Sometimes I think people on vacation must forget to pack their brains along with the sunscreen.
I have been fortunate enough to live in some pretty special places: Puerto Rico, Panama, and Costa Rica; Santa Barbara, California, Boston, Massachusetts, and Vancouver, British Columbia. A couple of years ago I moved to the island of O'ahu in Hawaii. So I've seen my fair share of tourists — as well as my fair share of tourists doing stupid things.
Now don't get me wrong; I love tourists. Visitors provide an important source of revenue to destination communities. They also give residents a chance to see their familiar homes through fresh, appreciative eyes. I am saying that I have long been in a position to observe presumably smart folks doing inane, even dangerous things — all because they are on vacation.
European tourists blocking the way of a solemn Latin American funeral procession because they wanted to snap photos of the mourners...and the casket. (For what? Christmas cards?)
American youths ignoring the very clear, multi-lingual signs warning of physical and environmental dangers so they could jump from a high waterfall into a very shallow (and parasite-infected) cascade pool.
Australian linebackers on mopeds far too small for them riding in a herd through a busy urban center, running red lights and making sudden stops to gawk at the locals.
Rowdy Chinese in cathedrals.
Rowdy (and scantily clad) Brazilians in banks.
Japanese women hiking a notoriously treacherous trail...in kitten heels.
… and I can't even guess the nationality of the guy dressed like he was on safari who dashed out into the Honolulu highway after a gusty trade wind blew his pith helmet into the road. All I can say is he was damned lucky the driver of the commuter bus aimed to paste him was adept enough to avoid yet another tourist fatality in our capital city last week.
Guess what, folks? For all the State Department decrees and occasional tragic and despicable attacks on travelers, you are far less likely to be injured, maimed, or killed by terrorists than you are to succumb to your own lack of judgment while on vacation. So please heed a few important tips:
The world is not a theme park
Wherever you choose to travel this summer, be it a resort or a bustling metropolis, please remember that your "holiday destination" is, in fact, "the real world." Please don't make the mistake of assuming streets and avenues of your host village, town, or city are just like Disney's Main Street USA. You cannot wander down the middle of pubic byways, ignoring traffic, signage, signals, and even the rules of basic safety without expecting dire consequences.
The real world has dangerous cliffs and precipices, not all of which are cordoned off. The fauna are not actors in costume being paid to take pictures with you, they are real animals, which might want to bite or even eat you.
If you are in a part of the world where traffic moves on the left as opposed to the right, make sure you keep yourself in the correct lane, both behind the wheel and on foot. Nothing is more awkward or potentially hazardous than finding yourself blockading a group of businesspeople (or farmers, or resort staff) trying to do their jobs because you and your baggage are on the wrong side of the road, corridor, or sidewalk.
If in a group, don't walk or drive abreast, at half normal speed. Imagine how you would feel if you were trying to get to an important appointment at home and found yourself blocked by a wandering phalanx of humanity. If you want to take a picture, get out of the way. And whatever you do, please don't take pictures of other people without asking.
Most people who live in tourist-driven economies are glad to welcome visitors. What's not so welcome is personal intrusion or even possible insult. Someone else's child is not fodder for your Facebook feed. That attractive surfer may not want to end up in your Photo Stream with you. Churches, temples, henges, heaiaus, and other sacred spaces exist for worship, not your amusement. If your holiday takes you somewhere where business is being done by people in business attire (whatever that looks like in the place you are visiting), please don't ramble around in your tank top and flip-flops.
If you think it's OK to bring a selfie stick into a museum or artistic performance, you are missing the point. Leave. And take that evil pole with you.
Take care of yourself
I'm the last person to criticize another for relaxing a little on vacation. This is exactly the time to explore the boundaries a bit. Bend the rules. Try new things. Stretch your wings...and your stomach. Heck, I ate a burrito a day the two weeks I was back in California earlier this summer. (Hawaii has a lot of great things, but no decent Mexican food, and I was making up for lost time.)
Just remember that vacation doesn't magically confer invincibility. Have fun, but be sensible about it. One burrito is fine; three in one sitting will make you sick. If you are allergic to tequila, you can't have a margarita, even if you are in Mazatlan. If your physical condition is questionable, don't decide you can tackle that Yosemite trail in the summer heat just because everyone else is doing it.
Read the disclaimers and warnings you're asked to sign before all those fun activities like parasailing and bungee jumping. If the "people who are ___ should not attempt this sport" applies to you, then accept that and find something else awesome to do.
And when it comes to your essential safety — the same rules that apply at home must absolutely stay in place on holiday. Don't accept rides or drinks from strangers. Don't have unprotected sex. Don't drive under the influence, even if it's only a moped. Be smart. Stay safe.
We want you around to plan for an even better vacation next year.