Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Don't Be "That" Tourist
When traveling abroad, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of exploring a new destination. However, in your enthusiasm, it's important not to fall into the trap of being "that tourist" - the one who sticks out like a sore thumb and inadvertently offends locals.
Loud, obnoxious behavior is a surefire way to broadcast yourself as an inconsiderate tourist. Things like talking boisterously in public spaces, getting drunk and rowdy in bars, blasting music, and generally disregarding noise levels and social norms will quickly rub locals the wrong way. Have some situational awareness and realize that not everyone wants to listen to your whole conversation or your blaring headphones. Keep the volume at a respectful level.
Another unfortunate stereotype is the tourist who treats the destination like their personal playground without regard for its inhabitants or environment. Littering, carving your name into historic monuments, ignoring signs and instructions, going places you shouldn't, and being careless with cultural artifacts or natural habitats makes you "that disrespectful tourist." Have some common decency - you are a guest in this place.
Don't be the camera-wielding, selfie-stick touting tourist who seems more interested in photographing themselves than actually experiencing the destination. Shoving a camera in people's faces without permission to snap that National Geographic worthy shot of an old woman in the market is not cool. Be mindful of locals and ask politely before taking close-up photos.
Also try to blend in sartorially if you want to avoid being branded a fashion-blind tourist. Wearing loud Hawaiian shirts, bulky cargo shorts, massive hiking boots, and a fanny pack everywhere is like carrying a sign announcing your tourist status. Make an effort to dress appropriately for the culture and context. Ditch the clashing prints and garish colors.
Making zero effort to engage respectfully and knowledgably with locals also outs you as "that tourist." Don't assume English is universally spoken or that yelling slowly and loudly will make you understood. Learn a few key phrases in the local language, do some cultural research beforehand, and try to connect honestly with people. Being open and humble goes a long way.
What else is in this post?
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Don't Be "That" Tourist
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Respect Local Customs
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Avoid Taking Disrespectful Photos
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Be Mindful of Your Impact on the Environment
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Don't Participate in Cultural Appropriation
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Skip the Tourist Traps
- Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Learn Basic Etiquette Before You Go
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Respect Local Customs
When traveling to a new destination, it can be tempting to impose your own cultural norms and expectations. However, failing to respect local customs is a sure way to out yourself as an ignorant tourist. Before traveling abroad, do your homework to understand the values and etiquette of the place you'll be visiting. This will allow you to avoid inadvertently offending or disrespecting the local people.
One important area is clothing. While you may be used to wearing shorts, tank tops, and other revealing outfits, such attire may be frowned upon or even illegal in some cultures. For instance, when visiting sacred sites in Thailand, you need to have your shoulders and knees completely covered out of respect. Do some research beforehand about what is considered appropriate dress to avoid causing offense. The same goes for public displays of affection, raucous behavior, profanity, and outgoing tanning - what flies back home could land you in hot water abroad.
Make sure to observe local norms around polite bodily functions like yawning, burping, nose blowing, and spitting. In some Asian cultures, these are considered impolite in public so do your best to restrain yourself. Also learn the proper way to sit when on the floor - the soles of your feet pointed at someone may be very insulting. Avoid wagging your finger or using other gestures that could be misinterpreted. The "thumbs up" and "OK" signs have quite different meanings in some countries.
When visiting sacred places like temples, mosques, or historical sites, strictly adhere to the rules. Follow dress codes, remove your shoes if required, speak softly, and avoid restricted areas. Nothing ruins a site's ambiance like a pack of rowdy, clueless tourists yelling and tramping around ignores prompt objections. Be conscientious and culturally aware to appreciate these special places respectfully.
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Avoid Taking Disrespectful Photos
In the age of social media, it can be tempting to snap photos nonstop during your travels to show off on Instagram later. However, taking pictures of locals without their consent, especially close-up portraits, is extremely disrespectful and intrusive. As Torsten emphasizes, "Shoving a camera in people's faces without permission to snap that National Geographic worthy shot of an old woman in the market is not cool."
