Even the most experienced travelers can make mistakes while on vacation.
Little blunders here and there can happen to everyone, and Americans are no exception. Although many people from a variety countries visit the Caribbean each year, Americans are in the overwhelming majority, since the islands are just a flight or two away.
No one’s expecting you to be perfect, but avoiding these rookie mistakes Americans make while traveling in the Caribbean can make the time (and money) you spend more worthwhile.
1. Driving on the wrong side of the road
In much of the Caribbean, people drive on the left side of the road, instead of on the right, as they do in the United States. This is because many Caribbean countries were formerly British colonies.
Interestingly, however, the US Virgin Islands is a US territory, but people drive on the left there. Here’s a list of the Caribbean countries where people drive on the left:
- US Virgin Islands (the only US territory where people drive on the left)
- Antigua and Barbuda. Also, most roads lack signposts.
- Cayman Islands
- Montserrat. Also, you’ll also need to purchase a temporary driving license, which your rental company may be able to arrange for you.
- St Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turks and Caicos
2. Assuming everyone knows English
This may come as a surprise to you, but only around 15% of the Caribbean speaks English as a first language. Of course, since tourism is HUGE in the West Indies, and English-speaking folks make up the majority of tourists, plenty do speak it as a second language.
However, many European countries colonized the Caribbean islands, which is why French, Spanish, and Dutch are three other widely spoken languages in the region. There are also local tongues like Papiamento and many different flavors of Creole.
Interestingly, the USA is one of the few countries in the world where most people speak only one language. According to a report released by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, only 20.7 percent of American adults can speak a foreign language, while 66 percent of all European adults know more than one language.
This may have a lot to do with the fact that many Americans are brought up thinking that the “rest of the world” will (or should) learn English to cater to their needs while traveling. Of course, that’s not a great attitude by any means. Nevertheless, the fact that English is one of the most popular second languages in the world could be what makes some Americans assume that they’ll be able to find English proficient people anywhere they go.
In any case, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by checking what languages are spoken in the Caribbean country you’re headed to before you go. Why not try learning some key words and phrases? You can also bring a phrase book, or download an app, or even just use Google translate in a pinch. But whatever you do, be respectful to those who don’t speak English. After all, you are a visitor in their country, not vice versa.
3. Relying on debit and credit cards
One of the most common mistakes Americans make while traveling in the Caribbean is relying on plastic. However, that fisherman who is about to take you out on a flamingo-watching lagoon tour isn’t going to whip out a card scanner so you can charge it to your Visa.
Carrying cash in the States may be bordering on obsolete, but it’s just not so in the Caribbean. One reason for this is because of weak internet signals and the prevalence of small businesses. Use your card at hotels, resorts, and chain restaurants, and keep some cash on hand for most other transactions.
4. Treating locals as “beneath them”
We had to say it. Some people walk off the airport tarmac and onto the islands as if they own them. Ignoring locals is one of the most common mistakes Americans make while traveling to any destination. If anyone assumes that Caribbean folks are beneath them, they must not know a thing about Caribbean culture.
Caribbean people are some of the most friendly, hospitable people on earth. Hold a conversation with them, and you’ll find out just how easy it is to make friends. Learning about their way of life can be just as enriching (or more so) as beach-hopping and other activities you’ve planned for your trip.
5. Assuming (and demanding) the same luxuries they have at home
Unless you invest in luxury accomodations and concierge services (which are totally worth it, by the way), don’t assume that things will always be just as comfortable as they are at home.
There may not be air conditioning, high-speed internet, debit card readers, and elevators everywhere you go. Sometimes you may have to deal with hot, sticky weather, standing in lines, and a smaller variety of items in the local grocery store. Some islands may not have smooth, paved roads everywhere.
However, that’s the beauty of the largely unspoiled Caribbean islands! They are wild, gorgeous, green, and free. They have the kind of clean, unpolluted air that you could never hope to breathe back in the metropolitan world. So, love the Caribbean for all it is, and “don’t sweat the small stuff”.
6. Making fun of customs they don’t understand
The easiest way to become “that rude tourist” is to make fun of a monument, religious symbol, or custom that you don’t entirely understand. Island nations aren’t just tourist destinations. They are home to millions of people who live wonderfully diverse lives.
Unfortunately, Americans often make fun of customs without even knowing it. They might blurt out, “Wow, that’s a funny dress,” or laugh at actions that seem strange to them, when those things are completely normal to a resident.
In addition, when many Americans hear islanders speaking English, they might assume that they are speaking “with an accent”, or that the speaker isn’t using English properly. However, many Caribbean countries have their very own version of English that is recognized as an English-based language. Take for example Anguillian Creole English, Virgin Islands Creole English, and Jamaican Patois.
Don’t be guilty of making one of these mistakes Americans make while traveling! Read up on all things Caribbean in Key Caribe Magazine to prepare for your trip!
Main image credit: Javier Pardina
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