And the Most Annoying Tourists Are…

Christopher Elliot


Tourists can be absent-minded and obnoxious, and they often leave their common sense at home.


I ought to know about the most annoying things travelers do. That's because, in addition to writing about travelers, I am one. I've made enough mistakes to fill a book. 


How annoying are travelers? A recent survey by the online travel agency Agoda breaks it down by behavior:


  • Noisy travelers (57%)
  • Travelers glued to their devices (47%)
  • Those insensitive to cultural nuances (46%)


It's the perfect time to talk about annoying travel behavior as we gear up for the holiday travel season. 


Shut up and travel!


Why are travelers so loud? Yes, there's the joy of discovery. You can't help but gasp the first time you stand at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and stare into the abyss. Or when you catch a glimpse of the Alps, the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal.


But there's more going on here. It feels almost as if everyone's hearing aid has a low battery, and they're yelling at each other. It's a uniquely touristy behavior, for which there's no rational explanation.


And it's not just the decibel level of their chatter that's annoying – it's also the meaningless and seemingly endless dialogue.



"The chatter could be talking a lot because of nerves," explains Jacquelyn Youst, founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol, an etiquette school. "That's particularly true on planes, where you could be seated next to a nervous traveler."


Her advice for dealing with noisy travelers, which is one of the most annoying things travelers do? Don't yell, "Shut up!" That will ratchet up the tension. "If you are sitting next to a chatty traveler, put in your earbuds," she advises. "This is the universal sign for 'I do not want to be disturbed.'" 


And if you're not on a plane, then move away from the disturbance.


Power down that phone


If you don't want to be an annoying traveler, it's as easy as pushing a button.


"Put down your phone once in a while and unplug," says Andrew Moore-Crispin, a frequent traveler who works for Ting Mobile, a pay-as-you-go mobile service. "Take that walk on the beach without bringing your phone. Your phone will thank you, too."


Wait, your phone will thank you? Well, maybe not literally, but beach season brings a surge of insurance claims from vacationers whose mobile devices are damaged by water or sand.


But device addiction is a real problem. A recent survey said 76% of smartphone users consider themselves "addicted" to their phones. And 62% of the respondents checked their phones up to 160 times per day. That's once every nine minutes. 


On vacation, device addiction is an embarrassment. I've seen kids staring almost catatonically at their screens at America's favorite tourist attractions, from the Statue of Liberty to the beaches of Santa Monica, California. 


Enough, already. Power down your phone.



Learn the language, s'il vous plait


Taking the time to learn even a few words in the local language can take you a long way when you're traveling, changing you from a walking stereotype into a welcome guest. Consider Arlene Englander's experience when she visited Germany with her husband.


"We'd both listened to some Pimsleur CDs from the library for an hour a night for three weeks, so we could actually have brief conversations in the language," says Englander, a clinical social worker from North Palm Beach, Florida. "I've never seen people so thrilled by our efforts as the Germans were."


On the flip side, you can easily offend someone if you insist on speaking English all the time. It's difficult to understand how off-putting an "English-only" attitude can be until you master a second language – and hear what they say about you behind your back (falsely believing that you can't understand them).


When I lived in Europe, I saw the other side of the "cultural insensitivity" equation. Many tourists – not just Americans – didn't know the difference between "ja" and "nein." It's one of the most annoying things travelers do. I was embarrassed. 


The fix: In the run-up to your trip, devote a few minutes a few times per week to an online language learning program like Babbel, Duolingo, Memrise, Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone.  Try any of them and you'll find language instruction has come a long way from the days of reciting verb conjugations. These apps use different types of quizzes to teach you basic vocabulary and sentence structure. Odds are at least one will suit your learning style. 


If you're serious about mastering another language, find a tutor on a service like Preply or Verbling.


Avoiding linguistic faux pas can not only make you a more welcome traveler but also increase your enjoyment of the places you visit.


Break these other bad travel habits


Consider curbing these patterns while you're at it: 


Failing to plan: Tourists are often disorganized. "A checklist is a simple way to save a ton of mental energy – and ensure you never forget anything," says Jimmy Hayes, a frequent traveler who cofounded Minaal, a bag and accessories company. He recommends using project management software like Trello or Asana to build a packing checklist. "You can even build multiple checklists, based on destination or climate," he adds.


Not reading the instructions: That can lead to serious consequences. Consider what happened to Paul Warren, who runs an e-commerce business in Redington Beach, Florida, during a trip to France. When he needed to refill his rental car, he didn't pay attention to the fuel type. "I put the wrong grade of fuel in the car at the gas station, just before getting on a major toll road," he recalls. The engine sputtered and stopped shortly afterward. (Tip: Use Google Lens to translate text you don't understand without having to type it in.)


Limiting yourself to tourist traps: Why does everyone flock to the same attractions? This may be the single most annoying thing travelers do. They read the same online reviews, crowd into the same restaurants, visit the same attractions. But just a little research online or at your local library will reveal there's more to see out there. Much more.


Author Bio:


Christopher Elliott's latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.

© 2019 Christopher Elliott. Printed with permission.


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