Many tourists make the mistake of viewing the people in foreign countries as exotic props or photo opportunities. They zoom in on an old man’s wrinkled face or a mother breastfeeding without considering how it makes them feel. But locals are not attractions or objects put there for your amusement - they are human beings deserving of dignity and privacy. As a guest in their country, you have an obligation to treat them with respect.
Some travelers recount situations where they felt exploited. A woman in Mexico shared how she was sitting in a public square breastfeeding her baby when suddenly a group of tourists surrounded them snapping photos and gawking. She felt incredibly angry and violated by this invasion of her privacy. A farmer in Cambodia told of tourists who tromped through his rice paddy to pose for selfies without asking. He depends on that crop to feed his family and did not appreciate it being treated like a photo backdrop.
The problem stems from tourists viewing their subjects as "others" rather than fellow people. But imagine a pack of foreign tourists shoving cameras in your face to document your daily commute, or photographing your kids at the playground without permission. You'd probably be outraged. Extend that same courtesy to the people you encounter abroad. Always ask politely before taking close-up portraits of someone, especially if they are elderly, female, or engaged in a private moment. If they seem uncomfortable, move on. Capture the essence of a place and culture through respectful photos that don't infringe on people's rights or dignity.
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Be Mindful of Your Impact on the Environment
As travelers, we have a responsibility to be mindful of our impact on the fragile ecosystems and environments we visit. With climate change threatening so many natural habitats, it's more important than ever to travel sustainably and tread lightly. Unfortunately, many tourists are oblivious or indifferent to their effects on local ecology. But small changes in our behavior can significantly reduce our environmental footprint while exploring new destinations.
One of the biggest things we can do is reduce plastic consumption and waste. Globally, the tourism industry accounts for a massive amount of single-use plastic pollution. When grabbing snacks, drinks or souvenirs, say no to plastic bags, bottles, straws and packaging. Bring a reusable water bottle and shop at places that allow you to decline disposable plastics. Pack reusable utensils and containers to avoid piling up takeout rubbish. Be meticulous about properly disposing of any waste to avoid littering. Opt for digital tickets and guides over paper versions whenever possible.
We should also be mindful of how tourism strains local resources, from fresh water to energy. Shorten showers, turn off lights and AC when not in use, and reuse towels and linens during hotel stays. Use public transportation to reduce emissions. Be thoughtful when interacting with wildlife and natural habitats by not leaving trash, trampling vegetation or disturbing animals. Choose tour operators committed to sustainability.
Make environmentally conscious transportation choices. Fly less when possible and opt for trains or buses over emissions-heavy flights. If you do fly, research airlines' carbon offsets and invest in negating your share of emissions. Explore destinations closer to home that minimize air travel. Pack light and avoid checking bags to reduce carbon footprint. In cities, walk, bike or use public transit over rideshares and taxis.
Choose accommodations and tour providers that follow green practices like renewable energy, eco-friendly products and water conservation. Eco-lodges use sustainable materials and construction, while employing locals. Eat at restaurants serving locally sourced ingredients. Purchase authentic, locally made crafts and goods directly from artisans. Support sustainable tourism by spending money in ways that boost the local economy and preserve communities and ecosystems.
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Don't Participate in Cultural Appropriation
Cultural appropriation is a controversial issue in the travel world. This refers to adopting elements of a culture that is not your own - fashion, hairstyles, symbols, rituals, etc. - often without understanding their deeper meaning or history. While some view cultural exchange as appreciation, appropriation crosses the line into disrespect and exploitation. As travelers, we must educate ourselves to avoid partaking in this damaging behavior.
A classic example is wearing Native American headdresses as costumes or fashion statements. These vibrantly feathered headdresses hold deep spiritual and cultural significance for tribes. Leadership positions were symbolized by the distinctive headdress of each role. Yet thousands of music festival-goers and models casually don these sacred artifacts as party props or accessories. This trivializes their importance and dishonors Indigenous culture.
