Do You Ever Lie When You Travel?

By Nomadic Matt | Published August 11th, 2011

lyingWalking into a new hostel, hotel, city, or getting on a tour without anyone knowing you, can be liberating. There’s no baggage or preconceived notions that follow you. There’s just you and who you are at the moment right now. Everyone there is a blank slate. In fact, you can fill in that slate with whatever story you want and be whoever you want. An astronaut, a pilot, a fireman, a princess. Most people just choose to be themselves though. But sometimes you wonder if they really are. Is the story they told you really true? Did they embellish parts just to seem “cooler”? After all, you don’t have any reason not to believe them unless they are telling you they are Bill Gates’ son. We trust people we meet.

I’ve never given much thought to whether or not people lie until recently. Some travelers and I got on this subject while I was in Amsterdam because I was giving wise ass remarks to the question “what do you do?” I hate the question because I hate talking about “work.” It’s always the same response about “how awesome the job is” and I’d really just like to talk about something else.

My friend Leyla, a nice and wild Irish girl, remarked “You know, you could really tell people any story. They wouldn’t know. I think I’m going to tell people I’m a princess and I have a helicopter. How would they know I was lying?” She then declared to the hostel “I’m a princess!”

And she’s right. (Not about the princess thing though.) We can tell people whatever story we like. I can be Bob, a 25 year old scientist from Texas. And maybe I actually am and all this Nomadic Matt stuff is fake. (It’s not, though I’d like to be 25 again.)

But sometimes the process of traveling is about leaving your old self behind. Travel gives us a chance to be someone new, unencumbered by the baggage of home and the past. We can reinvent ourselves. Sometimes that’s a good thing. You can be the person you have always wanted to be. Travel can be that push that forces us to change the parts of us we have always wanted to but have always found an excuse not to.

And as I thought about this question over the last few days, I have been wondering about your thoughts on the subject.

Have you ever lied or caught someone lying about who they are while traveling? Have you ever changed a part (big or small) of your story? Do you think this happens frequently on the road?

comments 66 Comments

I caught someone lying once. He asked where my group and I were from and when we said Montreal, he said he was a firefighter there a few years ago – but couldn’t tell anything else about Montreal than snow, not even which area he was stationed in. Trust me, when you visit Montreal, you remember so many other things than just the snow!

NomadicMatt

Did you call him out on his lying?

Ryan Lester

Kinda random, but last fall some friends and I (all CS sophomores) got bored before a trip to Montreal and made up a fake band called “Zed Sin”, which was allegedly from Palo Alto, CA and started by Duke/Harvard/Berkely professor Vivek Wadhwa.

To go along with the story, we made up fake names (Nick Turner (myself), Dominic Maharaja, Jesús Fernandez), a fake website, a fake logo, and 20 fake “autographed album covers” to give out (three of which were stolen by the girl at the print shop in Montreal).

As per the story, the three of us went to an international academy in St Petersburg, where we all met and eventually went our separate ways. Jesús wound up in rehab for a cocaine addiction after high school, while Dominic and I went on to respectively graduate from Stanford and American University and land jobs as directors at Goldman Sachs. One day, our old gym teacher Vivek Wadhwa called the three of us together with an idea for a band, so we quit our jobs (and rehab) and moved to Silicon Valley. After a year of toiling over our music, we finally got big when our album “Rebirth” went platinum, fueled by the popularity of our hit single “Genocidée” (“Always” by Erasure).

In general, we had a lot of fun with it. We went out and met a lot of people (including a guy who’d been in Israeli prison for five years), made a lot of stupid/funny moments awesome by adding “yeah, we’re a band” and handing out autographs, etc. My personal favourite Zed Sin moment had to be when a random drunk guy walking opposite us on Saint-Laurent randomly pointed at us and yelled “ROCK STARS!”, and Dominic replied “YEAH WE ARE!” and instantly whipped out an autograph for the guy without any of us breaking our stride and the guy’s group of friends freaking out.

