Advice | How to be a better tourist and not annoy locals (2024)

My husband and I love traveling, and now that he’s retired, we have plans to see so much more of this world.

We are heading to Cambodia and Vietnam next year, and in 2026, we are planning a trip to Europe with extended family.

Recent protests aimed at travelers have made me more aware of the good and bad impacts of tourism. You should be concerned too.

Thousands of Barcelona residents took to the streets recently to protest the financial effects of overtourism in their city. Armed with neon-colored water guns, they squirted visitors dining at outside restaurants.

Protesters carried signs that said “Tourists go home.”

Chief among their complaints — as with many disgruntled locals worldwide — is that extreme tourism has inflated the cost of living. Investors snatch up properties to rent to tourists, driving up housing costs. Other entrepreneurs also rush to cash in on travelers looking for lodging other than a standard hotel room.


Crowds are straining the infrastructure of major popular destinations in the United States and cities abroad, such as Amsterdam, Athens, Paris and Venice. UNESCO World Heritage sites are being overrun by people trying to tick off their bucket-list dream vacation.

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There is something I have also noticed as a tourist: In the name of frugality, some visitors grouse about prices and end up becoming traveling misers. They don’t tip when they should, they vandalize historical monuments, and they fail to consider the positive financial impact they could have on a local economy.

Even though I am frugal, I become overly generous when I travel. Here are five tips to avoid being an inconsiderate tourist.

Don’t travel with debt

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I find that people who stretch themselves financially by going into debt to travel rationalize being stingy, such as not tipping appropriately, by pointing to the cost of their trip.


It’s understandable that they want to watch every penny if they know that when they return, they will face a credit card bill with a 20 percent-plus interest rate.

So, save and go. You are more likely to be a better, more generous traveler when you aren’t worried about the debt you will face when you return home.

Avoid the tourist traps

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My husband and I like to find places far less traveled by the visiting masses. This serves two purposes. We get to relax without the crowds, and we support vendors, artists and restaurants that don’t see the same traffic as the tourist traps.

Trendy places that cater to tourists often have higher prices, so we can save money by finding less popular parts of a city or town.

Pack cash

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Yes, tipping is not expected in many cities abroad, and that is a welcome practice for many Americans suffering from tipping fatigue back home.


However, you may meet a host of folks — guides, street musicians, luggage handlers or housekeepers — that you should tip, even if a gratuity is not expected.

Even when a tip is included, it’s nice to have cash on hand to show appreciation for people who go above and beyond in their service.

Before you go, ask questions about the local tipping culture so that you are prepared to support those working to serve you.

Don’t be that entitled tourist

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Keep this in mind: Travel industry workers are not your servants.

You are a visitor and should respect the places you visit and the people you meet. You would think this advice goes without saying, yet social media postings and news reports tell a different story.

Is that selfie you want going to damage property or disturb the harmony of the place you visit?


Spending a lot of money on your trip doesn’t entitle you to act ugly. Don’t vex the locals with bad financial behavior.

Build generosity into your travel budget

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If you are visiting a country where you know the cost of living is high, or its citizens are living below the poverty line, pack your generosity.

In addition to your vacation costs, consider the impact of donating much-needed items to residents or schoolchildren. Is there a local charity you can support?

Let me also revisit the issue of tipping.

A question I get often is: Should you tip on the pretax bill?

The general tipping guide for the Emily Post Institute, which offers etiquette advice, says you tip pretax. However, some servers argue that quibbling over whether you should tip pre- or post-tax is petty.

For example, let’s say your meal pretax is $100. With a 6 percent sales tax, the bill is $106. Before taxes, a 20 percent tip would bring the bill to $120. At $106, including tax, your bill would be $121.20.


So, no, you aren’t going against etiquette protocol to base your tip on just the meal and not the tax. Neither should you be called a miser if you tip pretax. However, the extra money could go a long way for someone trying to make ends meet on a low-wage salary.

Don’t be that tourist who shortchanges locals working in the travel industry. Frugality doesn’t mean you have to be miserly.

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

My mortgage payoff story: My husband and I paid off the house in the spring of 2023 thanks to making extra payments and taking advantage of a mortgage recast. Even though it lowered my perfect 850 credit score and my column about it sparked some serious debate with readers, it was one of the best financial decisions I’ve made.

Credit card debt: If you’re in the habit of carrying credit card debt, stop. It’s just a myth that it will boost your credit score. For those looking to get out of credit card debt, here’s how you can dig yourself out.

Money moves for life: For a more sweeping overview of my timeless money advice, see Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones. The interactive package offers guidance for every life stage, whether you’re just starting out in your career or planning for retirement. You can also purchase a copy for yourself or as a gift.

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Advice | How to be a better tourist and not annoy locals (2024)


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