Don't ruin your vacation (or everyone else's around you); avoid making these all too common tourist mistakes. Not only will you get more out of your experience, you may actually learn something new about the culture you're visiting.
Americans have a reputation for being ignorant about the rest of the world and it's partly due to the fact that many of us travel without doing any real research on where we're going. Avoid making costly mistakes (like paying far too much for cab fare when there's a free train system) or ignorant mistakes (like not understanding food serving times) by doing plenty of research on the country you plan to visit before you make the trip.
We're not saying don't travel with your family... but do you really need to do every tour with all 16 people? This is a sure fire way to stick out like a sore thumb, which could cost you more than just a pleasant stay. Many thieves and pickpockets target large groups of foreigners. If you can, split up into two groups.
You know that tourist... the one whose face is buried so deep in a guidebook that they forget to look up and see the Eiffel Tower (or look up in general and end up bumping into everyone). Guidebooks are good outlines and offer great information on the country, sights and restaurants. However, it should be used only as a guide, not a bible. Get your nose out of the book and see the beauty around you.
This one is simple but so many people forget it. Learn the exchange rate and currency before you leave. This will save you from making expensive mistakes (like paying way too much for a service or good).
Would you want some stranger taking a photo of you while you worked? Probably not... so don't assume merchants, street vendors, food cart owners and performers will mind if you snap away. The same goes for stores, private homes and food markets. Always ask permission before you hit click, especially if you want to take photos of people.
Don't spend your entire getaway inside the walls of your hotel. Get the most out of your vacation by spending a few days in the cities and towns near your resorts or hotels. If you're not versed on expeditions, ask your hotel to plan a city, town or village getaway so you can experience local food, customs and culture.
We're not telling you to become fluent in another language, but learning a few basics will get you a long way when traveling. Learn the important phrases, like greetings, directions and a few questions, like where is the hospital, where are the bathrooms and how much does this cost. This will make it easier for you to communicate with locals who don't speak English — and make haggling much easier.
Unless you've paid for a private tour, you, your family and friends aren't going to be the only ones on the tour of The Louvre, so don't act like it's just for you. That means avoid constantly interrupting the guide, talking about personal matters while the guide is teaching or asking a question every two minutes. Even if you think you know it all, let the guide do their job and let the others enjoy the tour.
This is another reason why Americans are often thought of as ignorant. Instead of learning the country's language or a few key words, we talk down to and disrespect locals because we expect them to understand us. Many countries don't speak English, so it's important to respect and understand that when traveling. Tip number four will make communication easier for you, which will hopefully keep you from getting frustrated with language barriers.
What makes this world such a beautifully interesting place is that fact that no two places are alike. The food, people, customs and cultures differ, which is why traveling is such an incredibly humbling and enriching experience. Understanding a country's culture and their customs before visiting is imperative. Many countries have strict rules when it comes to photography, prayer times, displays of affection, clothing and even eating times, so study before you visit to avoid accidentally disrespecting a country and their culture.
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