Don’t be that tourist who gives us all a bad name. We’ve had plenty of experience with them during our travels abroad, and as locals of Sri Lanka and Germany. One of the most frustrating things about traveling can be tourists who behave in the following ways, and we hope that we can all use these pointers to be aware of our own behavior the next time we travel.
From airport gate lounges, to planes, to temples, to restaurants, to simply walking around your travel destination: it’s always a good idea to speak in measured tones. No one else wants to hear what you’re telling your travel partner(s). Be respectful of your fellow travelers and locals, and keep your voice volume in check.
Blasting music in a quiet, residential area/at a tourist attraction
Headphones were developed for a reason. We like to blast some pop/rock/reggaetón in our car as well from time to time, but we do it with the top and windows pulled up. There is no need to play music without headphones when waiting in line, or on top of a mountain when you’re surrounded by other travelers/locals. You may be surprised to know that not everyone shares your taste in music (or ours, for that matter!)
Flying drones in heavily populated areas
We fly drones – in fact, it’s one of our favorite things to do when we travel. However, we make sure we only fly them in very sparsely populated areas. When there is a busy area that we’d like to drone over, we make sure we do it in the very early morning, when there’s barely anyone around. Make the effort not to disturb other travelers and locals with your drone in the middle of the day!
Holding up crowds for your pictures
Your picture is not worth the several people waiting behind you to get through. Now it’s different if you’re on top of a well-established photography platform such as the Empire State Building to capture the sunset – and you got there well ahead to secure a prime spot. What we mean are those tourists who stand in the middle of a pedestrian walkway in NYC to snap that perfect Instagram shot, while holding up hordes of locals and travelers behind them.
There is no need to be rude to locals, your guide, or other travelers when you’re on a trip. We understand that times may get tough, but taking it out on others is not the solution. Your needs don’t come above others on a ferry, bus, train, plane, or anywhere else. Being polite usually gets you much further as a tourist anyway!
Apologize if you bump into people. Seriously.
Cutting in line
This goes hand in hand with being rude. Inter-island ferry lines can get very crowded in Croatia in the summer. Even if you have a ticket, in order to secure a seat, you usually have to get to the port an hour or so earlier to secure your place in line. Christian and I always got there an hour earlier and were one of the first ones there. We’d sit there in the blazing sun, to make sure we’d get a seat. Too many times, we had couples/groups stroll up twenty minutes before departure and cut to the head of the line. Or actually form a line elsewhere so that they’d be first. It’s not hard to see where you SHOULD join the line, so feigning ignorance doesn’t work here. And saying you have a friend up front who’s holding a spot for ten other people doesn’t work either!
Complaining about the destination
Different countries have different levels of poverty, customs, infrastructure, food, etc. One of the main aspects of traveling is to discover these differences. You don’t have to embrace them, but you don’t have to complain loudly about a destination either. If it’s not for you, don’t go back. If you need to complain, do it in the privacy of your hotel room to your travel partner, not on a crowded bus to Lima.
Complaining that the destination is not as good as where you come from
Ah, the different levels of complaints tourists make. There’s no place like home, right? The issue is, no place is probably ever going to rival the comfort of your home (for some people). The best thing to do here is not to constantly compare your travel destination to your home. Germany is not Italy. Italy is not Sri Lanka. Every country has its pros and cons. Learn to see both: not only of your travel destination, but of your home as well.
We’re all human: sometimes (especially when homesick) I start to compare the different destinations I’ve lived in to others as well. When you start to romanticize about your home over others, remind yourself of the not-so-great things about your home to keep yourself in check, and appreciate the good things about your current travel location.
Making unsolicited comments about how a location should be improved
Nobody’s asking you to improve the low-income areas in Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, or elsewhere, on your first trip there. Most, if not all, of the locations that you think need improvement already know that, and are embroiled in complicated cultural, traditional, social, and political issues that keep them from being developed. Unless someone expressly asks your opinion of what should be improved in an area in your opinion, nobody wants to hear your ethnocentric views on developing these “backward nations” (yup, that’s a direct quote by a tourist).
Insisting on seeing the “low-income areas” for an “authentic experience”
And then there are the do-gooders, the alternative-travelers, who insist that they have to stay with, or see, low-income areas to really have the “authentic experience” of a country. You’re probably going to do more harm than good by taking a trip to see that slum in Lima, or Colombo, or Mumbai. You’re going to expose those people to things they don’t have, and probably will never have. Don’t use poverty-stricken people to fulfill your own travel needs. Needing to “walk with the other-class” to have an authentic experience is a naïve fallacy. Want to have an authentic experience? Talk to locals – low income, middle income, high income, whatever – to have an authentic experience. Go where they recommend. Do what they do (within reason). Stay at an Airbnb and talk to your host. Income level doesn’t have anything to do with having an authentic experience. Talking to a local does.
Posing for pictures in front of “vintage” low-income areas
They’re not vintage homes, they’re make-shift homes of people stricken with daily struggles most of us can’t even dream of living through. They may look good with an Instagram filter, but posing in front of low-income areas makes you look extremely ignorant (we see this a LOT in low-income areas around South-Asia).
