10 Stupid Things Americans Do Overseas
Don't get us wrong: We're darn proud to be Americans, and we don't mind saying so—whether we're here at our New York City headquarters or standing on foreign soil. But unfortunately, we've all seen the embarrassing U.S. traveler abroad: The idiot wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt while visiting a museum of tolerance, the big shot flashing a wallet full of euros on the Paris metro, or the family that insists on chowing down on American fast food in Rome. How not to be the ugly American? Well, here are the 10 stupidest things Americans do while overseas:
1. DRESSING—AND ACTING—LIKE A TOURIST
Traveling is one time when it's actually cool to be a poseur. Try your best to fit in with a country's style of dress and customs by ditching the fanny packs, visors, dark socks with sandals, and Hawaiian shirts—and not using your outdoor voice. "The golden rule of travel is that blending in and conformity are a form of flattery," says Lisa Grotts, author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. "Most countries will not expect you to be an expert on the nuances of their culture, but they will appreciate a show of interest in matters of importance to them." Taking your usual gregarious behavior down a notch is a good idea too. "People of other nationalities are more reserved than we are, so it's important not to come across as the ugly American: overbearing, overly familiar, loud," Grotts says.
2. FLASHING MONEY AROUND
Peeling bills off of wads of cash won't endear you to the locals—nor does it curry much favor here in the U.S.—but showing the contents of your wallet and taking copious amounts of money out of foreign ATMs in full view of everyone will make you popular with pickpockets. The cash machine itself could be a thief in disguise too. "Look closely at an ATM before using it, as criminals have been known to place 'skimmers' on the machines, especially in areas frequented by tourists," says Elizabeth Finan, spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department.
3. ASSUMING EVERYONE'S THERE TO WAIT ON THEM
Just like money doesn't buy taste or love, having vacation savings to burn doesn't guarantee the royal treatment everywhere you go. There are two keys to not being an American jerk: "Being a little bit patient and not assuming that everybody here is here to clamor over your tourist dollars is important," says Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette 18th Edition. Back in 1922, Emily herself wrote a book chapter titled "Europe's Unflattering Opinion of Us." Unfortunately, very little has changed. "For years, we Americans have swarmed over the face of the world, taking it for granted that the earth's surface belongs to us because we can pay for it," she wrote. Try to buck those stereotypes.
4. ORDERING AMERICAN FOOD ABROAD
Don't be that person who orders French fries in the middle of Italy. "The absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore the local food in favor of what's familiar to you: always seeking out the American-style burgers and pizza and Caesar salads on a menu or, worse, eating at fast-food or chain restaurants you know from home," says Laura Siciliano-Rosen, founder of Eat Your World, a website featuring local eats around the globe. Not sampling exotic food means you'll miss a large chunk of the area's culture that will enrich your travel experience. That said, everyone has heard at least one horror story about getting food poisoning abroad. "Wash your hands a lot and be smart about the basic things—avoid tap water and ice and unpeeled fruits and vegetables—and you can eat plenty of local food," Siciliano-Rosen says.
5. NOT BOTHERING TO LEARN BASIC FOREIGN PHRASES
English is indeed widely spoken all over the world, but not making any effort will just make everyone hate you. "If at all possible, at least say a greeting in the other person's language, and then say, 'Do you speak English?' right after that," says Post. "One thing that I've been told grates is to just start speaking English in a foreign county. Yes, it's likely that a lot of people, especially in touristy spots, will speak English, but the presumption that they do is really obnoxious." No need to bust out an entire language dictionary either. "If nothing else, learn how to say hello, thank you, and please," Post says.
6. BRINGING BACK SOUVENIRS THEY THINK THEY ARE ENTITLED TO
Not so fast hauling that vase out of the country and into your foyer. Absconding with a piece of a country's history—whether you knew it was authentic or not—isn't smiled upon. "Some countries, like Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico, have strict laws on antiques," Finan says. "If you purchase a souvenir that authorities believe is a national treasure, you may be arrested. In countries with strict control of antiques, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case."
