How to Be a Successful Tourist
Created | Updated Apr 14, 2008
Of all noxious animals, too, the most noxious is a tourist. And of all tourists the most vulgar, ill-bred, offensive and loathsome is the British tourist.
Francis Kilvert (1840-79), Selections from the Diary of...
Cor blimey! That's a bit harsh Francis, me old china! No need to get all personal. In fact, it's generally a good thing if people are lucky enough to get away and visit other places, other countries; to leave behind for a while familiar props and to find themselves somewhere completely fresh and new. Loads of people travel around the world theses days (it's getting cheaper and cheaper) and by implication, the species known as tourist is multiplying apace.
The thing is, none of us wants to appear to be a tourist. We want to be able to get around with the minimum of fuss and bother. In fact, we'd actually like to blend in with the locale, like so many espresso cups upon chic Parisian café tables. This collaborative entry will help you do just that...
Dress appropriately for your environment. What is appropriate for the beach is not for the city ie, trainers, shorts and gimmicky t-shirts will certainly mark you out, no matter how hot. Save very casual dress for very casual places. Who has not noticed how easy it is to spot American tourists a mile off in places such as Rome, Paris and London?
Avoid carrying rucksacks if at all possible. While perfect for trekking halfway up the Himalayas, in an urban environment you might as well have Tourist stamped across your forehead. If you want to be taken seriously and not be taken for a ride, dress as you would for the office. Most of the people on the streets of Milan, Marseille or Malmö will be dressed like that, too.
There is no need to carry more stuff than when you are at home, is there? When you go for a walk or a window-shop at home you don't take a complete packed meal, a first-aid-kit, a change of clothes for wet weather, cold weather, a hat, an umbrella and your sponge bag with you. Why do it when further afield, then? You need no more than what will fit in your pockets. Identity, money, some tissues, lipstick, maybe a jacket if it might be cold, or if it looks like rain.
Women may also need to consider the religious or cultural conditions of the country they are heading for, like the Arab regions (hide your hair) or Hindu countries where women traditionally cover their legs completely. Once you get there, however, you might be irritated to see that young local girls are wearing exactly what the guidebook listed as banned; tank tops, short skirts, tight jeans. However, with them it is accepted whereas you (if you are Western looking) will be getting glances or comments no matter how grubby your pants or how baggy your shirt. In India, Indian men actually take day trips from the cities to nearby touristy beach resorts to come and stand on the beach (yes, they stand on the beach all day, occasionally trying to sneak-photograph you) and drool over the meat market which is displayed; Western girls in bikinis. For them this must be Playboy in action.
Practice Safe Sun
Tourists, especially those from colder parts of the world, are instantly recognisable after their first day in warmer climes. The natives are often pretty pale, believe it or not. You don't believe that the sun really is stronger, and go spend a few hours on the beach to get a tan and 'blend in'. Half an hour without sun protection is plenty for almost anyone to get a good sunburn started.
After one day, you'll wake up bright red, swollen, often with blisters. A good sunburn doesn't seem to fully develop until you've slept on it. You'll wake up in the wee hours with every part of your body in severe pain, even your scalp and the tips of your ears. Your feet are likely to be so swollen that you can't get your shoes on. If the sun touches your body for even a moment, you'll know exactly what it feels like to be a vampire who stayed out too long.
By the end of your stay, you'll probably start that sexy peeling. The perfect tan you wanted to go home and show off to your friends will look like full-body dandruff. Every time you take your clothes off there will be a flurry of dead skin drifting to the ground. It'll itch, too.
When you're in the tropics, use sun screen. Use it every time you go out. The SPF rating works like this: say it takes 15 minutes before you start to burn. You multiply the minutes by the SPF and that'll tell you approximately how long you have before you'll be sunburnt. SPF 10 gives 150 minutes. The highest SPF in a product is the highest protection rating you'll get. SPF 10 along with SPF 15 does not give SPF 25. You'll need to reapply. Read the directions and enjoy your stay.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
According to Noel Coward only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. So if you are from a temperate climate follow the example of the natives in a hot climate:
- Stay indoors
- Shut the blinds
- Take a nap or a long relaxing lunch
- Avoid the heat of the middle of the day and resume your touristing afterwards
In other words siesta time. After all most of the public buildings are likely to be shut at this time, and more than likely likely everyone comes to life late in the evening as a result.
If you are either a mad dog or English or both, feel free to ignore this advice; we'd hate to ruin a good song.
