How to be a Good Tourist

Karolina is a university student from Kraków, Poland. Apart from making lists and travel, she loves art, reading, taking pictures and other cliché but fun pastimes. Recently, she has started a blog at

As I live in the historic centre of a city that is a huge tourist attraction, I encounter throngs of tourists every day. There are noisy school trips, stressed out businesspeople, jetlagged Australians and retired people spending their children’s inheritance. There are drunken British stag-partiers, sober families and exchange students (sober or otherwise). Whenever I can, I take a holiday from the aforementioned encountering and become a tourist myself. Wherever I go, I try to behave just as I would wish most visitors to my city to behave. Here are some basic rules to remember in order to fully enjoy your trip without being a nuisance to the locals.

Do some research: Whether you’re going to Spain, Japan, Croatia or Argentina, please take the time to learn at least the Wikipedian minimum about your destination country’s (town’s, state’s, etc.) history and traditions. This will help you during your sightseeing (who’s that Garibaldi chap who has a monument in most Italian cities? Why do those chaps in Spain walk in those funny hats?) and during conversations with the natives.

Be respectful to other cultures, traditions and religions: You might not understand or approve of some customs, but others may not necessarily find yours so good either. When visiting cities you will probably see some churches, mosques, temples or other houses of worship. Whether you’re religious or not, please try to dress and behave respectfully. No gum chewing, kebab eating (yes, I saw a guy eating a kebab in a church), phone-chatting and football playing inside any such place. If you’re visiting a mosque, wear clean socks; if you’re visiting a church and are male – take off your hat.

Don’t be afraid to ask: If you are not sure how to behave or what the procession/monument/sign is all about – don’t be afraid to ask. Most people are friendly and are willing to help.

Watch your tongue: Especially you, English speakers. Nowadays, at least in Europe, most people can understand you, while you usually don’t have this advantage. It is funny how some foreigners talk as if only they understood their language, while other people laugh or are annoyed by their loud descriptions of their gastric troubles. Here in Poland most people under fifty speak English, and many can understand French, German or Italian as well, not to mention other Slavic languages. BTW, I must say I've enjoyed some of the things I eavesdropped on tourists. Once I overheard a US (hopefully) off-duty detective describing the methods of spotting the most dangerous individuals to his Brazilian friend.

Remember that you represent your country abroad: We may not like it, but people usually stereotype and judge others. If you behave loudly, disrespectfully etc., those traits might be attached by the bystanders to your nationality. Would you like to hear your people called annoying drunkards who pee all over monuments? (I’m looking at you, “Joe’s best man”.) On the other hand, if you behave well, you’ll make a positive impression. (Hello, cool Egyptian sisters with whom I shared a laugh over coffee.)

What other suggestions do you have, fellow travellers?


Melanie's Randomness said...

Don't bring your camera everywhere & ask fellow foreigners to take your picture. I think they think of it as disrespectful. These are really good tips. Also know at least a lil bit of the language so you can help yourself if there is a serious problem.

Dawn said...

Oh man, I remember the tourists in Kraków. I was an Erasmus student there, and I was deeply embarrassed by the actions of my fellow Irish people when I saw stag and hen parties.

Karolina said...

Melanie- great tips, especially the one about the language. And I think some guidebookes cannot be trusted, like in this video: ;)

Dawn - you were on exchange here? At which university (as you probably know, we have a few). Did you enjoy your stay?

releasealittledemon said...

While in Prague, we encountered a stag party from Britain wearing "David the Gnome" red pointed hats. It was hilarious.

I'd add to this list not to get annoyed about the questions the locals may ask you. I was abroad right after George W. was elected U.S. present the second time and everyone wanted to ask us who we voted for and why and what we thought was going down in U.S. politics. It got tiresome but then I realized/reminded myself that these people didn't encounter Americans every day and they didn't know that I had been asked the same question what felt like a bazillion times and then it was nice to be able to share my views and explain a little about what our political system was like (I ran into some crazy misconceptions!). I guess "do unto others" is what it comes down to.

Great list!

magnolia said...

great list! these rules could also apply to domestic tourists, though. i live in the metro DC area, and it's shocking to me the way some tourists behave. they're woefully uneducated about the history of their own nation, totally unable to understand basic social conventions, and unwilling to rein in their annoying children, allowing them to run free on public transportation. sigh.

if everyone would pay attention, no matter where they are, this would be a better world.

Anonymous said...

Great article. It hurts me to hear how Americans are thought of so poorly abroad. I've always made a point to blend in. In other words I don't wear brightly colored college sweatshirts and flip flops when I'm at the opera or a world famous museum. But on the other hand many folks abroad don't realize that Americans can speak more than one laguage too. When I was at a pub in Berlin a couple of locals were talking about how terrible Americans are. The little bit of German I speak I could pick up on their conversation. The whole situation was so hilarious I wasn't offended.

Dawn said...

I was at Wyższej Szkole Europejskiej (Tischner European University)- the small private university on Westterplatte. I loved Kraków, and I would love to return there for another stay. The city was beautiful, the people were so friendly, and I loved the cold winter weather!

Anonymous said...

This article is great! I would like to add the map thing. Please do not walk around with your nose in a map, have a seat, memorize the way to get to where you are going and then enjoy the city you came to see, not just its map!
Also learn basics of the language: hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, thank you, sorry, check please, how much, I don't speak _____, do you speak _____, help.

Karolina said...

@Dawn - cool, it's 5 minutes from where I live! I heard they had free apples for students in a large basket whenever they're hungry, is that true?

@The reflective self - actually, last April in Spain an American helped me a lot, as she translated for me;)

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