Don't expect everyone on the planet to speak English. Leave a tip. Know that things will go wrong, and when they do go wrong, try not to yell at whoever appears responsible. (He's probably not responsible.) These are hard-and-fast guidelines that travelers should know and follow -- and that we've probably all heard before. Is there anything new to say on this matter? I think so. Here are 10 more ideas for traveling without being a tacky tourist, a loud American, or, plainly, a jerk.
Don't Take Up More Space Than You Deserve
One seat: That is the entirety of the space allotted to your bag of bones on planes, trains, and subway cars. Unless you've paid for an additional ticket for your feet or your luggage, they should not be taking up any seats while other passengers stand. In the hierarchy of life, bags of stuff and appendages do not carry the same status as whole human beings. Put your luggage on your lap and let someone else sit down.
Watch the Volume of Your Voice
I've been guilty of this one. After having a conversation at what I thought was a socially acceptable volume on a train in Switzerland, a friend told me I was being "American loud." In hindsight, I probably was. It was a quiet train car, and I had likely been bugging some of the people around me. The lesson here: Pay attention to the volume of your voice, and match it to the loudness of the people around you. Different cultures have their own ideas about what intensity of noise is acceptable, especially in confined spaces like train cars or buses. Minding your noise level is an easy and obvious way to be respectful of others and to avoid the "jerk traveler" stamp.
Pack Lightly When You Can
We continuously advise travelers to pack lightly for their own sakes. With minimal baggage, you can avoid airline fees, get around more easily, feel less burdened by bulk on the road, etc. You are also doing a solid for your fellow travelers when you lighten your load. First, there are your fellow passengers on the plane who also have bags and might need some overhead-bin space. Second, the citizens of the world are not your porters. If you can't lift your ridiculously heavy bag into the overhead bin, you're doing something wrong. Don't expect others to lift your load, barring a physical disability of course.
Pay Attention to the Flow of Traffic
When walking in the city, look at where cars and other large deathly things are going. This is especially important in places with unfamiliar traffic patterns. London is a classic example. The traffic in London flows in the opposite direction of traffic in the States, as British drivers use the left side of the road; it's a fact that is easy to forget when strolling through this vibrant city. Step into the road without looking both ways (or at least in the correct direction), and you're putting yourself and others in danger at worst and being rude at best. Watch out for tramcars, bikers, and other fast-moving passersby.
Don't Stand in Front of All the Things
Unless you are a ghost or a liquid, it's best to avoid stationing your body in such a way that you manage to annoy everyone in the room. Here is a list of some things in front of which you shouldn't stand: entranceways, aisles, and any other place through which people have to walk to get to another place. Don't stand in front of the door on the bus while asking the driver for directions when there's a line of people behind you, waiting to get out. Don't stand with your legs against the carousel at baggage claim. Don't linger in front of the gate to the airplane before your boarding group has been called. And so on.
When It's Your Turn, Be Ready
When you get to the front of the line, be ready for whatever it is that you'll need to do there. In airport security, have your shoes off, your computer out of the bag, and your belt off before you've reached the X-ray machine. I've seen countless travelers stand in security lines for 15 minutes staring into space and then make harried efforts to remove shoes/belts/coats/scarves and get their things into those gray bins, as if they're very surprised to find themselves suddenly undergoing airport security procedures. If you don't want to shuffle along in your socks like you're in a psych ward, save the shoes part for last. But at the very least, get your laptop out of the bag.
Recognize Cultural Differences
Travel gives us the opportunity to learn about the nuances of various cultures. It also brings about delicate situations. When we're unsure of the acceptable cultural norms in a place, the potential to offend rises. Recognizing that people in far-flung regions don't speak English is step one. Step two is doing some baseline research on cultural practices in the destination you're visiting. Before you head to Marrakesh, know, for example, that in Morocco, it's considered unacceptable for non-Muslims to enter mosques. A quick Google search of accepted customs and practices in your destination should unearth anything you need to know.
Consider the B&B Owners
Now that alternative accommodations like apartment rentals and B&Bs are growing in popularity, more and more travelers must personally arrange key pickups or set check-in times with individual renters. Things get sticky when late flights or traffic snarls mess up prearranged plans. Should the renter acquiesce to your shifting schedule? Maybe, but you should be as considerate as possible. The best way to handle this situation is to treat your proprietor more like a host than a hotel. Stay in touch if your plans change, and make sure you'll have a way to communicate if need be.
Stop Complaining About the Crappy Wi-Fi
A good rule to live by when traveling: Don't expect the comforts of home while on the road. This includes the 50-Mbps Blast Plus Internet connection you have in your apartment. A hotel or an airport might advertise Wi-Fi, but, as anyone who's tried to link up with a spotty connection in a terminal knows, solid connections on the road tend to be hit-or-miss. If you've paid extra for Wi-Fi at a hotel but you can't latch onto the signal, then of course it's reasonable to politely ask for a refund. But ultimately, you'll do yourself a favor by lowering expectations in this regard, thereby preventing an emotional meltdown when connectivity fails. Because it probably will fail.
If you're desperate to update your cat-costume Tumblr during a trip, look into buying a portable mobile hot-spot device such as AT&T Unite Pro. Problem solved.
For the Love of God, Stop It with the Smartphone
To the selfie obsessed: You ruined my Mona Lisa experience at the Louvre. You make me uncomfortable when I'm caught between your phone and whichever statue or building gets to be the backdrop to your spotlighted face. Selfie takers are annoying in all cultural contexts. Texting while walking or driving and having loud phone conversations in confined spaces are cell phone faux pas, too. It needs to stop.
Now it's your turn. Tell us your rules for traveling without being a jerk.
--By Caroline Costello