The Importance of Respectful Travel
In January 2018, an American Youtube creator by the name of Logan Paul made headlines for his video showcasing the body of a Japanese suicide victim. The existence of the video was insensitive in every sense of the word. Its use of tragedy as click bait was more than reprehensible. However, it came to light shortly after that this video was only a part of Logan’s profane escapades during his time in Japan. His actions on the street and even in places of worship were annoying at best, and blatantly disrespectful at worst. Nightborn felt for every Japanese person that he harassed, embarrassed, and annoyed. We also hate to think of what people like him do to the reputation of other travelers or tourists from their country. Its time to start talking about respectful travel and how to do it.
“Tourist” has become kind of an unwanted label, hasn’t it? It usually slips off the tongues of locals with bitterness and a roll of the eyes. But why? Sometimes it’s the Logan Pauls of the world – who seem to think that other cultures are a joke. But mostly, it’s everyday folks who just don’t take the time to do a little learning before they travel.
So here’s our challenge to you: take the time. Be informed. Be BETTER.
Be a good steward of your nationality and change the locals opinions of what a “tourist” can be.
We’ll even help you get started! For the benefit of anyone thinking of visiting the US, we wanted to share a quick and dirty guide to respectful behavior for travelers to the United States.
We Love Our Lines
In some places, a line is more of a suggestion than a rule, but this is absolutely not true in the United States. If people are waiting in line, it is considered extremely rude to cut your way to the front… or really anywhere that isn’t the back. Even if someone from your party is waiting further up, people will give you dirty looks for cutting ahead. Being pushy in line is even worse. The best line etiquette is to patiently join at the back of the line, and avoid touching anyone around you that you don’t know.
We like our personal space. Unless you are on a crowded train or elevator, it is not appropriate to bump shoulders with people you don’t know. When speaking with Americans, it is also good to keep at least a couple feet between you. When it comes to greetings and goodbyes, we also aren’t big on kissing or hugging unless you are already good friends. Handshakes are probably the safest way to go if you feel that you must give a physical greeting to a stranger.
We grew up in Arizona, and it is pretty traditional to be friendly to people you meet on the street, particularly in residential areas and while hiking. If there aren’t tons of people around, it’s polite to say good morning or hello. You don’t need to attempt a conversation (especially if they’re in a rush), but acknowledging the other person goes a long way. This also goes when you are at the cash register. It’s polite to ask the person working how they are and maybe engage in small talk as long as you don’t hold up the line. As far as I know, this is common throughout the south and midwest, and probably rural areas of the Northern US as well. But you might not find this in a BIG city like New York.
Time Is Money!
Lots of Americans, particularly urban ones, are very focused on being efficient with their time. So, if you are ordering food somewhere, or otherwise selecting a service, but have no idea what you want, it is polite to let the person behind you order first, if they know what they want. Likewise, if you are in line at the grocery store and have a cart full of food for your road trip, while the person behind you has a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, they would be extremely grateful if you let them go in front of you. Although, if you don’t do these things, you won’t be seen as impolite, as long as you respected the line.
Roadtrips are one of our favorites, and respectful travel is just as important on the road as anywhere else. Just like the line situation, driving rules in the US are not suggestions. If there is a stop sign, you must come to a complete stop. If there is a red arrow for a turn, you may not go until a green arrow is on. Red lights cannot be run, even though there’s no one there and it’s the middle of the night. A few rogues will break these rules, but Americans expect you to respect the laws of the road.
We Aren’t All Loud and You Don’t Have to Be Either
I know I could fill a book with these things, but this will be my last point. I want to cover this because the “loud American” is such a stereotype elsewhere. As with probably anywhere, you should really gauge your volume based on the people around you. If you are in a bar, and everyone is loud, feel free to be loud. But if you are at a nice restaurant, hiking, shopping, at the movies (!!!!), it’s really more polite to keep your volume down. No one anywhere likes it when other people ruin their peaceful day by being obnoxious.
These guidelines are not asking you to stop being yourself, we’re just asking you to be respectful. And that goes for wherever you travel, not just the U.S. Respectful travel can help us all build a better reputation for our favorite pastime.
If you’d like to learn more about travel in the US, be sure to visit our Guide to the United States.
I was really interested to read this as a Brit who has been travelling here in the States for three months. I’ve noticed that in the main most people do not say hello on hikes, they look at me as though I’ve got two heads when I do! Many a hike has been interrupted by two people having an extremely loud conversation, scaring away the wildlife – those people have always been American 😂 Hopefully the more we travel the friendlier (and quieter) people will become!
That’s too bad! I’m sorry about that! What part of the country are you in? Also, it totally depends on the trail. I find that people who are just working out on the trail, rather than real hikers, don’t tend to be as friendly. Not always the case, but just a general observation.
Great roundup! I grew up in California, but have lived most of the last decade in Spain and let me tell you… there is a HUGE difference in personal space! As a US expat I really enjoyed this post 🙂
I’ve read about the lack of personal space in Spain. I would definitely struggle with that, but I guess that is something peculiar about us. Hahaha.
