Most often, travel magazine, blogs, and experienced celebrity writers will tell you about the things you should do when you travel. They’ll tell you how to pack, where to stay, and what to order to have a great experience, and hopefully even endear yourself with the locals. However, we’ve found that what spoils a tourist’s vacation fast than anything isn’t what they didn’t do but should have, but in fact the opposite.
So much of traveling well is understanding the behaviors you should avoid. Why? Because this is actually a much more expansion approach in terms of the experience you’ll have. Don’t believe me? Think of it this way – what do you do with your “to do” list on vacation.
You do that list.
Sometimes, only that list.
The resultant experience is a limited one, where a bad break here, or a failed excursion there often spells disaster for the trip. Additionally, if you’re working off a list of ten things to do, sometimes those aren’t the things you should really do. The most popular? Certainly. Is it what strikes you, necessarily? Perhaps not.
To be fair, we’ve written our fair share of “do this, don’t do that” type of articles. They’re helpful, and they give us a chance to write about specific things in specific places we really love. But, as the reader and traveler, don’t beholden yourself to these things.
Step outside them. Explore.
So, why should you focus more on what not to do? Because you should consider most (legal) things outside of those to be fair game! Do something different, be spontaneous. You can do that with what we might call an anti-guide. We’re not telling you what to do in this post, but rather what not to do. From there, it’s up to you to color outside the lines.
Draw Attention to Yourself
This is really basic. If you’re loud, egoic, or attention-seeking abroad, it almost never ends well. Your purpose overseas is to have a great experience, yes, but to do so without screwing it up for anyone else. Don’t step on anyone else’s toes, literally or metaphorically. Check your ego at baggage claim, because your attention should be on the destination, not the other way around.
What I mean by “buying currency” is using an exchange window or desk in the airport to exchange. The rates you’ll pay are often twice of what the actual exchange is – in other words, it’s a complete rip-off.
Instead, use ATMs overseas. The fee charged is minimal, and you can control the amount of transactions you actually make (and therefore, how many fees you incur).
Turn Down a Drink or Food
This doesn’t mean travel like a gluttonous fool, but rather is a lesson in accepting hospitality.
If a local offers you food or drink, unless you for some reason fear for your safety – accept. It’s culturally endearing. This is especially true in someone’s home, as the rejection of such an offering in many countries is considered rude and insulting.
What we don’t mean here is to accept every open-topped drink in a bar – no. This specifically pertains to offerings given by a host. If someone made a dish with their own hands, even if it’s something you’ve never eaten and strikes you as strange, you should make every attempt to oblige (barring any allergies, of course).
Take Taxis (Exclusively)
As a tourist stepping into a cab, you may as well be wearing a t-shirt with a huge bulls-eye on it. You’re far more likely to be overcharged than someone who knows a city and knows a direction, but simply needs a ride to get there.
Taxis can be convenient, but you shouldn’t lean on them. In fact, any time public transportation is an option in the form of a metro system, choose that over the taxi. The reasons are simple – you’re generally safer, and the cost is only about a fraction of a taxi.
Do the research before you travel in regard to the local transportation, and try using taxis only when its absolutely necessary.
Forget to Learn “Hello”, “Please”, and “Thank You”
No matter what country you’re traveling to, there’s really no excuse for failing to learn how to say “hello”, “please”, and “thank you” in the host language.
This can be learned in about 20 seconds, memorized in another minute, and used to greatly improve how you’re perceived in virtually any country. It doesn’t cost you a dime to learn this much, and the time invested is next to nothing. If you have the capability of downloading the Google Translate app, or pulling the website up on your phone, you can learn 3 words in any language over the span of a TV commercial break. Want something more robust? We know of a handle little guide that can help you learn how to speak a language for your next trip!
Maybe that’s all you can say in the host language, but it’s proof you tried. It’s proof you care, and hold their culture in high regard. Equally important, you’re not putting your own cultural demands over theirs. It’s a gentle bow of the knee in a circumstance where that sort of thing is very appropriate.
Eat Near the Major Tourists Attractions
The restaurants that share squares, piazzas, and city centers with major tourist attractions will cost you almost twice the price, and you’ll get less quality than somewhere one street over. Is this an unscrupulous method by some trickster purveyor to siphon off your tourist dollars? No – it’s simply supply and demand.
Too many people travel with the idea of “convenience” in mind. This includes eating near the things they want to see. Instead, look at the areas that “split the difference” between squares or city centers, and even those on secondary and tertiary streets. If all else fails, step off the square and ask a local shop keeper where they like to eat.
Need one fool-proof way of finding the best places to eat? Combine these elements;
1. Most signs out front are written in the host country language – not English (unless the country speaks a lot of English, of course).
2. The menus are thin. Thick menus with too many options are trying to appeal to everyone, and thus, really befit no one. These restaurants don’t do any one thing well, and they certainly don’t specialize. Additionally, the more menu items you have, the more stock you have to manage in the kitchen. This increases the likelihood of being served something that should’ve been thrown out days ago. Instead, find a place with a thin (2-4 pages) menu that focuses on a handful of appetizers, entrees, salads, and desserts. Those are the type of establishments that’ll treat you right.
3. If the restaurant is packed with people that look like tourists, run. Run far, my friend. Run right to the place down the street where everyone looks like they just finished working a long, blue-collar shift. That’s the one you want. If you’re a “boy next door” American, you should be looking for the place where no one else like you is eating.
4. Don’t go for the “special”. The word “special” on a restaurant marquee or chalkboard should say “the fish turned, so we threw it in a stew and cooked the &&#% out of it.” If a place is pumping a bunch of specials, walk away or just get what’s on the main menu.
Forget a Money Belt
Listen, I know they aren’t sexy. They aren’t stylish, but you can get a money belt that is thin enough to hide under your clothes and keep your wallet, passport, and cash safe.
The truth is, most pick-pocketing happens because there’s an easy target. A thief sees a wallet that’s easily accessible, the tourist isn’t paying attention … easy money. Don’t make it easy for a crook to be a crook.
By all means, plan the things you feel like you have to see, but don’t over-plan your trip. Leave room for spontaneity. Leave time between excursions to wander.
A good rule of thumb on knowing if you’ve packed to much is knowing that if you feel like one more excursion would be “too much”, then subtract one anyhow. Tourists are almost always too aggressive, and underestimate traffic times, how long excursions actually take, time they’ll want to spend wandering, and how vast certain cities really area. Whatever you think is one too many things to pack into a day, subtract at least one.
Without making this list too exhaustive, these are a few keys to travel like you know what you’re doing, and will in turn aid in your enjoyment of your time on the road. At the very least, be appreciative of where you are. Enjoy the culture. Greet the people. Immerse yourself in something new.