Do’s and Don’ts: Stop Apologizing for Being a Tourist

Claire Ward University of Havana, Cuba


June 28, 2019
Currently Studying at: University Of Havana Summer, Cuba
Homeschool: Belmont University

I constantly find myself apologizing for doing things that I deem to be too “touristy” when I’m traveling. I feel as if stopping to take a photo of a monument, mural, building, etc. immediately draws attention to the fact that I’m a tourist. I even feel a certain level of guilt for visiting some of the most significant attractions: The Statue of Liberty, the London Eye, the Sydney Opera House (all places in which I have found myself repeating apologies to those around me for being a tourist).

It’s become a common theme while traveling with groups of other students, for many of us to feel that same guilt as we explore a new city. Recently, however, I have gotten tired of these repeated apologies and the avoidance of tourist attractions that I genuinely want to see. Like it or not, I am a tourist, and these feelings will only serve to put a layer of unhappiness and negativity over an otherwise amazing trip. To address my own need to apologize every time I pull out my camera, I put together my own list of tourist
do’s and don’ts:

DO try your best to integrate yourself into daily life wherever you are. Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to immerse yourself (and avoid attracting unwanted/negative
attention from locals).

DON’T choose not to take pictures or visit an attraction because it will “make you look like a tourist”. Regardless of whether you do so or not, most locals in any area will already know that you aren’t from around there (Cubans can spot me from a mile away, even when I’m speaking Spanish and not carrying a camera) and you will regret not taking your chance while you have it. For me, this meant confidently walking into Old Havana with my large, “tourist” camera to take as many pictures as I possibly could in one day.

DO use your role as a tourist to show the best of your country and your culture to the local population. Be kind, be respectful, and show pride in your home while showing a genuine interest in theirs. During my time here, Cubans have consistently wanted to talk with me about the United States, and it’s a great opportunity tell them what it’s really like and to gain some insight into their lives as well.

DON’T be obnoxious/become a hindrance to daily life. I’m not proposing that you change your habits or personality, but be aware of norms and expectations. For example, asking for separate checks (a common occurrence in the U.S.) in a Cuban restaurant is a surefire way to slow the entire restaurant down and to frustrate your wait staff. While it may be more convenient for us, it is a huge inconvenience for those serving us here.

Being a tourist is only a bad thing if you are a bad tourist. While locals will always poke fun at tourists waiting in long lines to do/see/take a picture of something, they also take pride in being the home of things that are worth waiting in line for. Don’t waste time apologizing—own the fact that you traveled what may have been thousands of miles, and take the opportunity to show your appreciation for wherever you may be visiting.