I normally steer away from telling others how to travel as we all enjoy different types of adventures. I don’t get involved in the arguments of tourists vs travelers because I believe there’s nothing wrong with wanting to visit large attractions or staying in one city for a short amount of time. What I’m not okay with is people visiting new places and not respecting the culture, the locals, and the environment. People need to recognize their privilege and stop feeling so entitled. Way too often do I see travelers getting frustrated because a person doesn’t speak English, make comments about the look of certain foods, or leaving trash behind. Traveling is a beautiful thing and I absolutely love seeing people go out and explore because I strongly feel that it can change people for the better.
I want to believe that most people are just not aware of how certain actions can be seen as disrespectful or harmful. That’s why I decided to write a post on how we can be better travelers. We can all learn and change, I know I have. I think back to ten years ago before I started traveling internationally, I was very naive and ignorant when it came to customs and animal welfare. I remember seeing photos of people posing with tigers in Thailand and thinking, “wow, that’s a bucket list item for me!” It wasn’t until recently when I became more active in the travel community that I was informed of the harm done to these beautiful animals. The more we know, the more of a difference we can all make. So, here are some things to keep in mind when traveling.
Research traditions and social norms before visiting a new country
Every country is different and while you may not agree with some of the social customs in certain places, that doesn’t give you a right to go against it. For instance, it is known that in certain countries you should dress conservatively. There have been way too many instances where Westerners will dress as they please because they believe a person should be able to wear whatever they want. I’ll be honest that I don’t disagree with that idea and in the United States, I support that 100%. If someone wanted to walk around in a bikini all day, I feel that they should be able to and not be ridiculed or harassed because of it. HOWEVER, that is not accepted in other countries based on religion and other reasons and THAT’S OKAY. We cannot go and take our ideologies from our home country and push it on others. And if you do, be prepared to reap the repercussions.
Do your research on what is acceptable and what isn’t in the place you’re visiting and abide by it. If you don’t agree then simply don’t visit the place.
Do not partake in tourist traps involving animals
We all love animals. Unless you’re a psycho path. Anytime there is an opportunity to be close to an animal, we want to experience it. I know I’ve been guilty of this when it came to themed cafes in South Korea. I wanted to be around all the animals and did not even think about their well being and how it’s not normal for them to be locked up in a cafe for our entertainment. But, what’s done is done and I can’t go back in time and change my participation in that activity. What I can do is try to educate others about these type of tourist attractions that are harmful to animals. Two major ones that are popular are riding elephants and taking pictures with tigers (or any animal that would normally be dangerous to be near). These animals are abused, drugged, overworked, and put through hell. Some people know about the abuse and still choose to partake in these activities. For what? Just so people can post on Instagram and share all over social media? These businesses are still running because of the money they continue to bring in even after all the circulation of videos exposing the abuse.
I understand that we want to have these intimate experiences with wild animals, but it is not worth the harm it causes them. Instead, look up legitimate sanctuaries that you could visit where they nurse these animals back to a healthy lifestyle. Most animals are meant to live in the wild. Any time there’s an opportunity to see them outside of their normal setting, just be sure to research their quality of life at the organization.
Respect all cultures and stay open minded
My favorite thing about traveling is how it keeps my mind open. Traveling helps me understand other cultures and individuals that are different than me. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be respectful when traveling. Think before you speak, think before you act.
I recommend getting to know the locals of the country you’re visiting. Spark up conversations with your Uber drive, bartender, waiter. Ask them questions, listen, and learn about their lifestyles. I can guarantee that some of those conversations will be your most memorable moments of the trip.
Try local cuisines
People take pride in the food they produce. I know that we all have different taste buds, but it’s important to be respectful of any offerings you’re given in a new place. I enjoy fully immersing myself in a culture and part of that is trying their local dishes. It’s not to say that you may like everything you have, but there’s a way to go about expressing your opinion. Being of an Asian ethnicity, I have experienced first hand where people will talk down on the appearance, smell, or taste of certain dishes from my country. In my opinion, those type of reactions are offensive. Definitely give your opinion and say it wasn’t your cup of tea, but do so in a respectful manner. Remember that someone put a lot of work in preparing that meal. Just because it’s not normal for you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t for others.
Be respectful of the environment
Traveling itself puts a huge burden on the environment. I know that my carbon footprint isn’t the best because of how much I travel. So, let’s try not to completely kill this beautiful world we live in by being more aware of our actions.
When visiting gardens and fields, read the signs posted all around. If it states that visitors must stay on the path then stay on the path. Stop trying to get that perfect picture in the middle of the field while crushing all the flowers around you. It does more harm than you may think especially when hundreds of people are doing the same.
Don’t litter. It’s 2020…you would think that this is a given. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Put your trash in a designated trash can (even better if you recycle). This especially applies to visitors of a beach or on a boat. We see way too much trash left behind on beautiful beaches or thrown off a boat into the middle of the ocean.
Do not expect locals to tend to your every need
Many people have a sense of entitlement when they’re on vacation. They believe that it’s their time to relax and everyone else must cater to them. Leave that entitlement at home and understand that you’re in a different country where you should conform to their standards. Not every place has the idea of “the customer is always right” and that should not be expected. The biggest item under this topic is language. Yes, English is spoken in a lot of places and many people from all over the world try to learn this language. However, if the primary language in a foreign country is not English then you should not expect it to be spoken. If there are people who speak it then you should see that as a luxury and be grateful. I know I get excited when people speak English since I am not fluent in any other language, but I would never be rude or condescending if someone did not speak it. Download the Duolingo app before heading to a new destination and brush up on some common phrases. Put in a little effort, it will definitely go a long way.