It is something of a shame when we feel the need to write a piece about courtesy and respect when traveling- but it appears that not everybody is getting it. Travel is one of the most important – nay, vital – tools at our disposal for educating, breaking down barriers, combating xenophobia, and challenging bigotry. Yet there are those who continue to disregard the customs and cultures of other lands, creating a poor impression of their own country, leaving a bad taste in the mouth and spoiling it for everyone else.
Such behavior – however slight – becomes a hindrance in our progress towards a more understanding, tolerant society. So, we thought we’d put together a bite-sized guide to the basics of how to travel with courtesy and respect, endear yourselves to the locals, and pave the way for future travelers to enjoy a positive experience. Every little bit of help!
Now we’re not naming any names here and using this purely as an example, but let’s say you’re from Australia, and you’re out having a good time. You’re caught short for the toilet, but there’s a nice looking grassy patch over there that looks like a decent spot to relieve yourself. What you don’t see is that it’s part of a church. Imagine what kind of impression you’re giving off to a local that witnesses such an act, and what they’re likely to feel about where you’re from. And it doesn’t stop there – they will tell their friends, and their friends will tell their friends, and their friends will…you get the idea. You are an ambassador. If you want your own country to be seen in a positive light, then make a positive impression. Urinating on historic or significant monuments isn’t a good idea. Again – just as an example.
It’s bizarre to have to remind people of this – but different countries have different laws. What passes as a law for you in your own country, might be completely different somewhere else – so make sure you understand the legal do’s and don’ts for wherever you’re visiting.
Generally speaking, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law anywhere, but there are some places with much more severe punishments than others. Receiving the death penalty because you disregarded a ban on alcohol is guaranteed to ruin your holiday.
It might be alright for you to lounge around at home in your underpants, but don’t turn up to a sacred monument dressed like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backward. Many religious sites around the world require you to dress appropriately, usually by covering your arms and legs or wearing the correct footwear. Or not wearing footwear at all!
Sometimes you might be required to cover your head, sometimes you might not be required to cover your head. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need for each specific site, prepare accordingly, stick rigidly to the requirements, and you’ll sail effortlessly into the hearts of the locals. Disregard this at your peril.
Belting out football chants at the top of your lungs in your local bar can be a lot of fun, but maybe not at three o’clock on a Sunday morning on the streets of Krakow. And it doesn’t just apply to stag and hen parties. Loud, obnoxious behavior will put anyone off, anywhere, anytime. Be aware of talking too loudly, shouting in public, making a scene, or spouting inappropriate remarks – as you never know who is listening or who understands your language. Remember that public displays of affection are illegal or frowned upon in some countries too, so maybe hold off on the canoodling until you’re either back at the hotel – or you’re back home.
Having a few words of the local language in your locker can go a long, long way to charming the populous, and you’ll be amazed at just how far even the most basic greeting can go. Even if you’ve no ability in learning a thing in another tongue, a simple please or thank you will put a smile on everyone’s face and open a lot of doors. Always treat people with courtesy and respect – particularly when it comes to the language barrier. They might not speak a word of English, you might not speak a word of their language, but shouting the place down and screaming that it’s the 21st century and that everyone should be singing off the same hymn sheet isn’t going to do you any favors. Keep calm, don’t yell, and draw a picture if you have to.
“OH MY, IT’S SOOOOO CHEAP!” Don’t you dare utter these words anywhere you go – at least within earshot of the locals. What’s cheap for you isn’t cheap for them. Newsflash – this is the way the world works and the cost of living differs from country to country.
Keep your wad of the twenties to yourself and your flashy belongings on the DL. It’s good for your safety and security too, as flashing the cash will always garner unwanted attention. But don’t be too stingy either – buy and barter with courtesy and respect, offer a fair price, and don’t over-haggle. Support the local economy as much as you can.
Stop using the plastic drinking straws. Use a travel water bottle instead of buying more plastic. Turn off the lights. Put your empty wrapper in the bin. Do you really need your hotel towel washed again? Take short showers. Reuse and recycle, and as the saying goes – take only photographs and leave only footprints. (Oh, and always ask permission when taking someone’s photograph too). Traveling can be significantly detrimental to the environment, so you can keep it AND the locals happy by doing your bit to support cleaner, greener adventuring around the globe. The earth will thank you!
It doesn’t take that much to travel with courtesy and respect, but sadly it appears some people seem to forget even the very basic rules. Just take a moment to consider your actions and how that might affect others, and adjust accordingly. You can still ensure you and your friends have a great experience traveling too.
Let’s end on a positive note! Do you have any heartwarming tales of local interaction? We want to hear them!