You’ve seen the headlines: “Woman Gets Gored by Bison,” “Man Falls Off Edge of Grand Canyon While Taking Selfie,” “Tourist Arrested for Defacing Local Treasure.” It seems that fairly consistently, there is some tourist or another doing something totally dumb. You may think you would never do something so bold as what you find in the headlines, but the little irresponsible things tourists do can also add up. I get it. You’ve paid a lot of money to get where you’re going and you’re just so excited! However, too often it seems that tourists leave their brains at home and it is giving us all a bad name. After all, you’re a guest wherever you go. You heard me. You are a GUEST wherever you go. It truly is a privilege, not a right, to visit the amazing places around the world and it’s time we start acting that way. So, let’s talk about some common problems and solutions (that are really just a reminder to use your common sense) that are important for ALL tourists to be aware of.
The Problem: Petting or feeding the wildlife.
Don’t do it. Ever. No really. It’s never okay to pet or feed the wildlife no matter where you are. Unfortunately, when you’ve left your brain home, the part of you that says, “But they’re fluffy and cute,” tends to win out. “Just one Cheeto won’t hurt this chipmunk.” “This bison seems nice.” “I’ve seen them do this on Shark Week.” Trust me, I know. No one likes a cute animal more than me. But they are wild and if they have a way to hurt you, they will use it and there’s no telling when. Besides the obvious biting/goring issues, are you aware that many animals often carry diseases? For example, out here in the Western United States, rodents like Prairie Dogs or ground squirrels carry Bubonic Plague. You read that right. Bubonic Plague. You want to leave that nonsense alone. By feeding or petting them, you are putting them and yourself in danger. Giving them food habituates animals to humans. It messes with their natural diet and makes them dependent on humans so they can’t survive on their own. And petting them! That’s a sure-fire way to get trampled, gored or bitten. If I see one more headline about someone petting a bison and getting gored, so help me! I’m going to say it. If you pet an animal, or get too close and you get hurt, it’s 100% your fault.
Even when you’re being responsible in your wildlife viewing, there is always a risk and that risk should be respected. For example, we were recently traveling in the Grand Teton National Park and wildlife viewing is one of the highlights there. We had come across a mama moose and her twin babies. The cutest! We and a group of people were watching from a safe and appropriate distance, when Mama Moose started getting agitated and moving towards us. If you’ve never encountered an angry moose, count yourself lucky. They are huge and mean when they want to be. Anyway, we were moving away as she got closer when all of a sudden, she started charging and ran right through where we had all been standing just moments before. Fortunately, most everyone was able to move out of the way because we noticed her agitation beforehand and were trying to keep our distance. However, there was one woman taking video that wasn’t as quick as she should have been to stay out of the way and she nearly got trampled. If she had, likely that Mama Moose would have had to be put down and those cute twin babies would have been orphaned and likely killed too. A lot of people don’t realize their actions often lead to an animal being euthanized because it’s no longer safe to have it around humans. It’s tragic for everyone involved, especially the animals.
The Solution: Leave wildlife alone.
Keep your distance and be aware of their behavior so you can get out of their way. Respect them for the incredible creatures they are and remember you are a GUEST in their natural habitat. You yield to them. You don’t pet them. You don’t feed them. Like the Mama Moose we were watching, their behavior can change fast, and you are responsible to make sure there is enough distance between you and the animal to make sure you can get out of its way and everyone stays safe.
The Problem: Tourists are Oblivious to their Surroundings.
Selfies are killing people. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but it’s also true in some instances and the point is, getting a picture is not worth risking your safety or ruining the experience of the people around you. You know what I mean. You’ve traveled somewhere great and have got the perfect shot lined up, only to have some oblivious tourist step into your shot to get a picture of their own. If this has never happened to you, you are likely the oblivious tourist ruining other people’s photos. Not only is it discourteous, it can also be dangerous. Often, amazing places we love to go have an inherent danger to them (i.e. the Grand Canyon is a collection of cliffs, the waterfall is slippery, the cobblestones are uneven, etc.). When you’re not aware of your surroundings, you can quite quickly become a headline yourself. Just because it’s a tourist attraction, doesn’t mean it’s been made completely safe, nor should it be. Often the beauty is in the natural rawness of a location.
The Solution: Slow down & be aware.