So yeah, we never got caught with that, and everyone we’ve told seems to have quite enjoyed it, but last month we went to Panama City Beach, and one night after “Dominic” had a bit too much to drink, he started making up random ridiculous lies to everyone he talked to (claimed to be in random fraternities (he’s not in one), claimed to be from random places like Kentucky and Ohio, claimed to be from random universities, claimed to be an architect, claimed the drive to Florida was “like 12 hours” even though we flew, I think he might have made up random names, etc.); the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking of George Costanza. Normally, this would be perfectly (it’s all perfectly innocuous, and whatever makes socialising more exciting I suppose). However, the problems started when he tried talking to different people who were all standing next to each other (often in the same group)… (I bet you can imagine how that went.) Needless to say, he was told off by pretty much everyone we met that night :P.

Hi Matt!

I was actually thinking about this recently and had this discussion with some people I met on the road. I got to thinking that I don’t lie enough, I always tend to give the real story. We were joking that we could come up with anything. I may jazz the odd part up but no more then I would do at home, it just depends on the person. I always think that I should lie more or at least put more of a spin on things but I think I (and most people) are inherently honest and it’s completely unnatural not to tell the whole truth. To be honest I wouldn’t be quite comfortable but I might try something out next time!

I think there are some ballshitters out there but you get more of them back home as they feel the need to lie and ‘big up’ themselves whereas traveling you’re kinda doing your own thing and are comfortable with what you’re doing. There are some people who feel the need to lie to impress and that’s a self-esteem thing but that’s the way it goes.

A recent hostel experience in Spain with all sorts of nationalities it was the one other English guy (I’m English) who was obviously exaggerating and shouting about it. There was also an American guy in an Amsterdam hostel who was trying far too hard but generally people tend to keep it real…

Having said all that, I am quite often evasive to the ‘what do you do’ question. I hardly ever give a straight answer but do it in a light hearted way so they essentially know I’m joking but don’t know what to believe…

Cheers!

Adam

EmilyA

A man in Bolivia asked me if all the ladies in the U.S.A. are beautiful, because all the ones he had met were beautiful. (wink, wink) So I told him no, women in the U.S.A. have a range of looks, but only the beautiful ones travel abroad.

My statement was more absurd than a lie, but fun to say anyway.

As a Woman who travels solo quite often, I’ve found myself sometimes in situations with local men that have been uncomfortable – they’ve invited me out to drinks, etc. To get out of there ASAP I’ve told people that I’m meeting up with my boyfriend on various occasions. Safety first.

NomadicMatt

That is a good lie. I think a lot of women tell that lie in order to keep safe.

Mipsy

I stayed in China for a while doing volunteer work, but the men and teenagers kept asking me out on dates, just to marry and get out of china, one of them told me. I bought a ring and put it on, best method ever.

Matt, I’m guessing your real life is more interesting than any story most of us could make up.

Meh, I’ve found the lie most people seem to tell abroad is “My boyfriend/girlfriend and I have an arrangement…”

NomadicMatt

I’ve heard that one before. I never believe it.

never believe it but always pretend to :P

Katie

during my short travelling stint I got fed up of admitting my career, sick of the ‘wow, that must be so interesting’ type comments, ‘yer so interesting I’ve walked away from it for a while’. I started to cover and dodge round it, not true lying but enough to escape it; then I came home and had to walk back into that life, I realised how much I hated it. I wanted to go back to meeting people who don’t need to know the truth, so I’m saving to get away and start again for real. Guess what I’m getting at is you feel you need to cover something or lie maybe it’s a sign you need to change something or leave something behind because if you can’t admit it to a stranger you’ll never see again you don’t want to be carrying that baggage with you.

I am the world’s worst liar. I always get caught. Not sure if this is a blessing or a curse…

Haha, that’s awesome.

We were with a tour group in Europe and I got so sick of repeating the same story over and over again to people, where did we come from, why are we travelling, blah blah blah, there was times I wanted to make stuff up. Then again I tend to not tell people what I do anyway because I get the normal response of “oh….thats interesting…” and they walk off. For the record I’m a genetic scientist.
When I was at uni I never told guys this either as they tended to get scared and run away. I just told them what I did as a part time job…cosmetics sales assistant…much less scary…

NomadicMatt

Genetic scientist? That’s really awesome. I would want to know more if you told me that. Way more interesting than a writer!

