Traveling the world, we have all seen them before- the stereotypical bad American, who sticks out like a sore thumb anywhere throughout the world they go. If, by some chance, you don't recognize this person, some things to look for: they are likely wearing tennis shoes, a fanny pack, and a baseball hat; they are definitely the loudest person in the room, and they will likely be visiting a McDonalds for at least 1 meal a day. Now, don't get me wrong: there are certainly other countries who's citizens are even worse travelers. I'm not going to go into detail, but chances are if you've traveled the world you can name a few of these groups of people yourself (I'm thinking of one certain group who poses for scantily clad pictures like mad in inappropriate locations, is drunk off their tushes, and just plain old rude). Today, however, I'm going to pick on the Americans: because I am an American, and would like to never see another stereotypical American tourist.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do while traveling to not be a bad traveler or tourist. Most of these things seem like they would be fairly common sense, yet is astonishing to see how many people do not follow these guidelines. Here are the top ten ways to be a good tourist, a good traveler, and avoid being the bad American!
|bare feet & covered shoulders are a must when visiting Thai holy sites|
2. Learn some of the local language. It doesn't have to be a ton, but learning simple words and phrases such as please, thank you, and good-bye can do you a world of good. Even if your pronunciation isn't perfect, the locals will appreciate the effort made.
3. Clean up after yourself & don't make a mess. While this seems like it could be one and the same, it is actually two different things. When you are in public, absolutely do not litter- find a trash can or recycling station, or carry it with you until an appropriate time. You wouldn't want people littering on your front lawn, so don't do it on other people's turf. As far as don't make a mess, this means don't ruin things- don't put graffiti up, sign your name in places, or any such thing. Just don't.
4. Follow the laws & cultural customs. The local laws and customs when traveling are likely different from where you are originally from. Sometimes this is as simple as taking your shoes off when you enter a household or not smoking in public places, and sometimes it is knowing that public displays of affection are not legal in United Arab Emirates.
5. Take care of the people who help you. When you are traveling, be aware of the people that help you- whether it is the maid, a server at a restaurant, or a local giving you directions. Find out what is appropriate, and tip them (or don't!) at the appropriate time, or even offer a word of thanks. In some cultures, tipping is not OK and sends the message that you think they don't make enough money- be aware of when you should or shouldn't tip, and the message it sends.
6. Travel for the new experience. When you go somewhere new, you should be willing to try something new. Whether that is eating at a new restaurant and trying new foods, partaking in new and different activities, or striking up conversations with the locals- be willing to have an open mind and learn from others.
7. Plan before you go, and talk once you go. Before you embark on a trip, you will definitely want to do some research and discover what others have found in the same destinations. However, once you go, talk with the locals and anybody you encounter: often, they will have the most intimate knowledge of your destination, and be able to give you the best recommendations. Think about striking up conversations with a cab driver, your waitress, or even the front desk agent at your hotel. Living and working in the area, they will have the best knowledge and be able to help you make your trip unique and one-of-a-kind.
8. Keep an open mind. Just because something is different, doesn't mean it is wrong. When you travel, you will see and hear new things: take the time to understand why they are different. Don't pass judgement. You might even learn something new, and change your way of thinking!
9. Smile. A smile can open so many doors for a traveler. You don't have to be over the top, but offering just a quick smile to others can communicate so many positive things.
10. Participate in the local economy, and be fair when doing so. Countries throughout the world are currently facing recessions. On a more local level, often when traveling the people you may encounter may be facing tough times. Try to participate in the local economy, whether it is shopping at a mom-and-pop shop instead of a chain store, taking a tuk-tuk ride in Thailand, or staying at a locally owned hostel/hotel. In addition to this, be fair: in many countries, the times you have the best opportunity to participate in the local economy is also when you may be bargaining for prices. Don't try to rip off the people; rather, act with compassion and realize that the $1 you are bargaining over may mean a whole lot more to them than you.
Of course, most of these tips seem to be common sense, and they also have a theme: respect. When you are traveling, respect the people and places around you, so that others can continue to enjoy in the future. Have you ever experienced bad tourists while traveling? What are your best tips to avoid being one of them?