Be courteous and look around. Are you about to block someone’s shot? Can you wait ten seconds so you both can get a great picture? Are you standing on the edge of a cliff and need to take a few steps away before turning your back on it to take a selfie? In my opinion, there is almost always enough time and space for everyone to get those social media-worthy photos. Slow down. Enjoy where you are. See it through your own eyes instead of just through your camera. If you just take a minute to think, observe and be courteous, we can all do it safely and without making the other guests around us mad.
The Problem: Not appreciating/degrading the local culture.
Have I mentioned yet that no matter where you travel, you are a GUEST there? So why would you think it’s okay to make demands in someone else’s “house” as it were? One of the best parts of traveling is learning about and experiencing different cultures. One of the most unfortunate things I’ve witnessed in my travels is someone getting angry at a local because they aren’t speaking the tourist’s language, or they in some way aren’t conforming to what the tourists thinks they deserve. News flash! You have no right to bully the locals (or anyone – let’s be real) because their culture is different than yours. Nothing gives tourists a worse name than irate, entitled jerks who think they’re better than everyone else. This also goes for recognizing important locations for what they are and not just as a tourist destination. For example, in Italy (and many European countries) they require that shoulders and knees are covered in order to enter their churches and cathedrals. St. Peter’s Basilica may just be a tourist destination to you, but it’s an important place of worship to many and should be respected as such. It is your responsibility to adhere to their requests in a respectful manner. It is not for you to decide what is appropriate in someone else’s house. What is appropriate is to show respect for different cultures and the places that are important to them.
The Solution: Do your research about the local culture & customs before you travel.
Not only will this be helpful to you, but it’s kind of fun. There are so many interesting people and places to learn about. If you’re going where they speak another language, learn a few words in that language like: Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where’s the bathroom, etc. You do not need to be fluent, but showing that you respect their language and are trying, often endears a level of goodwill among those you are visiting, and they are much more willing to try to accommodate you. If you need help, download a language app like Google Translate. It can certainly be a great tool in communicating what you need, or finding your way around, while still respecting the local language/culture. Also, research the places you’re going in advance and take note if there are special considerations you should be aware of (i.e. dress requirements, they only accept cash, tipping is offense, etc.). This can save you a lot of embarrassment & frustration in advance. Remember, your lack of personal education on a destination doesn’t give you the right to demand things from the locals. Be a respectful guest!
The Problem: Vandalism is vandalism is vandalism.
“But everyone is doing it!” Most people probably wouldn’t spray paint a wall when they’re traveling, but are you aware that scratching your name into the rocks, trees, bridges, benches or walls is just as bad? Even stacking rocks along a trail is vandalism if they aren’t being used as an official trail marker. Vandalism takes many forms and many tourists excuse their behavior because others have done it too. For example, here in the western United States, we are lucky enough to have beautiful Native American artwork from up to thousands of years ago both etched & painted onto rock faces. It’s a wonderful thing to see, but nothing ruins it like the words “S & A 4ever ” scratched into the rock right next to it. Well, but there’s also a “Wanda was here 2006” scratched right next to that, so it must be okay, right? WRONG! Two wrongs don’t make it right, it just means there are multiple people who left their brains home and who are selfish enough to ruin culturally significant sites for their own pride. It is wrong and as a guest wherever you go, you are responsible to leave things better than you found them.
The Solution: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
Seriously. Is that painting in the museum yours? No? Don’t touch it. Is that rock art yours? No? Don’t touch it. Is that sculpture in the park yours? No? Don’t touch it. Tourist-related vandalism is real and unfortunately, too prevalent. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but if thousands and thousands of people do the same thing because they’ve seen others do it too, then we all have a big ugly problem. You wouldn’t vandalize the walls of a home you’d been graciously invited to, so don’t do it anywhere you travel either. As a guest, leave it better than you found it.
Remember, it’s your vacation, but it is NOT all about you. Quite the opposite in fact. It is about where and who you’re visiting. It is their chance to show off their corner of the world and it is our privilege to be invited in as a guest. But it is an invitation, not a right. Keep your brain with you, practice common courtesy, and enjoy immersing yourself in this joint experience with those around you & we may just be invited back.
There are two kinds of travelers in the world: Those who plan, and those who don’t. I get it. There is something freeing about heading somewhere and just going for it without a set schedule. I believe there are times when this type of travel can be wonderful. However, in general, I believe that making a plan actually gives you more freedom when you arrive at your destination to do what actually matters to you. Let me explain.
