Things tourists do – BUT should not and why

Angkor Wat

It is common for any discussion on travel to begin with whys and wherefores of travel. Travel writers will throw around tips on how to avoid mistakes that lead to wasted money, lost time, and missed opportunities and how to avoid them. But how often do you hear the other side of travel? From the perspective of the people/country welcoming tourists that may or may not be very well behaved?

As a solo female traveler, I have always found helpful and friendly people everywhere, but I was surprised when I have been told on various occasions, “you are different from other Indian travelers. Wish there was more like you.”

It was flattering at first, but I only saw their true meaning many travels later. I must admit though, it was not just the Indian tourist who has a bad reputation, but the Chinese, Germans, Russians all fall in the category of tourists that give the host the shivers. Badly behaved tourists are not limited to certain countries but a multinational issue.

I kept a close watch on badly behaved tourist following my experience in Germany few years ago.  I was waiting my turn at Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. For those who have not seen been here, the Castle rises straight up through the trees and to get a clear shot, you must step back considerably and find a rare open space to shoot. I found such a place, which was packed with Chinese tourists taking selfies. I waited. Five minutes ran to ten and fifteen while the selfie-hoggers ran through several poses.

In Europe (particularly Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria and Spain), or Thailand and Indonesia, which is often the first and the only destination for Asian tourists, the problem of bad or irresponsible behavior is alarming. From being rude to pinching stuff, there are innumerable stories of shameful acts attributed to them. Chinese tourists often hog the headline for being the worst behaved – but is it really them alone? Are Indians (or Asians or tourists in general) guilty of this? How about the Western or European tourists? Are they above ill-behavior?

So are these allegations true?


But what constitutes bad behavior? 

There was a time when what happened on a tour, stayed there – but today, holiday makers and bystanders capture clips of shocking behaviour to share with the world. While this very act itself constitutes invasion of privacy, it has helped bring to focus the real problem that exists. Tourists have even been caught making off with items from hotels, restaurants and markets, spitting or urinating in public spaces. A few months ago, Chinese tourists appeared on Japanese TV clambering over Japan’s national symbol, the cherry tree, selfie sticks in hand.

On a more personal level, rude behavior towards hotel staff top the list with particular reference to  Asian tourists who tend to be overly demanding, expecting everything to happen at the snap of a finger.

This had led to mutual disrespect towards a certain nation of travelers. Mridula Dwivedi, a well- known travel blogger had this to say – “I stayed in a hotel in Bangkok which is dominated by Indian Tourists! They count each spoon in the room before check-out! The tourists are rude to the staff and the staff gives it right back! I avoid such areas altogether now!”

In her blog Mridula writes, “Aggression doesn’t solve our problems. Politeness does. Leave with a good lasting impression, not with raving vengeance.”

The appropriateness of tourism in North Korea has long been debated, but has become increasingly discussed in the past few months. When I visited North Korea in 2014, I sat through a pre tour-briefing in Beijing that explained dos and don’ts when in the country. Some considerable time was allotted specifically to the American tourist behavior. However, on the tour itself, the American tourists insisted on jeopardizing everyone by bullying the guides, demanding explanations for certain historical facts and asking to be allowed to “roam free, because that what we are used to.”

Now, we all know that DPRK has strict policies and the reason we are there is to observe those policies – so where does it figure that tourists must insist on breaking the rules? I agree that being herded around under watchful eyes can be certainly depressing, but that if that is what you signed up for, why not simply comply?

Countries have rules – Sistine Chapel and Egyptian Museums have rules against photography. Respect them. I was livid when someone pulled out a smartphone and secretly filmed inside the Sistine Chapel. I am not the perfect traveler myself, I have been guilty of stepping too close to a gorilla against express orders and such like, but in general in try to be an example others can follow.


Besides those tourists who insist on flouting rules, there is another kind called the Language Snoot. US-based traveler and photographer Jude Gabriel explains about this typical tribe. “Oh you don’t speak English? But why? There are so many tourists here! You must absolutely learn to.”

“The answer is, my friend, you may be surprised by the fact that English isn’t important in some parts of the world. Life goes on.”

Bad behavior does little to improve the nation’s international image or make life any easier for other travelers, Jude says. “One of the worst feelings when travelling is checking into a hotel, showing your passport and seeing the friendly welcome instantly evaporate.”


Over the course of travel, few instances have upset me so I made a list of things to avoid –  I’ve made many of these mistakes in the past, but doing things wrong shows you how to do them right.

I am writing this for a reason. I often assumed that people who “toured” Europe would be, in the least, a little more socially aware than those who continually focused on cheaper destinations like south East Asia. But that could just be my bias. A few years ago in Kenya, my safari guide told me he found Russians surly, impolite and prone to getting wildly drunk and smashing up hotel furniture, not to say screaming at wild animals in the park – or worse, abusing the driver if they didn’t see lion. His views weren’t unusual.  With Russians, Indians, Chinese and Israelis shared this misdemeanor – somehow laying the blame on the safari driver for the failure of sighting the BIG FIVE instantly. Reuben, my driver told me what a welcome break it was to have someone (me) just enjoy the drive without worrying too much.

