How to be a BAD Tourist


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It’s apparently a lot easier than you’d think.

Last spring when I was facing the annual DC tourist onslaught, I wrote an article about how to be a GOOD tourist, from the perspective of a local. In it I called out some of the most annoying behaviors I’ve witnessed from tourists: talking too loudly, blocking traffic etc.

I now realize this was only the tip of a very, very large iceberg. Traveling around South East Asia has opened my eyes to the vast and embarrassing world of bad tourist behavior. I wrote once that there was no wrong way to travel, but I have to amend myself. If you are doing any of these things (all of which I have, honest to go, actually witnessed), you are traveling WRONG.

How to be a BAD Tourist:

  • Talk Down to the Locals: They don’t speak English, at least not well, so they’re probably stupid right? I know, maybe if you raise your voice they’ll understand you better.
  • Throw Your Trash Everywhere– Someone will clean it up, right?

  • Flaunt your Sexuality:- Hey- you’re in Luang Prabang and it’s HOT out! Why not walk around in a bikini top everywhere? Oh, because the locals are very conservative and find this offensive? Whateves.
  • Mess with the Animals: Silly monkeys! Actually this one is usually punished swiftly:

  • Cheat Desperate People– People in SE Asia are often very poor. Why not take advantage of that by bargaining them down to beyond ridiculous prices. Make desperate people jump for your money, just because you can.
  • Treat the Locals Like Prostitutes-Yes, there are a lot of prostitutes in SE Asia, so of course that means that all Thai women are sex-workers. You should definitely proposition that random woman on the beach at 7am, then call her a bitch for blowing you off. No idea why she looked so pissed.
  • Disrespect National Monuments– I can’t even be facetious about this. When I wandered into the courtyard of S-21, struggling with all I had seen, and saw these girls sunbathing INSIDE THE MUSEUM, I was just speechless.

  • Pee on the Floor of the Hostel– I swear to god- I don’t even know what frame of mind you can be in to think this is okay. I don’t care if it IS the full moon party and you are totally obliterated on happy shakes and booze. THIS IS NEVER OKAY.

I observed almost all of these things in South East Asia, which as become a mecca for younger twenty-something backpackers (although I saw many older people acting equally ridiculous). It seems that this is what happens when you get a bunch of young people together in a place with no rules or regulations and a bunch of locals too polite to tell them to back off. It’s a shame and it’s embarrassing for the rest of us backpackers who strive to travel responsibly.

Other examples of bad tourist behavior, volunteered from Twitter:

DtravelsRound: Get a group pic (smiling) at a killing yard in Auschwitz

ManVsClock: A fellow Brit shouting “1 world cup & two world wars!” in a packed German bar. I died inside, truly. He actually sang it… over and over again. Until the big Turkish bouncers sorted him out.

Travtar: Urinate on a famous landmark.. It was in the Roman Forum… I think they were a bunch of drunk university students on holiday.

I am not one of those people who considers the word tourist to be a bad word, in fact I think we are all tourists once in awhile. But the people who act that way give ALL travelers a bad name.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen a tourist do?

Article by

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.
  1. i hate bad tourists. 🙁 thats so unrespetful to the place you are visiting, when traveling you should be grateful .

    thanks for the post

  2. I know some of these – I’ve seen them far too often in the Canary Islands. Fat old men wearing their shorts and no t-shirt to walk through the old town showing off their beer belly and hairy backs. Tourists being rude to locals working in the service sector because they didn’t understand english / german.
    It’s quite common to see all that in Tenerife anyways. How often must I have heard in german “this wouldn’t happen in Germany”. That’s what annoys me the most – that some tourists just think that where they live is the best place on earth and they’re just traveling to see how miserable other live (according to them, of course – locals may be perfectly fine with their life!).

    • Steph says:

      I’ve not been to Tenerife, but from what I understand, it’s quite an attraction for just that kind of person. Shame.

  3. Obnoxiously loud fellow Brits that turn Turkish, Greek, Cypriot and Spanish towns into Blackpool-in-the-Sun and then go there acting like they own the place, not making any effort to blend in with local culture and bitching when they can’t get a Cornish pasty and mushy peas at a restaurant on the Mediterranean…sigh.

    The clothing, too – THE CLOTHING! Why is it only the morbidly obese men, or those with no meat on their bones and rodent faces that insist on going topless everywhere as soon as the thermometer hits 23C? Again, sigh.

    Those girls sunbathing there though…that is pretty damn disrespectful. As is anything that involves public urination. I mean, seriously. And the guest one from Twitter about the Auschwitz smiling group shot…there was one on Lamebook a while ago at Auschwitz too, of two people popping up, smiling and doing the peace sign behind A GRAVE.

    Some people simply shouldn’t be allowed to leave their own front door without appropriate paperwork permissing them to do so.