I’m a terrible liar and I find it’s just not worth the trouble to try and remember any stories I tell, so I generally just stick to the truth. I have, however, been known to throw out an occasional “Those aren’t my kids” when the sparring gets loud.

NomadicMatt

I’m an awful liar myself. I can’t keep a straight face!

I have never lied but I have tiptoed around the truth. I HATED talking about my former career. Not that I was ashamed of it but when I told what I did; conversation inevitably turned that direction – and I don’t like taking about work while on vacation.

NomadicMatt

So what was your former career?

Why would I lie? My life is fabulous!! I’m an American expat, living in Saudi Arabia, and traveling the world. There’s nothing to lie about. Well…I could lie about my age. LOL. But, then I talk too much and I’d eventrually be exposed. Besides, if I take 10 years off my age, it doesn’t explain my 22 year old son (who I’m always talking about). That would mean I had him at 15 and who wants to lie to make themselves look worse.

I just won’t answer or will just ignore the question versus lying. It’s so….. boring.

Betti

I actually enjoy not having to talk to people for days or even weeks when I don’t feel like talking to anyone. I liked to eavesdrop though in restaurants, buses etc and then pretend I don’t understand English / Spanish / German / Hungarian. :-)

NomadicMatt

That’s why I want to learn more languages – to eavesdrop :)

I don’t need to lie. I’m already so Awesome that any lie would just minimize my splendor.

*cough*

No I never lied about myself when I travel. It’s hard to keep up with lies and I wouldn’t want to end up being caught and feeling like a douchebag.

NomadicMatt

You are pretty awesome. I agree.

As far as I know, I haven’t lied during my travels, although the thought has crossed my mind. Instead of telling people I was from Georgia (the US Georgia, that is!), I was also always tempted to come up with something much grander, but never had the nerve too.

I love what you say about travel and reinventing yourself – this is soooo true and one of the main reasons I so love the gypsy lifestyle. ;)

One lie begets another (and then they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and they…). The road is a great place to start telling the truth because you never have to see that person again if you don’t like.

My favourite lie is telling locals what church or faith I belong to in really religious places. Of course, that can always back fire with an invitation to their 3 hour Sunday church service!

If you have a near-zero online presence, you might get away with it. But when someone can Google the truth out of you in minutes, lying is the way to look really stupid really quickly.

That said, who doesn’t reinvent themselves a bit when they travel? But there’s a difference between that and lying. There’s accentuating and refocusing…and there’s inventing.

And if you’re lying, surely there’s something you’d unhappy with about yourself, something you’d rather gloss over? So if you get “found out”, then suddenly that insecurity becomes really, really obvious. Embarassment to the max. ;)

NomadicMatt

The only thing I am ever cagey about is my profession. I mean after all, once we become Facebook friends, it all comes out!

Hmm interesting question! I don’t like lying, but sometimes men can be really annoying so the only thing I can lie about is having a bf or being married … and I use a ring my dad gave me to prove it :D

NomadicMatt

That’s one way to keep the guys away!

Skip

You kind of reminded me of Frank Abagnale Jr. – Catch me if you can….

NomadicMatt

How so?

Yea, I don’t see the connection…

Nlm

I never remember to make up a cool answer till it’s too late. My ex used to tell people he was the lieutenant governor of South Dakota…figuring nobody would know better.

Whenever I travel I try to be more outgoing and adventuresome then when home, but still honest and truthful with both myself and those that I meet. Yet I am also a just a horrible lier so I don’t think I’d be able to get away with it if I did anyway.

However I have caught someone else lying before. Two American girls that I met in South Africa pretended that they didn’t speak English when these forward men approached them at a bar. Instead they used a few spanish phrases in hopes that the guys would leave them alone – yet to their suprise the guys were from Argentina – major FAIL!