7. NEGLECTING TO RESEARCH A COUNTRY'S CUSTOMS
Accidentally making a jerk move abroad usually means you haven't studied what that country's jerk moves are. Post says there are six major areas to educate yourself about before you go to a new locale: greetings, gift giving, exchanges of money (whether to put money in someone's hand or on the table), handshakes, body language, and food. Food etiquette has many facets, Post says, "whether it's the eating of the food, the not eating of the food, complimenting the food, trying the food... In some places, a compliment may mean you want more."
8. RELYING ON CREDIT CARDS FOR PURCHASES
Carrying zero cash and using your debit card to pay for a bottle of water is growing more and more common in the U.S., but when you're abroad, you can't count on plastic. "Credit cards are not widely accepted in some countries," Finan says. "Although it is a good idea to bring a credit card or two, leave all unnecessary credit cards at home." If you run out of cash, the U.S. Embassy can help you with everything from contacting friends and family on your behalf for wire transfers or giving you a loan to get back to the States.
9. PACKING SOMETHING DUMB
Other countries' security can make going through airport security in the States look lax. Abroad, if you bring over an item that so much as looks dangerous, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law. "A foreign country's laws can be different from laws in the United States," Finan says. "For example, some countries have strict laws on weapons—in some cases, possessing something as small as a pocketknife or a single bullet can get you into legal trouble." Clean out your suitcase before you start packing.
10. FORGETTING THEY ARE REPRESENTING THE REST OF US
You can't cancel out the bad behavior of every American doofus traveling abroad, but you can make a difference by being a positive example of a U.S. citizen. "Americans in general have a pretty bad reputation to try to live down," Post says. "Any time you can go the extra effort to use every courtesy that's available to you to show appreciation—like for the time that someone gives you in a shop—even if they don't return it right there, I think that that is part of what it means to be an ambassador for your country when you travel."
TSA Warning: Security Lines Are Going to Get Longer
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials are warning that an expected increase in airline passengers, and an insufficient increase in TSA staffing, will lead to longer airport security lines, reports the Washington Post. TSA Staff Face Difficult Job, Low Pay An expected 4.5 percent increase in airline passengers and a request for a 2.5 increase in staffing for fiscal 2020 equals headaches for both travelers and TSA staff. As we witnessed during the government shutdown earlier this year, TSA officers will continue to follow protocols, one passenger at a time, regardless of staffing levels or long lines, in order to maintain the highest standard of flight safety and security. But TSA officers are already facing other challenges, including some of the lowest salaries in the federal government (with full-time pay starting around $33,000/year) and some of the highest rates of turnover. Redeployment to the Southwest Border Another TSA challenge is the Trump administration’s proposal to move hundreds of TSA officers to the Southwest border to handle immigration duties, which could have an impact on airport security, especially during the morning peak hours of the summer high season, the Post reports. PreCheck May Get Slower Too TSA PreCheck has been one of the best ways to ensure an efficient trip through airport security, but even PreCheck may slow down as the TSA moves to make enrolling in PreCheck easier than ever, reports Bloomberg. TSA estimates that 9 million “high-frequency travelers” aren’t enrolled in PreCheck yet, and an additional 80 million travelers who fly at least once per year are also not enrolled. If the initiatve to add even a portion of those frequent air travelers to PreCheck succeeds amid TSA understaffing and redeployment to the border, even PreCheck lines will likely get longer. What Every Air Traveler Can Do Right Now Budget Travel’s advice for getting through airport security remains the same regardless of TSA staffing: Get to the airport with plenty of extra time, pack smart, and if you haven’t already started the PreCheck application, do it now. Learn the TSA’s top 5 summer travel tips, and pack your patience.
