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Travel Etiquette – How to be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

It’s that time of year again, spring break is upon us and summer is right around the corner. People all over are beginning to plan their vacations, eager to escape the daily grind and enter into a Margaritaville state of mind!

It’s such a good feeling to be on vacation; no work, no school, no alarm clocks, and no responsibility. Our goal — as it should be — is to relax and have fun! But, along with the freedom that comes with being on vacation, there is also a responsibility of the traveler to respect the people and places they visit. It becomes so easy to get wrapped up in party and relaxation mode that we sometimes forget we are guests in this new part of the world and end up misbehaving.

Here are some tips on how to be a respectful traveler and not an obnoxious tourist, and in turn, have an incredible trip without ruining anyone else’s!

Be Punctual for Group Activities
Guided tours are a great way to see and do a lot in a short amount of time thanks to the guides who carefully plan the activities. For the trip to run smoothly, it is essential to stay on schedule; from the amount of time allowed at a monument to the number of bathroom breaks, everything is pre-planned.

If you find yourself on one of these tours, you will fall into one of two categories. Category one, those who listen to directions and are promptly at the meeting point when told to do so. The people in this group understand that the overall satisfaction with the tour is just as dependent on the people who are a part of it as much as the places they visit.

Then there is category two — those who can’t be found 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time because they needed to take 100 selfies in front of a mountain, and nothing was going to stop them from getting the perfect Instashot! Or they spent too much time in the gift shop and waited until the last minute to use the restroom. The people in this group seem to have no sense of time and no regard for other people. Don’t be in this group!

Nothing is more frustrating to the other visitors than having to wait for someone who is late. So please, respect the timelines, so you don’t have to do the walk of shame back to the group while everyone stares at you impatiently.

Adjust Your Volume Accordingly
I’ve heard that we Americans have a bit of a reputation overseas; that we are loud, obnoxious, and sometimes too friendly. I wish I could defend us, but I’ve seen it too many times… and it’s kind of true. Not that we are the only nationality guilty of annoying behavior, but we do tend to stand out.

There is a time and place to be loud, and laugh obnoxiously, and curse like a sailor. This place is not in a restaurant or sitting behind someone on the bus, or in your hotel room at midnight. It’s not while the guide is explaining the history of a monument, or as the play is about to start…yet it happens all the time.

Too many people are oblivious to their words and actions, and how they impact those around them. They don’t seem to notice or care that they are annoying everyone. If you are surrounded by strangers, especially those with young children, be aware of how you are acting. Be respectful, and in turn, you will be given respect, and everyone will have a good time!

Be Mindful of Where and When You Take Pictures
With such a wide range of technology and a large number of social media outlets available, everyone is eager to share their experiences with the world. This is by no means a bad thing, but sometimes our desire to get ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ causes us to forget we are not the only ones trying to enjoy a new experience.

How can one sit and contemplate Michelangelo’s Pietá if someone is snapping continuously from every angle, or get up close and personal with the Mona Lisa from behind ten rows of cameras?

In addition to affecting the enjoyment of other visitors, sometimes taking pictures can damage the artwork. Paintings cannot withstand the exposure of light emitted by camera flashes all day for years and years; for this reason, many museums and churches — or specific sections thereof — don’t allow photographs.

This is not to say you should never take pictures, but if you must — and it is allowed — snap a quick shot and move on. Although having a photograph is a great keepsake, the real memories are made by being present in the moment.

To Tip or Not to Tip
Depending on what country you are in, tipping is either expected, or it’s not. Knowing what is appropriate in the place you are visiting can have a significant impact on your experience.

In America for example, it is customary to tip. We are aware that those in the hospitality industry are paid minimally, and they rely mainly on gratuities. However, in many other countries, the wait staff is paid quite well, and tipping is not only unnecessary it’s actually frowned upon.

Although you may have good intentions, what you do in your home country is not always the custom; therefore, it is wise to do some research before your trip.

Dress Appropriately
Some countries are more open-minded with their attire, whereas others are more reserved with their dress code. For example, here in Florida and many parts of the United States, we don’t bat an eye at someone in a bikini and flip-flops, but in other parts of the world, just exposing your collarbone is considered too provocative. In fact, some countries take their dress code so seriously that they have laws regarding what you can and cannot wear.

Even if there are no laws, you don’t want to stick out — blending in with the crowd helps you to have a more authentic experience. Some places think baseball caps, shorts, and tennis shoes are tacky, and wearing them will surely attract unwanted stares. Keep in mind that many religious monuments will have some form of dress code, and won’t let you in wearing a mini skirt.

So, to avoid any fashion faux pas and eliminate potential criminal charges, see what is acceptable for where you are going and the activities you will be doing, and plan accordingly.

Learn the Language
Living in the United States, it’s not as necessary to speak another language as it is somewhere like Europe. Crossing the border into a neighboring state is not quite the same as crossing the border into a new country where they speak a different language; therefore, being multilingual is generally not as big of a priority for Americans.

However, a little effort will go a long way. When planning a trip somewhere that speaks a foreign language, take some time to learn a few key words and phrases before you go. It will not only make your stay easier, but the locals will also appreciate it. In more remote places of the world, they may not speak English, and then it becomes a matter of necessity, not just courtesy.

Even if your pronunciation is not perfect, it shows that you have made an effort to communicate with them in their native tongue, and who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Remember these tips when you are traveling, and your efforts will not be in vain. You will find that when you become more mindful and courteous to others, you will have a better time and people will be more open and welcoming. Being able to enjoy new experiences, people and places — that’s what traveling is all about!

About the Author: My name is Sarah and I love exploring our planet and learning from its many wonders. You can follow my adventures and insights on my blog, Happy travels and Fins Up!