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How to Be an Ugly Tourist Abroad

Kid in Ghana with sunglasses

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable." -- Clifton Fadiman

Anyone who has ever visited another country, especially on a cruise ship, should know that this statement is blatantly false. Cruise ships are so comfortable (if they don’t run aground or lose power, that is!) and really the best way to travel. But it’s not just giant floating behemoths with climbing walls and bottomless daiquiris that are here to cater to your every need. The truth is, most foreign countries are not nearly as different or scary as they seem, if you know where to look and how to ask (preferably in English, as loudly as possible: see point #4 below).

Why bother with immersion when you can focus on confirming all the things you already know about another place and people? Grab your camera, pick up a nice shiny new guidebook or three, and follow these 14 easy steps to be the ugliest tourist you can be.

How to Be an Ugly Tourist in 14 Easy Steps:

1. Base Your Expectations off a Movie

Before you go, watch at least one movie that takes place in your destination country (the more kidnapping, mafia members with hilariously stereotypical accents, car chases or shootouts involved, the better). Try to memorize at least one line from this movie to quote to people once you arrive, because of course they’ve all seen this film about their homeland.

Be extremely disappointed when people aren’t familiar with the film you’re talking about, and explain the whole plot to them so they understand just what they’re missing about their own culture.

Lonely Planet Greece
2. Follow Your Guidebook to a Tee

Got your guidebook? Great! Treat it as a checklist rather than a compilation of suggestions based on the experience of a few individuals. Take it everywhere with you, and don’t be afraid to open it while standing in the middle of the street or on a crowded bus.

If someone tells you anything that conflicts with what your guidebook says, quickly correct them and show them just where it says so, so they won’t make the same mistake again. Do not go anywhere that is not clearly listed and described in your guidebook. These places are not worth it.

3. Take Pictures of Everything

Buildings, every meal you eat, all of the art pieces inside each and every museum. Be especially mindful to take lots of photos of the locals -- they’re part of the scenery, after all! Don’t worry about asking them if they would mind being in your photo -- they’re probably used to it by now.

Whenever possible, take jumping pictures in front of important sites, and do some truly obscene things to statues or national monuments. People will love these photos! You’re so original!

4. Speak to Everyone in English... Loudly

It’s the universal language! Everyone has to learn it these days – until we’re all speaking Mandarin, right? In the meantime, you can always count on finding someone who speaks English, so don’t bother learning any of the language spoken in the country you’re visiting (okay, maybe “another beer, please” would be good to know).

Just keep asking around until you find someone who speaks English, and know you’re entirely justified in feeling frustrated if this quest takes more than five minutes, or your new unofficial guide isn’t perfectly fluent. Uhg, really.

5. Compare Everything Abroad to Things at Home

No matter how cool, fascinating, or unique this new experience/food/destination/whatever is in front of you, compare it all to versions you’ve seen in other places or, better yet, back home. Discuss openly how everything here could be bigger, faster, cleaner, more efficient or greatly improved with the addition of free Wi-fi or a coffee machine.

6. Blame Everything That Goes Wrong on the Country and Its People

Traffic? Their fault.
Bus shows up late? Their fault.
Your dinner order gets mixed up? Their fault.
Rain interferes with your plan to visit the Taj Mahal? Definitely their fault.
Why can’t these people do anything right??

7. Seek Out the Familiar

Especially when it comes to food, stick to what you know and don’t venture too far out of your comfort zone. Sure, Vietnam is internationally renowned for its delicious, unique and flavorful food -- but there’s a perfectly good pho place near you back at home, so why bother with that pho stand down the street?

It'll be much easier for you just to grab a quick dinner at that wings place you saw near the hotel. At least this way you know what you're getting.

The restaurants here are way too intimidating, with their menus in Vietnamese and unfamiliar systems of ordering -- it’ll be much easier for you just to grab a quick dinner at that wings place you saw near the hotel. At least this way you know what you’re getting.

8. Tell Others How to Run Their Country

Where relevant, ask everyone you meet what they think about the current political situation, government, recent protests, infamous past dictators or historical incidents (extra points if the dictators were at one point supported by the government of your own country). Feel free to tell them your own opinion on their political situation or past and how you think it could be improved.

Food in Thailand
9. If You’re Backpacking, Walk Around Barefoot as Often as Possible

You’re just getting in touch with the way humans are naturally supposed to be, and shoes are so confining, man.

Don’t worry if walking around barefoot is taboo or offensive in the country you’re visiting, or if you’re in the middle of a massive, dirty street party in Carnaval (further author’s note: this actually happened. Your humble author witnessed it with her own, very horrified eyes) -- everyone just needs to chill out and let you do your thing. It’s like they’ve never seen a guy barefoot in the middle of a market before or something.

10. Demand to Have Access to the Same Variety of Things as Back Home

Expect that every restaurant, no matter how small, will have a vegetarian/vegan/lactose-free/gluten-free/carb-free option just for you. Get very indignant when such options are not immediately available, thus preventing you from eating vegetarian abroad. Better yet, question how this place even makes any money at all with their restrictive and exclusionary menu choices.

11. Ask Everyone Where You Can Get Drugs

Or, if drugs aren’t your thing, pester everyone to tell you where the hottest girls go out at night (no, but like, the really hot ones. You know what I mean) or binge drink on cheap beer. Pay no attention to how offensive this may be or how you're being perceived by locals. You're just trying to have a good time -- seriously, guys... just chill out.

12. Disregard Cultural Norms

You're American, so you're going to do things the American way. Why would you do things any differently? I mean, what's the big deal about eating with my left hand? Or wearing short shorts and a crop top? Really, everyone should just get with it and accept who I am. Haven't they heard about this thing called "individualism"?

13. Brag About How Cheaply You’re Living

Take advantage of the exchange rate being in your favor to buy meals, drinks and items that would be well out of your budget back at home. Make sure everyone knows how much you’re benefiting from this exchange rate, and that they understand how exciting this is for you. Insist that "it's only two dollars, no big deal" even if half the population lives off less than a dollar a day. I mean, really, what are they complaining about, things are so gosh darn cheap here!

14. Don’t Bother Doing Any Research Before You Go

Don’t bother looking up information about potential departure taxes that may apply when you leave the country. This way, when you arrive at the airport with your suitcase full of expensive mementos, you will be best equipped to throw a hissy fit at the airline employees who inform you of the departure tax.

Be sure to blame them for not personally informing you of this minor detail upon your arrival and make sure they know exactly how upset you are about incurring that one extra ATM fee. Bonus points for explaining to them that “civilized countries” don’t charge departure taxes for people who just want to visit and see how great the country is, and that they certainly won’t be getting your business ever again.

Well, there you have it, a no-fail checklist of how to go about your international travels as an ugly tourist. Good luck to all of you, and don’t forget to wear your college gear (or full on safari gear if you’re trekking about Africa) as often as possible! You'll be great.

Curious about the other dangers of travel? Read these articles:
Photo Credits: Kelsey Howell, Jay Bergesen, and David Greenky.
Photo of Natalie Southwick

Natalie has made appearances in 16 different countries to date. Her favorite is definitely Colombia, where she spent 3.5 years ogling mountains on a daily basis, eating an overwhelming amount of arepas and working with human rights organizations. She's currently finishing up a master's degree in Denver, where her main activities are trying not to get in fights about Boston sports teams and attempting to convince herself that the Rocky Mountains are just as good as the Andes, even though we all know that's not true.