Yesterday afternoon while visiting Asheville, NC my wife and I were sitting in a cozy restaurant minding our own business, when all hell broke loose. A gaggle of unbathed millennials walked into the small area where we were seated, bringing with them two large dogs. They then proceeded to not only not order food (bringing their own), but decided that noon was a good time to take on the illustrious Saki Bomb. Needless to say, the entire atmosphere changed, turning what was a nice lunch into a shit-show. Now, I am not sure if these kids were bad tourists if they actually lived there (or in a nearby dumpster/hipster studio), but I shook my head at the total disregard for common decency.
The whole incident inspired this post for those wondering how to not to be a bad tourist. The below are some basic examples of what not to do when travelling. You would think this list in common knowledge, but as the case most often is, common knowledge is never obvious to the common.
1) Control your Drinking: I love to have a good time as much as the next guy, but I try not to get stone cold drunk in a foreign place (I like to save it for home..where I know where the stairs are). Not only is this extremely dangerous, it is also plain rude to the locals. I used the above as an example, but I have countless others. My favorite was when I was walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. A young man was passed out in the middle of the sidewalk at 10 am. He aroused the concern of many of early morning “working girls” who had him surrounded in wonder. I briefly looked at him and given he that was in good hands I kept walking. Just when I thought they would put chalk around him, I watched him jump up and break into a sprint. He ultimately found safety in the most logical place, another bar. I understand it is Bourbon Street, and this is what happens, but his extreme inebriated state still made him a bad tourist. Moral of the story: passing out drunk on a sidewalk, mimicking a paralyzed squirrel, is a classic example of what not to do while traveling..
2) Dress Well: What is it about tourists that they need to put on the most God- awful outfits before heading into public? Maybe they think no one knows them so it is time to put on that bad t-shirt, fanny pack and cargo shorts combo. It may, in and of itself, not make you a bad tourist if you dress like bum, but it does label you. People treat the guy dressed sharply a bit differently then the clone of Clark Griswold. I personally hate going into a nice restaurant or museum and seeing someone with a cartoon character across their chest. When you dress nicely you show you respect the area, the locals, and yourself.
3) Be Respectful: On a regular basis I have to ask, what the!#$@ is wrong with people. I go to Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, where people are taking family photos and selfies where a president was murdered. Worse, while visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York multiple people were taking selfies, smiling no less. Whether it is a litter at a Roman ruin or some a-hole carving their initials into a 500 year old convent, there seems to be no shortage of disrespectful people. I am not sure why it is so important that people post their …”well-nourished faces” smiling at a site of a tragedy to Facebook and Instagram, but stop it already. Moral: These rules apply to any church, mosque or site of a horrible event or tragedy; please keep in mind where you are and what is appropriate. Being disrespectful tops my list of what makes a bad tourist.
4) Learn the customs: Tipping, hailing a cab, service at restaurants and a million different things vary from country to country. There are literally thousands of travel websites out there (no where near as good as this one) that can you can use to get a basic understanding of the customs of other countries. Just because you are used to eating at 6:30, don’t go to Spain and complain that nothing is open for dinner. This goes for traveling outside your home country as well as within your country. If you are from New York, don’t get freaked out by the customs of Southerners (yes, there is sugar in all of the tea ). I personally travel to gain, learn, and see something different, and not complain when things aren’t like home. As mentioned above, a little research goes a long way to lessen the shock factor and keeping you from looking like a bad tourist.
5) Don’t be a d…. I mean be courteous: When traveling you represent yourself and your country; don’t be the jerk who is rude to the hotel staff or locals around town. Being courteous is something that seems to be lacking in most circles, but when people travel it is especially rare. I have seen people being rude to waitresses or hotel staff. Most of the time while wearing their cargo shorts and fanny pack, this is just unnecessary. Unless it is an exceptional situation it is always best to take the high road and avoid confrontation. I mentioned the group of kinds that barged into the restaurant in Ashville and unfortunately that is not rare. You are on vacation, you should for the most part be happy, so act happy and be kind to those you have contact with, you may even grow to like it.
Ok, I realize I am not talking to the majority of people, it only takes a few to make an entire country hated. This is my short list of things to make you a better tourist, but it is not at all inclusive of everything. Most of it is common sense, but that hasn’t stopped me from witnessing everyone of these on a regular basis. Please remember you are not home (your entitlements are not packed next to your liquids) nor are you the center of the universe. Take pictures to remember moments, not to impress Facebook friends you hardly know. Enjoy yourself, but don’t act in a way to get in trouble. Travel is about exploring, having fun, relaxing, and putting yourself in a different world, so, embrace the journey and relinquish the fanny pack..dammit.