Like it or not, the stereotypical American tourist isn’t pretty: She mindlessly consumes all-inclusive drinks, overpacks, and has a reputation for expecting everyone around her to speak English. Many of us find ourselves herded onto crowded tour buses, spending a few days binging on food and drink with other tourists, and then being bustled home without ever encountering the local culture, language, or landscape. After returning home exhausted and disconnected after a few so called “vacations”, I now strive to be a more thoughtful traveler. Turns out it isn’t that hard: by practicing just a few good manners and creating a thoughtful itinerary, I’ve left the Ugly American behind for good. And after a bit of research (and catching up with a few in-the-know adventurers), I’ve put pen to paper for 7 ways you can be a more thoughtful traveler on your next vacation.

Mingling with locals, volunteering, and learning new skills may not sound like the typical American vacation, but let’s face it: the American tourist stereotype could use a refresh.

Courtney Williams is a writer, editor, and publisher of print, digital, social, and mobile content. Check out her portfolio at  Tribe + Works.

featured image from jcrew


Study up on the Local Language.

In our globally connected age of technology, almost everyone has access to online resources and a few moments to spare before boarding the plane. Even knowing a few key phrases – such as please and thank you – will go a long way in earning respect from the locals. Download Duolingo (a free and fun language learning  app) before your next trip, and if you’re really serious be sure and check out our story on how to learn a new language in one year.

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Dress the Part.

When packing, remember that less is more. There’s no need to pack your entire wardrobe. Choose basics or favorite pieces and save room to be able to pick up unique accessories and gifts on your travels. While you’re at it, shop the local markets and source local artisans – helping the economies of the local communities you’re visiting. While showing skin may be par for the course in sunny Miami, for instance, be mindful that covering up tastefully is essential to blend in respectfully in many parts of the world.

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Take an Impact Trip.

Often a life changing experience can bring with it a new level of awareness and connectivity with the world around us. Intrepid Travel offers small group tours across the globe connecting adventures with local guides. Intrepid Charity Treks offer travelers an opportunity to explore and make a difference in areas of the world most in need, such as Nepal. Explore Nepal and hike Mt. Everest while fundraising in helping to rebuild local communities. Can’t make the trek? Donate.

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Sustainability, Meet Luxury.

There is a new class of hotels merging sustainable practices with 5 Star accommodations and amenities. 1 Hotels is leading this movement in experiential travel where sustainability, nature, community, and luxury co-exist harmoniously. When staying at the 1 Hotel South Beach, guests can volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation, cleaning up local beaches. Other sustainable properties we can’t wait to visit include: Hotel San Cristobal in Todos Santos, Petit Hotel Hafa in Saylita, Mexico, and the Harmony Hotel near Playa Guiones, Nosara.

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Learn a New Craft.

Immerse yourself in local culture through learning a new skill you can take home and incorporate into your daily life. If the culinary arts and wine tastings with a Mediterranean backdrop sound appealing, check out the family owned La Foresteria Planeta Estate in Sicily. Workshops with Chef Angelo Pumilia teach the traditions of Sicilian cooking and experiment with fresh seafood, native vegetables, local olive oils, and herbs grown on property. Or if French cuisine is more your thing, check out the amazing Médoc workshops hosted by our former contributor, Mimi Thorisson.

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Make Room for Wellness.

Whatever the destination may be, take time to nurture yourself and incorporate wellness into your trip. Enjoy open-air massage treatments fusing elements of the sea and yoga classes to the sound of crashing waves in Tulum. Immerse yourself in the geo thermal mineral waters that have been a trusted source of healing for thousands of years in New Mexico’s Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa.

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Travel with Benefits.

Giving back and helping others isn’t just a nice thing to do, it can help boost personal happiness and fulfillment. Now you can explore destinations, hotels, and local + global charities and causes through an innovative new booking platform, launching this summer, Kind Traveler. The Public Benefit Corporation and online booking platform takes travel to new heights promoting wellness, sustainability, and community. Travelers donate directly to local and global charities and in return receive discounts and insider access to some of the world’s best hotels and unique experiences.

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7 comments
  1. 1
    BinaVienne | May 4, 2016 at 6:28 am

    Love the article. Growing up in Vienna, and having travelled extensively, it has always struck me how much tourists pollute or cause environmental damage. I always make sure to respect the places I visit, be it a town nearby or a land far away. It is also important to stay safe, not just to be safe, but as to not burden the local authorities with emergencies caused by thoughtlessness.

    Reply
  2. 2
    Ivana @ The Charming Avenue | May 4, 2016 at 6:39 am

    There are so many great tips here – even if I’m not American 🙂 I definitely agree that learning a few basic phrases can go a long way, and I love the tip on using your vacation time to learn a new craft. That sounds amazing!

    Reply
  3. 3
    Kiran | May 4, 2016 at 7:05 am

    Brilliant post, so many great locations and ideas. Thanks for sharing x

    ALittleKiran | Bloglovin

    Reply
  4. 4
    Amy Sewell | May 4, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Wonderful post! I couldn’t agree more about learning the local language. Whenever my husband and I travel abroad, we always make sure that one or both of us learns the language basics for any country we are going. Not only is it respectful – but it allows you to get to know people and more fully experience the local culture!

    Reply
  5. 5
    Charli | May 4, 2016 at 9:11 am

    This is such a fantastic piece. It’s amazing how far even a little bit of effort and thoughtfulness will get you. Thank you for saying what needed to be said. 🙂

    Reply
  6. 6
    Courtney Williams | May 4, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you for the kind words and comments. I hope more people will be mindful of the choices they make every day and especially when traveling. It is inspiring to remember we are all on this planet together. Let’s respect it and one another. Happy Traveling! XO. Courtney

    Reply
  7. 7
    Maria | May 6, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Love this article and the awesome travel resources you share! For entrepreneurs, Maverick Business Adventures is one group that offers amazing high-end impact and entrepreneurial adventures. My husband and I have done some trips with them to Haiti, Iceland and even Richard Branson’s Necker Island that have been truly one-in-a-lifetime experiences. Also, Bluefish Concierge service has created some Homeschool/Travel Itineraries for us that have been unbelievable. As a native Austinite, love all the amazing content you and your team share here Camille!

    Reply
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