    Tom

    • Oh Tom, mate:

      I wish that 1st paragraph came from me!! Brilliant rant that I couldn’t agree anymore on! Unfortunately, the above one about fellow Brits in Germany was forwarded by me.

      *cringes*

      • Steph says:

        Sadly, the floor pee-er was English. I ran into him again two months later in Cambodia and he was still just as obnoxious.

        • I remember that story from your hostel, oh God I didn’t know he was too. I bet he was a Sunderland fan haha, just kidding-that’s shameful.

    • Steph says:

      Around Europe the brits are legendary for being loud and obnoxious- I’m just glad for once it’s not the Americans! Sadly I think all nationalities are guilty of some of this freaking crazy thoughtless behavior.

    • A peace sign behind the grave? I think some people should not be allowed to go to any place with emotional or historical significance until they can act like someone who understands …

  4. Haha, so true. In Shanghai one of my wonderful dorm mates did pee on the floor. Of course, I was the early riser and found out by stepping in it. Also agree with the animal point. I watched someone throw a rock at a tiger in the Beijing Zoo. I also watched a parent let his kid pee off of of the zoo displays onto the ground.

    • Hey Mike! Stepping in urine…check. My boss’s chihuahua thought the front door mat was a good place to take a leak.
      Steph: all very bad things to do and still shocks me to see them continually being done…been traveling nearly all my life too…totally agree with tom’s closing comment 😉

    • Steph says:

      Peeing on teh floor is a thailand epidemic! So disgusting.

      Here in China the little kids pee everywhere. They just have slits in their pants and go in the streets.

  5. Oh man, I am sitting in a budget guesthouse in Phnom Penh at this very moment, and just finished glaring down a guest who was loudly, and repeatedly trying to explain that she wanted her $2 beef steak cooked rare. That was followed by her companion quibbling over whether the can of soda was 50 cents or 75. Apparently they had been told 50 earlier … lord.

    And if I hear one more group say they want to “do” both the Killing Fields and S21 in half a day, I may have to bash them.

    • Steph says:

      I never know what to do when people are being exceptionally obnoxious- I usually just glare as well.

  6. As a former teacher, I know kids will behave much worse when they are in a group, especially if there is a leader who is egging them on. The above examples are truly awful though – and make the rest of us look really bad!

  7. You see bad tourist everywhere all the time. I hate when I see people battering down vendors to low prices when it may be the only sale they make all day. I like to get a respectful price that I am willing to pay and even if I pay a little more, i see this as donation to the vendor.

    • Angie says:

      Disagree. Your ‘donation’ changes the culture, hikes prices for locals and teaches these people that working in a stall will earn them better money than getting an education. It’s bad tourism.

      • Steph says:

        Well there is a difference between giving money to beggars (particularly children), and agreeing to a reasonable price at a market, street vendor or shop. Not everyone has a choice between making a living and education.

        It’s a gray issue, but I think that not bartering people down to unreasonable prices is just human decency.

        • Angie says:

          Sure, but as long as travelers keep this in mind:

          1. If you ‘donate’ to the vendor, you’re teaching these people that being a stall owner is where the best money is. People flock to those high income jobs. That means you’re discouraging education. Ending poverty happens with education.

          2. You’re making these people dependant on tourist’s money. If tourism declines for some reason (as it often does with natural disasters, etc), it can be catastrophic for people who have come to depend on inflated tourist prices. By paying inflated $$ you’re making them dependant on your charity.

          3. You’re driving the prices up and locals will no longer be able to afford it. You’re changing the economy. You’re changing the culture when you should be leaving no footprint.

  8. I found myself getting a little fired up reading this email-minus the pee on the floor, I too have witnessed most of these egregious violations by tourists. Ugggh. I will say it again…UGGH!!!
    The most recent one that comes to mind was watching 3 female tourists saunter down the road with midriffs bared, arms bared, and most of their legs bared. The road I am speaking of was on the island of Zanzibar, in Stonetown, where nearly every local woman is clad in a burqua. I almost fell out of my chair.

    • Steph says:

      I wonder what these girls thing in that situation? They probably don’t.

  9. Ugh I have experienced a lot of those people. The ones who expect everyone in the world to speak English, and to be able to get a burger and fries anywhere they go!

  10. It is scientifically proven that if you speak louder in English, the foreigner will miraculously understand what you say. It’s amazing but true!
    (Seriously don’t get how people do that.)

    Excuse my ignorance, but what is a Boon Boon?

  11. Sunbathing in S-21? That’s just mind-boggling. wtf

    I thought the partygoers pissing into the ocean during Full Moon Party were pretty awful (and by the end it wasn’t just the guys).

    • Steph says:

      That was just gross, but when I was there cops were fining people for it too.

