The Era of the ‘Ego Tourist’

Christopher Elliot


There's a new name for the world's worst travelers: ego tourists. They're inconsiderate, wasteful – and rude. Are you one of them?


This may [have been] the right time to ask because nothing brings out the ego tourists like the holidays. The busy travel period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is so stressful that it comes with its own survival guide. But let's face it: it's the people that make it unbearable – specifically, the ego tourists.


The horrible things ego tourists do


"I have seen some horrors," says Jeanne Craig, a retired flight attendant. They include a first-class passenger who started clipping his toenails during meal service, a mom who left a dirty diaper in her seat pocket, and one passenger who couldn't wait for the bathroom. "He peed in the closet," she recalls.


Wow. Someone should make a movie about those ego tourists.


Hold up: What, exactly, is an ego tourist?


The term "ego tourist" isn't new. People have used it to describe everything from fake ecotourists to travelers who seek out "authentic" but risk-free experiences. Lately, though, ego tourism has become synonymous with the "me first" movement in travel. It's a synonym for the worst tourists in the world.



How do you know if you're the worst traveler ever? 


"If you have to ask if you're an ego tourist, you might be part of the problem," says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and the owner of the Protocol School of Texas. She says you might feel some nervousness about the trip (many ego tourists are inexperienced). Maybe you don't have a printout of your itinerary, or you're unsure of who's going to pick you up at the airport. 


"Even seasoned travelers can easily find themselves getting frustrated," she says. 


Asking the question, "Am I the worst traveler in the world?" also means you're looking for answers. And that's a good thing, says Gottsman. It means you're more likely to plan ahead. Her favorite item: A bottle of ibuprofen, to deal with the inevitable headaches. 


If you don't travel often


Frequent travelers expect traffic jams and long lines. But holiday travel brings out the novices, says Jacqueline Whitmore, a former flight attendant and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "They don't know what to expect. They get very frustrated, very quickly," she says. 


Whitmore has seen it herself. She worked on flights where inconsiderate newbies brought strollers the size of a Mercedes and then ordered a flight attendant to stow them. The worst: A soiled diaper plopped on the tray table. Whitmore doesn't blame them for being rude. "They just don't know any better," she says.


If other people complain about your behavior


If other travelers and passengers complain about your actions, chances are you're an ego tourist. This can include motorists who honk at you or airline passengers who complain about you invading their personal space or stealing their armrest.


"The first sign that someone is unhappy with your behavior is their body language," says A Traveler's Passport To Etiquette author Lisa Grotts. "The eyes have it even when the mouth doesn't say a word. Crossed arms and a scowl go a long way in projecting negative feelings, even if the person hasn't said a word yet."


Also, look for the evil eye or the eye roll. Those are telltale signs you may be the worst traveler on the plane.



Always pack your manners


Sure, stories about angry motorists brandishing firearms in holiday traffic make for exciting reading. But talk to the etiquette experts, and it's clear that these behaviors are outliers. The worst travelers in the world are the everyday people who don't plan and forget their manners. 


But there's a little more to the story. While the novices in the back of the plane throw dirty diapers at the flight attendants, there's another kind of ego tourism happening in the front of the aircraft. It's a culture of entitlement bred by loyalty programs, which send constant messages to its premium passengers that they are better than the rest of the passengers on the plane. It's that mix of diaper-throwing newbies and entitled elites that makes air travel so toxic. And it spills over to the roads, into hotel lobbies and car rental counters. 


The solution is simple: Don't forget to pack your manners. That advice will serve you well at any time.


How to deal with an ego tourist


Ego tourists feed off anger. Instead of getting into a shouting match – or worse – try returning the toxic sentiment with compassion.

Ego tourists travel all the time, not just during the holidays. So how do you handle fellow travelers who are the center of their own universes?


Tell them they're ego tourists – politely. Just because your seatmate is the worst traveler in the world doesn't mean you have to be. If someone is misbehaving, mention the breach of etiquette nicely. Ask the person to please stop. (Otherwise, you're both ego tourists.)


Get out of the way. Change seats, move rooms, but whatever you do, give the ego tourists room. That's especially true of aggressive drivers. If you see someone tailgating you, pull over and let the car pass you.


Return anger with kindness. Ego tourists feed off anger. Instead of getting into a shouting match – or worse – try returning the toxic sentiment with compassion. "Kindness is contagious and goes a long way when it comes to traveling," says Grotts.



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.

© 2020 Christopher Elliott.



Highbrow Magazine



Image Sources:


--Pixnio (Creative Commons)


--Pxfuel (Creative Commons)


--Olichel (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

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