How to Stop Being the Typical American Tourist

FlyAwayu | The Typical American Tourist
Photo by Burdie Henry

Do you know what the difference between a traveler and a tourist is?

A traveler is curious to experience other cultures, people, food, locations, ideas and ways of life. A tourist is someone who just visits a place, rarely taking the time to get to know or understand anything about the place they are visiting, and almost never gets out of his or her comfort zone.

DON’T be the typical American tourist!

It’s the biggest reason Americans visitors have a bad rap in the rest of the world. They show up loud-mouthed and rude with no respect for the local people, customs or traditions while treating the locals like crap because of the ingrained belief the US is the best at everything, while the rest of the world is less intelligent, advanced or educated.

It’s just not true.

Every country has its own set of awesomeness and issues. And every country has good people, nasty people and those in between. And you find all this out when you travel with an open heart and mind.

So how can you stop being the typical American tourist when you travel?

Unfortunately, we aren’t raised in an environment that encourages curiosity or learning about “other” people’s cultures, customs, languages, local manners, foods, religions, or whatever. Little of the schooling in our education is about the rest of the world. And people of “other” cultures are treated very differently within the US. So it’s easy to see why US citizens are culturally ignorant.

But you don’t have to be one of them. Here’s how you can make sure you’re a traveler and not acting like the typical American tourist when traveling.

1. Be Polite and Respectful

Manners go a long way anywhere in the world. In today’s society, technology has done very little for manners and people seem to have forgotten how to treat individuals in the “real world.”

Try to remember: you’re in someone else’s home, so act as if you are at a friend’s house, politely treating their mom with respect.

Avoid being loud, rude and brash.

Not everyone cares about your flight, what you did that day or the latest drama in your life.

Snapping your fingers to get attention is not welcome anywhere in the world. Nasty attitudes rarely get you anywhere, especially when making new friends, finding the right bus stop or getting a free room upgrade.

And patience is a virtue. Most of the rest of the world DOES NOT operate on Amazon Now or Prime. Get used to a more slow pace of life.

2. Educate Yourself

Education and communication are the keys to everything in life. Do both, and you’ll find life is just easier.

Get curious. Do a little (or A LOT) research on the place and people you are visiting. At the very least, read up on the local manners, customs, and habits. Just learning these basic things will help you know what to expect and how to act when you get there.  But why not go further? See what the local’s like to do, learn some of the language, and always, ALWAYS, check out what the local foods and drinks are.

Official travel sites and books such as Foder’s, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet are great places to look for advice. Check our travel blogs by people who have visited the region you’re going to or who live there for personal accounts. Or talk to your friends who have already visited, unless they are the typical American tourist.

FlyAwayU | No fanny packs allowed
Photo by Tom Hilton

3. English is NOT the Only Language Spoken

Don’t make an ass of yourself. Even with over half the world’s population speaking more than one language, not everyone speaks English, so don’t just assume they do. And don’ immediately ask “do you speak English?”

Make an effort to at the very least learn a few basic phrases such as greeting, please, and thank you. It shows respect for the local culture. The locals don’t expect you to be fluent, but making an attempt to learn will have people opening up and being much more friendly towards you.

Also, people in other cultures are NOT deaf just because English is not their first language or not a known language at all. Shouting will not make them understand you!

4. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

It’s easy to hang out in the tourist areas loaded with global chain restaurants, people catering to you including knowing your language, and feeling “safe” because it’s familiar.

But did you actually just travel to another country just to buy Starbucks, eat Burger King and never see any of the local scenery?

If you did, why bother leaving home? Traveling is about the adventure of learning and experiencing new cultures.

Not to mention those tourist areas are a hot spot for pickpockets and thieves because they target tourists.

Get out of the tourist areas. Go exploring. Get lost. Try new things. Meet strange people. Make new friends.

That’s what travel is all about.

And if you don’t enjoy those things, just stay home on the couch.

5. Dress Like the Locals

Leave the USA and “I Love Wherever” t-shirts at home. Also get rid of the flashy colors, the fanny pack, anything overly revealing and the sandals with socks looks.

Oh, and hiking boots are for hiking!

Otherwise, just tattoo “I’m a tourist” on your forehead.

Instead, think like a chameleon and blend in. Dressing like the locals helps you fit in and integrate easier. Neutrals with a splash of color and accessories work pretty much anywhere.

And while you may wear overly tight or revealing clothing at home in the US, many other cultures frown upon them unless you’re the beach or an appropriate place. This type of clothing can also keep you from entering places such as religious areas.

6. Put Down the Camera

A lot of people recommend leaving your camera behind. I just can’t follow that advice because I’m a photographer who drags my camera everywhere, including at home. Photos are memories and art.

What I do HIGHLY recommend is putting the camera down.  You don’t have to record everything. AND you would be amazed at what you miss while hiding behind a camera screen.

Take plenty of photos but don’t forget to stop and just enjoy the world around you without it as well. Your memories will be so much more vivid if you remember the sights, smells, sounds and the things outside the frame when looking at your photos.

Do remember to ask permission of people for photos. No one likes a camera rudely shoved in their face.

FlyAwayU | Put Down the Camera
Photo by Christian Ungureanu

7. Relax. Chill Out.

Americans have a tendency never to stop working or to disconnect.

We work, we play, we work some more, and we eat, sleep or whatever else rapidly motives us.

Lose the cell phone! And the laptop! You’re missing so much of your trip because you cannot stop talking, texting, and checking emails.

A lot of the rest of the world does not run at our pace or timing so having patience is important.

While you might eat dinner at 6 or 7 at home in the US, in Europe and South America dinner is rarely served before 9 pm. Places will be open earlier, but it’s for the tourists.

So just stop. Take a deep breath and fall into the local pace. Take three hours for dinner. Stop to enjoy the sunset. Sleep in.

You will live longer and enjoy life more if you learn to relax.

8. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Being aware of surroundings if one of the biggest mistakes I see many Americans make. Being loud or dressing inappropriately in the local church or looking at your phone instead of watching where you’re going. Don’t order a cheeseburger at a local restaurant And get out of the middle of the sidewalk or the street to text.

It’s so embarrassing!

Pay attention, know where you are, and be respectful.

While you might be touring the church for fun, often there are locals there worshipping.

Start being aware of what’s going around you. Not only will it help you experience new places better, but it’ll also keep you safer because thieves target people who aren’t paying attention.

Experiencing new cultures, customs, people and places can open up your world to remarkable new ways of seeing life. New experiences are quite literally, PRICELESS. You just have to be ready to experience it like a traveler, not a tourist.


Interesting Links:
Most Spoken Languages in the World from ListsWorld

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