5 Tips on How NOT to be an Obnoxious Traveller
No one wants to be 'that guy' when travelling. You know who I am talking about. The individual who oozes obnoxious privilege. You'll find them staying at a giant hotel chain from their home country simply because it is familiar. They feel culturally superior to everyone they meet and take it personally if a shopkeeper doesn't speak English.
On the rare occasions that they leave the comfort zone of their hotel it is usually with a tour group (and the tour group usually travels around in an oversized bus that blocks out the sun as well as the roads). When you speak to them about their travels, you often wonder why they even bothered going, since they spent so little time speaking with the locals or learning about the culture.
If you're on this website, you're probably not 'that guy'. Neither am I. But sometimes it is easy to accidentally fall into the trap of seeming like that guy without even realising it. To help you avoid leaving a bad impression, here are my top 5 tips on how to avoid being an obnoxious traveller.
1. No one is expecting you to learn the entire language, but learning how to say hello is a good start
I'm looking at you, fellow native-English speakers. I know it is easy to be lazy, because we were lucky enough to grow up speaking a language that is very widely spoken by others. However learning how to say 'hello' and 'thank you' in the language of the country you are in can really go a long way.
2. Don't over-simplify other people's cultures or way of life
Ever seen someone post an Instagram picture while overseas depicting them alongside a group of locals with a caption like "a simpler kind of life"? Or heard them describe another culture in a way that, although well-meant, somehow sounds patronising? Do not confuse a more remote living location or less technological gadgets with a 'simple' life. Every culture has a long a complex history and every individual within it lives a life that reflects this. It is all well and good to admire and learn from people of other nationalities - but just check yourself when it comes to the way you talk about it or post about it on social media. No one likes the condescending white guy.
3. Ask permission before you take a photo of someone
You would think would be obvious, but amazingly it isn't. I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed a tourist get right up in a local's face to take an unsolicited photo. Can you imagine if you were just going about your day, buying your morning coffee or whatever, and some random foreigner came up and snapped your picture?! If that happened to me (pre-coffee) I would probably knock the camera out of their hand. Just. Ask. First. It ain't that hard (and in my experience people say yes 99.99% of the time anyway).
4. Find the balance between dressing in a way that respects - but doesn't culturally appropriate - the locals
This might sound complicated, but it really isn't. If you're respectful of people, their customs and traditions, then you shouldn't have any issue striking the right balance. If you're travelling to a place where women cover their heads? Simple - cover up too. Whether you personally agree with it or not doesn't matter, no one forced you to travel there if you don't like the way things are. By the same token, don't overdo it with trying to fit in (see above Indian headdress). It is important that you don't come across like you think someone's culture is a costume.
5. Go home knowing that you made the place you visited a little bit better, not worse
This is a broad one, but I think it is the most important. Leaving a place better than you found it can encompass many things. Did you smile at people to make their day brighter or spend most of your time complaining about the crappy wi-fi? Did your interactions with locals leave them with a more positive or negative view of foreigners? Did you pick up rubbish rather than cause it? Did your money go towards locally owned businesses or corporate giants? If you keep these little questions in mind during your holiday then you can leave knowing you made the right kind of impact and that you are not an obnoxious traveller.
Got any other tips for trying to avoid being an obnoxious traveller? Do you have any obnoxious traveller stories to share? Tell me about it in the comments below!