For the majority of my life, I’ve lived in Miami. During part of the time I lived out of Miami, I was in Washington DC for almost three years. So, as they say, I’ve always lived where you vacation. This has its ups and downs, because no one wants to hear you complain about a place they pay a lot of money to travel to on their free time. But more than anything else, it has taught me a lot about being a considerate, thoughtful traveler and a better tourist when I’m on vacation.
Living in a tourist city taught me that when I visit a place, it does not exist to amaze or entertain me. It is a place, like any other, where people live and work. As such, I like to be as out of the way as possible. When I was in DC and someone stopped in front of me to take a picture of the Capitol Building at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, they were in my way. So when I go to New York and I’m strolling through the financial district just to see the Freedom Tower, I make sure to be conscientious and aware of what’s going on around me so that people who are not strolling, but rushing to their jobs at the top of the Freedom Tower are not held up by me.
It also taught me to be aware of public transportation etiquette. In the busy DC metro, locals know to stand right and walk left on escalators so when people are in a hurry, they can get ahead of others just standing there. Many tourists don’t know or care about this practice so when they’re in town on the way to the White House, they create a huge bottleneck at the bottom of the escalator for people who need to get somewhere. That experience taught me to be observant when I’m in a new place, whether it’s on public transportation or otherwise. Do as others do and your presence will never be a burden on anyone. If you’re in the subway in Japan and people are quiet, don’t raise your voice. If people line up for the trains, get in line after them instead of trying to push through to the front. In many cities, these simple guidelines are posted to save you the trouble of figuring it out. It’s good to keep your eye out for signs that indicate useful information like that.
Recently, I was on an rare trip to the beach, because despite living 20 minutes away, I never take advantage of the sun and sand. Miami Beach is always busy so I tried to find a spot where I could lie down in peace and listen to the ocean waves. Shortly thereafter, someone from an indeterminate Eastern European country sat down right next to me and she spent the ensuing 45 minutes Facetiming loudly in her native language. It took everything in my power not to ask her how you say “Shut the fuck up” in her mother tongue. I understand she’s on vacation and she’s doing what she wishes with her time, but it’s important to remember how your behavior affects others around you, including locals and other tourists. If I hadn’t had ear buds so I could drown her out with loud music, her one vacation day would have ruined my one rare day off to relax. If she was just a little more considerate, she would be a much better tourist and we would have both equally enjoyed our beach time.
Though I have the opportunity to learn that first hand because of where I live, you can be a better tourist, too by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Before you act, think about how your behavior affects the people around you. Think about what it would be like to live in that city and how you might be inadvertently inconveniencing someone else. Do your research before you go somewhere so you can get familiar with local customs and behave accordingly. The locals in the city you’re visiting will thank you.