Do try to have at least some idea of where you're driving before you get behind the wheel and put the car in gear. Figure out where you're going and look at a map so you have an idea of how to get to that destination. Please. Also, obeying traffic laws is always a bonus that will help you blend in. People who make a U-turn in the middle of a busy street because they passed their hotel on the first go do not endear themselves to the locals.
And remember, Brits, most foreigners drive on the wrong side of the road.
In Hershey, Pennsylvania we get our fair share of tourists visiting the chocolate factory, the amusement park, the golf courses, the historic gardens, the shops and the sports complex. Many locals in the area give out-of-state drivers a wide berth since they are likely to veer wildly across three lanes of traffic without signalling because they've decided at the last moment that they'd really like to visit the gardens.
Learn a bit of the local language:
When I was a coach driver I did a bit of tour work in France. The Gendarmerie had a great little money-making system going - fine the British coach driver. They would wait at the péage (toll) at the end of an autoroute and pull over every British coach that came through and give it a thorough inspection. I quickly learned that if you greeted them in French and could answer their standard questions in French, they were much more tolerant to minor misdemeanours than if you could only reply in English.
It's also a major bonus if you can recognise place names in the local language eg Koln for Cologne, Praha for Prague - it cuts out a lot of unnecessary mileage.
Dos and Don'ts
Do have plenty of money.
Do blend in culturally when possible. This is dependent on where you are.
Do, in the US, when asked, claim that you are having a great time and what a great country it is.
Do take mosquito repellent and anti-malaria tablets when going to malaria-infested regions.
Do have the right currency.
Do take traveller's cheques/internationally recognised credit cards.
Do use a safety deposit box in a hotel if possible.
Do remember to get a visa if the country you're going to requires one.
Do locate a good bar/pub where the beer is cheap and the atmosphere is friendly.
Do learn to swear in the local language so you know what the locals are saying to you.
Do use condoms if you have sex - particularly with anyone you've just met.
Do take suntan lotion, after sun, sunglasses, a hat and a shirt. This can apply to Antarctic conditions as well.
Do learn which side of the road the traffic is on otherwise this could lead to embarrassment or worse - particularly on one-way streets.
Do have holiday insurance.
Do avoid restaurants with trilingual menus.
Do be prepared for culture shock and when it happens seek out fellow tourists.
Do haggle like fury but be friendly.
Do take the first few steps past the tourist traps.
Do learn enough of the language to get by - the local people will excuse mispronunciations but not an arrogant stance that everyone should understand English/American.
Do be prepared to rough it.
Do leave your prejudices and preconceptions at home.
Don't drink the water till you know it is safe. Watch out for bottled water with suspicious seals. There's usually a good trade in refilling bottles from local stand pipes.
Don't forget your hat in hot countries.
Don't make it too obvious you have money as you are likely to lose it somehow.
Don't try to convince the locals that Communism is a good idea when in the US.
Don't say 'Gee, ain't that quaint?', at the top of your voice in a US accent anywhere in Britain.
Don't take hundreds of pictures in the airport of you, your friends and relatives getting off the plane, etc.
Don't eat meat in India and Egypt - two of the worst places in the world for food poisoning.
Location, Location, Location
Below you'll find some useful pointers when visiting specific countries or regions around the world:
Don't walk on the sunny side of the street. Only tourists do.
Don't forget sunglasses!
Place some Italian newspaper visible in your car (even if it has a non-Italian registration plate). This will cause the possible thief to think that you're working abroad and coming 'home' for family reasons.
Do not use a map unless you have to. Try to study your map at the hotel and to memorise your way.
Never enter a bar, caféteria, gelateria etc, near a tourist hot spot. This indicates that you are a tourist with a lot of money to spend.
Use your cell phone a lot, dropping in some words like Si, si ('Yes, yes'), Davvero? ('Really?'), Va bene or, even better Va be ('OK/Alright'). These phrases are quite easy to learn and to pronounce. Don't forget to close your phone calls (especially the faked ones) with Ciao, ci vediamo! ('Bye, see you!').
Make sure to have studied the Dining Etiquette entry of the Guide.
Do not drink wine with your pizza. Pizza is the only dish that goes well with beer in Italy.
Stop drinking wine when you have finished eating. Restaurants are no places for drinking.
Avoid being drunk. This may be something people smile upon in other countries, but being drunk in public is a very serious and embarrassing thing in Italy.
When using public transportation, do not show any interest in what's going on outside the vehicle. Remember that 'you have seen it all'. Read an Italian newspaper instead (faking is ok).
