Typical Australian travellers overseas: What are we really like?

Should you greet or avoid other Australians when you encounter them overseas?

With a bit of experience, you can spot one of us from a mile away. There might not be any distinctive physical characteristics that define an Australian citizen, but that doesn't mean you can't easily pick out the Aussie travellers when you're on the road.

Maybe it's the slavish addiction to Havaianas thongs, the branded T-shirts, the beer often clutched in a hand, or the love of wearing shorts in inappropriately cold weather.

Maybe it's just a sixth sense you develop, but, as a fellow shorts-and-thongs-clad Australian, I can usually pick my countrymen when I'm overseas, even before hearing the accent. 

The question, once you've spied them, is what do you do? Do you approach your compatriots like old friends and strike up a chat? Do you make cautious conversation the same way you would with any other traveller? Or do you duck your head and make a swift exit, avoiding them?

I have no problem meeting Aussies overseas. I don't plan it that way – I don't hang out drinking Fosters at the Walkabout or only go skiing in Whistler – but I don't try to avoid them.

There's something of a stigma these days with Australian tourists. We're the new Americans, the loud, obnoxious drunks who are cashed up and keen for a good time. We've got ourselves a reputation, sometimes warranted, for being painful to be around – nice enough in our own country, but perennial misbehavers in other lands. See a busload of Australian tourists turning up? Get out of there, quickly.

Are we really that bad? Australia Day might be a time for celebration, but it's not a bad one for reflection either, for pondering our place in the world and the way everyone else sees us. What does it mean to be a representative of Australia once you've crossed those seas we're so famously girt by?

Because you do represent us, whether you like it or not. As soon as people pick up the accent, you're placed in a box with all of the other Australian travellers, judged and categorised. 

The good news is that most Australian travellers I've met overseas have been ones I've been proud to call my countrymen. Forget the stereotypes. These are good people, interesting people, generous people. 

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I'm thinking about the guys I met at a hotel in Fiji once, who, after a few drinks, revealed that they weren't engineers as they'd told most of the other travellers there, but Australian Army servicemen on leave after a stint in Afghanistan. They showed me some photos and told me a few stories. Good guys. Unassuming guys.

I'm thinking about the crowd of Aussie expatriates I've met in Phnom Penh, the ones who do good, important, selfless work during the day, and then take tourists like me around to see the sights of their underrated city by night. 

I'm even thinking about all the people I met while I worked for a tour company in Europe. These were the cliched Aussie travellers, the "good time, not a long time" booze hounds, and most of them, the vast percentage, were great people – maybe not all that interested in culture, maybe not highbrow intellectuals, but great people nonetheless. 

When it comes to analysing the typical Australian traveller, it's easy to let the loud, drunken minority rule. There are some idiots out there, undoubtedly, and whenever you get more than three or four Australians together in a foreign country, there's the potential for mayhem, or at least obnoxiousness.

Yes, there are always the people who spend all their time in an exotic location complaining about how much better everything is at home. There are always cries of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie". There are always the types who bag the local food, or whinge about the customs, or even just shatter your illusion of unique foreign adventure with their 'Strayan drawls.

But there's nothing essentially wrong with Australian travellers. We're out there in numbers – sometimes, in places such as Putney, Kho Pha-Ngan or Bali, in vast numbers – but we're mostly keeping our heads down, having a good time without doing too much harm.    

I understand the wish to avoid other Australians when you travel. You leave home for a new experience and to meet new people, not to hang out with the same types you could run into at the local pub on a Friday night, but if you are on the road and you do happen upon that guy or girl in the Havaianas, in the shorts in winter, with a beer in hand, there's no need to flee. We're generally good people, and we'll probably shout you a drink.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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