Learn the custom of the country. Lines are not formed in many places in europe. Not rude to elbow your way to the front. Just the way it is.
Not sure what you are going for here. This is about travel to the US, where lines are super important. It’s the whole point of the post- speaking to people who might not be aware.
Kyla Matton Osborne | 24 Carrot Diet
I’d say most of these tips apply just as well in Canada too. Respect lines, respect personal space, respect the rules of the road, and try not to be boisterous. Whether strangers will offer or expect a greeting depends a lot on whether it’s an urban or more rural setting. In big cities here, most folks only acknowledge friends and family when they’re out and about.
Thank you for the insight! When I was in Canada I did feel like we shared alot of customs. Good to know that there are similar expectations up north.
It’s so important to learn the customs of whatever place you are visiting, even if it’s within the same country. This is definitely some useful information!
I agree! Especially where I feel like regional customs might be pretty different. It makes things complicated.
I love this. It’s a bit sad that it is needed though – but in this day and age it does seem everyone needs a gentle reminder to be respectful. We just moved from the UK and in London we had high numbers of tourists. I’m not going to point fingers, but there were some usual suspects when it came to standing in doorways and exits/entrances ALL THE TIME. It drove me crazy. I think everyone, wherever in the world they are, could do with being observant and thoughtful.
Yes, I very much agree. It really does come down to paying attention to the way that local people react to your behavior and being willing to change what you are doing or ask what might make people more comfortable. Even residents can be rude when they don’t pay attention.
It’s so interesting that you wrote on this topic, because we don’t think about these things unless we’re outside of the country huh? This is definitely so useful!
Agreed, that story about Logan was awful. Thanks for addressing this and offering ways for us to be better at being tourists. Love the bubbles examples too haha so true!
Great blog post! Having lived in Japan, I adjusted my social behavior and mannerisms accordingly.Having lived in America for twenty years, I have adjusted to the cultural an social norms. When it comes to driving in southern California, I had to adjust to the “fresh red”, otherwise, I would get rear-ended.
Sounds like you have alot of experience with adjusting to new social norms. So I really appreciate the feedback. It really does help to be adaptable and it sounds like you have that down pat!
I found this article to be incredibly amusing actually. Mostly because I agree with everything stated and after traveling to other countries it is amazing how different cultures can be. Especially in regards to the personal space and the lines. Here in Kazakhstan people do not understand the concept of lines so that has been the biggest adjustment.
I have a friend from Chile who lived in the US for a while and we always laughed about how much these little differences throw us for a loop when we are living somewhere else. XD Sometimes just knowing what to expect helps me.
We need to respect each others’ culture even if its something different to us and not make fun of it or mock it. Thats the best thing about travel, experiencing new things.
I completely agree! I love learning about other cultures and try my best to respect their customs. If I am doing something I don’t know is rude, I really appreciate when people gently let me know.
Amanda | Maple Alps
This is something that we don’t hear about often! Glad you wrote this post – love it!
Thank you so much!
what an interesting read. I feel like some people from out own country need to refresh themselves with these pointers as they need it. lol
I think any time we visit another country, we could use little reminders. It’s just nice when visitors respect the customs of the places they visit.
Tina Hogan Grant
It pretty much boils down to respect. you are a visitor in another country and should respect its values and morals just like we would in countries we visit.
Yes, I totally agree.
These are great tips for anyone traveling to the United States. I would also add in a part about tipping waiters in restaurants. Most of the rest of the world does not do this.
Oh yes! Very good point!
Very good points well made here. Having respect is extremely important, especially in your own country too.
Yes! I completely agree! We just all get along better when we respect one another.
katriza @ mommy engineering
lol, “we aren’t all loud and you shouldn’t be either” my mom and I talk really loud, especially when we’re excited about something (or angry – we are very passionate people lol) but we aren’t from America and no matter how long we’ve been here, our loudness has always been a point of interest with my husband lol.
Aw. That is cute. I think some people are just naturally loud. My husband is also really loud and half the time he doesn’t even realize it! XD Sometimes I have to tell him to quiet down because I catch other people getting annoyed, but it really doesn’t mean anything bad.
We all need to learn and respect the cultures of one another. I am glad you brought up this issue.
I agree! I hope that we will be able to share some similar tips about other countries going forward as well.
I just love this post. See it over and over again when I travel people disregarding many of the tips you gave. It drives me nuts:( Thanks for putting this out for others to read.
I’m glad you liked it! I know things are different in other countries, but when people come to the US, these are things that would definitely help them get along better with local people.
Mary Jingjing Mortos Lopez
I think this is a very important topic. A respectful travel means a successful travel too, you have to know the norm in a certain place you want to visit too and be respectful to follow them.
Very good point! I completely agree.
It is very interesting topic that is oftentimes neglected by many. Like they say, “do what Romans do”. Be respectful always and you’ll be okay.
It’s always better to be respectful, I completely agree. 🙂