When in… Wherever

No one wants to visit Council Bluffs, Iowa, unless they want tacos at the end of a long bike ride. As much time as I’ve spent on the road, I’ve never experienced what it was like on the receiving end of tourism. Sure, Omaha has College World Series, but even when I lived there, I barely noticed a change (other than I still couldn’t find parking in the Old Market).

Whenever Z and I are in a strange place, we try to dress well, tip well, and I try to mention in the process that we’re from Iowa, so that any stereotyping can be positive. We need all the good PR we can get, but we’re never directly affected by other tourists, unless you consider extreme annoyance “affected.”

This summer, we’ve been in a very small town in the Rockies, and we knew that we stuck out to the locals. Not because we’re these spectacularly angelic humans who spread fairy dust all over the valley, but because there are about 50 young people who have lived and worked here a while, and we were not among them. They were polite, if a little indifferent to us, but now that we’ve stuck around I’ve been privy to a whole new lifestyle I’d never fathomed. The livelihoods of the locals rely 100% on people coming to visit this place. No tourists= no tips= no groceries.

There’s this huge amount of respect and hospitality that stems from relying on the dollars of strangers, but as an outsider I look around at my fellow travelers, and I’m often embarrassed by them. Americans have a bad rep for being the most obnoxious tourists, and I believe it relates to never been taught to behave like a good guest (Click to learn more).

So here, Six Tips to Avoid Being an Obnoxious Touron* :

  1. If you have white sneakers, you can wear them, but only while exercising. If you’re in Europe, don’t pack these, unless you want to be a target for pick-pocketers (which is a very touristy thing to say, I know, but anything to discourage white sneakers). Same goes with cargo shorts, fanny packs, and any clothing with a team logo.
  2. Further, dress well in general. Have you noticed that locals are rarely decked out in sporting gear unless they’re fitness instructors? Dressing for “comfort” is typically done incorrectly by tourists. If you’re decked out head to toe in “breathable” Nike attire, you look like a slob who just got back from the gym. If you’re hiking, fine. But if you’re not, show a little respect for the businesses you’re inhabiting, and put on some nice clothes and shoes. Then tip well, and tell them where you’re from.
  3. Lower your voice. If you’re at your favorite neighborhood dive bar and it’s past 8pm, ignore this. But if you’re at a restaurant, be considerate of other patrons (who might not be on vacation like you and your drunken in-laws).
  4. Don’t be ridiculous. Some friends told me of a customer who asked for his bagel to be ‘scooped out’ in the middle. This is not your childhood kitchen, and these people are not your parents.
  5. Observe common manners, as well as laws. Yes, you’re drunk and you don’t really care about whose car you urinate on, but someone probably has to take their kid to school in that, after they bus your breakfast dishes. Show some respect. Follow the same laws for biking, driving, and walking that you observe in your hometown. This will help you avoid being that asshole who causes an accident.
  6. Try to blend, and behave like the other humans. Locals are probably used to seeing foxes on the side of the road, or shit, a bird’s nest near a patio. You don’t need to stop everyone down while you take a picture. If you must do this, be discreet and considerate.

Yes, when you’re the traveller, you have the upper hand, but you are not a prince that everyone should have to bow down to or face a beheading. Consider yourself an ambassador of your people. The point is to make your hometown seem like a nice place that churns out nice people. Otherwise, you are doing yourself zero favors. You may even end up in a story that starts with, “One time, I had this annoying tourist…”

*Credit to Lindy for the creative insult.

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