How to be a good tourist
There’s only one thing you need to know to be a successful tourist: You are a car.
Summer is the time of year that business travelers like me learn to fear, dread and avoid. It is tourist season and many tourists are terrible, terrible travelers.
Unlike other activities where being terrible can largely be self-inflicted (how you dress, your dance moves, etc.), being a terrible traveler makes a big impact on others.
Or at very least, it makes a big impact on me.
Which is why I care.
In fact, I care enough about helping people not be terrible travelers, that I am happy to provide some very simple guidance based on years of personal experience.
This was all brought home recently, as I spent a week as a full-blown tourist going from town to town along the Blue Danube (which for the record is more of a teal).
Each port of call was thronged with tourists, myself included. And it reminded me both of how much I dread tourist season, and how much I remember being a terrible traveler myself.
You see, just like everyone else in the world, I had to learn how to travel. There wasn’t a class I could take. And I started out as a terrible traveler:
- I would stop suddenly in the middle of a crowded sidewalk.
- I smacked people in the face with my backpack.
- I stood RIGHT IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO WERE TRYING TO LOOK AT A PAINTING IN A MUSEUM AS IF THEY LITERALLY DIDN’T EXIST.
I did all of those things.
I’m better now. Because I came to learn The One Thing You Need to Know to Win as a Tourist:
YOU ARE A CAR.
I want to say that again, because it is important and probably sounded dumb.
You are a car.
You thought you were a human, but the moment you are traveling and interacting physically with multitudes of other people, you are no longer a human. You are a car. And as such, you have to abide by and obey all the conventional laws of the road.
Where you were once flesh and bone you are now steel and glass. Where once you walked freely on a sidewalk, you now drive yourself along a pedestrian street.
You. Are. A. Car.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you still think you are a human. And as a human you are walking along a crowded street in Budapest with hundreds of others on the street with you. It is a mass of humanity. You are zooming along in a mass of humanity, and now you turn a corner and you get a stunning view of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Wow! Amazing and beautiful and you’ve GOT to get a picture. As a human, you stop dead in the street, plant both feet and take the picture.
You are on a busy sidewalk. So what happens?
25 people who were zooming behind you are now either frantically trying to stop, are forced off the sidewalk and into the street, or worst case, were on their phones, didn’t even see you stop and just plow right into your backpack.
Now let’s revisit the same scene as a car. You are car zooming along the street, surrounded by a mass of other cars also zooming. You turn a corner and see St. Stephen’s Cathedral in all its glory.
Do you just slam on the brakes in the middle of a four-lane highway to take the picture? Do you come screaming to a halt? Do you cause a 25 car pile up on the highway?
No, of course you don’t.
You excitedly say “hey it’s a big churchy thing!” And then look for somewhere to pull over, safely, to take a picture. Why? Because YOU ARE A CAR.
And just like that you’ve just become a great tourist. You’re welcome.
Here are some other things you do and don’t do because you are a car:
- DO stay in your lane when walking. No randomly crossing left or right, suddenly, for your own discernible reason.
- DON’T do a 180 in the middle of a crowded street, even if your friends are behind you and you need to talk to them. Imagine a car just spinning around in the middle of traffic and is now facing oncoming traffic and the driver (you) is yelling at other cars behind it while rush hour is happening.
- DON’T walk/drive 4-abreast with fellow car friends thereby clogging up the entire highway. Unless you are on the Yellow Brick Road, this is never ok.
Finally, keep in mind that as a tourist you are always a car. This is more than just about the sidewalk. It is anywhere requiring your feet. In airports. On airplanes. At train stations. Cultural attractions, state parks, amusement parks and anywhere else that has more than 6 people in it.
Special note about peripherals
You may be a car with attachments. Are you wearing a backpack? That is a trailer hitched to your car. Consider it thus. Are you dragging a roller bag behind you? Consider it a fifth-wheel RV. A string of small children? You are now a train. All standard peripheral rules also apply.
So for instance, if you are driving on a very narrow street with a hitched trailer (as a human: walking in the aisle of an airplane while wearing a large backpack), you don’t turn suddenly in traffic without first considering the thing hitched to your bumper. You must be aware of this thing on your back, and only move if it is safe to you and to others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been whacked in the face by a backpack on a plane. You are a car. It is attached to the car. Do the math.
That’s it! Couldn’t be simpler. You are a car.
As I’m re-reading I see this could be coming off a bit like a screed. Also, I just referred to your children as “peripherals”. Sooooo I will now end on an up note.
THANK YOU for being a tourist. You are helping myriad local economies that rely on your money. You are educating yourself about other people and cultures, and that promotes commonality, compassion and understanding in our world. You are exposing your peripheral children to a wealth of moments that will live on as memories for as long as you all live. Long live tourists- you are wonderful!
But if you whack me with your backpack on the airplane I’m pouring my water bottle on your head. You’ve been warned.