Repeatedly comparing one destination to another
Italy is not France, Kenya is not Mozambique, and Sri Lanka is not India. It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve been to Namibia. No, it’s not so wonderful to hear you saying that it’s so similar to South Africa, over and over again. And the golden phrase to avoid? “Ah, but it’s the same thing, right?” in response to someone saying that India and Sri Lanka have different languages, customs, food, and traditions. No, clearly, it’s not.
No, you can’t dress however you want wherever you travel. There are rules and customs to be followed in certain countries and places when you visit. Cover your shoulders when appropriate (I usually carry a scarf in my bag whenever I’m touring a destination just in case). Don’t argue with an official if he says you can’t enter a church/temple/mosque in your shorts (yes, this is applicable to men and women!) Don’t wear see-through clothes if you know you’re in a conservative culture. You’re not there to change the way they live, you’re there to learn about the way they live. If you don’t like it, don’t go back.
Bathing suits are for the beach, not for the city – no matter how hot it gets.
Not following instructions/written rules
If they say this is a no-drone zone, don’t fly your drone there. If they say no photographs inside, don’t take photographs there. It’s that simple.
Not looking where you’re going
As a traveler, you need to do your best to be aware of where you are. Look out for signs which give you instructions. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t crash into other tourists or locals because you’re holding a camera in front of you. Don’t take up the entire pavement/sidewalk to yourself (holding up people behind you). Protect yourself, and others, during your vacation!
Walking around with your selfie-stick open
This can really hurt someone! You don’t need to have your selfie stick extended wherever you go. Carry it in your hand, extend it to take a picture (while being aware of those around you), close it up, put it away, and voilà, you’re done.
Let’s put it another way: do you really want your stick to break if a local/traveler trips/bumps into it? So put it away after taking your shot.
Flashing your electronics around
Be mindful of where you are taking your electronics out. We understand that sometimes you of course need to have your DSLR/Sony a6300/stabilizer/GoPro out to capture your destination. Try to put them away when not in use. Overt use of your electronics in certain areas can make you a target for robbery. Be mindful of where you are.
Informing a local of the better path to take based on your Lonely Planet guide (or any travel guide you use)
As a traveler, you don’t need to inform a local of where to go, or how to do things, in their own country. This is never justified. Period. Suggestions may be solicited when put politely!
Taking portrait pictures and videos of locals without their consent
You may think this is a harmless thing to do, but how would you like it if random people kept snapping pictures of you while you were walking in your hometown? There’s always a way to ask someone if you can take a picture of them, even if you don’t speak the language (we did, in Peru, and we speak zero Spanish!). And no, you’re not doing them, or their country, a favor by taking random unsolicited photos of them, no matter how beautiful the shots turn out to be. Respect their privacy, ask their permission first.
Saying that you’ve seen Asia… when you’ve just seen Bali
You haven’t seen a continent unless you’ve seen all the countries in that continent. Countries themselves are incredibly diverse, and therefore continents are obviously richly varied in terms of politics, culture, society, religion, you name it, based on the diversity of the countries that comprise that continent. In fact, no one alive has probably “seen Asia” or “seen Africa” in all of their diversity.
Planning to only see the top 5 “must-see” locations in a city when planning a visit to a country
Take the time to plan in at least one “out of the way” location when you visit a new destination! We try to include them in our travel guides, but we recommend you also talk to locals or go to local tourist offices to scout out more out-of-the-way spots when you travel. A great place to start if you’re shy like us is to talk to your Airbnb host or waiter/waitress!
While we’re on it, there are other places to see in Indonesia than Bali, like there’s other places to see in Greece than Mykonos or Santorini. Take a look around our site, other blogs, or the Internet at large, to find your way to more out-of-the-way spots that are just as beautiful and note-worthy, sans the crowds! (Here are 13 ways to avoid the crowds when traveling).
Making your vacation all about the perfect photographs
We love taking beautiful photographs, trust me! But your vacation shouldn’t be just about the photographs. It should be about your experience in a new culture, a new place, and seeing new customs and traditions. A photograph is a great way to capture those memories, but it shouldn’t hinder the making of those memories. We always take time to put away the camera and experience our location wherever we go, even if we’re there to make films for later. And maybe you didn’t get the perfect photograph after a few tries at the Salineras de Maras, Peru. That’s OK too. It’s not worth the endless poses and self-taping, or worse, holding up others, while you try to get that “perfect shot.”
Being a drunk idiot
Everyone likes to have a good old time after a few drinks on the road. But don’t be that person who’s flagged for public indecency after a few pints. Don’t run around kissing locals without their consent, or screaming obscenities at the top of your lungs. If you can’t handle your liquor, drinking may not be the best option for you on the road.
The worst for last. We just don’t understand why people think it’s OK to leave plastic/glass bottles, beer cans, plastic wrappers, etc. wherever they go. This applies to cigarette butts too, put them all in the trash can! Whether you’re at home or on the road, littering is NEVER a good idea.
We carry a medium-sized brown paper bag (or a used bag of any sort) with us whenever we travel to put away our trash on the go, when we can’t find trash cans around us. This is a packing essential!
We strongly encourage conscious travel as much as possible and with a bit of self-awareness, we can all contribute to a more sustainable and enjoyable travel experience around the world.
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