you’ve experienced and what happened as a result. How did you feel about it at the time?

Are there any euphemistic gems that you can add to the list? What’s your all-time favorite? If you share one, please tell us what you read vs the reality of the situation/place and consider using bold, italics or quote marks to identify the key phrases. Thanks!

54 Responses to 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines
  1. Tom
    November 28, 2011 | 9:44 am

    Hahaha this is brilliant! I love the use of the terms “rustic” and “well-worn” in guide books – “dilapidated” and the more direct “shit” are usually more appropriate.

    The LP Turkey guide described the city of Gaziantep so beautifully that it made me want to visit there. However, it also described the city as “gourmet” – which I’ve now come to learn means, “full of foodie snobs who’ll charge you more for a plate of crappy nothingness than a much bigger and much more cosmopolitan just because the bakery down the rode was voted as one of the country’s top 5 places to buy baklava and now the city’s whole gastronomic scene is riding on it.”

    Oh, and describing hotels as “affordable” but not listing any other positive qualities also seems to be a mask for deep, dark secret lurking at the heart of the hotel/hostel – I slept in one above a heavy metal bar that would get going as I was drifting off, and another above a music store that would interrupt my viewing of C.H.U.C.K. and Gossip Girl by blaring out…well, very loud music (what? it was 42C outside and I was barfing every 30 minutes…don’t judge! :P )

    End of Mega-Comment.

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 12:00 pm

      Hi, Tom. Love the euphemisms you shared! I’ve seen those before, too, and think they’re hilarious! Funny re: Gaziantep…I remember reading the description. Sounded a bit expensive, from what I recall. As for “gourmet”–yes, it can mean “foodie snobs!”

      I LOVE “affordable” as a “mask for a deep, dark secret”–that is the best! LOL I think it’s very important to read between the lines when using your LP, RG or other indie travel guide. If not, you may find yourself in some hell hole somewhere that sounded “affordable” and “decent.”

      Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Jarmo
    November 28, 2011 | 10:52 am

    Haha, great post Lisa! and so very true, especially about the costs! There is always that phrase “Popular with travelers” the guide books often use with restaurants, which really should read, “travelers and only travelers eat here”…
    Jarmo recently posted..To Pai and Back, the Long WayMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 12:01 pm

      Hi, Jarmo–and thanks! Glad you liked the post. Good point re: “popular with travelers.” Your interpretation of that is right on! Most likely, you won’t find any locals there at all.

  3. Roy Marvelous
    November 28, 2011 | 11:12 am

    Hehe, hilarious! I’m reminded of when someone told me that Paris is not expensive if you’re sensible. It meant eating baguettes and cheese!
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..Turkey Day In Turkey & Pilgrims On The BeachMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 12:02 pm

      Hi, Roy. Good one. Yes, “sensible” in this case means you’ll have to stick to those cheaper staples! :)

  4. erin graves
    November 28, 2011 | 4:34 pm

    This post is hilarious!

    Nos. 1, 5 and 7 make me think of all the guide book recommendations I took and was confronted with something I could have never expected!
    erin graves recently posted..Gizmos, Gadgets and Gear…Oh My!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 10:20 pm

      Glad you laughed, Erin! Means I did my job well…

      Yes, 1, 5 and 7 are pretty common ones, I think. I’ve also come across the unexpected this way, too. Hopefully, now that I can read between the lines better, it’ll happen less frequently.

  5. Marsha
    November 28, 2011 | 5:53 pm

    Ha! Hilarious, Lisa! Travel guides do seem like they need to be translated. Just spell things out in plain English (or your language of choice) so I can make a *really* informed decision, already!
    Marsha recently posted..Life-Changing Travel: It Can Happen AnywhereMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 10:22 pm

      Hello, Marsha. Glad you had some fun reading this! It came from years and years of misreading the hints that were right there. Now I know better (I think.) It would be interesting if they said it “like it is.”

  6. Claire
    November 28, 2011 | 7:21 pm

    I usually swear by Lonely Planet. I think they usually keep it real. If a hostel is shabby, they label it as such. If it’s dingy, same thing. I have not been led astray or been misinformed………yet ;)
    Claire recently posted..This Spring, the Ultimate Journey BeginsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 10:24 pm

      HI, Claire. I’m a pretty loyal LP user myself. In fact, I usually choose it over Rough Guides. I love the main map a few pages in, as well as the “Getting There and Away” sections. There have been a few times when I was unpleasantly surprised–one was in El Salvador. Other than that, it’s been mostly good.