Nah, I’ve never done it. Of course I might be lying. I’ve been tempted though when it comes to talking about my job. I’m a dentist and when people hear that they immediately start recounting their dental history from DNA up until that moment, or they show some bad tooth. I really don’t want to talk about that stuff while traveling.

Val

I always want to lie about my age. I’m proud to be 30 and traveling the world, but I meet so many early 20-somethings and I totally don’t look my age. I could pass for 25. I twist my career a bit and just say I’m a web designer because it doesn’t require as much explanation as “web editor.” And really I have no job anyways so I suppose I can call myself anything.

When I have traveled abroad alone I’ve tried lying, just for some fun but I’m terrible at it.
We travel full time, at the moment the US in a travel trailer till we are ready to leave for good (Wouldn’t want to miss all the great things here).
I do web design and my boyfriend is a software developer – we get asked constantly what we do and where we’re “from” (the road with no home base), because of our license plate, mail service address, ID’s or why we can’t pick something up in a week. It does drive us a bit crazy – then come all the questions about how and why as well. If only we could lie, or have a simple answer that makes sense! At least as a guy alone you can say you’re a spy.. or “work for the government” and don’t specify which haha. My best attempt to get some chavs to leave me alone was telling them that I was running from the law, they didn’t mind as much as I’d hoped…

Tim Hatherson

I recently took a trip to London and after a few pints at the Ship and Shovel a young lady sitting next to me asked me where I was from and what I did for a living.

I informed here that I was from Washington, DC and that I was the President of the United States. She politely smiled and then tossed her drink in my face. I guess she didn’t care for the President of the United States?

I’ve never purposely lied.. except about having a boyfriend or being engaged to ward the weird men away. I’m Australian so my accent always caught me out. >_<;

The worst travel 'lie' would be my sister and I pretending to actually be from Hong Kong and we'd rattle off any of the 50 words we knew from Chinese class. "Ham Bao Bao" "Ke Ke Kole" "Ni Hao" etc. It was silly but 13-year old Nicole and her 7-year-old sister thought we were hilarious! :)

Matt, that’s pretty much bang on! I was with a friend in Seoul & we were getting tired of always being asked where we were from & what we did. At first, we started making up ridiculous stories about racing cars & being professional video gamers (a huge status symbol in Korea) until finally we got even tired of doing that and instead spoke French pretending not to know a word of English. That was probably the most funny thing ever because of the look on the faces of locals who were SHOCKED two Caucasian men could apparently not speak a word of English. Maybe if I want to take it up a notch I’ll pretend to be deuce bigalow – male gigolo :P I’m heading to Korea once again next week – the possibilities are endless :P

I’ve only lied for safety reasons. If I am solo traveling and a stranger strikes up a conversation at a cafe or restaurant I don’t tell them real hotel name. If they’re asking, then they deserve it. Women have to be careful – more careful than male counterparts. I have also mentioned if they are really annoying that my husband is around the corner and I have to go meet him, even if he’s back home or at a meeting while I’m out touring the city.
Good article and thought provoking…I wonder how many lies I’ve fallen for before while traveling? Need to ask for people’s “Princess calling cards” from now on. I’ve met quite a few come to think of it…how many Princesses can there be in the world? LOL!

Ugh, yeah. I used to love doing this when traveling. Not lying so much as embellishing. But I then realized that almost no one was just a passing friend and they all became long term friends and facebook pals and I always found myself crossing my fingers and hoping they didn’t ask me about that time I was in the Olympics for bobsledding or whatever…

I try to stick to the straight and narrow now.

There’s nothing wrong with bending the truth a little…why not talk yourself up? Especially when you do catch someone out then you know it’s your time to beat there lie. I mean, I tell people I’m a ‘Self Proclaimed Travel Extraordinaire! How do you think that goes down? What the hell is that?

@nomadicsamuel I can’t remember which country I was in but I said “no english” then they replied with “frances, aleman, espanol”…they had an answer for everything!

Petri

Only at two occasions; in the immigration forms I’m always a fireman. Everyone knows what they do, my physics fit the profession, it’s harmless and positive profession, and I never get any extra questions.