The best paper to put in your car is the pink-coloured Gazzetta dello Sport - this really means you are an Italian worker returning home from abroad. Il Tempo is political and more up-market.
Study your schedules and timetables carefully. Be on time for your train or bus. Italian things run late, except when you plan for it. Trains leaving for German-speaking countries always leave on time, if not 30 seconds early. All other trains run late, except when you plan for it.
Farmers' markets have the freshest vegetables, supermarkets have the cleanest, and fruit stands have the best.
The cheapest restaurants are often the best. The places that have to answer to the local clientele know that if they can't cook as good or better than la nonna ('Grandma') they'll be out of business, consequently they serve delicious food. This does not apply to restaurants in tourist centres, which figure ignorant foreigners don't know any better and can be easily fleeced for mediocre (or downright inedible) fare. Take the time to find an out-of-the-way eatery, your stomach will thank you.
When honeymooning in Italy, memorise this simple phrase and you will be treated like royalty. Siamo sposi novelli ('We are newly weds').
If you're travelling by car and want a good and inexpensive meal, watch out for the truckers: if you spot a trattoria with its parking lot full of trucks, you can bet that the truckers know why they love to stop there.
A lot of the tourist stuff applies for Paris: don't carry too much, dress like you would at home, and say Merci instead of 'Thanks', even though you may have just finished an entire exchange with someone in English. If you're just walking around with people, try not to crowd the sidewalks, and (if you're in a group of teenagers or other talkative people) try not to converse too much or too loudly in English. The best way to cover long distances in Paris is to use the Métro. However, if you are only going one or two stops on the Métro, it is better to go on foot as the stations are usually only a couple of minutes' walk apart.
Use the Tube to get around.
Complain about everything, especially the Tube. Other likely complaining topics for use in endearing yourself to Londoners include the rain, the sun, the traffic, the Mayor's attempt to get rid of the traffic, prices of housing/travel/pints of beer, politicians, the high crime rate, England losing at cricket/football/rugby/any other sport they invented...
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
In the 'Pennsylvania Dutch Country' of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there is a significant Amish population. These people who have adopted a 'plain' lifestyle as a part of their religion do not appreciate being gawked at and photographed by tourists. Yes, they are unique and interesting looking people. But please remember that they are human beings and as such, would appreciate having their beliefs respected.
It is OK to photograph them from afar, but getting right in their face with a camera or worse yet standing with one and posing for a photo is poor manners and shows you to be a boor.
Below you will find an essential ten-point plan that will ensure the smooth running of any holiday:
Speak softly and calmly and be polite. Never insult the place your are visiting (remember, you are representing your country whether you like it or not).
If you don't know the language, at least try to learn certain important phrases and make an effort.
Walk as much as possible. You can't get a good feel for a city by sitting on a bus or driving in a car. You're too busy watching the traffic to notice the city (this is doubly important in walkable cities like Paris, London, or New York). Those tourist buses are the worst.
Hide the camera. Put it in a pocket, and don't use it all the time. Don't walk down the street watching everything through your camcorder's viewfinder. Not only are you an inviting target for thieves, you're missing out on your surroundings. Thieves love people who have poor awareness.
Ignore the guide book sometimes. If you find a charming little place and your guidebook doesn't mention it, who cares? Yet, you'd be amazed at how many people follow the same beaten paths.
Don't rush. Many Americans often succumb too much to itineraries, the notion that the trip must see X number of attractions in Y number of cities, so they're constantly on the move. Resist the urge to rush and see everything. You'll have a better time.
Traveller's checks have always been pretty much useless to many. Not many people want to accept them. Instead, invest in a good money belt and also use a safe to keep a reserve of cash (usually your hotel front desk or even room will have one). So, you have money in three places: wallet, money belt, and room.
Passports should also be kept in highly secure places; either a money belt or a safe. Do not pull out your passport unless you have to (say, a form of ID is needed), and do not show it to everybody around you.
Dress normally and comfortably.
Know the type of potential crime to prepare against. In European train stations, put your wallet in your front pocket because of pickpockets. In American cities, watch your surroundings because muggings are more predominant.
Use the Guide
It may be a bit self-promoting, but why not run the name of the place you're going through the h2g2 Search Engine? You're bound to find all sorts of local information and 'unconventional knowledge' in it - including driving etiquette, places to eat and things to do. As the Guide continues to grow, it's bound to become even more of a resource.
We grant you that many people won't take a holiday at Jumonville, Pennsylvania - but it's covered in the Guide in explicit detail.