We’re constantly told “don’t be a tourist,” but sometimes, it’s simply unavoidable. Maybe you don’t speak the language at all, maybe you’re only in a city for one day, maybe you have a blog to write or a website to keep up and need the best photos in the least amount of time. Maybe you’ve been living in Paris and God-forbid you don’t spend a night under the Eiffel Tower, touristy and all. Tourism exists and us travelers are a part of it whether or not we like it. But being touristy doesn’t necessarily mean being an annoying tourist. As someone living in the tourist capital of the world, I’ve found both tourists that I’d like to throw out of my city as well as tourists that I’d like to befriend. Instead of a long list of things to avoid in order to avoid the tourist stereotype, here are 30 things you can do.
You can say please. You can say thank you. Small words even pronounced badly in a language you don’t know can go a very long way. You can smile. You can grimace and motion that you know how bad you’re appearing. You can ask for directions. You can clarify that the train or bus you’re in front of is going the way you want it to.
You can step out of the way for the business man who’s in a hurry. You can open maps on doorsteps as to not fill the entire sidewalk. You can pull your head out of your phone while you walk. You can keep your group on the same side of the sidewalk so that others can pass you. You can walk with a purpose — if you end up going the wrong way, just walk with a purpose in the opposite direction. No one likes the person walking slowly with a confused look on their face. You can say excuse me and move quickly.
You can call once to your child up ahead, then trust that they’ll find their way back when they realize you’ve stopped, instead of screaming down the street. You can make mistakes without swearing or making a fuss. You can stick your head in your phone or the nearest empty shop to find the answers you need instead of wondering them out loud. You can ask people you meet in planes, trains or taxis for recommendations, as they’ve often done each touristy thing twelve times and will know the best way to go about it. They are also the people who aren’t too busy to be bothered, because they’re also waiting out their commute into town.
You can observe the actions of those around you and then follow them. You can wear comfortable travel clothes without wearing colors that stick out. You can put your selfie stick away and ask a neighbor to take your picture. You can take that gotta-have picture quickly and then move on — no need for a ten minute photo shoot. You can be kind to strangers without being intrusive into their life. You can answer questions about where you’re from without being nationalistic.
You can be street smart — don’t stop for scams. You can walk around street performers without getting so involved that you become the performance. You can oh and ah at monuments without stopping directly in the paths of others.
You can purchase your post cards and stamps all in one go instead of buying one from each kiosk you see. You can buy souvenirs that you might actually use — things like vases and paintings, instead of magnets and key-chains that you’ll loose within the next few weeks. You can seek out boutiques instead of tourist trap stores that all look alike.
And finally, you can be as polite as you have ever been in your entire life. If you’re unsure, be the polite that is correct in your culture. Accept the fact that you are probably in the wrong because you don’t understand the culture or language. Whether or not you actually are in the wrong, deferring to the other person will help you out in the long run.
I don’t mind when someone asks me for metro directions. I do mind when someone doesn’t bother to ask, but complains out loud about how confused they are. If we’re destined to be tourists, we might as well be the best tourist we can be.