Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't Be The "Bad American": How To Be a Good Traveler

how to be a good tourist

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
1. Dress the part. Wherever you travel, make sure you are dressed appropriately. There are tons of places throughout the world that have very hot climates, and while you may want to have bare shoulders and short shorts, at times it is just not appropriate. A lot of times, these may be religious sites, such as when visiting temples in Thailand and Vietnam, or the Vatican City in Rome. Other places, such as Muslim countries, it is just not part of the culture. Do your research before going and learn of the proper dress. On my most recent trip to Thailand, I always carried a light scarf in my bag to cover up my arms and shoulders when visiting temples. At the same time, don't be shocked when in some cultures and countries, it is totally normal to go topless, or even completely nude on the beaches.

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?

16 comments:

  1. haha it makes me so embarrassed sometimes to be American because so many people know us as our obnoxious stereotype. Sometimes I try to disguise my accent and pretend I'm from a different English speaking country.

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    1. Marianne, my husband and I do the same thing! Sometimes (depending where we are) we tell people we are Canadian, just to save ourselves a political discussion. Somehow that is easier!

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  2. Great advice! I hate it when you can spot an American from a mile away in a different country. But at the same time, I can spot a tourist here in the States just as easily when they are acting a fool! ha

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    1. I suppose you have a very valid point there, with spotting tourists in the U.S.! Minneapolis doesn't get many tourists though, so when I am home I hardly notice them.

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  3. Oh god, that last one times a thousand!! I was in Guatemala years ago and another American I was forced to be traveling with came to me after some shopping, bragging about how she got some handmade blanket or something for half what they asked for it, which was like $10 to start with. I was baffled that she really thought this was awesome. It's not always about "winning" -- have some brains! Best part? We were both there helping out with a local NGO doing community aid work. Pathetic.

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    1. Oh gobs, that definitely is not winning. I can understand (and have done this myself!) bargaining over cheaply made stuff, or when the prices are ridiculous…but $10 for a handmade blanket is nothing at all!

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  4. Great tips. Whenever I travel out of the country "dress the part" is a mistake a lot of tourists unknowingly make. Something as simple as 'check the weather/climate' before you leave and pack accordingly can alleviate a lot of frustration. Also, dress appropriately. Your booty shorts may not be appropriate everywhere.

    Another mistake is "plan ahead". Don't expect the locals to plan your day or give you detailed subway instructions. I find locals around the world are typically helpful- but they are more inclined to help if it seems you've put a little effort forth first. But isn't that the way with everybody?

    And yeah, tourists can be the worst anywhere you go but these are some great tips to doing tourism right.

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    1. You have a ton of great points here, especially with the planning ahead part- sometimes locals are helpful, and sometimes they aren't. But like you said, putting forward a little bit of effort can get you so far!

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  5. Great tips! I never really thought about how American's would stand out to others until I met H and heard all his thoughts, which were quite entertaining. Now I can spot an American in Iceland easily with the "stereotypical" things. Being respectful and dressing the part are definitely important things to keep in mind.

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    1. Haha, my first time traveling to Europe when I was 15 even I could spot out the American tourists. Of course, other tourists do stand out as well. But its just easier for us to pick on Americans since we both are, don't you think?!

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  6. Dressing the part and trying to blend in also just helps me feel safer when I'm traveling alone! I just feel like way less of a tourist. Learning a few words in the language is a really great one too and goes a long way in getting locals to help you out.

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    1. I meant to say, I feel like way less of a target! Haha.

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  7. Excellent post! Being aware of the culture you're surrounded by is so needed! My family lived in a popular tourist town for many years, and we'd often cringe at the awkward mistakes made by tourists--also, we laughed that you could spot a tourist by their bright red sunburns and scantily clad bodies--a sure sign of a tourist in a tropical country where the majority population is Muslim.

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  8. Love this post! One of my friends is the "typical american". Overbearing, abrasive, and kind of rude (I'm not talking her up too much, huh?) And when she went to Paris with her family I couldn't help but feel bad for everyone she would interact with! She never tried to speak French or learn anything from their culture.

    Great post though! :) I hope to see less and less of the typical american as time goes on.

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  9. Nice post. On my last trip to Europe, I was on a pub crawl and two other Americans were in the group. They were the worst! Loud, making fun of the local customs, getting drunk and sloppy...I wanted to pretend I was Canadian.

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  10. Great tips. I always try to be polite when we go to other countries. I cannot stand when I see loud, rude groups of Americans. It makes us look horrible.

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