8 Surprising Airline Fees You’d Better Know
Airline fees are flying high. In 2016, U.S. travelers paid a whopping $7.1 billion in checked bag fees and flight changes alone, up from $6.3 billion in 2010, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed. But the harsh reality is a number of airlines today sneak in “hidden fees”—extra charges for services that were traditionally free in the past. Unfortunately for travelers, many of these fees are non-negotiable, says Anne McDermott, editor at Farecompare.com, a website that curates deals on flights from around the world. “Fees are a fact of life for flyers these days, and they are here to stay,” McDermott says. “They make the airlines billions of dollars every year.” The upshot? Knowing what these fees are can help you budget better for your next flight. Here are eight hidden airline fees to watch out for. 1. CARRY-ON BAG Most airlines still let you bring one carry-on bag for free, but some don’t. Granted, whether you have to pay for a carry-on bag typically depends on what type of ticket you purchased and the size of the bag. American Airlines and United, for example, recently rolled out basic economy seats that charge passengers an extra $25 per “full-sized carry-on bag,” or any luggage that requires overhead bin space. (Basic economy ticket holders are still allowed one free personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.) 2. RESERVATION CANCELLATION AND CHANGE A number of airlines charge customers a fee to cancel or change a reservation, and these fees can range significantly. American Airlines imposes a $200 change fee on paid fares for domestic flights and up to $750 for international flights, and Delta Air Lines charges a $200 change fee for paid domestic flights and up to $500 for international flights; meanwhile, Allegiant only charges a change fee of up to $75 per person. Southwest Airlines has the friendliest change and cancellation policies, with no fees in either case (though you’ll have to make up any difference in the fare). There is an exception: when booking a domestic flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require that, as long as you've booked a non-refundable ticket seven days ahead of your flight, you're entitled to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a fee. 3. OVER-THE-PHONE AND IN-PERSON BOOKING It’s typically free to book a flight online, but many airlines charge a fee for booking a flight over the phone or in person. Phone-booking fees range from $0 to $25 and in-person booking fees range from $0 to $35, according to a 2016 report by Consumerist.com. 4. IN-FLIGHT WI-FI While JetBlue offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to all passengers, most airlines charge customers for in-flight Internet access. Some airlines charge a flat fee for the full flight, while others charge an hourly rate. (Prices can also vary depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight.) There are ways to cut costs for in-flight Wi-Fi. A number of airlines offer monthly subscription plans aimed at business travelers, McDermott says. For instance, American Airlines has a $50 monthly Internet plan for domestic flights through Gogo, a service also used by Virgin America, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. 5. PICKING A SEAT Once a free perk, many airlines now charge passengers a fee for selecting their seat in advance. On Spirit, for instance, seat assignments start at $5, but be prepared to pay a premium for a window, aisle, or seat with extra legroom. Meanwhile, some airlines like Lufthansa let you choose a seat free of charge beginning 24 hours before departure. (Of course, the best seats may already be snagged by passengers who paid extra for an advanced reservation.) 6. NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE Traditionally, airlines have offered passengers a complimentary juice or soft drink and charged extra for an alcoholic drink, but some carriers now also charge for non-alcoholic beverages. Case in point: discount airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge for these beverages; they also charge for snacks. (So long, free peanuts!) 7. PILLOW OR BLANKET Want to sleep tight on your next flight and enjoy the comforts of a complimentary pillow or blanket? Well, you may have to pay for these goodies. JetBlue charges $5 to $6 for a pillow and blanket, while American Airlines charges $8. 8. REDEEMING FREQUENT-FLYER POINTS You should be rewarded for being a loyal customer, right? Not always. In fact, some airlines charge customers fees when they redeem frequent flyer miles. But whether you get hit with this type of fee depends on how and when you book. Oftentimes, you have to pay a premium if you book a flight with the help of an agent. Some airlines also charge extra for “close-in bookings,” or reservations that are made a set number of days before the flight. American and United both charge $75 if you book a flight with airline miles less than 21 days out, while Spirit charges a $15 fee for tickets purchased more than 180 days prior to departure; if you use miles to book
Visiting Rome: The New Rules You’d Better Know