To the street hasslers I always tell I’m from Sweden and try to indicate I don’t speak english/spanish — one thing is for sure, they don’t speak swedish. The physics help, too, and I could speak enough swedish if necessary :-)

This is a great post Matt. I’ve only lied about my job, and this was when I used to write for a newspaper because the last time I was honest, there were a whole bunch of questions from my local guides about what I was doing in China and whether I would be writing anything bad about their government. Having said that, I now assess the person I’m speaking to and if I think he or she is okay, I just tell them the truth.

Sometimes I lie about traveling alone. If I don’t feel comfortable with the person asking me, I’ll make up a boyfriend who is “back at the hostel.”

Well you see it all started as a safety thing, you know my husband ( that I don’t have) will be back soon then……I look younger than I am so eventually I started to agree with people i met and told them that I was 25 when they asked it seemed easier. From there I have progressed….yes I have been everything from a princess to a ‘don’t you know who I am diva’ to a reporter from a local college netball team. You see you can change yourself every day if you wish and it’s soooo much fun!! Obviously if you meet people for more than a short period of time and wish to get to know them better then the truth must be given but hey if not then fun is had by both parties and the travel stories are awesome! :-D

Mol

Fantastic! I will try this when i finish school and jump for the world :-)

Ana

Interesting post. I’ve lied before when traveling, but usually only about my age. I’ve found people are much more comfortable with a 20 year old girl traveling alone than a seventeen year old.

Mathieu

Haha, so I am not the only underage traveler ! I have thought about lying about my age but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, really. But I think you’re right, people would probably feel more comfortable thinking you’re at least 18. It’s sad how people “judge” others by their age. Oh, well, it’s our fault, we just shouldn’t have been travelers :p (Although as I explained in my previous comment I mostly have this problem by not even traveling.)

Mol

If you’re tired of the same questions over and over again, why not just tell people that you want to talk about something else (of course it could be fun to lie a little, but if you don’t want to)?
– There’s always a nice way to say what you feel. ;-)

Great post Matt. It is true–you could lie all you want. My question is, does being a poser really make someone feel better? I could never do it. But then again, maybe my actual story is simply better than a lie! ;)

I met some guys in Greece last year who were trying to tell us they were in the Australian mafia – as if anyone in the mafia would be staying in a hostel and bragging about it!

I have two passports, and I’m fluent in two languages, so typically my lies concern “where I’m from”. In this day and age, I think it’s quite irrelevant, and the more I travel, the less I can fully identify with either of my nationalities.

But I like lies when they’re a game. Last week in Belgrade I met a friend’s boyfriend who just said he was “James Bond”, so I talked to him the whole night as if he was this persona. It was fun! (PS: I still don’t know his real name… but does it really matter if you had a good time?)

Zak

Oh man, I’d never lied during travel until this summer…I was in Budapest traveling solo, still feeling out the city, and out of force of habit I meandered through alleys towards where I was staying for the night. A group of guys shouted to and approached me fairly quickly—there was literally no one else out on the street—and so, though my hands were in my pockets, I clenched my fists, readying for the worst.

Turns out, they were English-speaking Dutch boys who had just arrived in the city, too, and wanted to know if there was anyplace open to eat for the night. But for whatever reason, my shields were still up, and in my heightened state I determined that the best thing to do was pretend I didn’t speak English and started rattling off in Italian, acting confused. I think they must have sensed my alarm, though, and smiled at me while making eating gestures.

