We’ve all seen those travelers overseas: the ones who make us all look bad, who make disdain for tourists in general seem justified. So we thought we’d ask some of the most experienced travel bloggers in the world which annoying tourist habits grind their gears most. We hope you find their answers cathartic and amusing.
1. Me, my selfie & I
By far the most common complaint among world travelers we talked to was the obstructive (and sometimes downright dangerous) prevalence of the selfie — and the selfie stick.
“Sometimes I just want to yank their phones away and ask them to actually look at what they are photographing,” says Beth Reiber of TravelReiber. “Sometimes I take photos of all the people lined up taking photos. On a trip to Dominica in September, I tripped wading across a stream, dropping my camera into the water. Then my phone died. So I resorted to the way I used to travel — looking around, taking notes, recording scenes in my memory.”
Everyone likes to take photos to post on Facebook and share with loved ones back home. But these days it can seem like the whole point of going is just to take pictures. And it really isn’t.
If, like me, you live in an urban center that welcomes millions of visitors from all over the world, you know the easiest way to spot an irksome tourist; they’re the ones standing in the middle of foot traffic, seemingly oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to get to and from work.
“I was recently in Paris and I got so frustrated with people standing either in the middle of the sidewalk having a conversation or trying to locate something on a map,” says Janice Chung of France Travel Tips. “Or they were at the top of the stairs of the Metro. In both cases it was really busy and crowded and they were blocking our path! They were oblivious to the people trying to get by.”
Of course even locals are capable of getting lost in their own city, but that’s no excuse for poor manners. If you need to step aside to check your phone or consult a map — step aside. This may be a vacation day for you, but many of the inhabitants are on the clock and in a hurry.
3. The McTraveler
I think most passionate travelers will agree: there’s a special level of hell reserved for people who fly halfway around the world only to eat every meal in a Starbucks or McDonald’s. Food is such an important part of culture that you really are missing half the fun if you don’t at least try it.
Plus it all seems to fit into a larger mindset that will only hold you back.
“Only eating in tourist restaurants; not trying local food, not venturing off the beaten path,” say Jonathan Look, Jr. and Sarah Wilson of Life Part 2, characterizing this fear of the unfamiliar. “Some of the best experiences in travel are when you step out of your comfort zone even if it’s just for a little while.”
Even if you’re a fussy eater, give yourself a chance to grow. When in doubt, do what I do: don’t ask what something is made of until after you’ve sampled it. You might just be surprised. (Of course, that only works if you don’t have any serious allergies…)
4. Shoulda stayed home
“One thing?” says podcaster Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler when asked to list his tourist pet peeve. “I have heard people complain that it rains the day they visit the rain forest. You think? I have heard people on a big bus tour complain about the crowds everywhere. You think?”
Wherever you go, you’re going to find that some things are the same, but many are quite different. And different things can be annoying — or at least faintly jarring. But, at the end of the day, the only people who travel while also staying at home are turtles.
“Mostly you need to remember that you travel to different places because they are different. So… then don’t complain that it is not like home,” Chris adds.
5. Lost in translation
One of travelers’ biggest fears used to be visiting a country where nobody spoke English. These days, that’s less of a concern than ever; there are plenty of apps available to help you communicate. But still there are some people who just can’t be bothered to learn a few key phrases in another language, and instead expect everyone to speak English.
“It drives me absolutely crazy when I overhear a visitor grumbling because they can’t understand what’s being said to them or they can’t communicate with someone,” says Aukai Dunn of Travel Love Kai. “I seriously believe it is our duty as a visitor to at least learn some key phrases, download a translator app and try to do our best to speak with the locals. Plus as a tourist you will learn so much more about the place you’re visiting when you’re there.”
6. Speaking up, talking down
On a related note, there’s one thing that definitely won’t help you bridge the language gap.
“Speaking in a loud voice to try and be understood drives me crazy,” says Janine Thomas from Gastro Travelogue. “It’s not only rude and disrespectful, but if the person did not understand you when you asked the question in a normal voice, why do you think that they will understand you if you speak louder?”
I DON’T KNOW, JANINE. DOES ME WRITING IN CAPS NOT MAKE THIS SENTENCE MUCH MORE READABLE?!
You and I may believe that people should be allowed to wear whatever they want. But that’s not how many cultures the world over see things. Failure to conform to expected standards of dress can lead to encounters that range from the awkward to the downright dangerous.
Elaine J. Masters of Tripwellgal.com (also a regular Travel Awaits contributor) has some anecdotes about travelers who won’t dress to impress.
“I traveled with a family in Japan, for example,” she says, “and they had little care for blending in, or respect for local customs like taking off their shoes in shrines, etc. Another time was in Sri Lanka where beautiful young European women swam and lounged around public beaches topless. I’m not a prude; I just saw the attention they got… and how it made the local women uncomfortable. If it were a private beach or Europe, no problem.”
It’s important to respect the norms of other cultures. If you want to go to a nude beach in Europe, then by all means go!
8. “Well, where I’m from…”
There’s nothing wrong with loving your country. But when you’re traveling, being too loud and proud about it, or unfavorably comparing everything you see to how things are back home is a surefire way to make locals and fellow travelers hate you.
“I have traveled with people who incessantly complained about the food, the language, or customs ending most sentences with “that’s not how we do it in [name of country],” says Donna Long of Empty Nestopia.
No, it isn’t. That’s why it’s a totally different country. The more you know!
9. Cultural exchange
I can relate to this one because I’m generally slow to make friends. I have a hard time getting close to random people I meet on the street or at a restaurant or in a bus. If I go somewhere alone, I really might only talk to people who are selling me things. But Peta Kaplan of Green Global Trek cautions against this.
“When the only interaction travelers have with locals is to buy something,” she says, “we always feel bad for them because they are missing out on the best part of travel. Namely meeting locals, talking to them and having real exposure to different cultures and ways of life beyond economic transactions.”
Solo travel can be a great way to push yourself to meet new people. It is always fascinating to learn how much we have in common — and what makes us unique!
10. In plane sight
Isn’t it funny how often people seem to ‘accidentally’ wind up in the wrong seat on the plane? And then they want to negotiate with you to swap places, even though you took the time to book an aisle seat in advance?
Or, as Jo and Alan Gourlay of Trave Graphics (somewhat more politely) put it: “It surprises/amuses us that by putting an airline ticket in someone’s hand then gives them so much trouble matching up one letter and one number to a corresponding seat location.”
Hmm. There must be some kind of selective amnesia that affects people in airplanes, but only before they take off. We should really do some research on this subject.
We hope you felt our pain reading this little list of tourist grievances. Of course, most people are perfectly lovely. I mean, it’s not like you would ever do any of these things, dear traveler. …Would you?