Stop Traveling Like a Tourist

Gallivanting by definition is to travel about from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure and enlightenment.  Traveling should be more than just pleasure. Vacations should involve more than running around snapping photos for social media posts and shopping at the same big box stores you frequent at home.
Sustainable travel involves traveling in such a way that native cultures are left intact for future generations. This includes buying local products, experiencing new cultures, and making ethical travel decisions. Below is my short list on how you can stop traveling like a tourist.

Don’t Be Rude

Entitlement is a real problem. This is especially evident when citizens from “developed” nations visit so called “developing” nations.  I’m often taken aback at how rude people are to those they view as “subordinates.” It should come as no surprise when negative sentiments are returned in kind.

On a trip to the Rivera Maya I saw firsthand why so many Latinos have negative impressions of Americans. One instance in particular involved an intimidating American man towering over a petite Mexican shopkeeper chiding her for not speaking English. Miscommunication in foreign countries a bound to happen, but ultimately we are guests in their nation not the other way around. We have only ourselves to blame if we don’t speak the local language, not the other way around.

Always be Kind
For many, vacation is a much needed break from the chaos of everyday life. This doesn’t give you the right to act in such a way that locals need to take a vacation from you. Tourism already drives up local prices and limits housing opportunities. In many resort towns streets become clogged with inappropriately dressed and often drunk people. Our patience, consideration, and kindness go along way.

It sounds simple, but trust me this really works. If you smile and act considerately to others you will be treated like a superstar. Even if you don’t speak the language. Or if you are too tired to care. It doesn’t matter, just smile. This is especially important when traveling solo. I can’t tell you how many people have gone out of their way to helped me just for being kind to them.


Translator apps work great when traveling

Learn a half dozen local phrases

I know it seems daunting but translator apps and sticky notes are the travelers best friend. One of the biggest complaints I heard in France was that Americans don’t even try to speak French. They just assume everyone speaks some English, which many locals found offensive. Learning a few phrases from the country you are visiting greatly improves ones experience. Many people feel complimented when foreigners attempt speaking their native tongue. Don’t worry about mispronouncing words, this is just a part of the overall travel experience. Below is an example of the key words and phases I jot down before an international trip.

• Excuse me
• Please
• Thank you
• I’m sorry I don’t speak (insert language)
• Do you speak English?
• Where is (location)
• How much is this?

You can include regional foods you want to try. The names of places you wish to visit. I also like to jot down key words like Bus, Taxi, Restaurant, Entrance, Exit, Toilet, Women, and Man.

Mexican Custom Form
Mexican Custom Form

Being Aware of Customs Requirements Before Travel

Every trip abroad involves some form of customs encounter. It’s important to keep in mind that security various from country to country. Even within a country security can vary from airport to airport depending on current threat levels and your destination. Many problems can be avoided by checking local visa requirements and allowances before your flight. I once watched a grown women throw a tantrum in the customs line because her sunblock was over the 3 oz limit. Don’t be that person. Gracious behavior goes a long way at promoting peace. One of my most frustrating travel moments was when I got delayed for over two hours on the Washington/British Colombia border, while men with dogs searched my car. I was dead tired and needed to catch a flight. It was super frustrating, but they were just doing their job. That’s why it’s always a good idea to avoid tight connections and overbooked itineraries during border crossings. Below are a few airport security tips to keep in mind.

• Pack EXTRA one quart bags (they tear easy)
• Your one-quart bag needs to be able to close to pass through security
•Wear socks to avoid walking barefoot through other peoples germs
•You may get searched if you wear an elaborate hairstyle with a lot of metal pins or clips
•Try and streamline your wardrobe no belts or bulky jewelry
•Have electronics and toiletries easily accessible at the top of your bag
•Try to be organized especially electronic cords

Custom forms clearly state to retain document until departure.
Custom forms clearly state to retain document until departure.

Keep All Documents

Even though this point falls under customs, I wanted to make sure it stood out from other points. Always keep all your travel documents. Don’t throw them out until after you are back home. You never know when you might need them again. This is particularly true of entrance documents. For example when visiting Mexico you will receive a small entrance visa. If you lose it you may have to pay a departure fine. The entrance visa is proof that you already paid it when you flew into the country. I also hold on to plane and bus stubs in case I encounter problems with immigration. Sometimes if your passport is really full they can have trouble find your previous entrance and exit stamps. This happened to me once in Guatemala. An officer claimed that I had remained in the country for over a year illegally. Fortunately, I was able to show him my plane tickets as proof of my arrival and departure dates.

Most people have a least some travel anxiety before a big trip. Just remember that any  setbacks or delays are part of the journey and make for a great story later on. At some point you may need to sleep on an airport floor or miss a day of work, but what an adventure it will be. Following these simple travel tips will help you be prepared for whatever comes along on your transition from annoying tourist to enviable world traveler.

The Gallivanting Nomad


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