Don’t Be That Tourist: 20 Embarrassing Mistakes to Avoid on Your Travels

Popular Mistakes That Travelers Make Around The World

When you’re exploring foreign lands, it’s easy to commit an embarrassing cultural faux pas that could leave you feeling like a clueless tourist.

We’ve all been there – sticking our foot in our mouth (sometimes literally) by unknowingly breaking obscure local customs and societal norms.

But fear not, intrepid traveler! This guide is here to help you avoid the biggest blunders that tend to make locals’ eyes roll harder than a double-decker London bus on a cobblestone street.

From forgetting to remove your shoes indoors in Japan (prepare for angry glares and potential exorcisms) to the perils of drooling over Greece’s ancient monuments in your favorite booty shorts (yes, grandmas will shame you), we’re dishing out all the cringeworthy stories to keep you from becoming the next “Ugly Tourist” viral sensation.

So buckle up, keep your shoes off, and get ready for an around-the-world tour of customs you’d better not break – unless you want to end up as that person everyone points and laughs at.

Japan: The Shoeless Debacle

Osaka Japan Colorful Signs

Stomping into someone’s home with your street kicks on is a rookie mistake that will have you trampling all over centuries of Japanese hospitality and tradition.

Remember, shoes are for the streets, not for zen gardens or immaculate tatami mat floors. Mastering the art of swiftly removing your footwear before entering is crucial, lest you leave a trail of muddy footprints (and scornful looks) in your wake.

Bonus points if you can do it without tumbling flat on your face – though that would at least make for a hilariously embarrassing story!

Italy: Hold the Parmesan, Per Favore

In the land of la dolce vita, requesting a heavy snowfall of parmesan over your seafood dish is a culinary sacrilege punishable by withering glares from servers and horrified gasps from neighboring nonnas.

As the old Italian saying goes, “Formaggio sui frutti di mare è un crimine culinario peggiore della guerra” (cheese on seafood is a culinary crime worse than war).

Unless, of course, you’re a proud member of the “Eccomi! I’m That Gauche Tourist!” club. In which case, formaggio it up, amici.

India: The Lefty Struggle is Real

Using your left hand to eat or serve food in many parts of India is a major cultural no-no that could get you ostracized quicker than you can say “But I’m ambidextrous!” In traditional Indian etiquette, the left hand is reserved for, well, less savory tasks – making it the unsanitary “outcast” appendage at the dinner table.

So unless you want to be known as the gauche gaucher (that’s “awkward lefty” for the French-challenged) who clearly missed the etiquette memo, keep that sinister serving hand in check. Your taste buds (and social standing) will thank you.

Morocco: The Great Mint Tea Rebellion

In the realm of Moroccan hospitality, declining a steaming glass of mint tea is tantamount to rejecting tradition, goodwill, and grandma’s beloved family recipe – all in one brutally impolite move.

This fragrant brew isn’t just a beverage; it’s a centuries-old cultural expression of welcoming and respect. So paste on a smile and say “Barik Allah” (bless you) when that minty elixir comes your way, unless you want to go down in the host family’s history as “that ungrateful guest” who snubbed the tea-bearing matriarch herself.

Thailand: Stepping on Seriousness

Stepping on a forgotten banknote in Thailand may seem like an honest mistake, but it’s one that could land you in hot water quicker than you can say “But it’s just a stray baht!” Every Thai banknote bears the revered image of the King, making that crumpled paper on the floor far more than just currency.

One ill-placed footstep and – bam! You’ve just disrespected the entire monarchy and cultural backbone of the nation. Suddenly those cheerful street vendors are giving you looks that could curdle coconut milk.

For a cultural mishap of that magnitude, maybe consider hightailing it to the next border before the sarong-wearing authorities get involved.

Peru: Photos & Furious Llama Farmers

With its vibrant textiles, traditional garb, and weather-beaten faces seemingly frozen in time, Peru is a photographer’s dream. But get snap-happy with your camera before asking permission, and you may quickly find yourself on the receiving end of an angry earful from those colorfully-dressed locals you thought made such “exotic” subjects.

Press that shutter without consent and risk having your dignity (and electronics) swiftly confiscated by an indignant llama herder with a mean side-eye game. The golden rule? Respect people’s privacy and you’re far less likely to instigate an international incident.

Russia: The Great Coat Conundrum

In a country where winters are brutally cold and central heating can be spotty at best, shedding your outdoor layers upon entering someone’s home or a public building is essential Russian etiquette.