A few years ago, my husband & I were heading to London. We were very excited & I had done a lot of research about what we could do while in town, we had identified what each of us “had’ to do, and felt like we had a pretty solid plan. I’m personally of the opinion that if you’re going to pay to get somewhere, you should experience it for what it is. And knowing what there is to do, is the first step. Anyway, I was talking with a friend prior to our trip and we realized we were both going to be in London at the same time over the course of a few days. I asked him about what his plans were, curious to see if he knew about something that I didn’t. His reply to me was, “We’re just going to go and see what happens.” I was shocked that he would go all that way and not do ANY research on what he might like to see. I told him as much and even made several suggestions, but he insisted that was how they wanted to do things.
The time came, and we both found ourselves in London. We met up one evening for a dance concert & we asked if they would like to join us the next day for what we were doing. He said yes and the next day we had a lovely breakfast together and he tagged along as we went through what we had already planned to do that day. We were leaving that evening, so after helping him buy an Oyster Card (tube pass so they could get around town), we left them to their own devices. Fast forward a few weeks and I see this friend again. Naturally, I asked him how his trip went and he said, “You know, I think you’re right about making a plan. We got more done with you in that one day than we did the rest of the trip.” I learned that they had done a few other things, but not very much & they ended up staying in the room a lot of the time. I thought, “What a tragedy!” We had such a great time in London & it made me sad that he didn’t have the same experience.
There are a few points I want to make here. First, you don’t know what you don’t know. Traveling to someplace you’ve never been to can be overwhelming. It is often a new culture with new experiences that can be tricky to navigate if you’ve never experienced it before. Knowing beforehand what your choices are can help you start to make a plan to navigate this new place and experience. Second, if you know what your choices are, you can spend your limited time on vacation doing what you’re actually interested in. I believe there is something for everyone everywhere, but you have to know what there is so you can find what you like. A little bit of research can go a long way & your travel agent can help you navigate that.
Travel agents by their very definition help “plan” people’s vacations (Obvious, I know). Usually that means helping to acquire hotels, attraction tickets, airfare, etc. These services are super helpful (see our post on “Why Use a Travel Agent”), but did you know that as agents, we often have a well of knowledge about many destinations that our guests simply aren’t tapping into?
At Woodbrey Family Travel we pride ourselves on creating personalized itineraries based on where people are going & who is going. For example, we provide a multi-page document that outlines how to navigate the Disney parks based on your group type (traveling with kids or with only adults will look very different), or how to prepare for & make the most of your cruise, etc. Our goal is to help you know as much as possible about your destination before you travel. However, as previously mentioned, we’ve noticed an interesting trend in how people approach being given this information. Either people soak up every word of the information we give them, or they ignore it completely and just go off on their own. I’m not saying it’s wrong to just “go for it,” but I can tell you that after helping thousands of people with their trips, and traveling all over the world ourselves, those who had a plan almost ALWAYS have a better time than those that don’t. There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and then wasting time standing around asking each other, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I would encourage all travelers to use the resources your agent provides & do your research!
In the case of planning a vacation, the people who do their research & start to formulate a plan actually enjoy that process. It’s kind of fun to think about and make plans for vacation. Plus, you have the added (and more important) benefit of knowing how to tailor your time on your vacation. If you choose to stay in your hotel room the whole time, great. At least you’ll do it because it was a conscious choice and not out of ignorance of what your options are. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to travel without a plan. Remember, a little bit of planning never hurt anyone!
To request a quote from Woodbrey Family Travel so we can help you make that plan, visit our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Travel agents are pretty fantastic people (if I do say so myself). If you need a refresher on why, check out our blog about “Why Use a Travel Agent.” That being said, there is one thing we can’t do: read minds. I ordered that crystal ball, but it must have gotten lost in the mail. Consequently, in order to help you plan your dream vacation, we need a little bit of help from you first.
Let me illustrate what I mean. It is not uncommon for us to receive emails like this, “Hey! Me and my family want to take a cruise in October. What can you do for us?” That’s it. That’s all the information we are given, and although we appreciate that you are thinking of using us, it creates a bit of a problem. Namely, we don’t know your budget, details of your family or expectations. For this specific example, there are literally hundreds of cruise options each month that will completely change depending on your personal circumstances. Consequently, we felt it would be useful to our guests to learn more about what they need to think about in advance of reaching out to your travel agent. Trust me. It will save both you & us a lot of time.