  7. Gray
    November 28, 2011 | 10:09 pm

    This is so funny, Lisa. You should write a travel guide that tells it like it is. The destination would probably hate you, but I’m sure travelers would love it! :-)
    Gray recently posted..Interview with Dan Austin, CEO of Austin-Lehman AdventuresMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 28, 2011 | 10:26 pm

      Hey, Gray. Glad you got a kick out of it! Imagine if I did that. Would be hilarious. Perhaps I should expand this post into a mini e-book that works as a true dictionary or glossary. I could sell it for $.99 or give it away for free (in exchanged for newsletter signup). I’ll bet lots of people would do it! :)

  8. Zablon Mukuba
    November 29, 2011 | 1:47 am

    the transportation bit is funny, but the travel advisory is not really as accurate as they say. sometimes its an over exaggeration
    Zablon Mukuba recently posted..Volunteering abroad and UniversitiesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 29, 2011 | 5:59 am

      Hi, Zablon. Good point–many countries are actually much safer than they seem, based on what a guide (and especially a travel advisory) might say. Or, if true, it’s really more about a specific region than the entire country.

  9. 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines | Chicky Bus | Travel in Belize | Scoop.it
    November 29, 2011 | 7:23 am

    [...] 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines | Chicky Bus [...]

  10. Tom Bartel
    November 30, 2011 | 11:33 am

    Speaking of someone who has more than once stuffed half the breakfast buffet into his cargo pants, thanks for the memories.
    Tom Bartel recently posted..Cruising the BosphorusMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2011 | 11:40 am

      Hi, Tom. You, too, huh? The secret tip there is, perhaps, to never stuff the cheese down your pants. That could end badly–especially if you take a ride on a crappy bus!

  11. Kelsey
    November 30, 2011 | 1:20 pm

    These are great!

  12. Randy
    November 30, 2011 | 4:38 pm

    Ha! Love this. You really nailed it on the head. Just coming from Morocco, I couldn’t agree more about your section about the touts.
    Randy recently posted..Looking for unique lodging in Amsterdam? Check out a houseboat!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2011 | 10:13 pm

      Hi, Randy. Glad you liked it! I can’t imagine the touts in Morocco. They’re probably like the ones in Africa. A bit “eager.” LOL

  13. Abi
    November 30, 2011 | 5:11 pm

    Driving (or anything else for that matter) is not for the faint hearted…Translates to: unless you’re ignorant enough not to realise you’re about to die you won’t enjoy it much…;)
    Abi recently posted..A Shooting in IstanbulMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2011 | 10:13 pm

      Hi, Abi. That’s a great one. Love it…thanks for sharing!

  14. Carolyn
    November 30, 2011 | 10:04 pm

    Love this post – all very accurate! I agree with Claire that Lonely Planet usually gives pretty accurate descriptions and avoids too many misleading euphemisms.

    We read some funny ones when we planned for our trip to French Polynesia this summer. It’s so expensive there and some of the smaller islands only have a few options, so the guidebooks tended to be brutally honest like this one from the Moon Tahiti book: “…allows budget travellers to pitch their tents in a rather poor location … You eat with the owners – a little fish and rice every meal. There’s no hot water.”
    Carolyn recently posted..Living on a Natural Wonder of the World: the Great Barrier ReefMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2011 | 10:16 pm

      Hi, Carolyn. So glad you enjoyed it! True–LP is quite good vs some of the other guys. It’s actually the guide book I turn to most.

      I love the “rather poor location” quote. Funny! Although the food sounds OK (if fresh). And yes, it does sound like they were being very honest. I like those Moon books sometimes. Lovely photos, detailed descriptions and a nice focus on cultural information.

