Why Do Travelers Get Away With Everything?

Travelers often behave in ways when abroad that they would never dare do at home. From petty offenses to major legal transgressions, research shows that travelers feel a sense of anonymity and moral flexibility when journeying to foreign lands.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Travelers tend to get away with minor offenses abroad because they feel less accountable due to factors like anonymity, culture shock, and perceived differences in legal enforcement.

In this comprehensive guide, we will analyze the psychological and situational factors that embolden travelers to skirt rules as well as examine why many violations go unreported or unpunished.

The Anonymity Effect

Have you ever noticed how travelers seem to get away with everything? Whether it’s cutting lines, disregarding local customs, or even engaging in questionable behavior, it often feels like travelers are exempt from the usual consequences.

This phenomenon can be attributed to what experts call the “anonymity effect.”

Low self-awareness and accountability

One reason why travelers may feel they can get away with anything is due to a decrease in self-awareness and accountability. When people are in unfamiliar environments, they may feel a sense of detachment from their usual identities and responsibilities.

This can lead to a blurring of moral boundaries and a feeling of invincibility. As a result, travelers may engage in behaviors they wouldn’t consider acceptable in their everyday lives.

Studies have shown that when individuals feel anonymous, they are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors. This can be attributed to the reduced fear of being judged or identified by others. In the context of travel, this can manifest as tourists engaging in disrespectful or disruptive behavior without fear of facing consequences from the local community.

Differing social norms

Another factor contributing to the perception that travelers get away with everything is the existence of differing social norms. When people travel to a new country or culture, they may not be fully aware of the customs, values, and etiquette that are considered appropriate.

This lack of knowledge can lead to unintentional breaches of local norms, which may be perceived as getting away with something.

For example, in some countries, bargaining is a common practice, while in others, it may be considered rude or disrespectful. A traveler who haggles over prices in a country where it is not customary may be seen as taking advantage, even if they are not intentionally trying to do so.

This perceived leniency can contribute to the belief that travelers can get away with anything.

It is important to note that not all travelers engage in negative behaviors or intentionally take advantage of their anonymity. Many travelers are respectful and conscientious of the local culture and customs.

However, the anonymity effect can create a perception that travelers as a whole can get away with anything.

Ultimately, it is crucial for travelers to be mindful of their actions and to respect the local culture and customs of the places they visit. By doing so, they can contribute to a positive travel experience for themselves and the communities they encounter along the way.

Perceived Leniency of Legal Systems

One of the reasons why travelers often seem to get away with everything is the perceived leniency of legal systems in foreign countries. Many travelers are simply unaware of the laws and regulations of the places they visit, leading to unintentional violations.

Ignorance of laws

Ignorance of laws is a common factor contributing to the perception of leniency. Travelers may not be familiar with local customs, traditions, and legal codes, which can lead to unintentional rule-breaking.

For example, a traveler might not know that it is illegal to drink alcohol in public in certain countries and might be surprised when faced with a fine or penalty for doing so. It is important for travelers to educate themselves about the laws and regulations of the destinations they visit to avoid any legal issues.

Assumed difficulties prosecuting foreigners

Another reason why travelers may seem to get away with everything is the assumption that prosecuting foreigners can be challenging for legal systems. Foreigners are often seen as temporary visitors who may not have a deep understanding of local laws and customs.

This perception can create a perception of leniency, as authorities may be reluctant to pursue legal action against travelers for minor offenses. However, it is important to note that serious crimes committed by travelers are still subject to legal consequences.

Culture Shock and Disinhibition

One of the reasons why travelers sometimes seem to get away with everything is due to the phenomenon of culture shock and disinhibition. When individuals are exposed to new and unfamiliar environments, they may experience stress reactions that can lead to changes in behavior and decision-making.

This can result in travelers engaging in behaviors that they may not typically engage in back home.

Stress reactions to unfamiliar environments

When travelers find themselves in a completely new cultural setting, they may experience a range of stress reactions. These reactions can include feelings of anxiety, confusion, frustration, and even a loss of identity.

As a result, individuals may feel a sense of liberation from their usual social norms and rules. This liberation can lead to a temporary disregard for consequences and a willingness to engage in activities that they would not normally consider.

For example, a traveler who is typically reserved and cautious may find themselves participating in risky activities such as bungee jumping or skydiving simply because they are in a new and exciting environment.

The unfamiliar surroundings and the desire to make the most out of their travel experience can override their usual inhibitions and lead to a more adventurous and spontaneous behavior.

Alcohol consumption while traveling

Alcohol consumption is another factor that can contribute to travelers seemingly getting away with everything. When individuals are on vacation or traveling, they often indulge in alcohol more frequently than they would in their everyday lives.

This increase in alcohol consumption can have a disinhibiting effect on behavior, leading individuals to act in ways that they may not normally do when sober.

Additionally, cultural differences in attitudes towards alcohol can also play a role. In some cultures, alcohol consumption is more accepted and even encouraged, leading to a more relaxed and permissive environment.

Travelers may feel that they can let loose and engage in behaviors that they would not typically engage in back home.

It is important to note that while travelers may seem to get away with everything, there can still be consequences for their actions. Local laws and regulations still apply, and engaging in illegal or disrespectful behaviors can result in legal trouble or negative interactions with the local community.

It is always important to be mindful and respectful of the cultural norms and rules of the places we visit.

Traveler Privilege and Economic Disparities

Traveling can be an exciting and enriching experience, but it is important to acknowledge that not all travelers are treated equally. In fact, there is a concept known as “traveler privilege” that highlights the power imbalances and economic disparities that exist between tourists and locals in many travel destinations.

Power imbalances between tourists and locals

When tourists visit a foreign country, they often have access to resources and opportunities that the locals do not. This can create a power dynamic where tourists are treated differently and given preferential treatment.

For example, tourists may have an easier time getting reservations at popular restaurants, securing accommodations in desirable locations, or receiving better customer service. This is often due to the economic impact that tourists have on the local economy, as businesses prioritize their needs in order to attract more visitors.

Additionally, tourists may engage in behaviors that are seen as disrespectful or disruptive by locals, but they may face fewer consequences compared to local residents. This can be attributed to the fact that tourists are seen as temporary visitors who will soon leave the area, whereas locals have a long-term stake in the community.

As a result, locals may feel powerless to address issues caused by tourists, leading to a sense of frustration and resentment.

Uneven access to legal help

Another aspect of traveler privilege is the uneven access to legal help that tourists often enjoy. If a traveler finds themselves in legal trouble while abroad, they may have the financial means and resources to hire a local lawyer who can navigate the legal system on their behalf.

This can give them an advantage over locals who may not have the same access to legal representation and may struggle to defend their rights.

Furthermore, tourists may also benefit from leniency from local authorities due to their status as visitors. This can result in lighter punishments or even being let off the hook altogether for offenses that locals would face more severe consequences for.

While this may not be the case in every situation, it is a factor that contributes to the perception of traveler privilege.

It is important to recognize and address these power imbalances and economic disparities in order to create a more equitable and inclusive travel experience for all. By promoting responsible tourism and supporting local communities, travelers can help to alleviate some of the negative impacts associated with traveler privilege and contribute to a more sustainable and fair travel industry.


In the end, the question of why travelers often get away with bending or breaking rules comes down to a mix of psychological biases, situational ambiguity, power dynamics, and enforcement challenges. While ignorance of laws should not constitute a defense, tourists do require some slack for culture shock adjustments.

By better understanding what propels quesitonable behavior abroad, we can have more nuanced conversations about tourist accountability and ethics.

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