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The do’s and don’ts of traveling during the fall

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Fall travel is beautiful for many reasons. You can enjoy walking around new places without the threat of melting in oppressive summer heat or freezing in winter’s clutches. Fall means less sweat and sunburn, and more fall foliage. It also means a new set of bad tourist behavior.

Social media may be to blame for some of the faux pas. The siren song of a good post is too tempting to let rules or common decency get in the way — not only in fall, but year-round. This spring, highly Instagrammable poppies were destroyed when the content-collecting public descended on super blooms, trampling them off-path. This summer, a 9-year-old girl was attacked by a bison when she and other tourists approached the wild animal way too close.

“I’m very confident that social media is having an impact on some of the bad behavior,” says Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Yellowstone National Park Lodges and who’s lived in the area for more than 28 years. “They want to show on social media that they’ve just done something that they think is cool.”

Most travelers tend to be respectful when on the move, but some people might need an etiquette reminder. Here’s a guide so you can brush up ahead of autumn.

Don’t: Approach wildlife


Fall foliage is so jaw-droppingly stunning that it can warrant taking a vacation just to catch a glimpse of turning leaves. The great American leaf-viewing tradition can compel you to take epic road trips deep into woodsy or remote areas ⁠ — areas that wildlife call home. Should you come across animals such as moose, bears, mountain lions, bison and whatnot, leave them be and keep your distance.

“I can tell you, because I live here, people have always gotten a little too close to animals,” Hoeninghausen says.

The difference today may be selfie-related. Hoeninghausen says travelers of yore used to get too close to wildlife with their cameras. Now he sees them approach the great beasts at even riskier angles. Visitors will spot animals, get too close, turn their backs to the animals and hold their phones up to take selfies.

“I’ve watched this happen outside my front porch all the time, and I’ve had to intervene many, many times,” he says. “It wouldn’t be my guidance to anybody to turn your back on a wild animal.”

Even if you get your selfie without suffering harm, there’s a chance the next person won’t be so lucky, so don’t set a bad example for others.

Animals “truly are wild,” Hoeninghausen says. “At any point, they can make a decision to do something.”

Do: Show respect and use inside voices when staying in historical lodging

The beginning of fall may spark a fierce desire to stay in a charming accommodation such as a cottage, bed-and-breakfast or rustic inn. These romantic getaways can feature all the best parts of the season. Just keep in mind that these accommodations are not built like your standard Marriott hotel.

Show respect to the caretakers at your endearing accommodation and handle all of the property’s delicate quilts, mallard tchotchkes and doilies with care. These places are special because the person before you didn’t steal the books from the nightstand or chip the vintage claw-foot tub. Help preserve those unique touches by being a mindful guest.

And remember that walls at these quaint places may be older and thinner, allowing for more sound to travel between neighboring rooms. Keep the noise from your Nicholas Sparks novel cosplay weekend to a minimum.

Don’t: Touch gravestones or tombs


Throughout fall, drugstores and targeted Instagram ads will try to sell you faux tombstones to spook the neighborhood’s trick-or-treaters. Should this subliminal messaging inspire the urge to visit an actual cemetery, keep in mind that you’re visiting sacred grounds. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to a modern cemetery or a historical one, show respect throughout your visit and avoid sitting on or touching gravestones, tombs and other markers.

Salem, Mass., is a wildly popular fall destination. Although the town has only about 43,000 inhabitants, it still manages to welcome between 500,000 and 1 million visitors in October to its eight square miles. It’s world-famous for its fascinating history, particularly the 1692 witch trials.

The Charter Street Cemetery is one of Salem’s most popular points of interest, but tourists do not always treat the more than 380-year-old site as hallowed ground.

“These are real gravestones and tombs that have been here since the 17th century,” says Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the town’s tourism department. “This is a final resting place for hundreds of people.”

Tread lightly in cemeteries, respecting the dead below. Don’t copy some visitors who sit on tombs, and don’t touch anything while you’re there. If you were a fan of the practice of gravestone rubbing — when someone re-creates a gravestone’s engravings by rubbing pencil or charcoal onto paper covering the etching — know that it has been banned at Charter Street Cemetery because of the damage it’s done to the artifacts. It’s not the etching itself that causes problems, but rather the oil from our hands that erodes the surface of the gravestones.

Don’t: Walk around with burning candles


A spooky night tour by candlelight seems like a great fall idea, but you’re probably dripping wax all over public property. If you’re in a historic place like Salem, you may also be visiting flammable old wooden structures.

Don’t risk leaving behind wax litter or starting a devastating (and embarrassing) fire; use a flashlight instead of a candle to illuminate your evening.

Don’t: Trespass on private property

It’s not uncommon for fans of the movie “Hocus Pocus” to make the pilgrimage to Salem to see filming locations, such as main character Max Dennison’s home. The house is still owned by the family that lived there during filming, and they’ve grown used to “Hocus Pocus” tourism. Many people who live in historic areas are accustomed to having their properties photographed; however, they’re not thrilled when visitors go a step further and trespass or leave trash behind.

“People do all sorts of things,” Fox says. “Walking on their porches, intruding on their private property and crossing property lines is inappropriate.”

Admire private houses from afar, and stick to taking photos from the sidewalk or edge of the property. And obviously, do not litter, no matter where you’re traveling.

Do: Park in clearly marked spots

Road-tripping to admire fall foliage is a great American tradition. Stopping in the middle of the road, or impulsively pulling over to the side of highways and freeways, is a less-great American tradition.

Hoeninghausen has seen many traffic jams and reckless driving in the name of tourism. He’s watched drivers try to navigate the road and take pictures or videos with their phones at the same time, or destroying natural resources by parking in inappropriate spaces.

“If there’s no shoulder, [vehicles] may be driving up on wildflowers or sensitive grass,” Hoeninghausen says.

Whether you’re driving in Upstate New York or through a national park, pull over only when it’s legal and appropriate to do so. In parks, you’ll be able to find many scenic lookouts perfect for nature photography, or lots where you can leave your car and set out on a trail for better picture opportunities.

Don’t: Take nature home with you


In our ever-developing world, nature is becoming more precious. We set parks aside to protect them because they’re beautiful, unique or sensitive.

“If you’re not familiar with these sorts of things, you’re apt to want to walk on it, get too close to it, pick a flower, grab a sample and take it with you, throw coins in a hot spring or any of that,” Hoeninghausen says. “All of that, when you’re in an area like this, [can cause] great damage.”

You may think you’re just one person taking an eye-catching leaf to frame or picking up fallen antlers for your man cave, but you’re not. Many other people are breaking the rules. Some feel guilt and try to remedy the situation, like the girl who recently sent back a heart-shaped rock she took from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But most don’t, and they threaten the delicate ecosystem holding the place together.

“You may not realize it, but pretty quickly, you’re diminishing the resources,” Hoeninghausen says. “When you have high visitation starts, taking this stuff pretty quickly diminishes something that’s pretty critical.”

Follow this rule: “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” If you do, you’ll be fine.

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