Don’t Be An Ugly Tourist: some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when you’re a guest in another country

When in Rome, do what the Romans do, right? That goes for everywhere else too…



FAU student Holly Olsen stands in front of graffiti in San Zaccaria in Venice, Italy during her study abroad trip in summer 2014. Photo courtesy of Holly Olsen.


Illustration by Austin Greene
Illustration by Austin Greene

You know how South Floridians feel about Canadian snowbirds in the winter? That’s pretty much how some Europeans feel about day-tripping tourists all year long. The general consensus from natives is: make an effort. You don’t have to be fluent in the language, but you should at least make an attempt to enjoy and adapt to some of the surrounding culture.  Learn the basics you need to get by — your “please,” your “thank you,” your “where’s the bathroom” — and work your way up from there.  Even with a tied tongue, a smile and some humility will get you a long way. Here’s what a few student and faculty travelers had to say about the biggest dos and don’ts of study abroad.




Graffiti of an Italian portrayal of American tourists in Venice, Italy outside San Marco. The photo was taken by an FAU student studying abroad in Venice in summer 2014. Photo courtesy of Holly Olsen.
Graffiti of an Italian portrayal of American tourists in Venice, Italy outside San Marco. The photo was taken by an FAU student studying abroad in Venice in summer 2014. Photo courtesy of Holly Olsen.

Don’t be that person.

That typical Tommy Bahama and white sneaker wearing, shutter-bug tourist. Locals can spot you from a mile away, and you won’t like their reaction to you.

“Anybody who stopped, like tourists stopping and taking pictures, [Italians] get annoyed and you can tell,” said senior finance major Holly Olsen of the Venice summer program. “I even heard some people speaking in Italian, badly about Americans, [saying] that we drink too much soda, eat too many cheeseburgers and put ketchup on everything.”

It’s even annoying to your fellow travelers.

“There were points in time where my roommates were like ‘stupid tourists! I’m gonna knock them over if they get in my way,” Olsen added.

You can easily avoid the malice of the locals by trying to adapt to the culture. Forget your American customs — Italians love when people are genuinely interested in learning the language and culture.

Do dare to travel even more.

One of the benefits of Europe is the proximity of its countries — everything is a bus, train, or plane ride away.

“I would recommend traveling outside the country — taking trains, taking plains. If it’s $300 — I can fly home from Florida to [New] Jersey for $300 — you might as well fly to Paris for $300,” said Olsen.

— by Cristina Solorzano




Do visit the Opium Museum.

Learn about the history of opium around the world and how it affected the Thai people and economy.  The museum is interactive and it takes a few hours to tour, but it’s definitely worth it.

Do check out a full moon party.

This event is a staple for tourists, but you’ll end up meeting a lot of people from all around the world!  There’s lots of music, dancing, fire spinning and other kinds entertainment.  Sometimes there’s even a fireworks show.

Don’t drink water that’s not bottled (or brush your teeth with tap water).

Don’t even think about drugs.

You’ll get locked up in a Thai prison for the rest of your life. Seriously.

Photo by Kiki Baxter
Photo by Kiki Baxter

Don’t ride an elephant. They are horribly abused by their mahoots (caretakers).  I recommend visiting the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.  The elephants there have been rescued from all over Thailand and are cared for by volunteers.  You can volunteer (and stay) there and have the opportunity to feed and bathe elephants.

Don’t leave food on your plate.  Try to finish as much as you can.

— by Kiki Baxter




CaptureDo make things a little easier on yourself.

Convenience stores in Japan are truly convenient in so many ways: Japanese people not only go to konbinis to get snacks and hot foods, but also everyday items (medicine, cosmetics, stationery). You can purchase tickets (concerts, movies, theme parks,etc.), even mail out postage and pay utility bills and taxes. And the majority are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — how convenient is that?!

They’re located within walking distance of landmark places like train stations, schools and offices. Some of the different konbini companies are well-known in the U.S. such as 7-Eleven (7 & I Holdings) and Circle K (Sunkus). Other popular ones local to Japan are Lawson, Family Mart and Mini Stop.

Don’t be a slob.

Cleanliness is next to politeness. One key note about Japan is the lack of trash cans on the streets. Japan takes responsibility for their own litter — its citizens carry their trash with them inside a separate bag to dispose of when they find a nearby trash can or wait until they arrive home.

Do check out the hot springs.

“There’s a strict ‘no clothes allowed’ rule. That might seem odd, but it’s such a cultural thing that no Japanese person would even bat an eyelash,” said junior language and linguistics major Shelby Wingate. “I would especially recommend going on a rainy day, because you can have the nice hot water to keep you toasty, but cold rain to keep you from getting overheated.”

Don’t make assumptions.

“This is something every American should know: Japanese food does not equal sushi. Sushi is definitely great Japanese food, but honestly, I only ate sushi maybe 3 or 4 times during the two months I spent in Japan this summer,” said graduate language and linguistics major Bryan Candela.

— by Lynnette Perez




Photo by Jillian Melero
Photo by Jillian Melero

Don’t eat on the run.

Hand food is not a thing in Spain. No one eats while they walk, unless it’s gelato. Every meal is considered a social occasion to gather with friends and enjoy conversation.

Do slow down and enjoy yourself.

Spaniards believe taking the time to savor the little things in life.

“Students are usually pretty shocked by it at the beginning, because we’re so ingrained in a  culture that makes work, money, the center of everything, the finality of our existence and when they get there they understand that it’s not perceived like that in the entire world.” — Frederic Conrod, Faculty Lead for Madrid.

Don’t squabble over dividing up the check.

It’s customary for one person to pay for each round of food and drinks at each bar, with the understanding that the favor will be returned at the next bar.

Don’t be early to the party.

Much like South Florida, you’re lucky if the clubs even open before 11 p.m., and they don’t start to get interesting until after 2 a.m. People usually start heading home around 6 a.m. to get ready for the work day. Siestas are sounding even better now, isn’t it?

Don’t overdo it.

Even though it’s a late night, it’s no excuse to get sloppy. The drinking age in Spain is 16, so you’re not impressing anyone.
“Here alcohol is still felt as a prohibited thing, that’s what makes it attractive,” Conrad said. “Over there people will have wine with dinner with their host families and basically they’re being offered beer and wine even if they’re under 21, so I try to let them understand that it’s ok to try but don’t over do it, it’s the reinforcement of the stereotype of the drunk American, you’re an ambassador of your culture.”

 — Jillian Melero