Fail to instantly de-coat, de-boot, and de-hat yourself, and you risk being mistaken for an ill-mannered burglar casing the joint. Or worse, a hopelessly clueless tourist who’s never experienced real bone-chilling cold and simply can’t function without excessive insulation.

Take it from a Russian babushka – showing up overdressed and sweating like a Floridian at a ski resort is a surefire way to get icy stares that would make a polar bear shiver.

France: Crimes Against Fashion

Auxerre France Evening

Ah, Paris – a stylish person’s paradise…and a brutal, unforgiving world for those who dare to dress like slovenly tourists. Looking too casual by rocking shorts, flip-flops, or other laidback attire in the city’s chic arrondissements is a major fashion faux pas.

One that will have immaculately turned-out Parisians glaring at you like you just showed up at a black-tie gala wearing a muumuu.

Remember, dressing to impress is le code in the French capital. Otherwise, you risk being mistaken for an unstylish American straight off the farm who thinks sweatpants are acceptable public attire. C’est la vie!

China: Chopstick Pitfalls

In Chinese culinary tradition, leaving your chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice is one major taboo you’ll want to avoid – unless you actually do want to summon the supernatural.

This seemingly innocuous utensil positioning bears an unlucky resemblance to the incense sticks used in funeral rituals, essentially inviting Death himself to join you for dim sum. Commit this grave mistake and prepare for horrified looks, frantic bowing, and quite possibly an impromptu exorcism courtesy of the Chinese wait staff.

The shrillest grandma always knows best when it comes to warding off bad chopstick juju.

Egypt: Snap Away…At Your Own Risk

In a land of ancient wonders and rich cultural traditions, being a shameless camera-happy tourist in Egypt can quickly turn you into the unwitting star of a cringeworthy viral video: “The Audacity of That Oblivious Person Harassing Locals For Photos!”

Unless you fancy an angry mob descending on you faster than Brendan Fraser’s mummies unleash their ancient curses, be sure to ask permission before sticking a lens in anyone’s face.

A few polite hand gestures and smiles can go a long way in avoiding any uncomfortable “ugly tourist” confrontations.

Brazil: Dress Code Pitfalls

If you randomly decide to don the colors green and yellow during your Brazilian travels, prepare to be enthusiastically welcomed as the newest member of the Seleção – the country’s beloved national soccer team.

This vibrant color combo is basically the equivalent of walking around draped in the Brazilian flag itself. Unless you’re ready to join the raucous chants, practice some insanely fancy footwork, and acquire a basic understanding of Portuguese trash-talking, it’s best to avoid this particular fashion pitfall.

You know, unless drawing that level of ultranationalistic attention from obsessed futebol fans is your idea of a grand old time.

Iceland: When Nature Attacks

Iceland Scenery

With its otherworldly landscapes of bubbling geysers, rainbow-hued geothermal pools, and craggy volcanic backdrops looking like the setting for the next big-budget fantasy film, Iceland is pretty much a real-life natural theme park.

But make no mistake – step off those marked trails or act a fool around the island’s rugged scenery, and you’ll quickly earn the wrath of the park rangers quicker than you can say “Oh wow, this geothermal pool looks nice and warm for a dip!”

Trust me, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of the infamous “Icelandic ultra-Viking guard lecture” delivered by those hardcore descendants of the world’s toughest explorers.

Spain: You Betta’ Siesta

Tthe beloved midday tradition of la siesta isn’t just a quaint cultural quirk – it’s an utterly non-negotiable way of life. Forget catching an afternoon snooze and you’ll soon find yourself wilting under the force of the sweltering Spanish heat.

Attempt to disrupt these sacred siesta hours with loud shenanigans or maddeningly urgent tourism demands, and prepare for evil eyes from legions of drowsy, unamused Spaniards who are mere moments away from whipping out those decorative handheld fans and giving you a vigorous “hush, you uncultured beast!” flurry of slaps.

You’ve been warned.

Australia: Outback Peril

Let’s be clear: Australia’s vast, unforgiving Outback territory is no place for spontaneous “finders keepers” exploring unless you’re prepared to star in your very own real-life bushtucker nightmare.

We’re talking venomous snake/spider/crocodile encounters galore, intermittent oases like sadistic mirages, and the ever-present risk of wishing you’d paid far more attention to those grisly desert survival chapters of the SAS Survival Handbook.

Venture into this harsh, remorseless wilderness without a guide, gear, and some really banging Crocodile Dundee one-liners, and you just might find yourself starring in the next viral video roaster: “Bloody Idiots Who Thought The Outback Would Be a Walk in the Park.”

