Tourism can be of great social, cultural and economic value to everybody involved ̶ the visitor and the visited. It all depends on the type of traveler we are, so is up to us to be socially responsible and culturally open-minded.
There’s nothing worse than a petulant tourist making a scene at a 3rd world restaurant because no one speaks English and he’s a bit peckish, right?
Well, actually there is: seeing empty water bottles and soda cans scattered everywhere as you’re visiting the temples of Angkor, or the words “Jenny 2006” carved in the stone walls of a World Heritage site.
Now that we’ve brought that up, let’s get real: there are no Cambodian girls named Jenny. That’s the pet name of Jennifer ̶ a privileged girl that probably flew to Cambodia thanks to the earned miles from her credit card, and thought it was cute to leave her mark on the other side of the world. Please, don’t be Jenny.
Here’s a simple way to put it:
When you travel you’re always a guest on someone else’s home, so behave accordingly.
You may not agree with all the customs of the country your visiting but that’s your prerogative. Nonetheless, remain aware of where you are and if you come across a dodgy situation and feel like there’s something you need to say, do it politely. Or don’t do it at all, be safe.
We’re not asking you to compromise your values though: Nuno and I spent whole days carrying trash in our backpack when the norm was to throw it on the ground.
On our trip to Southeast Asia, we never engaged in activities involving elephants or other animals because let’s face it: even though elephants are adorable, these activities are businesses, so the proper treatment of the animals is often NOT a priority.
Using the photo above as an example: we’re not Buddhists, the floor was scorching and nobody was around to make sure we weren’t wearing shoes, but we didn’t anyways. This is a sacred place to the Burmese and they always walk barefoot when visiting temples.
Let the uncomfortable situations serve you as contrast to appreciate what you have back home. We all love to yap about how we ‘travel to experience different cultures’ , well the bumpy bits are part of the experience too, so learn from them!
It’s key to be respectful and ask for permission before snapping pictures of locals. Always be sensitive to the situation, respect local rituals and ceremonies by being the least invasive as possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up becoming one of those rude paparazzi-tourist we witnessed in Luang Prabang during the alms giving ceremony ̶ revealing their lack of information and detachment from the culture they were in.
Good tourists travel like locals
A good practice for all of us travelers is to do some research of the customs and traditions before visiting any given place. By educating ourselves on the social reality of a country, we’re providing insight to our minds and empathy to our hearts.
Don’t be rude when people don’t understand English. In fact, you shouldn’t expect them to.
Learn some basic words in their language even if just “Hello” or “Thank you” ̶ it’s a sign of consideration. Smile and use those interactions to learn some new vocabulary!
Keep in mind that you’re the one traveling and probably having the time of your life, but locals are going about their daily routine ̶ same day, VERY different perspectives.
Be a conscious consumer and buy locally made products to support local communities. Go eat at local restaurants, taste new flavors and enjoy the country’s cuisine. Eat the fruits locals eat, drink coffee the way they drink it and avoid sugar-filled plastic packaged crap when you fill like snacking.
When choosing an accommodation stay in locally owned guesthouses instead of international hotel franchises, and remember that buying locally will always cost you less!
You don’t need to wear a hijab as soon as you arrive at a Muslim country because is common for local women to do so. Just be mindful and dress appropriately to not be walking around a Buddhist conservative country with a bedazzled bikini top and cut-off shorts because ‘it’s like, really hot outside’.
That’s something Jenny would do.
Remember, don’t be Jenny.
Be polite, positive and eco-conscious.
Do you have other examples everybody can benefit from?
Leave them in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.