CREATE A BUDGET
The absolute most important thing you can do as you start thinking about a vacation is to establish a budget. I remember as a kid, my parents worked really hard, but we didn’t always have a lot of excess money for trips. So, they would look at their budget and say, “Okay, how far can we get with how much money we have?” Some of our best trips were the simplest, and our family never went into debt for vacation. You may have a different philosophy as you plan your budgets, but regardless, it is VERY important that you establish what you are willing & able to spend upfront.
As a travel agent, this helps us because we will only present you with options that fit within your budget. There are fantastic places to stay and things to do at EVERY price point. Our job is to find what works for you & your family & we are happy to do that.
As you create your budget, we recommend considering at least these five basic categories:
- Lodging (Telling us what you’re willing to pay nightly helps a lot!)
- Attraction Tickets
- Transportation (Airfare, Rental Car, Trains, Taxis/Rideshares, etc.)
- Incidentals/Spending Money
Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily have to have all the money in the bank when you book your trip. Depending on how far out you are planning, you may have the option to put a deposit down when you book your trip & then the remainder is due a few weeks before you travel. A lot of families use this option to pay incrementally and/or save up for that final payment while still booking in advance & getting what they want. This may help you spread the financial burden of your trip out over several months, or even a year or more. Regardless, you still need to budget in advance and be prepared for what you can legitimately come up with in the timeframe you have & then share that with your travel agent.
WHEN ARE YOU GOING & WHO IS GOING WITH YOU?
This seems like such a simple thing – but we all know it’s not. Work schedules, health issues, personal budgets, etc. can really make a difference on when you go on vacation & with whom. However, it is in your best interest to try & nail this down as best you can before you request a quote.
As a travel agent, we want to give you accurate information, but prices vary widely depending on when you go & who you go with. For example, ticket prices change based on if someone is a child or an adult. Additionally, a lot of hotels charge extra if there is a third or fourth adult in the room. Plus, hotels & attraction ticket prices can vary day by day, so even shifting a trip by just a few days can make a difference in the price you pay. Now to be fair, you may have some flexibility in the dates you’re looking at, and you just want to go when it’s the least expensive. That’s totally fine! However, if you can narrow it down to a specific few weeks prior to requesting a quote, that would go a long way in helping us get you accurate information.
IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS & WANTS
We’ve all been there. It’s the age-old question: “Do I need this or do I just want this?” As with most things in life, it is good to identify your needs & wants when you travel & to communicate those to your agent. For example, perhaps someone in your party uses a wheelchair & NEEDS an accessible hotel room – tell us up front so we can make sure that happens & we are only quoting you rooms that meet your needs. Or perhaps one of your friends NEEDS to have their own bed, so even though there are only four of you, you need three beds – tell us so we can quote you only for the rooms that meet your needs. Other needs/wants that you may want to consider may include things like: hotel type, breakfast availability, free parking, distance to attractions, pools, types of views, etc. Please tell us your expectations up front so we have the chance to meet them.
That being said, we are all familiar with the phrase “Managing expectations.” That is our job too. As previously mentioned, our mind-reading abilities haven’t come in yet, so if something is important to you, tell us! We will do our best to find what meets your requirements while still fitting within your budget. But notice that I previously mentioned that there is a difference between needs & wants. Please keep in mind that depending on your budget, you may have to determine what is a need verses a want & then be a little flexible in that regard. For example, an accessible room may be an absolute need, but the only place that has an accessible room doesn’t have the free parking you wanted. What are you willing to compromise on? Do you have any flexibility in your budget to get what you want? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself in advance & then tell your travel agent up front. We will do our best to give you everything you need & want, but we also respect your budget enough to recognize sometimes compromises need to be made. If they are articulated in advance, it makes the process easier for everyone.
USE THE GET A QUOTE FORM
At Woodbrey Family Travel, we have built a “Get a Quote” form that you can access on our website. We highly recommend using this form when making requests. We have designed it so that it asks a lot of the questions we need answered prior to getting you an accurate quote. Additionally, we’ve left space for you to leave comments & tell us anything extra we need to know, like budgetary constraints or your needs & wants. We hope you can recognize how thinking about these things in advance & communicating them to your travel agent up front will help everyone involved. We look forward to working with you & appreciate that you would consider how you can help us, help you!