When was the last time you packed your bags and went on a crazy travel adventure?
Travel is a life-enriching experience that you can only have when you step out of your comfort zone (i.e. the four corners of your home or the confines of the small community you belong to) and dare to explore. While couch-traveling is fun, living vicariously through other people’s experiences is nowhere near the satisfaction and growth you can have when you’re doing the actual traveling yourself. We are encouraged to see new places and meet new people, as it will broaden our thinking and promote a better understanding of humanity and the wonders of nature.
However, with global tourism now at its height, thanks to budget travels and the convenience of online bookings and deals, problems have emerged. They come from both the places that tourists frequent, as well as the tourists themselves. While it is expected that there are a lot of shifty and unscrupulous entrepreneurs fleecing naive tourists out of their money (or even possessions), it is also not uncommon to hear news about impolite and downright disrespectful tourists. Thanks to the power (and instant karma) of social media, these things appear on our computer and mobile screens within seconds of them happening – and we can react appropriately by means of cyberbullying. Kidding!
How can we be part of the solution, instead of adding salt to an almost gangrenous injury? Here are some suggestions on how to become an ideal tourist and virtual ambassador of your people when visiting foreign lands:
Be respectful of their culture. As a guest in a foreign country, you have NO right to question or debate the salient points of the country’s age-old cultures, or go parading your own as more superior. Remember, you are a visitor and behaving like some 15th century coloniser will likely get you in trouble with the locals, or worse. RESPECT also includes not vandalising or despoiling their property, monuments, animals, and whatever else that is part of their country and culture. You wouldn’t want them doing that to your own property, right? Save your opinions of their culture for later, but while you’re there, find the beauty and goodness within the locals and their cultural practices.
Observe and learn. Cultural norms vary from place to place, from people to people. While it is acceptable to do certain things in one place by some people, it might be considered foul and disrespectful in another. Make an effort to learn these nuances, either from your tour guide or online, or simply by observing your surroundings and taking note of how people behave and interact with one another. Learn some basic phrases as well – that should come in handy and make your hosts feel a tad more comfortable around you. Do not hesitate to politely ask questions if you’re unsure of certain things.
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Be polite when snapping photos or taking videos. Even when taking selfies, as tourists, we need to be mindful of our surroundings and make sure we do not capture relics, statues or cultural landmarks that are not supposed to be photographed. Similarly, if we want to take a photo of someone, it is always a good idea to be polite enough to ask if he/she wants to become the subject of your recording. This can even be a good conversation starter and an opportunity for you to make new friends.
Be alert and don’t be too gullible. Like I said, there will always be unscrupulous locals and fellow tourists looking to take advantage of unsuspecting visitors – so don’t be one of the victims. Know your rights and be extra mindful of your surroundings as well. Strain everything you learn and what is being told to you with a critical mental sieve and listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, so have the presence of mind to either run or ask for help.
And most importantly, HAVE FUN! Remember why you are traveling in the first place. You want to experience the greatest (and the occasional worst) the world and its people have to offer, so go ahead and do just that – live out your fantasies. And that also means, keeping your mobile phones and cameras in your bag half of the time so you can actually take precious moments just soaking in life.
Featured image by Hieu Le on https://unsplash.com/
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