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Mastering the Art of "No" While Traveling Abroad

Grace Lower | Feb 23, 2021

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This blog post was updated February 4, 2021.


Learning a Lesson

It was the height of tourist season in Granada, and I was waiting to meet a local friend for lunch. After a few minutes of scrolling through my phone, I noticed a woman approaching me. I saw that she was carrying a bundle of flowers in the crook of her arm, and when she caught me looking at them, she offered me a few with an encouraging nod. I politely declined in Spanish, but she insisted, pressing the flowers firmly into my hand. Feeling a little odd about the interaction, I tried to decline again. And again, the woman insisted. Fortunately for me, my friend spotted us and marched over to intervene. He whisked the flowers out of my hand, pushed them back into the women’s bouquet, and pulled me away. The woman, meanwhile, had begun shouting curses at us — her pleasant demeanor had completely vanished.

My friend and I rounded a corner and regrouped. “Don’t you know not to take anything from strangers?” he asked. “If you had actually accepted those flowers, that woman would have made a scene until you gave her money.” I sheepishly told him that I had been caught off-guard.

This time, my friend addressed me in English. “You can’t let other people walk all over you, especially when you’re new to a place. Sometimes it’s best to simply say ‘no’ and move on.”

Saying "no" can be a good thing

Having been raised in the Midwest and in the South, I’m incredibly polite by default. Unfortunately, this demeanor hasn’t always served me well during my travels. On trips when I didn’t stick up for myself, I’ve ended up overspending, adding unnecessary items to my itinerary, and wondering why my travels weren’t lining up with my expectations. After a fair amount of trial and error, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a well-timed “no.” Although travel is all about being open-minded, occasionally saying “no” leaves me better-equipped to say “yes” to the things I really want. Here are a few ways I’m mastering the art of saying “no” when I’m on the road.

Saying “no” to friends

Traveling with companions is a fantastic way to build camaraderie and create lasting memories. But group travel also involves a fair amount of diplomacy. You and your companions will collectively decide the activities, dining options, accommodations, and logistics for your trip. And occasionally, that means saying “no” to options that just won’t work.

When traveling with friends, you’ll want to set clear boundaries early on and communicate openly with everyone in your group. For example, if your friends want to take an expensive guided tour that doesn’t work well for your budget, be honest about your concerns. Depending on where you are, you might offer to do something on your own, or research alternative activities that everyone in the group can enjoy. Saying “no” to friends is never easy, but you can use that “no” as the first step in finding a solution that everyone can agree on.

Saying “no” to vendors and shop owners

Whether I’m haggling or simply browsing, saying “no” to shop owners is surprisingly tough (and if there’s a language barrier, it’s even harder). I never want to offend someone or dismiss their hard work. So, if someone invites me to browse their store, my gut reaction is to oblige. It’s worse when I’m attempting to haggle. I’m very easily guilted into settling on a higher price — it’s especially bad when the vendors bring up the fact that they have kids at home. But one trick I’ve learned is to remind myself that shopping decisions aren’t personal. By saying “no” to a vendor, I’m not insulting their craftsmanship; I’m simply indicating that their goods aren’t what I’m after. That simple reminder has saved me both money and sanity. These days, when I say “no” to a vendor, I can do so confidently — after all, it’s just business!

Saying “no” to strangers

Believe it or not, saying “no” to strangers is surprisingly difficult, especially when traveling internationally. When you’re in public or on the go, a good rule of thumb is to avoid engaging with people you don’t know. In some circumstances, a stranger may strike up a conversation with you as a diversion tactic for pickpocketing. Or, more commonly, someone might approach you to ask for a donation, either for themselves or for a charitable organization. To keep yourself safe — and to ensure that your money is going toward reputable causes — a polite, but firm, “no, thank you” should suffice. Even if the person’s cause is noble, remember that you can always donate to credible organizations online, when you return to your hotel. If you’re ever uncomfortable when engaging with a stranger, it’s best to say “no” and move on.

Saying “no” to myself

Learning to say “no” to myself has been an essential part of keeping my travel plans streamlined and under budget. For instance, I’m trying to avoid adding “must see” items to my itinerary out of a sense of obligation. Instead, I’m focusing on curating a travel experience that’s well-aligned with my interests and passions. I’m also perfecting the art of following a designated travel budget, while still leaving room for the occasional splurge. I’m learning to say “no” to impulsive souvenir shopping, and instead, being patient while searching for the perfect gifts for myself and my loved ones. And above all, I’m learning to say “no” to any inhibitions that prevent me from fully engaging in the adventures that come my way.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels, it’s that saying “no” doesn’t always have to be negative. My willingness to stand up for myself has helped me become a more thoughtful and confident traveler. And as crazy as it sounds, mastering the art of “no,” has made it easier to say “yes” to some of my greatest travel adventures.


    Guest contributor: Grace Lower

About the Author

Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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