On our recent trip to Peru, we met many incredible and gracious friends that we will keep in touch with for a long time. We also unfortunately met many people that I wished had just stayed in the US, because I can’t express the embarrassment my wife and I felt at being from the same country. Just google “Ugly Americans” and you’ll get an idea of what we heard. Some of the quotes that we heard, spoken in normal conversation, not whispered:


“why can’t they speak more American?” (yes, he said American, not English). We’re in Peru, not the US…probably that’s why.


“I don’t like all these poor spots we’re stopping at”, within earshot of our lovely Peruvian tour guide. I legitimately wanted to slap her. Stay at home!


“These people live like animals. They don’t even have a doctor, they must all die early”. Actually Sir, the people on Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, eat a mostly plant and fish-based diet, have vigorous physical activity all day long, and are far healthier and live longer than we do, despite not having a doctor on the island. As a doctor and with an interest in medical anthropology, I argued vehemently with him, and he finally stood down when he found out I was a doctor. I should’ve probably kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to impart on him that just because you’re a senior citizen doesn’t mean you’re always right.


-Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

(For those wanting to debate with me whether or not the Taquile Island people or even cavemen had the same life expectancy as us, their numbers are skewed downwards purely because of increased mortality during childbirth. If they lived through childbirth, they lived almost as long as we do now).


People like this make the rest of us look bad. I don’t understand why these people are travelling abroad if they have this attitude. I guess maybe because they’re checking things off their bucket list. Please, please, please, for the sake of normal reasonable people travelling – like my mom used to tell me, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”!


What is the worst behavior you’ve experienced while travelling?


Posted by glenn | 11 Comments

11 responses to “Travellers behaving badly”

  1. Randy says:

    Great post, thank you. My guess is that the life expectancy of persons who reach the age of 10 in most places living more “ancestrally” exceeds that of persons in the most “civilized” nations.

  2. rene says:

    Oh my. On a positive note, these kind of people must be the same folks who fall for email scams so it must all wash out in the end? 😉

  3. Aaron K says:

    I actually think these people benefit from travel more than anyone. Travel should open up their eyes in the same way it does all of us. Many of them have been so sheltered for their entire life that all they know is the culture of their own home. While it can be embarrassing, these are the people we should be encouraging to travel, not discourage.

  4. Andy says:

    @Randy – I agree! I’m trying to eat more spinach and fish and less cheeseburgers…but it’s hard!
    @Rene – I never thought of it that way, but you’re probably right…I should’ve introduced myself to them as a Nigerian Prince!

  5. Darth Chocolate says:

    Worst ever was a Spanish tourist carving her initials into the Great Wall of China. Really? I called her out and shamed her.

    My favorite comeback to someone who complains that “it’s not like America” is “Really? If all you wanted to do were American things, why did you leave?”

  6. MichaelP says:

    Well said!

  7. Haley says:

    It is often the tone and attitude that embarrasses me. I’ve seen it come from other nationalities too, but the loudness and abundance of Americans makes them stick out. Talking down to people, treating people like subhuman servants, barking orders at people, and the presumption that impoverished people are stupid, that last one bothers me the most, I think. All very ugly.

    When I backpacked through Europe in the 80’s I normally introduced myself as Canadian. I found that even in International youth hostels if you were ‘American’ only other Americans readily approached you and there were so many that you might as well have gone to a bar in Boston. If I said I was Canadian the Americans snubbed me and I got to meet and get to know lots of people. Two young teachers from ? Russia, maybe (that thought westerners, in general, thought of teachers as about equal to trash collectors.) a group of Itialian military guys (broken English and broken Italian, so details got lost, but they explained that they jump out of planes and I think they were some sort of elite forces) lots of friendly Australian backpackers, a kid (16 ish) from Belgian that helped me figure out currencies in Prague, a sweet Austrian girl that ended up inviting me to stay at her parents house in Vienna (which I did, and it was awesome). And so much more.

    I don’t think I’d have met half of the people I did if I had admitted I’m Americian and I have lived in Canada and my daughter was born there…

    Apologies for spelling errors, I’m not a great speller.

  8. Jerod says:

    Why can’t there be more bloggers, or just more people for that matter just like you? It is unfortunate that this is the state of things for how we are viewed when we travel abroad. What is more unfortunate is that attitudes and cultural misconceptions such as this will not go punished and even those that express their distaste for such attitudes are the ones reprimanded.

    Like this for example provided by Lucky;

    In the text, it suggests the women became irate because some people may have been ignorant in saying they were going to Brazil rather than Portugal or that possibly that’s the same place/people. Though she chose the absolute wrong time/place to become upset about the matter, she was hauled off and arrested yelling about bigots and racists and most comments on the video seem to gloss over the highly likely origins of the incident. (Travelers behaving badly ‘at home’)

    Dr. Andy, I find the voicing of your thoughts on the matter highly refreshing and more people should speak up about this so that the majority of us can peacefully and intelligently join the rest of humanity in enjoying life and other cultures.

  9. My husband and I traveled to Ireland a few years ago, the same time the president was visiting. The Irish citizens were all buzzing with excitement over Obama and constantly asked us if we fly over there with him on Air Force One.

    Anyway, on our last night in Ireland we were checking out of a nice hotel in the wee hours of the morning and there was an American woman in the lobby talking to the butler. She was clearly three sheets to the wind and making so many horrible remarks about how much she hated our president. In my opinion religion and politics are two topics that shouldn’t be discussed while traveling abroad! You never know who you might offend!

  10. Jerry says:

    I think Americans are no worse and probably a little better than the rest of the world population when it comes to behaving badly in public–we just have a little more money that lets us spread our wings more. For any of you who think this is a US only problem…


  11. Kevin says:

    While we have picked up the “Ugly American” travel label in the past, China and Russia seem to be the leaders of the pack these days. Not to mention all of the loud, drunk Australians I’ve come across in SE Asia.

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