10 Ways to Be a Better Tourist

Enjoy your trip and avoid tourist faux pas with this modern guide to travel etiquette

Mandy Ferreira
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Leave It How You Found It—or Better!

No one likes a guest who leaves a mess in their wake. When you’re exploring the outdoors, be careful to follow the seven leave no trace principles—even crumbs from your PB&J can have a negative impact. Pick up trash on the beach or along your hike to leave it even better for the next person. Staying in a hotel or Airbnb? Clean up after yourself and make sure everything is back where it belongs before you check out.

To take it a step further, be mindful of what you bring and the trash that it generates. Many places around the world, including Alaska and Thailand, are inundated with tourists’ waste, such as plastic water bottles and aerosol sunscreen cans. When visiting destinations that do not have good trash and recycling programs, bring reusables, avoid single-use plastic items, and pack it all back out when you leave.

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Be Respectful of the Local Culture

Basic knowledge about your destination will help you safely and respectfully tour the area. It’s crucial to know the local customs and follow them so you don’t inadvertently commit any faux pas. Before you leave, research what clothing is appropriate and learn how to greet a stranger. Many guidebooks will tell you what body language to avoid and what is customary, such as bowing or shaking hands. When visiting religious sites, always ask ahead about where you can go and if there are any rules you are expected to abide by. In general, pay attention to when you should be quiet, and watch your language.

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Leave the Selfie Stick and Drone at Home

Instead of using a selfie stick, ask someone to take your photo. Not only will you meet someone, but also the angle will be better. Once you’ve gotten a good shot, avoid a common faux pas by stepping back so you don’t hog the best vantage points or block anyone’s views.

As for drones, consider how using one to take photos or videos will affect people’s privacy. Also, research local laws about personal drone use in advance. If permission to use of drones is very limited, you might want to skip packing the equipment altogether.

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Engage with Locals

Most locals are proud to show off their home. Kindly ask questions and show interest in them and their city. They are your best resource for directions and where to find the best cafe.  Be patient and kind to everyone you meet, and don’t forget to say thank you.

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Learn Some Key Phrases

When traveling abroad, don’t assume that everyone will speak English. Learn key phrases in the local language like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” Even if you don’t pronounce it exactly right, the recipient will appreciate your effort. Don’t be afraid to say something incorrectly or to use a translating app like Google Translate and iTranslate when necessary.

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Book with Local Operators First

Help support the local economy by booking tours and accommodations through locally owned businesses. If you can’t find clear information on their web sites, call and ask before booking. Not only will your money benefit the community you are visiting, but also it’s often easier to get help should something go wrong and you’re more likely to have an authentic experience.

If you don’t want to stay in a hotel, hostel, or resort, look for Airbnbs that are actually someone's home. Many cities like San Francisco and New York are struggling to provide enough housing, and tourist-only rental properties squeeze the market further.

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Eat Like the Locals Do

Yes, you can eat pizza or a Big Mac practically anywhere, but that doesn’t mean you should. Dietary restrictions aside, take a cue from the locals and seek out the city’s best bites, not the chains that you are familiar with or the restaurants that cater only to tourists. Indulging in local delicacies—and staples—is a great way to experience the place you are visiting. Look around local markets and grocery stores to see what’s sold and ask locals or the visitor’s center for restaurant and cuisine recommendations.

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Slow Your Shutter

It’s tempting to try to capture every moment of your trip, but always being behind the camera can cause you to miss out on what’s happening right in front of you. Instead of trying to get the perfect shot of the Golden Gate Bridge or the grazing bison in Yellowstone, enjoy the moment and fully experience the place you are in. When you do snap a few, always ask before taking anyone’s picture, and be careful to not treat people like attractions. Respect the rules—if photography or a flash isn’t allowed, don’t do it. Most of all, pay attention to your surroundings and don’t get too close to wildlife just to get a shot worthy of the 'gram.

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Visit Lesser-Known Attractions

Overtourism is a growing problem, especially for places that are less equipped to handle the influx of visitors such as smaller cities, island destinations, and environmentally sensitive areas like Hawaii and national parks. A record breaking 48.3 million people visited Los Angeles last year, while a whopping 1.3 billion tourist arrivals were recorded internationally according to the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization.

While it’s great to see the top sights, you don’t have to cross them all off your list at once. Plan your trip for the off- or shoulder seasons, and seek out lesser-known attractions, too. Your trip will be much more memorable and satisfying if you get off the beaten path. Stay in smaller towns outside the big city, explore parks and wildlife preserves, and seek out the quiet attractions and destinations that let you live like a local.

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Shop Local

Give back to the community that is graciously hosting you. Hunt for souvenirs at small boutiques, browse neighborhood markets for dinner ingredients, and replace your forgotten toothbrush at the corner store. Leave behind the snowglobes, magnets, and other tchotchkes, and instead bring home something that will remind you of the best moments of your trip or fill a need in your life.