Maybe it’s because I live in Washington, DC, but while I generally believe in the inherent good nature of most people, that doesn’t mean I think they’re smart. I’m not talking about a certain level of education, I’m talking about common sense and a general sense of self-awareness. More often than not I see people on their Blackberries walking into trees and it’s only the minority of citizens who look up before they hit it dead on. These qualities are only magnified when people travel.
Don’t be a target - Millions of people travel away from home every year for a few days or a few weeks. Regardless of length or destination, vacations are almost always long awaited and anticipated, unless you’re visiting in-laws or getting a tooth pulled. Just because you’re in a foreign land doesn’t mean you have to look so, well, foreign. As tourists, we are prime targets for thieves. That’s why it’s paramount that we do everything we can to minimize this risk and not broadcast to the world that we’re clueless travelers. While you’ll never really fit in as a short-term tourist, a few changes in outlook can improve your chances of remaining unharmed. Dress the part and try to blend in as much as you can. This usually means ditching the shorts, using a messenger bag instead of a fanny pack or back pack and maintaining a certain level of paranoia. You shouldn’t be fearful as you travel, but you should be self-aware and cautious.
Don’t waste your money - I love travel, but I know it’s not cheap. Even the best budget traveler will have to spend money on airfare, accommodations, food and experiences. If you’re a family of four, the dollar figure suddenly balloons to a pretty daunting sum. While some costs are absolutely unavoidable, there are some great ways you can save money while you’re on vacation. Don’t over pay to get access to your money, find a credit card without foreign transaction fees and to get cash use local ATMs. Even better, there are certain debit cards that don’t have any charges for international cash withdrawals, like the Charles Schwab card. Eating is another money guzzler, so when you first arrive take some time to scout out grocery and convenience stores and patronize restaurants well removed from the tourist areas. A few changes in your travel routine can save a lot of money.
Don’t miss out on unique opportunities - While I believe it’s smart to save money in certain areas, I am a big proponent of not skimping out when it comes to unique experiences. We travel to see and enjoy new places, and sometimes you have to pay a little more to do this. In some cases this may mean hiring a tour guide or joining a day tour to learn more about the destination, in other cases it means the experience itself costs a little more. It doesn’t make any sense to travel far away from home at considerable expense only to skip the activities and experiences that made you want to travel there in the first place. Just make sure you budget for these activities when you’re planning the trip so there aren’t any unexpected surprises.
Don’t think you know more than you do – I’m guilty of this, as are most people I would wager, but it’s easy for us to get used to a new destination after just a day or so. Our initial fear is gone, we learn where things are located and no longer get lost trying to find our hotel. But that doesn’t mean we really know the destination and we still have to be careful. In some places around the world, this means maintaining that healthy level of skepticism I mentioned before. In other places it means not pretending to know more about the culture than we actually do. You are a guest no matter how much time you spend there and it’s important to never lose sight of that fact.
I love to travel and I’m thrilled that millions of people around the world feel the same way. As with all things in life though, there are always opportunities to improve our skills and in the process create a much more enjoyable experience.
What are some of your best tips for being a good tourist?