Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to be a Good Tourist

Valentine's first comment as we looked around, a little dazed, a little lost, in Venice, was; "I hate looking like I'm a tourist."

My brilliant, wise-mother response; "well, we ARE tourists, so let's make the most of it and not worry about looking otherwise. The camera, the shoes, the "huh?" looks, these will give you away every time, so don't worry about looking like a chic Italian woman on her way to an appointment with the prime minister. Just enjoy this."

Here is a compilation of tourist tips, based on years and years of traveling, though mostly in the Midwest and Europe.

1) DO learn everything you can about where you are going. NOT the scary bits like crime statistics. The fun tidbits and historical parts that interest you. As Ken Follet says that someone once said; "A pilgrim should not spend too much time planning their journey-for they might learn of so many hazards they would decide not to go."

 A) This particular rule needs a sub-category or two:
 First: Know where the bathrooms are. The free ones. Or know how much you will need in exact change in order to use the ones you know where to find.

There was no bathroom in this church. I just like it.

 Second: Know where the food and drink in your price range can be found. Tourists are hungry little beasts, especially the ones that are still growing. And find out about the quality of the drinking water.

Third: Know how to get around. Know which method of transportation will best meet your needs and where to buy a ticket/pass/etc. for it right from the start. Example: a 2-day metro pass for Paris will cost a lot less than individual tickets each time you take a train if you are staying for more than 12 hours.

Private taxi:

Public transportation:

Basically: the more you know your way around before leaving, the less frustrating things will be. Then again, exploring the unknown is half the fun. Leave with a map and a guide book, unread, if that is your style. Read it on the plane, metro or the boat.

2) BE NOT AFRAID, relax and enjoy the adventure. There will you have not counted on. Volcanos will blow up, leaving you stranded on an island, luggage will be lost, security will take away your favorite scissors or insist on frisking the baby's diaper, you will get lost. It's OK. You will also meet the kindest people in the world, eat the best food you've ever tasted and see sights whose beauty you could not have begun to imagine. Go with it.

3) Try not to look too stupid; this is from my daughters. They are still image-concious, despite it all.
"Like"; don't walk around with your back-pack on frontwards. It only makes you look more like an idiot tourist who is hoping to have his pockets picked.
Don't walk around holding an open map searching for the right street. (OK, I always do this, but I am among the perpetually lost.) I also understood just enough Italian to understand the couple that passed us as we sat on a bridge, contemplating our next move, Venice map open on my lap, as they commented; "Now those look like real Italians. Ha ha ha ha ha."  I am still cracking up.
From my son, the photographer; don't dangle the lens cap from your camera on a string. It looks dumb, amateurish and like a tourist begging to have her camera stolen. (Guilty again, but it is a new camera and I am scared of losing my lens cap. Besides, I am past caring if I look stupid.) No photos for this one.
4) Funds:
Have enough cash, in the local currency, to last you for your trip. Travelers Cheques, ATMs and even credit cards may or may not work where you are. In France, for example, you need to go to a bank and wait in line for 3 hours in order to cash a Traveler's Cheque. I kid you not.
In Amsterdam and Germany, if your credit card does not have a computer chip that you can see (not a holograph, a chip), it will not be accepted in certain establishments (like the train station). An ATM should work, but once again, some places require a card with a chip. Gasp! The mighty Visa might fail one!

Even if you do run out of money, do not ever condescend to eat American cheese outside (or inside, for that matter) of the United States. Little did we know, that "single slices" of Paramarggiano meant Kraft had taken over Italy. There really should be a law against this.

5) Souvenirs: walk right past the shops until you have been in town for 2 or 3 days. You will have a chance to get a feel for the specialties of the region as well as where the best prices can be found. In Venice, for example, the area around San Marco Plaza is packed with stalls selling tourist crud, at higher prices than stalls or shops on the other side of the island selling the same stuff.

Once we had actually been to Murano, the island where they blow their beautiful glass, we knew that coffee mugs, masks and glass figurines were out. What we wanted was a bead made of Murano glass, and a turtle separator (for Venice and its lagoon)...then a second bead, for new bracelets ($3) that could be the recipients of further beads from further travels. Very girlish, silly, and memorable.

6) Share your stories; in a journal, around a bonfire back home, with fellow travelers you meet. Listen to the fascinating lives of those you meet; the pizzaiolo (we met the best in Italy), the super-kind guy who goes out of his way to walk you to the train station, the French lady you bump into in the Palace as you are both gaping at the same sculpture. The most useful website I have returned to again and again for where, what and how during travels is: Trip Advisor.

Bon voyage!

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