  15. Busreis Parijs
    December 1, 2011 | 2:54 pm

    So true! I’ve lived by the Lonely Planet for quite a few years. You learn to read between the line…. :)

  16. Steve
    December 1, 2011 | 6:47 pm

    I found this very funny. I think you got those travel guide euphemisms down really well. You especially got it right when it comes to costs and touts.
    Steve recently posted..How to Be an Inspirational CommunicatorMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 1, 2011 | 9:33 pm

      Glad you got a laugh out of it, Steve! Yeah, the prices and touts are some funny ones, aren’t they? :)

  17. Kevin aka EyeTravelSolo
    December 2, 2011 | 8:31 am

    This is great & all so true. One of my favorites comes from Mexico.

    Your told you will be picked up by a Limosine (Spell Check?) or the hotel front desk says they have called for a Limosine.

    What shows up it a beaten up Van from the 80′s or a car that has it’s share of Duct Tape holding it together. Oh, and the driver thinks he is Speed Racer. :)

    • CB Driver
      December 3, 2011 | 11:58 am

      That’s hilarious, Kevin! I can just see the Speed Racer dude at the wheel. I think he was the driver assigned to my bus from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca. A wild ride for sure!

  18. Sharlene Moody
    December 7, 2011 | 3:11 pm

    You really nailed it on the head. Good point–many countries are actually much safer than they seem, based on what a guide (and especially a travel advisory) might say.

  19. Best Blogs of the Month: November, 2011 » A Dangerous Business Travel Blog
    December 7, 2011 | 7:33 pm

    [...] 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How to Read Between the Lines at Chicky Bus [...]

  20. Christy @ Technosyncratic
    December 9, 2011 | 1:49 am

    Haha, this sort of makes me relieved that I don’t use travel guides! The first one in particular seems really spot-on, though.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Sunny Views and a Shady Owner: Apartment Hunting in Chiang MaiMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 9, 2011 | 7:32 am

      Hi, Christy. Yeah, the first is funny, isn’t it? Do you get your info from blogs? Just wondering. I used to use the guides a lot and now, I’m using them a lot less. Still, I like to have a list of places to stay and basic descriptions of areas, which I cross reference on the Web.

  21. Neal
    December 9, 2011 | 12:33 pm

    Great article and boy have I run into a lot of these but try being an actual Tour Guide. Folks come on tours for very practical reasons. Limited vacation time, travelling solo unfamiliarity with third world travel. Many folks MISREAD the brochures do not have “euphemism’ savvy and blame you directly for ripping them off because a toilet seat is missing, a room has been missed and remains of other guests litter the room. All easily solved with a little patience. In the case of the toilet seat the owner ran out and bought one and installed it in about 20 minutes. My favourite answer to these attacks. “I have to stay here every 2 weeks!” Small comfort and the party was over I received the stink eye at every turn and still had to eat with them at every meal. Regaining trust is a bitch.

    • CB Driver
      December 10, 2011 | 1:27 pm

      Hi, Neal. Interesting hearing about this from a former tour guide’s perspective. I’m sure it was unpleasant at times when people had certain expectations that weren’t met–especially those who haven’t traveled much or expect 1st world amenities and infrastructure all the time.

      Do you think I should create a mini ebook of travel guide euphemisms and sell it for 99 cents? LOL

  22. Nomadic Samuel
    December 9, 2011 | 6:33 pm

    This posts highlights one of the main reasons I don’t particularly often enjoy travel guides. Your comment about the touts is dead on & made me chuckle :)
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..India Is | Video CompetitionMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 10, 2011 | 2:20 pm

      Hi, Samuel. It sounds like you may have gotten burned at some point. I certainly have. Once, I walked a mile out of my way (in hellish heat in Southern Spain) with a heavy backpack to a place that was supposed to have rooms and yoga classes. When I arrived, the guy in charge said, “Sorry. We closed that a year ago.” Sucked. But he then gave me a ride to a lovely place in the mountains where I found some peace anyway.

      By the way, what do you use now? Many people say they’re avoiding the guides. Do you use blogs and advice from hostel staff?

  23. Rease
    December 12, 2011 | 5:01 pm

    In Argentina, I see a lot of very carefully worded descriptions of apartments that all basically mean “shit hole for the price of your first born”
    Rease recently posted..One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, peanuts!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 14, 2011 | 8:16 am

      That’s hilarious, Rease! It was like that in Barcelona. I guess what this means is that the euphemisms cut across all languages and cultures!

