One of my friends had this posted on Facebook last night, The Top 10 Complaints About American Tourists. Not only is the infographic comical, it is also true. Many Americans are guilty of at least one of the charges above. Clearly, the link inspired me to write about how Americans are often viewed while traveling abroad.
Throughout my travels, I have encountered many people’s mixed opinions on Americans; most recently, and obviously, while traveling with my cousin, Michelle, and her friends from Ireland. While we were in New Zealand, many of the people we met were enthralled with the girls from Ireland, while they only sighed and rolled their eyes upon my admission to being an American. After we all got to know each other, their opinions changed, but would they have even given me that chance if I looked or acted in the ways that are stereotypical of Americans? Probably not.
The truth is that when traveling overseas, I try my best to not look American. It’s not that I am not proud of my country, I am, but I would rather not be associated with many of the judgments that go along with being an American citizen. In my book, there is nothing better than the customs officer assuming that you have an EU passport. When this happened to me last November in Dublin, I was thrilled. My Irish cousins laughed, but completely understood why I would rather be affiliated with Europeans than Americans while traveling.
So, while traveling, how does one blend into the culture and avoid drawing attention to yourself? Here are a few tips:
1. Do not travel in sweats. Traveling is a luxury, so treat it as one. Get a little dressed up! While dressing up for a long plane ride may not be your cup of tea, there are many options out there for looking stylish and being comfortable. Think maxi dresses or a cute tunic with leggings. Trust me, you’ll look good and be comfortable. Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet at an airport. Dressing nice also makes your first appearance to the country a positive one.
2. Do not become a walking American flag. As the article states, “…leave the American-flag Tommy Hilfiger at home.” No one needs to know how proud you are to be an American; enjoy the country you are in. This rule includes anything red, white, and blue, clothing with your state’s name on it, branding yourself in American labels (usually written across the chest of your t-shirt), wearing cowboy hats or bandannas, souvenir t-shirts from the country you are currently visiting, etc. You should dress to blend in (see #3).
3. Dress to blend in. The way you dress is important. Just as you should look good while traveling, this rule applies to sightseeing, as well. Find a pair of ballet flats or boat shoes that are comfortable to walk around in. If you aren’t doing too much walking, wedges a great, especially if where you are visiting has cobblestone streets. As far as clothing is concerned, ditch the t-shirts, ripped jeans, and short shorts/skirts. Find knee-length to maxi dresses or skirts, dressy jeans or pants, and nice blouses. Men should wear polo shirts, button downs, dressy jeans or pants, and boat shoes or loafers. Remember to research what is proper to wear in the countries you are visiting. In many countries, the dress is more conservative, so be respectful and remember that while packing.
4. Learn the language. This does not mean take a class before you go, you don’t even have to buy a book. Go on-line and learn a few helpful words and phrases; e.g. hello, excuse me, thank you. The people you come across will be grateful that you attempted their language, and will show their appreciation. If they speak English, they can help you from there, and if not, they most likely will be able to guide you to someone who can. Just from this small action, you will receive a multitude of kindness and helpfulness along your journey.
5. Try to learn as much of the culture as possible. When talking to people you meet, ask them about their country. While in Fiji, I learned more about the people and the country by talking to everyone I met: tour guides, hotel staff, people in shops. Just by asking questions, we learned about their school system, history, and learned several words in Fijian. People love to tell you about life in their country, so listen to them. After all, it is the reason why you are there. If they want to hear about America, they will ask you.
By following the tips above and avoiding the annoying habits from the infographic, you will see a difference in the way you are treated as a traveler. Plus, the people you meet will see that all Americans aren’t they way they have previously been portrayed. This will solve a wealth of problems, and bring the world closer together one traveler at a time.