Mexico: When Drink Orders Go Sideways

In Mexico, taking a chance and drinking straight from the tap without considering the local water treatment standards is a gamble nobody wants to take – unless a bout of traveler’s diarrhea is your idea of a quirky souvenir.

Just ask anyone who has experienced the gastrointestinal onslaught affectionately nicknamed “Montezuma’s Revenge” and they’ll vividly recall the explosive aftermath that accompanies guzzling sketchy aqua like a delirious desert wanderer.

Do yourself (and your travel buddies) a favor and stick to bottled, purified or treated water to stay hydrated and illness-free. Some souvenirs are better left unbought, if you catch my drift.

Greece: Keeping Grandma Happy

With ancient archaeological marvels and active Orthodox churches around virtually every corner of Greece, you’d better pack your most modest attire if you want to experience the cultural treasures without incident.

Show up at these hallowed historical and religious sites bearing too much skin and you’ll quickly draw disapproving tsk-tsks, furious head-shaking, and finger-wag scoldings from the resident grandmothers who effectively serve as the modesty police.

One flash of those American shoulders or the mere hint of crack open disrespect, and you’ll get an earful of stern Greek razzing that would make a sailor blush. Just remember: covered up is way cooler than sweltering in abuela-inflicted embarrassment.

UAE: Affection Deflection

Public displays of affection are essentially forbidden in the conservative United Arab Emirates – we’re talking so much as holding hands with your boo can potentially spark backlash, scandalized looks, or even legal repercussions if you rile up the wrong watchful local.

While the UAE’s swanky cosmopolitan vibe may lull you into a false sense of romantic security on its dazzling hotel strips and beachfronts, one ill-timed makeout sesh in the wrong place could mean hours of uncomfortable questioning and “the speech” from authorities who reeeeally don’t brook that nonsense.

PDA is essentially a four-letter word here, so keep things madly plutonic in public if you wanna stay on the Emirati moral police’s good side.

Germany: You Jaywalked?! Oh…Nein.

While we all know that jaywalking is technically illegal in plenty of places, the Germans take that casual “don’t walk” sign of disobedience and transform it into a culture-shaming exercise of epic proportions.

Walk on the road at the wrong place and time in Deutschland, and you’ll be swiftly confronted by a hard stare and a disapproving tongue-lashing from upstanding citizens who simply can’t with such anarchic behavior.

Crossing at designated crosswalks and sagely obeying all traffic signals are deeply ingrained German codes of conduct – so unless you want to be on the receiving end of a scathing Teutonic rebuke usually reserved for littering and public nose-picking, use those crosswalk stripes!

Vietnam: Shoes Indoors? Shoes Off!

As in many Asian cultures, removing your shoes before entering homes, restaurants and certain public buildings is considered a core act of respect and etiquette in Vietnam.

Forget to kick off your footwear and you’ll basically be treating that famously warm Vietnamese hospitality like a worn-out doormat.

Beyond just leaving unsightly dusty footprints in your wake, rocking your street shoes indoors is an unforgivable cultural sin that may prompt scornful looks, tsk-ing grandmothers, and outright scoldings from those who simply can’t abide grimy soles tracking gunk across their clean floors.

Do yourself a favor and get adept at swiftly slipping off those kicks before barefootedly making your entrance.

London: Don’t Mess With The Queen’s Guard

London UK City View

Those stoic sentries decked out in iconic bearskin caps and red tunics may look like wildly overdressed, motionless mannequins guarding Buckingham Palace.

But one goofy attempt at a royal guard selfie, ill-timed joke or sudden movement could result in a confrontation turning bloody awfully fast. Spoiler alert: These are highly trained, no-nonsense military professionals who will not hesitate to floor you like fresh meat if provoked.

Let’s just say getting batoned, yelled at and potentially arrested for being “that oblivious tourist” is a singularly humbling way to get Queen Elizabeth II’s personal attention – and definitely not the souvenir story you’ll want to be telling.

Final Thoughts

No matter where your wanderlust takes you, immersing yourself in the local culture with respect and open-mindedness is crucial for avoiding those embarrassing “worst tourist ever” moments.

By studying up on basic etiquette and customs before diving into your international adventures, you’ll be able to truly appreciate and connect with the richly varied cultures around the world.

Just don’t be afraid to humor your inevitable faux pas, either – at the end of the day, getting a little egg on your face (or a stern lecture from an irate local) makes for priceless travel memories and stories to recount for years to come.

Now get out there and start exploring – just remember to leave your ugly American assumptions at home!

Don’t Miss Our Stories
Enter your e-mail below and sign up for our newsletter

I have read and agree to the terms and conditions