No matter where you live, we’ve all seen them… those people wielding cameras with maps tucked into their fanny packs, possibly wearing destination paraphernalia. Okay, hopefully not the last part few parts, but you never know. Tourists – the near curse word to travelers and locals alike. For some reason, people love to hate tourists’ naivety and childlike excitement, even though they should be applauded for their adventurous spirits. But still, I admittedly never want to appear like one because it’s sometimes embarrassing, it could mark you as an easy target for theft or crime, and is simply not cool. So from my wandering heart to yours, here are my four top tips I use while traveling to minimize being that tourist.
1. “When in Rome” everywhere. I like to think of this as the biggest display of respect to another culture because it shows your willingness to try and understand something new. For example, if you are in Australia and someone proudly offers you their restaurants kangaroo dish, eat it like it’s your favorite food even if it’s not (yes, this really happened to me and turns out, it was actually delicious). If you are somewhere that has many social customs unfamiliar to you, say in an Asian country, don’t be embarrassed to try bowing when it is appropriate. I have noticed people are more receptive to you as a traveler when they can see you are putting forth effort to cross cultural differences.
2. In unfamiliar situations, wear your poker face. It is bound to happen – you make a wrong turn to find yourself lost, get yelled at in a foreign language, or are caught in a weird situation and just don’t know how to react. No matter how frazzled you are, try to remain calm and collected for your safety.
3. Speak the language. Of course you won’t always be able to do this fluently, but it is possible to learn a few useful greetings and phrases in the country’s language. You might have noticed Americans do not have the best traveling reputation. Time and time again my foreign friends have told me that we tend to speak English before even attempting a simple greeting in the local language and this is offensive. Even if you butcher a few words in another language, people will likely just giggle and appreciate your attempt.
4. Finally, pay attention to how people dress. Unless you are actually hiking in the jungle or going on an Archeological dig, your favorite hiking hat might not be necessary for this trip. But, little jokes aside, I have found clothing to be important in some cases. For example, if you want to go to a religious service, make sure you ask a local or research how you are expected to dress. The last thing you want to do is accidentally disrespect anyone or anything.
Hopefully you can try out some of these tips and see how your next journey unfolds. If you have any other tips you use, I would love to hear them. Happy travels!