If you really must know the extent of bad behavior, speak to bartenders and taxi drivers –and you might be surprised at their answers.

I have stumbled upon violations of tourist etiquette of every kind through years of travel. Here are the oft-encountered ones –

  1. The “owners of the world” – Behaving as though they owned the place – Yes. Those! They turn up at a restaurant or a cathedral and act as though it belonged to them! They are not the ones to wait in queue or wait to be seated – they just have to have it now – even if it means cutting the line, barging ahead of everyone else and hogging space.
  2. Dressing up to fit a “tourist” mold – Then there are those who want to look like tourists – shorts, camera around the necks, fancy sun glasses, sneakers, fancy water bottles, tank tops, loud patterns – in other words dressing up for the pictures and to give off the“oh, look I am such a cool tourist” appearance.
  3. Hogging public space – Yes, most tourists are guilty of this crime! They arrive in groups, hog the crucial spaces and NEVER leave. Never mind that others are waiting their turn – they just won’t leave.
  4. Tourists who think tour guides work “exclusively” for them – These are the ones with the maximum questions – some highly unnecessary – as though others did not matter. There are those who dispute bills, even if they have used the mini bar in their hotel rooms.
  5. Oh, but I am a tourist – These are the ones who break rules because they think rules don’t apply to them because they are tourists.

No. rules are rules. Follow them

Kent Foster, a personal friend and widely traveled writer and researcher told me of an incident that happened in The Philippines. “A bunch of travelers who happened to be Israelis were at a beach restaurant. They were changing chairs and claiming the waitress got their orders wrong, all to confuse her and get free food that the poor waitress would be responsible for.”

Recently it was brought to the public attention about British tourists accusing food poisoning at the hostels and claiming free stay and compensation in return. Often when the medics were called in, it turned out they had been drinking far too much.

Is good behavior such a hard thing to achieve?

A good tourist is someone who doesn’t overstay, knows his dollars and bahts and has figured out his stay and itinerary in advance. But The Perfect Tourist is a myth. No matter what, tourists will, end up making a value judgement or a cultural faux pax – which is just as bad as eating near a tourist attraction. “The water is so disgusting, how do people swim in it? Oh look, the pavement is broken, how can I walk, “it’s so hot! How do these people survive without air conditioning?” – or worse – “look, they are praying to a stone god” – are some typical value judgements that indicate their limited knowledge of the world.

Understand the socio political or cultural background before making suggestive or offensive statements (aimed at Indians and Americans, who are ready to opine on world politics with the least encouragement). Always respect the local law, military or police, especially in regards to drugs and pornography.  Hitting on or propositioning local women or making lewd and suggestive comments because “I am a tourist, I can do what I like” is a definite NO NO.

You Bought the Services, Not the Person

On every trip something might go wrong, however carefully it is planned. I have gone on planned and unplanned trips and there has never been a perfect trip till date.  I have always understood that I have bought services and not the person delivering it – so blaming the individual for a flight arriving late or a change in the restaurant’s menu is rather inane. Things happen, the idea of traveling is to adapt quickly to make the best of the situation, as any seasoned traveler will tell you. The amount of cribbing I have seen on some trips, it makes me wonder, why even bother to get out in the first place?


5 World’s Worst Tourists

While it is really unfair to attribute bad behavior to a particular country, in an increasingly digital and connected world, it is easier to categorize – thanks to video or photographic evidence, the better and the worst type of tourists. The top five countries based on these evidences are -China, Great Britain, Russia, Israel /Germany,       America/India

Typical obnoxious behavior

  • Leaving the tap running. Wasting food
  • Being rude to just about everyone
  • Littering, urinating in street corners.
  • Aggression, impatience and showing off
  • Being loud – in order to proclaim to the world how happy and funny they are

5 Recent incidents that captured world media attention

  1. In June 2017, an elderly woman on a flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou, threw coins into the engine for good luck
  2. An airline passenger on an internal flight in China sparked a safety scare in December 2014 by yanking open an emergency exit to “get some fresh air” as the plane was due to take off.
  3. A young man destroyed a 50cm stalagmite at a cave in Songtao county, Guizhou province, in June 2017.
  4. A drunken Australian tourist attacked a minibus driver and took the vehicle for a joyride from Causeway Bay to the hills above Happy Valley. He was later arrested.
  5. Man ignores warnings and takes photos of Komodo dragons in Indonesia, gets bitten. (Okay, I have been guilty of this – I did inch too close to the dragon and was chased mercilessly, jeopardizing the guide and the other travelers lives as well. Mercifully we escaped unhurt)

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