  12. Dishonoring the local customs is the biggest problem “WESTERN” tourist have. We seem to think “Especially us younger ones” that the rest of the world should be just like us, and therefor our behavior is right and if they don’t agree, it is they who are infact backwards and in the wrong.

    Like the girls sunbathing, I’m sure if someone informed them, they’d think their actions where harmless and “not that big of a deal”

    There are some places in the world where you travel, where this disrespect can get you into SERIOUS trouble.

    Try being a woman not wearing a Hijab visiting certain middle eastern countries. Big NO NO, despite what you think.

  13. ugh, truly disgusting. I was just in Malaysia where there is a huge Muslim population, so I even felt weird just wearing a tank-top at times. How can people be so stupid? I always wonder if this is how they would act in their own home (re: peeing on the floor).

  14. Yikes – some on this list are familiar, and luckily some are not (peeing on the floor).

    As a snorkeller and soon to be scuba diver, I agree about tourists touching animals. On just about every snorkelling trip I’ve been on, there’s at least one person who tries to catch fish or grabs right onto coral. So ridiculous!

    Another pet-peeve of mine is when tourists refuse to partake in cultural activities or avoid local food and drink in favour of familiar foods. Inspired by this, I re-posted an article I wrote about drinking soju in Korea on my blog.

  15. These are all pretty horrific, except the “cheat the desperate locals” one. I doubt any local seller is willing to be cheated in sales. If a traveler is really good at bargaining, then he/she might get the super-cheap local price is all.

    But yeah, I’ve experienced the inappropriate peeing (both by locals and tourists!) and the overtly sexy outfits (which ruins it for all solo women, since then locals in the area might equate all of us with promiscuous behavior).

    • Steph says:

      Bargaining is one thing, but making locals jump at your beck and call for your business is another. I saw this a lot in Cambodia with the tuk tuk drivers. Not fun to play with people’s desperation.

  16. I really hate tourists who talk so loud like they’re in a marketplace and who grumble because locals couldn’t speak English. Also tourists who comment “This doesn’t happen in *insert country of origin here*” Well dude, the fact is you aren’t.

  17. Thanks for writing this Steph! I just wish people just realized that common sense and good manners will get them so much farther in life.

  18. Truly shameful behavior. I am going to try my best when I am traveling next year to call out these type of things on the spot, because sadly I think we all too often just don’t want to say anything and let it slide sadly.

    By the way, I sure hope that peeing on the Colosseum isn’t becoming a trend, because i nearly tweeted you about my hostelmates in Rome in September, from California by the way, bragging about peeing on it, but forgot (ADD). These were also the same worldly ladies who told my friend and I, “oh, i didn’t know people from the Midwest traveled?” after we told them we were from St. Louis & Cleveland respectively.

    • Steph says:

      I hope you do- I always chicken out and resort to incredulous staring.

  19. Somebody is peeing on the floor in hostel?…I hope I won’t stay ever in such one…

    • Steph says:

      Yup, in the early morning hours. I think he was tripping out of his mind on mushroom shakes. Doesn’t make it okay though.

  20. They are all pretty stupid behaviors, I think disrespecting the local culture is the worst one ever. Unfortunately I’ve had to deal more than once in SE Asia with the wrong opinion that locals have about Western women. Not pleasant at all, but kind of understandable when you see some examples of fellow Western travelers.

  21. In Egypt, I saw a girl walking around in a cropped tank top and the teeniest hot pants I have ever seen in my life. They were so small they didn’t even really cover her behind. I know it was really hot, but come on! How does someone not realize that it’s inappropriate attire?

    • Oh, and another pet peeve – people who *touch* paintings and other artwork in museums and galleries. I mean really?! As if flash photography isn’t bad enough, get your grubby finger acids all over those priceless paintings, why don’t you!

  22. I agree. Being a tourist isn’t bad, but some tourists can really make you cringe. I hate, hate, hate when people assume that locals don’t speak their language and go on a rant about whatever bothers them at the time only to have the local actually understand them. Unfortunately, most locals are too polite to tell these terrible travelers off 🙁 Whenever I witness something like this I feel a huge wave of second-hand embarrassment and want to apologize for the bad tourist.

    • Steph says:

      Definitely, In SE Asia the locals are usually very friendly and meek, and tourists walk all over them.

  23. Yes! S-21. I think people are uncomfortable when confronted with tragedy.

    I saw a German guy swilling beer while looking a photos of S-21 intakes. He swayed and laughed. Can we say IDIOT?

    It can be horrible the way people behave, they believe it has no impact because, hey, I won’t return to this place again and who cares? So wrong.

  24. I think one of the greatest crimes of tourists in general is the way they dress that sometimes the locals think that is inappropriate to their culture or customs.

  25. Wow, some pretty ugly tourist moments! I don’t like haggling anyway, but I well remember pointing out to some fellow Americans in Egypt that the price difference they were fighting for in a market was PENNIES back home. Seriously!

