6 Ways to be a Gracious Visitor

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I live in a world renowned ski resort town that draws two million visitors every year and that relies heavily on tourism as an economic driver. Every day, especially in the winter, I witness tourists interact with the local population, the environment and each other. I see everything from grouchy, entitled tourists to gracious and respectful travelers—guess which type has a better time?

Here are ten ways to assure that you stay on the “nice” list (and far from the naughty), wherever your travels might take you.

Do Your Homework
Sometime in between booking accommodations and scouting out restaurants, take some time to learn the local customs. For instance, restaurant servers in Canada and the United States typically expect diners to leave them a tip. My server friends are filled with dread when someone from a non-tipping country sits in their section. It’s worth learning what is appropriate, particularly if you intend on returning to the establishment.

I’ve seen tourists prevented from entering beautiful cathedrals in France for wearing short shorts and tank tops. I’ve seen seemingly innocent gestures, like pointing, be interpreted as rude. As they say, when in Rome—learn the customs and respect them!

Talk the Talk
If you’re venturing into new language territory, make some effort to learn the basics. Assuming that everyone can speak  English can come across as presumptuous. A little effort goes a long way, and locals will probably admire (or at least respect) your attempts, even if your pronunciation is a little off.

Take the Road Less Travelled
Every town has its tourist attractions, which you can easily pick out from brochures in tourism offices or from flipping through guidebooks. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, seek out the road less travelled. Restaurants near tourist attractions are often overpriced and underwhelming—venture to lesser known neighborhoods to truly taste the local flavors.

Scour the web for recommendations from people who have been to your chosen destination, or ask around to see if any friends (or friends of friends) have spent some time there. Or better yet…

Befriend a Local
Don’t be afraid to sit at a quiet bar and get to know the bartender.  Chat with the person sharing the chairlift with you, or ask the cashier for their help and recommendations. Locals treasure their secrets, but if you take the time to establish their trust, they can show you a side of their town that you would never find in a guide book. Ask them how long they’ve lived there, how they ended up in their town, and where they like to go for lunch. You’re bound to meet a few memorable characters along the way.

Mind Your Manners
You wouldn’t believe some of the behaviour I have seen from people who are stuck in holiday mode. Litter on ski runs, senseless vandalism, obnoxious shouting at 3 AM in residential areas—some people just forget that their holiday destination is somebody’s home.

It’s great to let loose and have fun, but be mindful of your actions and respectful of the place you’re visiting. If you wouldn’t behave that way in your own backyard, then don’t do it.

Be Adventurous!
You didn’t travel just to replicate your routine at home, did you? Don’t be afraid to try new things and embrace the unique experiences that your destination has to offer. Order something you’ve never heard of off a menu, or partake in an activity that makes your knees shake. And don’t you dare step foot into a McDonald’s—unless, of course, you’re curious about the EBI Filet-O in Japan or Shaka Shaka Chicken in Singapore.

 

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