I let out groan when I found this photo on Facebook.
I don’t typically judge people on how they travel. Whatever gets you on the road is fine with me. Take a cruise, backpack the world, go to Disney World, stay at a resort, relax at Club Med – I don’t care. There are a lot of different ways to travel. To each their own. My only goal is to just get you traveling. The method doesn’t matter to me. Just get out there.
But when you are on the road, especially in a different country, there are cultural protocols you should adhere to. After all, you are a guest in someone’s home and (perhaps unknowingly) acting as an ambassador for your country. You’re people’s first impression. Make a good one.
Look at the two above. They clearly are not good ambassadors. I’m sure this was probably done in jest (or, at least, I hope) but it only serves to reinforce a negative stereotype about “ignorant loud Americans.” People only know what they see and, if they see people like this, they aren’t going to have a favorable image of Americans. I can hear the locals now: “Look! There are two more loud and obnoxious American tourists acting like they own the place. Why can’t they blend in!”
Think of every time you’ve come across someone and just said “stupid, inconsiderate tourist.” That’s the impression they are reacting to!
But, if anything, there’s a lesson to be learned here, no matter where you’re from. And it’s that there are certain ways you should behave as a traveler in order to show people the best of you and your country. You’re a guest in someone’s home. Leave a favorite impression. We all know first impressions matter.
Here are my seven rules to avoid being an annoying, inconsiderate tourist and just an overall better human being:
1. Dress appropriately – The above outfits are in poor taste; they are loud and obnoxious, and create a poor first impression. It’s like the Australians who wear singlets in Thailand while visiting temples you’re supposed to be covered up in. Dress respectfully, conservatively, and according to local cultural and seasonal norms. Blend in. How you present yourself creates a lasting impression. Be sure to make people think you care.
2. Don’t be loud – Americans are loud talkers. We just naturally speak at a higher decibel. That’s just who we are but don’t yell or shout when you’re traveling. Speak with your inside voice. I’ve been in many restaurants where you can barely hear people at the far end of your table because of the surrounding noise levels. Converse at the level everyone else is using.
3. Don’t be demanding – When you’re traveling, you might find yourself someplace where they might only have a basic grasp of English – and, as a result, miscommunications might happen. But if something gets mixed up, just go with it and be respectful when fixing the problem. Don’t start making outrageous demands. You’re a guest so treat your hosts with respect and that remember it’s easy for mistakes to happen you two people speak different languages.
4. Be polite – Please and thank you go a long way. You’re a visitor, remember. Keep in mind how you would like to be treated and extend those same courtesies to anyone you might meet.
5. Don’t talk about what you miss back home – If you wanted the comforts of home, you should have stayed there. Talking about what you what you wish for comes off as ungrateful. Don’t talk about how you do it better back home. Maybe you do it better but just shut your mouth and smile. You can get your better version when you go home but you’ll miss out on a lot of new experiences if you keep looking backwards.
6. Don’t gripe about a lack of English – You know how Americans complain about how people move here and don’t speak the language? Welcome to what others think when you are in their country. You aren’t in America. If you want a place where people speak English, go to an English-speaking country.
7. Keep your drunken foolery in check – I’ve seen drunken tourists pee in public, yell, try to steal stuff, and, overall, act stupidly. Sure, drunk people are stupid in general and we see them every day back home but when you are drunk elsewhere suddenly the locals are muttering about the ”those drunk tourists!” Don’t be that guy (or girl) that makes locals rethink having tourists around.
Being a tourist is like being a guest in someone’s home. If people came to your home and behaved this way, would you have a good opinion of them? We may think of people in country X as rude but really, most of the time people are just fed up. If you had to deal with oblivious tourists all day and obnoxious drunks all night, would you always smile? Probably not.
Travel can break down cultural barriers, but to do that you need to present the best version of yourself. My European friends are always shocked at how amazing Americans are – we’re friendly, hospitable, and welcoming. They love visiting.
But they often wonder why many American tourists they’ve met in their home countries aren’t like that.
I wonder too. What is it about traveling that brings out the worst in us? It’s like you are going to college all over again. You know no one is watching and you go crazy. Don’t. Show people the best you. Be a good guest. Leaving the country shouldn’t mean you leave your manners at home, too. Don’t be a bad tourist and give the rest of us a bad reputation.
And definitely don’t dress like the people in this photo.
P.S. – I use Americans in this example but this applies to everyone. Don’t be a dick when you travel. Thanks.