Urban Backpacking Myths

| September 4, 2011 | 2 Comments

One of the great things about travel is the stories you bring home. Chances are, though, it won’t be long before the conversation turns from stories of first-hand experiences—to those tales that happened to a friend of a friend—or that you caught on the news or received in your inbox. Since the early days of backpacking, travellers have been keenly aware of second-hand travel information—where to stay and what to eat, see and do in any particular destination.

While the recommendations may have changed, our appetite for great travel advice hasn’t waned. So too, our love of urban travel legends. These legends appear on the road quickly and proliferate rapidly through hostels and guesthouses. And, while they may contain some truth, they’re often based on falsehoods. But the fact remains, we all love urban legends—we all love to hear them and we all love to spread them.

This is a list of a few of the most famous urban travel legends that are still doing the rounds on the backpacker circuit. That being said, despite these cautionary tales, independent travel is nonetheless a relatively safe way of getting your kicks. Keep an eye on government advisories when planning your itinerary, get comprehensive adventure travel insurance and read up on local ‘dos and don’ts’. And you’ll be good to go!

A Bad Case of Gas

This urban travel legend has enjoyed several decades of retelling and revision. As one of the oldest and most persistent, this myth holds that thieves prowl trains in Europe and the Far East late at night, using some kind of chemical agent to incapacitate unsuspecting backpackers asleep in their cabins and rob them of their cash and documents. This urban legend usually concludes with, “I had EUR250 in my fannypack when we left—but when I woke up this morning, I only had EUR25!”

sleepercar Urban Backpacking Myths

Sleep with one eye open! Muahahaha!

Regardless, in recent years, the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council has actually issued a warning for train travellers in transit through Poland to beware of such scenarios. The US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council has warned travellers, too:

“Inter- and intra-country train travel, thieves have, in rare instances, used a variety of ‘knock-out’ sprays to incapacitate travelers and then take belongings from their person and accompanying baggage. In most cases the spray is used on sleeping passengers.

According to the Washington Post, Polish Embassy press attache Marek Purowski concedes that such incidents have occurred in recent years but that the perpetrators were not Polish citizens but “Russian gangs.” So is this a case of life imitating the art of storytelling? Perhaps — but remember, urban legends often retain, at their core, a kernel of truth.

The Disappearing Organ

Myths surrounding the theft of body organs are some of the mo