I spent the last week hiking and eating blueberry everything in and around Acadia National Park in Maine. While the trip was wonderful, I once again encountered the same frustrating paradox that comes with traveling anywhere scenic: the most beautiful locations are filled with the absolute worst people. Only on vacation does one get to experience the full extent of man’s obnoxiousness. Selfie sticks. Aggressive drivers. People who don’t understand what “short-staffed” means. Just the other day, a woman shoved my boyfriend out of her way because, well, why not? He was in her way, dammit, and this is America, where the individual comes first!
Personally, I prefer a different approach to life, vacation especially. Traveling may be about treating yourself, but don’t do it at the expense of others. Here’s how to be a tourist that even the locals appreciate:
1. Learn how to parallel park correctly.
This is especially true if you’re traveling in America. Whether you’re visiting a big city like Philadelphia or a quaint town like Woodstock, New York, odds are you’ll need to parallel park. If you don’t know how, study this GIF, then practice. You do not want to be the asshole who takes up two parking spaces, especially during peak tourist season when parking is scarce, lest you return to your car to find notes like these in your windshield:
Additionally, don’t park in residential areas that require permits. Not only are you preventing locals from, well, parking in front of their houses, but you’re likely to get towed, smacked with a hefty fine, or pelted with passive-aggressive notes like the ones above.
2. If you’re going to bike, study bike traffic laws and etiquette.
Don’t be like the guy we nearly killed leaving Acadia and bike against traffic around blind turns. Following bike traffic laws will not only save you from pissing off motorists, but may also save your life.
3. Don’t sign up for activities you can’t handle.
If you’ve never white-water rafted, the Colorado River is not the place to start. If a hike is deemed strenuous, it’s probably not the best place to bring your toddlers. Your kayaking guide will not end an excursion early because your arms are tired, and nobody else wants to hear you complain about it. I learned this lesson the hard way by nearly dying in the South of France. Don’t be a moron like me. Know your limits!
In that same vein, know your kids’ limits. If you’re a parent, don’t force your kids to do challenging outdoor activities just because you want to do them. I do not want to listen to your child cry the whole time, nor do I want to see them collapse with dehydration on a difficult trail.
4. Your photo-op is not more important than anyone or anything else
No, just because there’s a seagull perfectly perched on a branch during sunset over coastal Maine does not mean you can elbow that elderly man out of your way to get the perfect shot. As a photographer, I get it: when you spend a lot of money to travel a long way, you want to come home with good shots, but that doesn’t excuse being an asshole. An example: when I reached the summit of Bar Island (an island only accessible by sandbar at certain hours of the day; you should go!), a line had formed behind a popular picture spot. The line was only a few people long, and everyone was politely trading cameras and taking pictures for each other, when a young couple walked right in front of everyone. They pulled out their phones, snapped a few pictures, and then sat down! Right in the center of my camera’s frame! Listen to me: nobody wants a photograph of your sweat-stained back. Read the room. You are not the only person trying to get a decent shot.
Similarly, don’t hog popular photo spots. If there aren’t many people around, snap away, but if there’s a crowd of people waiting for take the exact same photo you’re taking, be quick. You’re not the only Instagrammer in town.
My last photography tip: if you ask a stranger to take your photo, offer to take one in return. Everyone else’s mom is bugging them for nice portraits, too.
5. You do not need to try every flavor of ice cream.
There are other people in line behind you. They are hot and cranky, too. Some of them are mere children. You are twenty-eight years old. Get ahold of yourself.
6. Waiters and cashiers are not your punching bags
Don’t eat at restaurants where you can’t afford to tip. Don’t get mad when it’s 7 PM on a Friday and the most popular eatery in town has an hour wait. Don’t chew out cashiers because that t-shirt’s not available in your size. Don’t blame the store clerk for not taking cash during a literal pandemic. Don’t forget that service workers in tourist towns spend long days dealing with hoards of people, many of whom are absolutely awful, and act accordingly.
7. Consider skipping Airbnb
This is advice even I have trouble following, but it’s worth mentioning. The negative effects of Airbnb on real estate markets and residents of tourist towns are well-documented. Not only do they drive up housing costs, but they also lead to over-crowding, which in turn can make for a miserable vacation. When I travel using Airbnb, I try to only book private rooms in people’s houses (I ALWAYS do this when traveling abroad, as it’s a great way to meet locals while helping them benefit from tourism) or, if I’d rather have more privacy, stay in a converted guest house or garage on somebody’s property. That way, I’m not directly contributing to housing scarcity.
I get that skipping Airbnb isn’t always an option, though. Hotels and inns can be expensive, and Airbnb is the great equalizer in that it allows people of lesser means to experience locations that were once only accessible by the rich. Hotels also get booked up pretty fast, which leads me to my next point…
8. Consider skipping popular tourist destinations
I know, I know. Why should you miss out while obnoxious people carry on, double-parking and tossing their trash on sidewalks? Odds are, though, that by foregoing vacation hotspots for lesser-known places, you’ll have a better time. For example, we opted to skip the insanely crowded Bar Harbor for its neighboring, much quieter town, Southwest Harbor. Despite not being in Acadia’s tourist hub, we were still in close proximity to scenic hikes and fresh seafood. In fact, we were glad we couldn’t find lodging in Bar Harbor. By staying on what’s termed the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island, we had an easier time parking, getting tables, and avoiding self-absorbed tourists. After all, most people won’t follow this advice, so the least you can do is get as far away from them as possible.
Did I leave out any crucial advice? Tell me in the comments!