Rome has introduced a spate of new rules and regulations to govern decorum in the city; cracking down on everyday behaviors such as the impolite ways in which people drink water from public fountains and banning people from dragging wheeled suitcases down historic steps. Managing the Strains of Tourism Rome’s new wave of rules are part of an Italian-wide measure to manage tourist strains on cities and curb anti-social behavior in general. With summer travel season now in full bloom, Rome city council has updated existing legislation that dates all the way back to 1946 with the objective of improving city life for residents and tourists. Don’t Jump in the Fountains (And Other Sensible New Rules) The new rules include penalties for those who jump into water fountains. Men are also prohibited from walking around the city bare-chested, while the popular tourist tradition of attaching “love padlocks” will incur a fine. Overly-messy eating around historic monuments is also forbidden and yes, that could mean it’s no longer possible to cool down with a creamy gelato on the Spanish Steps. How to Legally Drink the Water (Really) Tourists will need to be especially considerate about how they drink water from the city’s public drinking fountains, known as nasoni. Authorities have decreed it’s not acceptable for thirsty tourists to let their mouth touch the metal spout, instead they can cup their hands under the the spout or place their fingers under the stream to direct an arc of water to directly to their mouths like the Romans do. Cracking Down on Street Trading, Ticket Hawking, and, Um… Hanging Laundry? Illegal street-trading and ticket-touting outside tourist sites have also been banned, as has the age-old Roman practice of hanging laundry out to dry on clothing lines between neighboring buildings. Organized pub crawls and those who advertise “skip-the-line” tours outside historic monuments such as the Vatican are also banned. No Performing on Public Transportation Another regulation decrees that singing, playing instruments or busking on public transport in the city is banned. People are also no longer allowed to take prams or wheeled suitcases up or down historic steps, such as the Spanish Steps. How Will the New Rules Be Enforced? It’s still unclear how these new rules will be imposed or what fines people could incur if they’re caught breaking them. It has been announced that police will be patrolling historic sites, however, and tourists who behave badly could now be faced with a daspo, or temporary ban from returning to the area in which they caused an offense.
TSA Summer Travel Tips: 5 Things Every Traveler Must Know
Are you planning to fly this summer? Join the club—millions of us will be taking to the sky. The only potential downside to all that flying is the dreaded TSA security line. You know the drill: You get to the airport two hours before your scheduled takeoff and spend much of the time standing in line waiting to be wanded and asked about the contents of your bags. The good news is, the TSA has assembled a checklist to help your summer travels go as smoothly as possible. Here, 5 TSA tips every traveler must know. 1. Stay Hydrated The problem: Summer heat makes you thirsty, but you’re not allowed to carry water through security, and the bottled water sold at the airport is overpriced. The solution: TSA allows you to bring your favorite water bottles (empty, made of metal or plastic) through security and fill them up when you get to your gate. Just make sure your water bottle is completely empty before it goes through the X-ray screening. 2. Don’t Get “Hangry” Don’t let overpriced airport food make you fly hungry, which can make it difficult to manage any flight anxiety or the inevitable minor (or major) irritations that come with the flying experience. TSA says you’re allowed to bring plenty of food on the plane with you, including “burgers, chicken, pizza, pies, cakes, bread, donuts, fruit, vegetables, etc.” When passing through security, TSA officers may ask that you separate foods from other items so that your items can be screened properly. 3. Know the Rules for Flying with Beverages, Sunscreen, and Deodorant TSA shares some simple rules to cut through some confusion about flying with liquids. Liquids in your carry-on must be 3.4 oz or less (this includes toothpaste, by the way, something I learned the hard way on a recent flight; it also includes gel or spray deodorants and all sunscreens). But stick deodorants are not limited to the 3.4 oz rule, and neither are beverages or toiletries packed in your checked bags. A note about beverages packed in your carry-on: You are allowed to carry on alcoholic beverages in containers that adhere to the 3.4 oz rule, but you are not allowed to open them or consume them on the plane. (Only alcoholic beverages served by the carrier are allowed to be consumed on the plane.) And we always recommend packing carry-on toiletries and other liquids in a separate zip-lock bag for ease of inspection. 4. Get Through the Line Faster With TSA PreCheck TSA PreCheck allows eligible travelers to get through security screening faster, in some cases really fast. PreCheck travelers get through security in an average of under five minutes, and do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets. Yes, you should apply for TSA PreCheck now. 5. Know What’s in Your Bag For experienced travelers, “know what’s in your bag” may seem a little obvious. But typically travelers are much more stringent about packing for the start of their vacation than they are for their return flight, where souvenirs and other items can complicate the screening process. It’s best to check out the TSA’s “What can I bring?” feature. We also recommend downloading the MyTSA app to help with all of the above concerns. TSA has a team of employees who are ready to answer your questions via Twitter at @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily. Or just pick up the good old telephone and call the TSA contact center at 866-289-9673.