  26. Thanks for the post. I don’t think I fall into any of those categories, but i’m pretty sure at some point i’ve done something to upset the locals.

    Traveling toa new place, culture is a luxury. We need to remember that. Not everyone can. But when we do go, the whole point is to be that silent observer in the community, and if we are lucky enough, someone might just let us in and we can have fun with them….

  27. Another bothering thing is when you meet in your vacation people that let their kids do anything: scream, throw things. The parents act as if everything is ok . Who cares if you are in a vacation to relax and not have a headache?

  28. Audrey says:

    It’s shocking how often I encounter this ‘bad tourist’ behaviour. I think some tourists just think, ‘hey, I’m on vacation. I can do whatever I want’, but it really gives locals a bad impression of foreigners.

    And the peeing on the hostel floor…WOW. Can’t believe someone actually did that! Nasty, but kind of funny to hear about it from someone else.

    • Steph says:

      I could barely believe it either. Don’t think he even got kicked out of the hostel unfortunatly.

  29. Katie says:

    Being obnoxiously needy. I overheard this in Pai, Thailand:

    French tourists: We would like a bus ticket for tomorrow.
    Thai travel agent: Ok, we have 8:00, 10:00, 11:15…
    FT: 10:00 is too late. Don’t you have one at 9:00?
    TTA: It’s sold out. How about 8:00?
    FT: No! We must eat breakfast!

    It was a short exchange, but their attitude struck me as “we are rich tourists so why shouldn’t we get whatever we want?” They bought the 8:00 bus ticket, but made sure to tell the travel agent, as if it were a big sacrifice on their part, that they would take their breakfast early.

  30. It’s what happens when you put young people and old people who are deluding themselves that their still young (yes I’m talking about you long hair old man dressed like a 22 year old guy in Bangkok) into a place without rules…etc. I must say my pet peeve for bad tourists are the ones who dress like hobags wearing barely nothing, prancing around and area that is pretty much all temples, monks and old locals. If I find it extremely offensive I can’t even imagine how offensive it is to the locals. I wish those girls would confine their slutty outfits to Khaosan road!!!

  31. I’ve seen all of the above (and worse) during my two years in Korea. I agree that all of the above are certainly the lowest of the low kinds of behavior, but I do feel for people (women in particular) with the ‘flaunt your sexuality’ one. Korean culture, for example, indicates that showing shoulders is considered inappropriate for women. No tank tops in summer has caused more than a few of my female friends some very uncomfortable days.

    • Steph says:

      It’s something I struggle with sometimes too- the boundary between personal comfort and appropriateness.

  32. All types of people get let out of their country and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these characters get up to similar things back home. But the S-21 thing tops it all off! The mood there is sombre… it’s just the way it is and I can’t imagine that you could be in a sombre mood and then sunbathe on the lawn! Maybe they just didn’t get it or just didn’t care. Maybe they were just in southeast Asia to party and Phnom Penh just wasn’t doing it for them…

    • Steph says:

      Yeah I have a hard time imagining the psychology there. The older Cambodian people visiting the museum just shook their heads in disbeleif.

  33. Love this! Too bad you’re probably preaching to the choir. Hopefully a few of those floor-peeing temple sunbathers with stumble across this and take copious notes!

    Not sure how people can carry on like that. It really is a pity, you might as well just sit at home watching TV if all you’re going to do on your vacation is complain how it’s not like home!

  34. I’ve met some very nice germans, but many more rude and disrespectful. That “this wouldn’t happen in Germany” is a classic.

    I even heard some at an internet cafe here in Venezuela complaining because the computers were in spanish and not in GERMAN!!! I mean, if you feel safe complaining in german because nobody (or so they thought) can understand you, how in the hell will the computers be in german!!!

    Some are disrespectful, but it can be worse, some are also stupid.

  35. Yes there are bad tourist. However, it is nearly impossible to enjoy Asia with my wife of twenty years because she is Asian and I am white. Countries such as china, and Malaysia are the most disrespectful assuming I am running around with a prostitute. Heads are spinning, fingers pointing, laughing, and making mean faces are common on every street. Ask Maury Povic his experiences.

    • I am sure that is a really big problem. I actually met a few couples experiencing this phenomenon during my backpacking trip- they faced issues from both the tourists and the locals.

  36. Megan says:

    The worst tourist I have ever seen were college kids in the Holocaust memorial in Berlin playing Marco Polo between the structures. It was just plain stupidity, like why would you do something like that?

  37. Nicely written and very informative.

    You’ve captured the mindset and thinking of the BAD tourists.

    Sadly, there are very few ways to deal with these and make people responsible and accountable, for themselves even, at the very least!

    Hope to avoid such people and experiences, but its not always possible.

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