  24. Alan Horton
    December 21, 2011 | 6:53 am

    Another great post Lisa. I’m not doing a lot of traveling myself atm but that sure teaches me how to “read between the lines”. A favorite of mine is breakfast is served 7 until 10 – Meaning: Get here for 9:30 or everything will have already gone, we will be mean to you and stare at you as you eat your breakfast. Hotel staff don’t like late breakfast go-ers from my experience!

    • CB Driver
      December 21, 2011 | 11:12 am

      That’s a great one, Alan. So true!! I’ve experience that many times, and when I’ve arrived close to the end of breakfast, I’ve ended up with very little!

      Hey, just got an idea–maybe I should turn all of these “euphemisms” into a a mini e-book or a downloadable PDF as a free giveaway. I would include all of my own and then, ask permission, to use those written by others. I could then include a link back for them. What do you think? :)

      • Alan Horton (@TravelFlag)
        December 21, 2011 | 12:07 pm

        I think a mini e-book would be a great idea Lisa, you could offer it as a free giveaway to visitors to your site or sell it on Amazon if it was elaborate enough. I used to be an avid business traveler in the UK myself and have dozens of these euphemisms myself to share, I am sure – you can have them! Here’s another one – “I’m sorry Sir the free WiFi (that is advertised) is down”. Meaning “the free WiFi is down so we can charge you $15 for the WiFi that does work – oh and we put a blocker on all the mobile WiFi getting into the hotel”. Alas – I found time and time again that the mobile WiFi I bought from Vodafone worked outside the hotel, but once inside it was deliberately blocked – a real money spinner!

        • CB Driver
          December 21, 2011 | 2:33 pm

          Thanks for input, Alan. And I love the wifi one–that’s hilarious and so true! So many scams like that, right? I will keep this fun idea in mind. It could make for an entertaining read, right? Or maybe just put all of my humorous posts into 1 PDF as a giveaway….”The Lighter Side of Travel” by Chickybus. Something like that!

  25. Bryan
    February 17, 2012 | 11:00 am

    Hilarious! And very accurate! If I had a dime for every time someone said something like that to me. Even worse, I think I’ve said stuff like this to other travelers, especially with the buses and other local transportation. “Buses come all the time, don’t worry about it…” Until you’re actually on the bus, that is.
    Bryan recently posted..The Best Hostels for 2012My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 17, 2012 | 8:31 pm

      Hi, Bryan. Glad you laughed! So you’ve helped spread the euphemism bug? LOL I hear you. Sometimes it’s hard to come right and say that “X sucks”!

  26. no travel required « the lazy travelers
    March 8, 2012 | 3:10 pm

    [...] Truths all around. 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines [...]

  27. Wandergirl
    May 6, 2012 | 11:40 am

    Haha, this is so true! I love words like “rustic”…sometimes “authentic” can even be a cover-up for something much grimmer. Or when they describe the service or the hostel manager as “eccentric” or a “bit gruff.” I think they mean asshole?

    I think this has already been mentioned, but “not for the faint-hearted” always cracks me up. I like that they try to frame putting up with horrible situations as a sign of bravery and strength…really, I just put up with it because I don’t have any money!
    Wandergirl recently posted..Welcome to Wanderlustkind!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      May 6, 2012 | 12:28 pm

      Hi, Wandergirl. Thanks for adding to this. That’s hilarious re: “a bit gruff.” Love it! The other you shared, “not for the faint-hearted,” is a great one. They really do try to make it seem that one is like a knight or brave warrior for taking on certain things. Meanwhile, it’s simply low-budget and not so great–rough, in fact.


  28. Maria
    January 14, 2013 | 9:00 am

    Hilarious and so very true. Glad you unveiled the mysterious – I was once told air conditioning was included in my daily price, and it was… for one hour each afternoon. :-/ I’d have to go to the landlord and beg for another hour, which I would get but then When I checked out at the end of a month, I had a separate air-con bill of $28 (USD).
    Maria recently posted..Dinner with BillMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 15, 2013 | 11:15 am

      What?? That AC fee is crazy. And you had to ask for it by the hour? Shame people aren’t up front, right?

  29. the lazy travelers | no travel required
    October 11, 2013 | 8:01 am

    [...] Truths all around. 7 Common Travel Guide Euphemisms and How To Read Between the Lines [...]

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