Yoga's popularity in the West has also led to controversy. While many benefit from practicing yoga, few acknowledge its Hindu roots. Western practitioners, brands and teachers often remove or repackage elements like chanting mantras to sanitize yoga of its religious and cultural context. Mass commercialization has obscured yoga's origins and meaning. Engaging thoughtfully requires learning Sanskrit terms, studying with Indian teachers and crediting yoga's origins.
The issues arise when borrowing from marginalized cultures occurs without sensitivity, context or permission. Non-natives wearing indigenous tribal patterns as a fashion statement or donning Día de los Muertos' calavera (skull) makeup for Halloween parties violate cultural boundaries. Engaging respectfully means understanding the history and asking if this practice is meant to be shared versus misappropriated from cultures that historically faced oppression.
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Skip the Tourist Traps
Tourists often flock to the big, flashy attractions hyped up in guidebooks and travel shows - the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Pyramids of Giza. But while iconic sites are amazing to behold, more meaningful connections and experiences often lie beyond the tourist traps. Venturing into everyday neighborhoods, mom-and-pop shops, and places where locals gather provides a richer, more authentic taste of a destination.
Let's say you're visiting Paris. Rather than spending all your time shuffling between the same sites as every other visitor, make an effort to uncover the city's hidden corners. Wander charming side streets, browse lively outdoor markets, and find that perfect cafe to people-watch over coffee and croissants. Sign up for an urban foraging tour to see the city through a local's eyes. Seek out small galleries and museums spotlighting French artists rather than just hitting the Louvre. Don't ignore major landmarks - there's magic seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night - but balance touristy must-dos with local discoveries.
Or if you're headed to Bangkok, venture beyond hectic Khao San Road into the city's other vibrant enclaves. Take the river ferry to explore the canalside neighborhoods, taste street food in Chinatown's winding alleys, relax in leafy Lumphini Park, browse colorful textiles at Chatuchak Market. A cooking class with a local teacher or bike tour of outlying districts offers insider access. You'll gain a richer experience of daily life and local culture.
Tourist Traps: Avoid These 6 Travel Faux Pas in 2023 - Learn Basic Etiquette Before You Go
Before embarking on any trip abroad, it’s wise to learn some of the basic etiquette and customs of your destination. Even if you’ve traveled extensively, each culture has its own unique set of dos and don’ts. What may be perfectly polite in your home country could be offensive or problematic elsewhere. With some pre-trip research, you can avoid inadvertently insulting your hosts or getting yourself into awkward situations.
According to Torsten, who has circled the globe extensively, even small breaches of etiquette can make you stand out negatively or damage your interactions. On a recent trip to Japan, he didn’t realize that sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is taboo, since upright chopsticks resemble incense at a funeral. His well-meaning dinner companions gently corrected him to prevent future faux pas.
Pro traveler Elizabeth shares an embarrassing story from her first trip to Thailand. “I made the mistake of touching someone’s head – a major taboo there. My Thai friend swatted my hand away in horror while I apologized profusely.” Touching heads is considered extremely rude, as the head is believed to contain a person’s soul. This blunder taught Elizabeth to thoroughly research cultural taboos.
On his blog, veteran shoestring traveler Ray offers tips for avoiding etiquette issues when dining abroad. He warns against “food faux pas” like using the improper hand for eating, turning down offerings of hospitality, making inappropriate noises while chewing, or not understanding how meals are shared. “I wish I’d researched customary table manners before that wedding feast in Ethiopia,” Ray admits. “My clumsy dining habits definitely made me look like a clueless tourist.”
Besides studying up on etiquette for things like greetings, dining, dress, and gestures, it’s also key to learn basic phrases and communication norms before traveling. Ricky, who documents his backpacking adventures on YouTube, recalls how his lack of Thai language skills got him into trouble. “I didn’t realize that saying ‘yes’ involves a slight head wobble – just saying the word can signal disagreement. My improper yesses confused a lot of locals.” Knowing even a few key words and polite expressions in the local language shows respect.