Leave the Red and White Running Shoes Behind
on Your European Vacation
& Other Tips to Make the Visit Outstanding by Not Standing Out
The United States remains the world’s No. 1 international travel destination with 56 million visitors a year, but Spain, Germany, France and Italy rank No. 2, 3, 4 and 5, according to the 2012-13 ITB World Travel Trends Report.
Americans are helping drive those numbers. In a December USA Today/Gallup Poll, nearly a third said that if money were no object, they’d be off to Europe this year.
“There is so much to see and experience in Europe! If you’ve never been, or you’ve only visited once or twice, you really should put it on your wish list,” says Ruth Yunker, an intrepid traveler and author of “Paris, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Ways,” (www.ruthyunker.com), a humorous recounting of her extended stays in Paris as part-time resident, part-time tourist.
“When I travel to a foreign country I automatically strive to be the best American I can be, an American who is willing to learn to do things the locals’ way. This will always make for a more rewarding experience. You’ll find the people are friendlier. The vibe is positive. You are trying to live the culture instead of simply viewing it as a spectator.”
Standing out in a European country – or any country you’re visiting – could make for unnecessarily uncomfortable situations. It can get in the way of enjoying a city the way the natives do. It can mark you as easy prey for pickpockets (hold your purses tight)and cabbies with whose rates might go up (use the metro!).
“Learn what you can about a country’s habits, pet peeves, ingrained ways of being, before you go. Travel books can be helpful, but the following are a few tips not often mentioned,” Ruth Yunker says.
• Fanny packs are disgusting little monsters which look ridiculous. Leave them at home, unless you want to scream ‘oblivious tourist’! If you’re going that route because you think it’s safer than carrying a purse or wallet, then there are other ways to go. I always carry a large shoulder purse because it fits everything I’ll need during the day, including whatever valuables I want to keep close. I carry it clutched tightly to my body. I observe the local women, and carry my purse like they carry theirs.
• Leave the garish running shoes behind, as well. Bright athletic shoes say “Tourist!” –like nothing else. Europeans simply do not wear these shoes going about their daily business. If you must wear sneakers, wear dark ones that will attempt to masquerade as regular closed-toed shoes. In fact you will be given an A for effort. Try to find comfortable walking shoes with a little bit of style and your feet will announce you as the polite, indeed savvy, visitor. It’s good to be considered a savvy visitor, n’est pas?!
• Keep your voice down in restaurants and other public places. As a group, especially in a group, Americans tend to be louder than they think they are.And particularly in Paris, people keep their voices down. Consider how annoying it is when you’re seated next to a raucous group in a restaurant here in the United States. Youcan get a sense of how annoying loud voices are to people accustomed to quieter tones.
Other things to consider:
“Look up the customs on tipping in the country you’re visiting. For instance, tips are not expected in Parisian restaurants. In fact tipping a waiter there simply brands the unaware tourist as a stupid one. Not for me to be considered the oblivious tourist!” says Ruth Yunker.
“Try to learn what you can about manners where you’ll be visiting,” she says. “When I was in Paris, I learned making direct eye contact out on the sidewalk with a stranger was a flagrant disregard of manners – even on that day I most needed a hug!”
About Ruth Yunker
Ruth Yunker is an author, humorist, columnist, blogger and enthusiastic traveler. Her peripatetic childhood led to a life always on the move; she has lived all over the United States, from Boston to Los Angeles, Brussels, Belgium and, for a short time, Paris. Her first book, “Me, Myself & Paris,” recounts her first experiences as a single woman living alone in Paris for three six-week stints. Her newest book, “Paris, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Ways,” continues the saga from a more City of Light-experienced perspective.