Last Updated on September 1, 2019
What would you do if I said you’ve been travelling all wrong? You haven’t made the most of your time exploring other cultures, you’ve paid over the odds for a mediocre experience, and worst of all, you’ve annoyed all the locals. That’s right, it’s actually possible to be a bad tourist, and in this post, we’ll look at some of the main offences. Are you guilty of these travel sins? Find out here!
You expect everyone to speak English
If you’re from an English speaking country, it’s likely you don’t know any other languages. Unfortunately we’ve become a bit complacent – if everyone else speaks English, why would you need to speak any other languages anyway? And even if you do know another language, it’s most likely going to be a bit of Spanish or French, and what’s the use of being able to order une Big Mac avec des frites if you’re in eastern Europe where they don’t speak French anyway?
So, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be fluent in the local language everywhere you go, but the point is to try and make an effort. Even if the waitress at the restaurant can speak a bit of English, she’ll really appreciate it when guests try to speak the local language, even if it’s just the basics like please and thank you.
But it’s not just about pleasing the locals, learning some local phrases can be fun and a great way to learn more about the country you’re visiting. For example, travel through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, and you’ll find the language is all very similar, since they’re Slavic. But head across the border to Hungary, and the language is all very different. That reveals a lot about the origins of Hungary and why it’s so different to the rest of Eastern Europe – head to Heroes’ Square in Budapest to find out why!
You take inappropriate photos
Sure, taking photos and videos are a great way to remember your trip, but there’s some placed that it’s just inappropriate. Many museums and attractions have rules about photography, for example art galleries. Just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you can claim ignorance and expect the security guard to let you off!
In other places, photography may be allowed, but it’s still possible to take photos in bad taste. Take for example a visit to Auschwitz, a place of suffering where millions were killed. Obviously as an important historical monument, you’d want to take a photo to mark the occasion. But a photo of your whole group, smiling at the camera in front of the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is hardly an acceptable way to do this!
You don’t know the exchange rate
Things can get confusing if you’re travelling somewhere with a different currency if you’ve not done your research, especially if the denominations aren’t similar to back home. I found out first hand when I went to Hungary. I’d been before the previous year and remembered that notes come in 500s, 1000s and 2000s, and so forth, but I didn’t bother checking the actual exchange rate and didn’t take any cash out before I left, because I have a bank card with 0% commission abroad.
I nearly slipped up when I got to the cashpoint at the airport, which are notorious for trying to rip off foreign travellers. I was trying to take out about £80 to cover the first day of my three day trip.
The first way the ATM tries to get you is by showing you only really high options for withdrawing cash once you’re logged in, with options of 1 million forint down to 300,000. Hmm. Something doesn’t look right here. I knew the notes were high, but really this high? 300,000 was the lowest option so I went for that.
The next screen asks you if you want to withdraw in your own currency or the local currency – basically a sales pitch to scare you into taking their “guaranteed rate” with a ridiculous exchange rate.
It was here I realised something was up – they were pitching 300,000 for £800 – ten times more than I wanted, and also at a heavily inflated rate. If I took it out I’d have lost money straight away and then lost it again when I invariably would have to exchange some of it back to pounds when I got home. Fortunately I was able to go back and try again, getting 30,000 forints for about £87 by choosing my local currency – that’s about £7 more than the ATM was pitching with its “guaranteed exchange rate”. Over three days thats £21 extra I had available, which is enough to have a mad night out in Budapest!
You don’t know about the local laws
Not looking up the local laws in the country you’re visiting is another cardinal sin of the bad tourist. Obviously, many things will be a given, no matter where you go murder is illegal, but what about more ‘petty crimes’ that perhaps don’t exist back home? For example in Singapore, it’s illegal to feed the birds, spit in public, smoke in public, eat or drink on the train or bus, and worst of all, urinating in public – all things you wouldn’t bat an eyelid about back home (apart from public urination, maybe).
I myself am guilty of not doing at least a little bit of research on the local laws when I visited Kraków in the summer. At every pedestrian crossing, I’d just cross without a care in the world. Gradually I noticed that no one else was doing the same, even when there were no cars coming. Turns out jay walking is illegal in Poland and there are pretty hefty fines for it!
Similarly, a visit to Germany can be a minefield for any Neo-Nazi readers, as displaying any Nazi related symbol or act is illegal. Not even an ironic Nazi salute is allowed. It sounds stupid, but apparently every year hundreds of tourists are fined for this!
You don’t do any research before you leave
Quite obviously, all of these points above could have been avoided with some quick research before you left home. Not only that, but research also makes your trip much more enjoyable, allowing you to coordinate your trip with any exciting looking events, or making sure you’re able to see all the sights and attractions you want. Possibly the most annoying thing about not doing research is finding out you missed a big event while you were there, but didn’t know about it at the time.
The other thing about research is that if you don’t do it, you stick out like a sore thumb as a dumb tourist. Take nightlife in Berlin as an example, which follows some very different rules than what me and my friends are used to in the UK. Having not done much research on the local scene, we all showed up in shirts and shoes. We thought we looked dapper, but actually the locals don’t really dress up to go out. In fact, at many of the big clubs like Berhain, they tend to turn away people wearing brands who want ‘to be seen’.
Not only that, but we rocked up at Matrix, the club that only tourists go to. Fortunately we turned things around for night two and got a taste of real Berlin nightlife.
So now you know how to avoid being a bad tourist, and generally it comes down to one thing: do your research. You’ll have a much better time if you do so!