So, while it wasn’t an outright lie, I guess you could say I found my survival instinct intact…and for some reason, it speaks Italian :)

Mathieu

I usually try not to lie, I’m not a big fan. But I often try not to mention certain things and simplify certain explanations. For example, I went to NY all by myself when I was only 16. I stayed in a hostel (the only one I could find that accepted 16 year olds) and on my first night I went out with a bunch of people after simply asking if I could come with them. On the way, I discovered they were going in a club (“You don’t say!”) when one guy asked if everyone had their I.D. Not only I wasn’t 21, but I wasn’t even 18. That’s when I told them I was a bit too young. The guy tried to guess. “How old are you ? 20 ? 19 ? 18 ? 17 ?!”. I told them I knew I wasn’t gonna enter, that I’ll just go somewhere else. It was worth waiting in the line with them, it was so weird, interesting and new for me, to see all those very well dressed women putting their breasts in value knowing why they were here, and those big guys with two chicks around their arms who looked like they were in the mafia as they got out of their hummers. I left after about 30 minutes, went to Times Square for the first time in my life and found the perfect thing to do : Go to a comedy club. In the end the fact that the knew my age wasn’t so bad. There was at least one guy from Argentina who I hung out with for a whole day, and he was 30. A few days later I admitted my age to an australian guy while ordering in a TGI Friday’s and we had fun anyway, going out together two or three times. And he was 35. I never told my age to the australian girl I met outside a comedy club though. If I have to tell them, so be it, but I usually try not to, because what does it matter really ?

It does still annoy me though, to be the youngest in whatever situation, and say I’m 17 instead of lying because I wish to socialize on the long term. I love meeting people from all over the planet in my own city, but there’s still that small issue !

Emily

I don’t see the point of lying. You’ll just lie about what you do for a living and where you’re from. Those are just basic information. I’ll love to try to behave completely different. Maybe for once, I’ll speak before I think and be more adventurous.

When I was studying abroad in Mexico, I became close friends with a Peruvian guy who was also studying there. This guy told me (and his other Mexican friends) that his parents owned a couple of hotels in Lima, and that he had recently won $75 000 in an Argentinian poker championship. He said that he had used it to buy a car and an apartment in Lima.

I completely bought the whole story until one of our friends went to Peru. She was supposed to stay in one of his parents’ hotels, until it got closer to the trip and he suddenly stopped replying to her messages about the arrangements.

Later, we discovered that he had a separate “Mexican-only” facebook page. He was actually engaged and had a daughter, and his parents didn’t even live in Lima or own anything more than a small canteen!

Yet, for months, I believed this whole life story, as did all of his other friends abroad.

I don’t know that I would consider this a ‘lie’ exactly. I’ve grown up in the South, between Tennessee and Kentucky with family throughout every state that borders the gulf. That leaves me with a relatively distinct accent and, though I am educated, people tend to assume I’m ignorant. Every time I travel, even domestically, I rid myself of my accent COMPLETELY. (even if it does pop up once I’ve had enough to drink.)

xx

Rocco

So glad I found this because I was searching about this topic out of guilt. A year ago, I was in Uruguay on a study abroad, and I met this beautiful girl who was older than I was (28). I lied about my age (I was 22, but I said 25), and then I basically told absurd mysterious lies about why I was there and who I was. I didn’t really do it to get in her pants, I just wanted to live free from my identity and share a moment with her. We actually saw each other every weekend throughout the study abroad, and I continued dodging most of her questions about what I do.

I made up an even more absurd lie to explain my abrupt departure when the study abroad ended 3 months later (a rather guilty one, but I had to). However, she came to terms with it, and we enjoyed our last week together.

I agree with the reinvention bit you mentioned, because I definitely reinvented myself into this mysterious cool guy I’ve always wanted to be. But aside from the lies, we shared some beautiful times together, chilling in her room and listening to music. The beauty of it was that she was so mature and understanding, such great company, and she never prodded much into my lies. Maybe she knew they were lies, but she didn’t want to ruin what we were sharing. I’ll never know.

At the end, I feel bad because she was a special person in my life, one of those great ones. But then sometimes, I don’t feel as bad since I lied because I knew if I was honest about my age and my inevitable departure, I would’ve never gotten to know her. It makes me sad that I’ll never see her again and that our relationship was built on these lies, but I am always grateful for the more than real times we spent together and everything I learned about life through her love and kindness.

I had a buddy who would tell women he was a Dolphin trainer as if that would be interesting to them. But once that was out of the way the rest was still who we are. I think the truth is just as interesting. Great though provoking story though. thanks!

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