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  • Writer's pictureTravelin' Tim

Are you a "Traveler" or a "Tourist"?

A sign seen on a building in Santorini, Greece. All I have to say is "Amen!"

What is up with bad behavior from tourists these days?

According to the Washington Post, a 19-year-old French visitor to Italy was confronted by Italian police officers last week for carving a heart and initials into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This follows two separate cases of visitors defacing the Coliseum in Rome, and a 17-year-old Canadian who did the same to an 8th-cetury temple in Nara, Japan. Here in my home on North Carolina's Outer Banks, idiots dig big dangerous holes on the beach and leave them there for people to fall into. One even had pointed pieces of wood sticking out from the bottom. Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

But as we all know, those incidents barely scratch the surface (no pun intended). Reports of disruptive airline passengers, people harassing wild animals, and drunken boorish vacation behavior seem to be everywhere this summer. Sure, it's nothing really new, but the problem seems to be getting much, much worse post-pandemic.

It reignites a debate I've had with fellow travelers over the years: what separates a traveler from a 'tourist'. My own personal opinion is that it comes down to one word: RESPECT.

Respect your host country, respect your flight attendants, passport checkers, hotel/hostel staffs, waiter/waitresses, baristas, bartenders and maids. Respect the locals, and respect your fellow travelers. Respect the native language. No one expects you to become fluent in Slovenian or Hindi for a vacation, but learning 'hello', 'goodbye', 'please', 'thank you', and 'cheers' will go a long way no matter where you go.

Adding to the increasingly obnoxious behavior of some, sadly, is the performative nature of some social media apps.

A friend of mine recently showed me a Tik Tok of some dude visiting Italy, drowning his food in ketchup at several local restaurants. Not because he liked ketchup, mind you, but just because he wanted to piss off the restaurant chefs and owners. Clearly, he thought this was hilarious. All I could think was 'Christ, what an asshole.' I'm not linking to it here, because that's what he wants. Clicks.

A sign at Buddha's birthplace in Nepal. Every place should have one.

Maybe it's because I'm old, but I don't get the whole 'tourism as performance art' thing. If I'm going to watch a vacation video, I want to learn something. When's the best time of the year to go? What are some off-the-beaten-path discoveries? What's the most traditional local food? That kind of stuff. I certainly don't want to see anyone doing stupid suggestive dances at Machu Picchu, and I certainly don't want to see someone insulting Italian food with ketchup or carving their initials into an important historic landmark.

And then, there's stuff like this:

Oh. My. Gawd! She actually had to take planes, trains and ferries to reach her destination! She had to carry her suitcase up steps! How DARE Instagrammers not tell her all of this!


The Washington Post article I referenced earlier tries to dig into the causes of all this tourist jackassery, whether its a mentality of 'I can do what I want', or if there's too much emphasis on turning travel into Tik Tok views, or if it's the 'Game of Thrones' effect.

I'm not opposed to selfies (obviously), and I'm not even opposed to informative travel photos and videos on social media. But, if the PRIMARY REASON for your travels is to gain an Instagram or (barf) TikTok following... then to borrow a phrase from Jeff Foxworthy, you just might be a "tourist".

So, let me help you decide which you are:

1) If you are into travel just for the luxury of it, you are a 'tourist' (This applies to most, but not all, cruise ship passengers, or those who will stay at a all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean but never venture outside its walls).

2) If you expect everyone to speak English, no matter where you are, you are a "tourist".

3) If you'd rather take a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa instead of actually looking at it, you are a "tourist".

4) If you expect the locals to cater to your every whim without regards to their other patrons or their cultural norms, you are a "tourist".

5) If you'd rather visit a nightclub than a temple in Bangkok, you are a "tourist".

6) If you're annoyed at the idea of covering your head in a mosque or removing your shoes in a temple, you are a "tourist".

7) If you expect someone to give up their seat on a plane, train or ferry so that you can sit closer to your family or friends, you are a "tourist". (Note: it's OK to ask, but if someone says 'no', move on. You should have planned ahead, and you know it).

8) If you cross over 'do not cross' barricades because 'it doesn't apply to me', you are a "tourist".

9) If you're outside the country and you regularly seek out Starbucks or McDonald's, rather than something local, you are a "tourist".

10) If you post complaints about sand and/or bugs at the beach, snowy roads around your ski resort in the mountains, or summer heat or lines in Venice or Rome or Athens, you are a "tourist".

And obviously, if you cause a scene on a plane or carve graffiti into a historic monument, you're not only a tourist, you're a criminal.

No one wants "tourists". In fact, 'tourist' has become such a pejorative where I live that the local CVB renamed itself from the 'Tourist Bureau' to the "Visitors Bureau'.

So don't be a tourist. Be a visitor, be a traveler.

It all comes down to respect.

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