Unless your first international trip happened within the last few…
Tourist is almost a dirty word these days. The definition of a tourist is “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure” – and it definitely does not deserve all the negative connotations it is saddled with. Most travel articles focus on learning to act and live like a local when you’re visiting a new place. We completely agree that there is a lot to be said for taking in local farmers’ markets and talking to locals to see how their experience – where they eat, what they do, etc. – of a place differs from that of a visitor. But we never forget that we are visitors and it is far too much fun to be a real tourist to abandon that idea for good.
Being a tourist is about having a good time and you should definitely step out of your comfort zone to make sure that you get the most out of your trip. It is possible to do that without embarrassing yourself or others – and these eight simple rules will ensure that every trip is one for the memory books.
Do take lots of pictures – and make sure you are in some of them. Take your camera everywhere and forget selfies. Go back to the old fashioned way of asking someone to take your picture. Whether you’re asking a local or a fellow tourist, ask politely and the odds are good that you won’t get turned down. It might make you look even more like a “tourist” at that moment, but we are always happy to have those photos when we get home and have once never wished we had taken less.
Don’t take too many selfies. Even though you should take lots of pictures, limit the selfies. Not only do they annoy other people for somewhat inexplicable reasons, you won’t take your best pictures that way. They’re fun, but you’re going to want a picture where you can see the whole leaning tower of Pisa behind you when you get home, not just a bit of it behind your head.
Don’t try to be a local. You’re not a local and you can’t fake it. Your name isn’t on the electric bill at your hotel or your Air BnB. Locals often turn up their noses at major tourists attractions – and you’re going to be glad you took the time to visit the Sacre Coeur in Paris or snap a pic of the Hollywood sign in LA when you get back home. They’re unforgettable for a reason and locals often take landmarks like these for granted because they’re a part of their (general) neighborhood.
Do try to eat like a local. Never eat at a tourist trap restaurant, the kind with a picture menu in English taped to a sandwich board outside and located just down the street from those major tourist attractions. They are always overpriced and you can always do better. Go to a restaurant a bit further away and be polite. The meal will definitely be more reasonable and will likely taste a whole lot better.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. Whether you’re asking for directions or restaurant recommendations, it will make your life easier and help you make the most of your trip. Even if you’re in a country where your grasp of the local language is limited, give it a try. As long as you’re polite, people will almost always respond in kind (and simply don’t ask people who look like they’re having a rough day in the first place). And you might even get asked a few questions about where you’re from in return!
Do book local tours. Not every tour involves piling onto a double decker bus. Tours can take all forms – from group walking tours that will guide you through a city’s haunted history to one-on-one car tours that will take you to parts of the city that you may not otherwise have explored – and experienced guides will be able to give you some insight to the areas that you’re visiting. We once took a wonderful afternoon tour of the farmers’ markets in Montreal – something that we wouldn’t have been able to do without a good local guide.
Don’t overbook yourself. While you may be able to check all those landmarks off your list, you’ll feel like you’re constantly in a rush to get from place to place if you are over-scheduled. Leave some time for walking around and exploring. Even if you don’t check every item off your itinerary, you’ll likely discover something fun and interesting (or at least a good souvenir shop) as you wander and take in the sights.
Don’t be a travel snob. While stereotypical, over-excited first-time sight-seers can be irritating to the experienced traveler, they’re nothing new and it is not worth getting worked up about a few minor inconveniences while you are on vacation. Be polite. If someone walks into your shot, just wait a moment. If someone asks you to take a photo for them, do it with a smile. Share travel tips and experiences with others you meet along the way. Remember that you were a first-time traveler, too. If you lose that excitement, it might be time to examine why you’re traveling in the first place.