How to Be a More Respectful Traveler in 2019
Take a moment to reflect on the reasons you travel. Dig into your soul and think about this.
Why do you travel?
I travel to grow and learn about the world. I was that nerd in school who loved history and geography classes. But I also travel to learn more about myself. I want to push myself and see how I handle stressful situations in new places.
I also travel to try new cuisines and see beautiful places. And I’ll be honest: Instagram has influenced my travel decisions. I booked a trip to Banff National Park after my Instagram feed was flooded with pictures of emerald lakes. I wanted to see these places with my own eyes and get a few stunning photos of my own. No one likes to suffer from FOMO, right?
But as a travel community, let’s think about the silly things we do for the Gram or for the sake of showing off.
In 2017, some insensitive tourists took shameless bikini photos with the Mount Agung eruption in Bali as their backdrop. Others have posed in a bikini or on a deity’s throne at the sacred Hindu temples. As a result of these disrespectful acts, Bali is now considering new rules to ban tourists from visiting temples unaccompanied.
Western tourists also love getting Buddha tattoos in countries like Myanmar and Thailand, which is considered an insult to the religion.
Most of these tourists probably didn’t realiz they were offending the local cultures. However, claiming ignorance isn’t good enough of an excuse. Why do we travel in the first place if we aren’t learning and respecting other cultures?
Research Before Your Trip
Besides using your common sense, you can do a quick Google search on the dos and don’ts of your destination. Spend some time to educate yourself with the country’s etiquette. For example, you’ll learn that you shouldn’t eat and walk at the same time in Japan; don’t touch someone’s head in Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia since it’s considered the most sacred part of the body; be mindful of discussing politically sensitive topics that might offend some locals, etc.
A Traveler’s Dress Code
In 2016, Cambodian officials started enforcing dress code policies at their ancient temples. This came after two American girls got arrested for posing nude in the Angkor Wat ruins.
Dress code policies aren’t new. For years, many religious sites have asked visitors to follow a modest dress code. Churches in Latin America and Europe often ask visitors to cover their shoulders and legs before entering. Mosques require visitors to cover as much skin as possible.
If you’re traveling to a tropical climate, you might only think about packing shorts and tank tops. Plan your outfit ahead of time if you want to visit sacred sites. Would you need to buy a sarong or bring a pair of long pants? Would the sites provide appropriate clothing for visitors? At the very least, try not to walk around town in a bikini top with shorts that barely cover your buttocks.
PDA Isn’t Acceptable Everywhere
I don’t think twice if I see a couple kissing on the streets of New York. No one would say anything because it’s socially acceptable here.
Some conservative cultures, however, would frown upon public display of affection. For example, PDA is a criminal offense in India, punishable by up to three months in prison. Kissing in Japan isn’t illegal, but it would shock a lot of locals.
It can be difficult to break out of liberal habits. But again, if you’re visiting someone else’s home, try to follow the local guidelines. If you’re visiting a conservative region, make sure you aren’t violating any laws!
Learn How to Say Thank You
Saying thank you in English is quite universal, but don’t assume everyone on this planet understands simple English terms. If it’s not too difficult, try learning how to say “thank you” in a local language. It's one of the simplest gestures to express genuine gratitude.
Let’s Work on Our Traveler’s Awareness Together
We need to acknowledge that ignorance isn’t always bliss! Let’s try to be mindful by respecting other cultures and customs when we travel.
Think about travel like you’re visiting someone’s home. If the host asks you to take off your shoes, you take off your shoes.
eDiplomat offers a useful overview of cultural etiquettes around the world. You can even find information about etiquette norms on Wikipedia.
Let’s stop being obnoxious tourists and start raising our own cultural awareness and mindfulness. Only then can travelers start to bring the world closer together. We can show that we're traveling to learn and explore, not simply to get likes.